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Remembering the Unique Needs of Homeless People During the Pandemic

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

Sean Cononie of COSAC Foundation and the Homeless Voice newspaper wants communities throughout the United States to not forget about people experiencing homelessness in the face of the COVID-related tragedy around us. He is especially concerned that there is no strategy for the distribution of vaccinations within the homeless community among community leaders.

The population of people experiencing homelessness is diverse and may need different strategies to best serve their individual needs. For example, two dose vaccines pose a challenge for people who live unsheltered on the streets in cars or encampments, as they often are forced to move and therefore cannot always be found by outreach workers, and therefore might never receive the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Cononie is encouraging communities to wait a couple of weeks and use the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine when it is approved for use. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be administered in just one dose, plus, it is easier to transport to those on the streets, and does not require the extreme cold storage that the other two vaccines require.  (Please note, NCH encourages all to access whatever vaccine is available to them.)

Picture of Sean Cononie
Sean Cononie

Cononie has worked on the streets for decades in South Florida and currently travels the streets of Broward County assisting those largely forgotten by the rest of society.  He has set up a firehouse model of emergency responders who go out on the street around the clock to provide personal protective gear, masks, water, and COVID tests. He can help house individuals if they are interested and can work to quarantine individuals who are recovering. 

Unfortunately, Cononie, a board member of the National Coalition for the Homeless, reports that the response in South Florida to the pandemic has been scatter shot at best.  He has seen mistreatment of those experiencing homelessness at some of the local hospital emergency rooms, and Cononie said some of the hospitals have given up on serving homeless people altogether.  Many people who are homeless report that hospitals will just give them a blanket, some food and then send them on their way saying, “Come back if it gets worse.”

Some cities have been successful in housing vulnerable and quarantined unhoused folks in hotel rooms, or other temporary housing. Cononie believes that his local health care system needs to find safe accommodation for those without housing to recuperate even if their symptoms are mild.  The risk of them passing the virus to a large number of people at meal programs or shelters is significant and has deadly consequences for the fragile population served by the homeless continuum.

In South Florida, as in many communities, systems have either forgotten the population or have set up bureaucracies that make it impossible for those without an address to participate in programs that would keep them safe. The religious community has stepped up to help with meals and other basics, but the need is continually increasing as the pandemic has worn on. Broward County has a relatively high unemployment rate of 7.3%, and 14.6% of the Southern Florida population do not have health insurance, both of which can lead to increases in homelessness. Cononie is committed to bringing resources to people often forgotten to get them through this global health crisis.

People who are Unhoused Should be Involved in Oversight of Shelters and Funding Decisions

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

The horrific story of the Bronx Parent Housing Network presented in the New York Times recently points to the need for those experiencing homelessness to be more involved in the governance, oversight and distribution of homeless dollars in every city in the United States.  Staff and Board of the National Coalition wish to express our deep and profound sadness that women were allegedly sexually abused at a publicly funded shelter in New York City, and condemn all abuse, especially when inflicted on those seeking help in traumatic times. 

“It is shocking that the board of an agency serving abuse victims would not put in place strict protocols to protect those women from assaults while they are attempting to rebuild their lives. This agency is using taxpayer dollars to provide emergency housing, and these staff and residents faced some of the same misogynistic, controlling behavior they were fleeing. It points to a need for better oversight by both the local government as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the source of much of this funding,” said Donald Whitehead, executive director of NCH.

We believe that if people experiencing homeless were more involved in a meaningful way in the governance of the shelters in the United States, staff exploitation and harassment would be significantly decreased. Consumer feedback is a necessity in so many industries, why not in homeless or other social services? We at NCH have long advocated for both currently and formerly homeless folks to be employed with the task of collecting and reporting shelter concerns to community leaders. 

The agency facing these disgusting allegations rose from a small organization only 5 years ago to a multi-million dollar operation, in response to the explosion of homelessness in NYC. We now spend billions of federal dollars to provide direly needed services to those experiencing homelessness across the country. Yet no city has instituted full oversight by people who have used these services. Unfortunately, people who are utilizing the services are not treated as equals to homeless services providers, Continuum of Care funding boards or in the oversight of the shelters.   

This is not an isolated incident in New York City. We have documented media accounts of exploitation and harassment at shelters in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Florida, and Washington, DC. But there are many examples of homeless led organizations that could be tapped by HUD and local communities to provide oversight of homeless services. San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness has the most advanced Shelter Monitoring Committee which could be modelled around the country.  Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Portland and Philadelphia all have the infrastructure in place to take a leadership role in monitoring and providing peer support. 

We must more fully integrate those experiencing homelessness into reforming our systems. NCH demands that:

  • Communities receiving federal homeless dollars initiate a review of protections against the harassment and exploitation of residents.
  • Each funded Continuum of Care should have a reporting system that prompts action by the local government.
  • Cities should employ an advisory committee of people who have been homeless, or a homeless ombudsman, to review agencies serving people who are unhoused and ensure that they are acting in the best interest of those experiencing homelessness.
  • HUD initiate a process where local groups of unhoused folks are given a chance to weigh in on local funding decisions, and ensure that recommendations are taken seriously by community leaders. 

Bring America Home Act & Economic Justice in the 2021

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

By Kelvin Lassiter

Fighting for justice and equality in housing and economics has been going on for quite some time. The National Coalition for the Homeless was formed in the early 1980’s after advocates had already started opening emergency shelters and food programs because of disastrous cuts made to affordable housing and health care through the 1970’s. Activism in the 1980’s led to the Homeless Assistance Act being passed, now known as the McKinney-Vento or HEARTH Act, which has provided the bulk of Federal homeless assistance dollars.

But what about truly ending homelessness? On July 25, 2003, the key tenets of the Bring America Home Act were introduced to the nation. This plan, created through a national campaign, proposed a four-pronged approach to addressing the root causes of homelessness:

  • HOUSING JUSTICE Recognizing housing as a basic human right, increasing investment in federal affordable housing programs
  • HEALTH CARE Calling for single-payer or universal health coverage for all residents of the country
  • ECONOMIC JUSTICE Working towards living wages and benefits, providing labor supports for un- or under-employed workers
  • CIVIL RIGHTS PROTECTIONS Ensuring that poor and unhoused persons are free from added criminalization based on their housing or economic status, providing a path to housing and work for those who are formerly incarcerated

While there have been many pieces of the original Bringing America Home Act passed in some form, but there is much more work to do. We are happy to support the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 (H.R. 603), raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. This raise will:

  • Immediately lift over 30 million people out of poverty
  • Move people closer to being able to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent
  • Finally bring the minimum wage to the level it would be factoring in the previous increases since the Fair Labor Standards Act became law in 1938

We encourage you to join us in supporting the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, encouraging your federal elected officials to support strong wage growth for working people. Our advocacy is only strengthened when the citizens of this nation play a part and lawmakers act on their constituent responses.

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