The city of Santa Fe New Mexico owned a defunct college and so when the pandemic hit the community in March 2020, city leaders moved those without homes into the empty dormitories. The local government also contracted with local motels to be able a total of 300 people with both of these resources. The city government initially ran operations, but eventually management of the facilities was taken over by a private non-profit that already worked with those experiencing homelessness. This quick response was funded largely through federal CARES act assistance.
This dormitory model has stopped outbreaks within the shelters that many other cities have seen. The cities of Albuquerque and Gallup have both faced outbreaks of COVID within congregate shelters. In fact, the city of Gallup had a single individual infect the local shelter which then traveled to the Navajo nation reservation and was devastating to the fragile population living in the surrounding areas.
Dormitories and hotels have been used across the country to successfully keep vulnerable and unhoused folks safe from this deadly pathogen. Santa Fe has a comprehensive continuum including permanent supportive housing and, during the pandemic, has worked to reduce the number of people in congregate living facilities, which has helped move many into safe places to quarantine. But advocates report that they are still seeing steady streams of individuals from all age groups entering the homeless system.
The local poverty rate is 12.4% overall, with 25% of the children living below the poverty level. The state estimates that 12.3% of the population are behind on their rent at least one month since the pandemic started. The area has a higher than average unemployment rate of 13%, and higher than the national average of people without health insurance at 14.8%. Especially during the pandemic economic downturn, these factors have contributed to many falling into homelessness.
Advocates in Santa Fe report that service agencies have really stepped up to help in the face of this global health emergency. Many Continuum of Care (i.e. HUD-funded) agencies have donated staff time to help keep the emergency facilities operational and to open overflow facilities when necessary. Service workers have been putting in extra hours to staff the dormitory in order to keep people safe.
Santa Fe is not as hostile to homeless people as some other cities in the state. Local unhoused folks have not had the conflicts with law enforcement that folks in other communities have faced. City officials are largely following CDC guidelines not to disrupt encampments during the pandemic, keeping contact with encampments to a minimum. Local advocates have worked to keep the community informed during the pandemic and to keep those without housing as safe as possible.
As states roll out vaccinations, we encourage public health officials to make vaccinating people experiencing homelessness and homeless service front-line workers a top priority. Click here to view current state vaccination priority lists.
Here are some specifics from the Centers on Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) on the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.:
- There are two COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized and recommended for use in the United States, and three other vaccines are currently in large-scale clinical trials. To learn more about the different vaccines for COVID-19 and how vaccines work, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html
- COVID-19 mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a piece of a protein to trigger an immune response and build immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19. mRNA does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA, and the cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA as soon as it is finished using these instructions.Learn about mRNA vaccines and how they work: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html
- None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use in the United States uses the live virus that causes COVID-19. You may have symptoms like a fever after you get a vaccine. This is normal and a sign that your immune system is learning how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Learn more about the facts behind COVID-19 vaccines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html
- How many people need to get a COVID- 19 vaccine for herd immunity?Herd immunity means that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they’ve already had the disease or they’ve been vaccinated. Herd immunity makes it hard for the disease to spread from person to person, and it even protects those who cannot be vaccinated, like newborns. While experts don’t yet know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, vaccination is a safer way to build protection than getting sick with COVID-19.Have a question about COVID-19 vaccines? See answers to our most frequently asked questions: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html
If your community or organization is in need of face masks for the personal protection of people experiencing homelessness from COVID, please contact us at info @ nationalhomeless.org to request free shipments of between 100-5,000 masks.
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!
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.