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NCH Statement on Coronavirus Response

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As communities across the United States continue to respond and react to the growing Coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic, the National Coalition for the Homeless today issued the following update to its members, supporters, policy makers, and people experiencing homelessness concerned about the public health crisis and its potential impact on people experiencing homelessness on the streets or in emergency shelters:

  1. It is important to recognize, and it cannot be overstated, that exposure to and infection by the Coronaviris is a community-wide problem that potentially affects all Americans, regardless of income and housing status.   However, people experiencing homelessness may be at greater risk of exposure and may be more vulnerable to the effects of the virus due to their homelessness – whether living on the streets, in encampments, or in crowded shelters.

  2. One of the most common recommendations of the CDC for limiting exposure to the virus – social distancing – is nearly impossible for those experiencing homelessness in most communities due to congregate emergency shelters and encampments those experiencing homelessness are forced to rely upon.  Additional housing options must be immediately deployed to lessen the risk of exposure and rapid community spread among the homeless population.

  3. Addressing the impact of the Coronaviris pandemic is a public health emergency that must be led by public health expects in our communities, states and at the Federal level through the Center for Disease Control.  Shelter and emergency service providers should not be called upon to divert limited resources needed to address the needs of the broader homeless population to address the Coronaviris impact within the homeless community.  Rather, public health responses must direct increased resources to meet the elevated and unique needs of those experiencing homelessness.

  4. Those who may be experiencing homelessness would not be in as great a risk of poor health outcomes, or spread of COVID-19, if they had access to safe, decent, affordable and accessible housing. We still have a lot of work to do to address the underlying income inequality and lack of low-cost housing that has perpetuated homelessness for decades.

  5. We must ensure that national, state and community-level public health planning efforts includes the homeless service agencies and those experiencing homelessness in the planning and responses.

  6. Public Health officials should provide adequate protective gear as needed, and include the safety homeless service workers and volunteers in their planning and implementation responses.

  7. Cities should provide hygiene facilities (port-a-potties, hand-washing stations) and trash pickup for residents of encampments – during and after any pandemic has passed.

  8. There should be a moratorium on encampment sweeps that displace already displaced households and that often cause the loss of personal property that includes medication and other life-sustaining items.

  9. All tests, treatment and quarantine locations should be offered without cost for all members of the community – housed or not, with or without health insurance.

  10. Each community should identify space that those who do not have a permanent home can access in case of quarantine. Any costs should come out of community-level public health resources.

  11. We must not divert limited funding for homeless services to be used to provide quarantine, testing or treatment. Homeless services are already woefully underfunded, and widespread homelessness is ALREADY a public health emergency!  Additional funding should be devoted by federal agencies to address the unique needs of those experiencing homelessness.

We further call upon Congress and the President to include in any emergency spending package to address the pandemic or the economic impact of such to include resources targeted to address the special needs of those experiencing homelessness, and those at risk of homelessness.  This should include a significant increase to emergency and homeless assistance funding through HUD, resources to prevent evictions due to the economic fallout, and increased public health and health care resources targeted to those experiencing homelessness.

We encourage those working with people experiencing homelessness, and those concerned about the impact of this pandemic on them, to utilize the following resources to develop appropriate outreach and treatment responses:

Coronavirus Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)


#TBT – Street Newspapers

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If you live in, or have ever been to, a city like Chicago, or Washington, DC, San Francisco, Nashville or Seattle, you have probably seen a vendor selling a paper that reports on issues of poverty and homelessness. This is a “Street Newspaper,” and there are over 40 of these in print in North America, and over 100 published in 34 countries around the world.

photo credit Do Haeng Michael Kitchen

We’ve shared before about the activism of the 1980’s and 90’s, when our current era of homelessness was just starting to rear its ugly head. People who were becoming homeless were intimately involved in advocacy and services to help folks who were unhoused. By the late 1980’s, homeless advocates realized there was a need for educating the larger public about the issues surrounding homelessness. Street News, first published in NYC in 1989, is credited with being the first street newspaper focused on homeless issues, followed closely by Street Sheet, still published by the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco.

Inspired by Street News, the Big Issue was launched as a “social business” in 1991 in the UK, inspiring a further wave of street newspapers across Europe. The International Network of Street Papers (INSP) was created in 1994 and our own beloved Michael Stoops helped to start the North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA) in 1996. The two networks worked collaboratively until 2013, when INSP became the single global network for street papers on all six continents.

Recent numbers from the INSP Network

Street papers in the US have, for the most part, intended to act as both an advocacy tool and a primary way for people who have been homeless to be active leaders in that advocacy. Today, most papers are run, written, and sold by homeless folks. Many papers offer case management assistance, training and networking opportunities to homeless folks in their communities.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has long supported the advocacy and empowerment outlet that street newspapers have provided. Street papers across the world continue to break down barriers between housed and unhoused people, creating employment opportunities to poor people worldwide.

Read More:

#TBT – In Celebration of Mental Health Month

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May is recognized as Mental Health Month. It is estimated that 1/3 of the homeless population is suffering from some form of mental illness, though popular mythology will tell us that most, if not all, homeless people are “crazy.”

Former President Ronald Reagan is sometimes referred to as the father of modern homelessness, not just because he oversaw drastic budget cuts to Federal affordable housing programs, but also because he repealed the Mental Health Systems Act, which had the effect of closing most institutional mental health service centers.

From a Salon article from 2013:

President Reagan never understood mental illness. Like Richard Nixon, he was a product of the Southern California culture that associated psychiatry with Communism. Two months after taking office, Reagan was shot by John Hinckley, a young man with untreated schizophrenia. Two years later, Reagan called Dr. Roger Peele, then director of St. Elizabeths Hospital, where Hinckley was being treated, and tried to arrange to meet with Hinckley, so that Reagan could forgive him. Peele tactfully told the president that this was not a good idea. Reagan was also exposed to the consequences of untreated mental illness through the two sons of Roy Miller, his personal tax advisor. Both sons developed schizophrenia; one committed suicide in 1981, and the other killed his mother in 1983. Despite such personal exposure, Reagan never exhibited any interest in the need for research or better treatment for serious mental illness.

5 FACTSMuch of the rhetoric in the 1980’s was about how patients at mental hospitals should have the agency to get the care they need. However,  neither the housing nor support services needed to fully integrate former patients into their communities were provided. The result was that many suffering from mental illness were left to fend for themselves on the streets.

Luckily, today, most of the country understands that mental illness is a disease and that those suffering from a mental illness need and deserve treatment. The popularity of Housing First homeless assistance models rests on the understanding that folks who are chronically homeless, often with a mental illness, need ongoing access to appropriate treatment and care.

In 1996, the Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) was signed into law, requiring that group health plans provide mental health treatment. Additionally, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, extended the scope of mental health services insurers were required to cover.

Despite these legislative advancements, it remains difficult to access adequate mental health care. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has been able to connect many homeless folks to care, but not all states have expanded their Medicaid offerings. Further, current attempts to add bureaucratic and counter-productive work requirements to Medicaid could decrease the number of poor folks who can access adequate mental health care.

Today, 40 years after de-institutionalization of mental illness patients, we still have not fully addressed the mental health needs of our residents, housed or not. See the below links for more:


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