A digital image of A woman in a purple hoodie and a blue COVID mask laying on a bench. Beneath her a sign reads "sheltering in place." A street lamp shines above her. In the background, text reads "What if you can't stay home?" The background is black with chalk-like outlines of businesses that say things like "closed" and "we're closed."

The artwork on the cover of this issue was initially created to accompany our April 2020 issue. This would have been the first issue of Street Spirit produced after the onset of the pandemic, and the artist, longtime Youth Spirit Artworks participant and leader Inti Gonzalez, designed a cover to call attention to the first of many ways the pandemic would highlight the crisis of homelessness: As government officials called on the public to stay home, thousands of houseless people had no such option. When cafes and libraries closed their doors and shelters slashed capacity, unhoused people were further marginalized—as visible as ever and left to themselves to navigate the new landscape of the pandemic.

We never printed the April 2020 issue—we halted publication along with all other street newspapers in North America while we waited to learn more about the pandemic. But this cover has new relevance as the Delta variant of the virus spreads and the number of COVID cases amongst houseless people around the country is growing: At the beginning of July, Alameda County recorded 20 new COVID infections in unhoused people—the highest number we have seen since February. At the same time, many unhoused people remain unvaccinated. While 70.5 percent of Alameda County residents were vaccinated by the end of July, Alameda County Healthcare for the Homeless estimates that the vaccination rate for shelter residents hovers between 25 and 40 percent. The county is not currently tracking vaccination rates for those who live in encampments. 

As the highly contagious Delta variant spreads and vaccination on the street remains low, houseless people are once again at the forefront of COVID’s impact. This should be taken into account as our community considers how to keep fighting for our collective survival—in decisions about things like social contact, and wearing masks in public. We’re forced to ponder the question on our cover yet again: what if you can’t stay home? 

More artwork by Inti Gonzalez can be found online here.

Alastair Boone is the Director of Street Spirit.