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For 2021, Shine a Bright Light on the Dark Truth About Homelessness

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A year-end reflection from Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, and Donald Whitehead Jr., Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless

Thirty years ago, the truth that homelessness is not inevitable led to the first Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, held each year on December 21 — the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. The observance of Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, which is now held in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and other nations, began through a partnership of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and the National Coalition for the Homeless with three objectives: 1) to shine a bright light on the dark truth that homelessness kills; 2) to ensure that those who died are not forgotten; and 3) to mobilize action to end what is often a death sentence — homelessness.

For too many people experiencing homelessness, each commemoration may be their last. Thousands of Americans experiencing homelessness die prematurely and unnecessarily in the world’s richest nation. Communities of color, especially African American and Native American populations, experience homelessness and die at disproportionate rates from this painful and persistent reality. In 2020, Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was marked by the twin hopes of defeating a worldwide pandemic and achieving a more perfect union in the U.S. with racial justice that is long overdue. 

A public policy change from 40 years ago was largely responsible for creating the present-day scale of homelessness — and different public policies can end it. The rise in homelessness coincides with cutting more than three-quarters of the federal funding between 1979 and 1982 that makes housing affordable for poor people. The budget cuts were not a matter of the country not being able to afford the subsidies, but of ideology. We know this because at around the same time, federal subsidies for homeownership — which overwhelmingly go to the wealthy — increased dramatically, to the point where they now are six times greater than rental subsidies for the poor. This shift in priorities proved to be, quite literally, a death sentence for the most vulnerable.

Society measures what society treasures, and that unfortunately does not always include people experiencing homelessness. We do not know the number of people who die without a home because only a few localities conduct a systematic count. Thanks to two cities that do systematically count homeless deaths, we know they have increased substantially. In New York City, homeless deaths grew by more than 50 percent between 2008 and 2018, and in Los Angeles County, homeless deaths doubled between 2014 and 2019. Several organizations have worked together to create a Homeless Mortality Toolkit to encourage and equip more cities and counties to measure the true scope of the problem and to design interventions that work. We should count our neighbors without homes because people without homes count.

Throughout 2020, COVID-19 taught us an indisputable fact: housing is health care. The critical link between housing and health was further underscored when the Centers for Disease Control issued a moratorium on evictions. The moratorium, which had been slated to end on December 31, has been extended until January 31. If the moratorium ends, almost five million households will be at risk of eviction. If that happens, one study estimates these evictions would cause an additional 10,700 excess deaths nationally.

Homeless deaths are not inevitable. The President-Elect is the first in 40 years to propose that funding for affordable housing be available at a level where every qualifying household receives rental subsidies. That means we need to be speaking up. Urge your public officials to end the national shame of homelessness now.

Let the 2020 Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day be our last.

At least 2020 ends with a budget deal and pandemic relief

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

This year has been filled with unpredictability and turmoil. Our way of life has been negatively impacted. We have been forced to distance ourselves from those we love, our co-workers, and our traditions. 

COVID-19 has been incredibly challenging for people experiencing homelessness. Economists estimate that homelessness could increase by up to 32% as a result of COVID-19 related issues.  

With your help, we have been pushing Congress to include both short and long-term housing and other economic relief for everyday people. We are encouraged by the relief package and omnibus budget signed into law by the President this week.

This new $900 Billion COVID-19 relief plan includes:

  • $25 billion for rental assistance (click here see how much your state will receive)
  • Extends the  federal eviction moratorium for 1 month and use of CARES funding set to expire on 12/30/20 to 12/31/21.
  • $13 billion for enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
  • Provides direct payments of  at least $600 to adults and $600 per child. Families with incomes under $75,000/year. (Two parent household up to $150,000)
  • $284 billion for Paycheck Protection Program /small business loans. 
  • $20 billion for small business grants and $15 billion for live event venues.
  • $300 billion for federal unemployment supplement and temporarily keep in place pandemic-era programs that expanded unemployment insurance eligibility, this will allow 12 million people to remain on  unemployment insurance and enhance the 11 weeks of benefits by $300/week.
  • $20  billion for purchase of  vaccines, $8 billion for disbursement of vaccines and also provides relief to hospitals.
  • $82 billion for schools and colleges.
  • $10 Billion Child Care Assistance

The omnibus Fiscal Year 2021 budget passed includes:

  • A permanent, minimum 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credit rate, as well as disaster housing credits for qualified states, which could result in the addition of more than 130,000 units of affordable housing;
  • A five-year extension of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) at $5 billion for a total of $25 billion in new NMTC authority;
  • $4.839 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund;
  • $3 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants; and
  • $2.765 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund.
  • The 2020 CoC NOFA is postponed and current programs will be re-funded for one year (which we have pushed for since early in the pandemic!)

We still need more, both short and long term housing and other supports for everyday folks who have been impacted most by the pandemic and resulting economic downturn. We look forward to the new Congress and Administration focusing more on these issues as we move into a new decade!

As Congress Waits, America Freezes

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by Donald Whitehead

In January 2010, NCH released a report on Winter Services that detailed extended shelter hours and other services that work to decrease the risk of hypothermia deaths among people who are homeless. Hypothermia refers to the life-threatening conditions that can occur when a person’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

NCH’s Winter Services report in 2010 found that 700 people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness are killed from hypothermia annually in the United States. A similar report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that looked at data from 1999 to 2003 found that on average 688 deaths each year were due to hyperthermia. While the CDC report does not mention the housing status of those who passed away due to heat-related illnesses, we can relate the risks to people who are homeless to the CDC’s recommendations for preventing hyperthermia.

Last year in Los Angeles, despite the typical sunshine and mild temperatures, five homeless people died of causes that included, or were complicated by, hypothermia, surpassing San Francisco and New York City, which each reported two deaths. Over the last three years, 13 people have died at least partly because of the cold in LA, the coroner’s office said. And advocates worry that increased cold, rainy winter will mean more fatalities.

This year, the pandemic will exacerbate these issues. The country is facing an explosion of individuals entering the homeless system as eviction moratoria and unemployment benefits expire. In the past faith-based organizations have come to the rescue in many cities providing Hypothermia Shelters on their properties. This year many of those faith-based facilities are shuttered due the rising number of COVID-19 cases nationwide. Even with the expected approval of a COVID vaccine before the end of 2020, it will take at least six to nine months to implement.

It is vitally important that communities utilize Cares Act Funds and ESG to house those living on the streets. As Congress waits America Freezes. Please call your Congressperson and ask them to pass a stimulus bill now.

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