NCH Statement on Coronavirus Response


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)

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