The National Coalition for the Homeless applauds all the communities that are rushing to provide desperately needed housing for people who are unhoused, and especially vulnerable to contracting and succumbing to COVID-19.
However, we are, quite frankly, disturbed that so many are still relying on congregate settings: big tents and open floor warehousing of people, in what is clearly a dire public health emergency for the entire country. In the hopes of relieving the strain on other overcrowded shelters, the San Diego government decided to open the convention center to the homeless population. They are expecting to house over 1,500 people during this crisis. San Francisco ignored early warnings from advocates and requests to place vulnerable folks in empty hotel rooms, and now residents and staff of shelters are falling ill. This is unacceptable. We are clearly failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in both sheltered, and unsheltered, populations, and in direct opposition to clear guidelines given by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Researchers who have long studied homelessness have projected that homeless individuals infected by COVID-19 would be twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than the general population. (Read the full report)
This crisis continues to highlight the structural inequities that have plagued us for decades, causing mass homelessness since the defunding of Federal affordable housing programs starting in the 1970’s.
We call on Congress to respond swiftly with the following:
- 11.5 billion for ESG (15 bil based on this study, minus the $4bil in the CARES Act)
- 4 billion for fair elections (based on this information)
- Emergency rental assistance for all tenants, including rural renters
- Extend moratoria on evictions to all renters, extend sunset date to 3 months after stay-at-home orders are lifted, and do not require all back rent paid when moratorium lifts
- Extend health care for uninsured/underinsured
- Extend funding for hotel/motel space for people who do not have a permanent home
- Facilitate transfer of unused/vacant housing to families who are unhoused
- Increase food assistance through the SNAP program
Further, we call on HUD either to automatically renew all FY 19 funded COC projects, or greatly simplify the renewal process. Our service providers are using all their capacity to ensure their unhoused community members are safe, we don’t need a lengthy application process during this public health crisis!
But again, let’s be clear, homelessness has been a public health emergency for over 4 decades!!
We stand in solidarity with our neighbors who are calling to #CancelTheRent. They know so well that the over 22 million Americans who have filed for unemployment, plus the up to 140 million Americans who were already on the edge before the coronavirus appeared, are in danger of becoming homeless.
We stand in solidarity with all those who have been left out of the Federal relief responses thus far, our poorest and most vulnerable neighbors. As Rev. Dr. William Barber puts it, “The virus is teaching us that from now on, living wages, guaranteed health care for all,unemployment and labor rights are not far left issues, but issues of right vs wrong, life vs death.”
We must work to correct the long-standing and systemic causes of housing, income, health and further racial inequities. When the emergency of Coronavirus infection has passed, we do not want to return to normal. We should all hope to see a new normal emerging where we and all of our neighbors have safe, affordable and accessible housing; adequate wages to cover our living expenses, adequate and affordable health care, and where our civil and human rights are equally defended and protected.