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People experiencing homelessness (PEH) are disproportionately affected by many infectious diseases, including coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), but communication efforts during public health emergencies often do not consider the unique needs of this population.

Several members of ORAU’s health communications team, including Betsy Smither, Jennifer Reynolds, Kelli Bursey and Kristin Mattson, conducted in-person focus groups with PEH in four cities: Cincinnati, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Sacramento, California; and the Bronx, New York, in July 2021. Their findings demonstrate that trusted messengers and consistent messaging are key to reaching PEH, according to a study the research team recently published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

“ORAU researchers were honored to be invited into the facilities of four organizations that consistently provide incredible services for PEH in their communities and witness the tireless work they did to limit the spread of COVID-19 among their constituents,” said Betsy Smither, Research and Evaluation Project Manager. “As part of this project, we were able to have more than 100 face-to-(masked) face conversations with PEH to better understand the unique considerations they faced in protecting their health in the midst of the pandemic. We keenly felt the importance of rigorously analyzing their feedback and presenting it in a manner that would inform CDC’s current COVID-19 health communications and also assist CDC in preparing to communicate with PEH in future disease outbreaks.”

Findings from 15 focus groups with PEH demonstrated that while they receive information from a number of sources, including news media, the internet and social media, PEH overwhelmingly prefer to receive health information through face-to-face conversation, especially with healthcare providers with whom they have an established relationship.

Read The Journal of Infectious Diseases article here.