(March 27, 2020, Washington, D.C.) – Today, the House of Representatives passed the CARES Act, ensuring—amongst other provisions—that our unhoused neighbors are protected and that those at risk of becoming homeless are safe. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (The Law Center) is grateful that the final Stimulus bill includes $4 billion in funding and protections for homeless Americans and more than $150 billion in other funding that is eligible for use for homeless services, housing and rental assistance, and for the organizations working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to aid them.
These provisions, added following a major campaign by grassroots and national advocates working together, provide funds to house people now on the streets and in shelter, helps ensure access to school for homeless and other poor children, and help prevent more people from becoming homeless. The Stimulus also provides funds for rent assistance and a moratorium on many foreclosures and evictions—helping to prevent more people from becoming homeless. In all:
- $4 billion in flexible Emergency Service Grants which can go to immediately placing people into at least temporary housing, including in hotel and motel rooms – any costs incurred since the beginning of the COVID-19 response will be reimbursable;
- $5 billion in Community Development Block Grants can be used for a variety of state and local needs, including services and rental assistance;
- $150 billion in highly flexible COVID-19 relief fund dollars can be used for almost any disaster related need, including housing;
- $30.75 billion for the Department of Education to meet many needs including “addressing the unique needs of low-income children and…students experiencing homelessness.”
- Importantly “none of the funds … may be used to require people experiencing homelessness to receive treatment or perform any other prerequisite activities as a condition for receiving shelter, housing, or other services.”
Still unclear is how people who are homeless will be able to benefit from the cash the bill provides. Senators Schatz, Hirono, Wyden, Sanders, and Durbin, raised this issue and that Senate leadership recognized the need to address it. But the bill offers few specifics aside from mandating a general public education campaign to be carried out by the Treasury Secretary.
Studies show that people experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable to illness in general, and to Covid-19 in particular. Because they lack housing, self-quarantining and social distancing is difficult or impossible.
“These funds help house people experiencing homelessness so that they can maintain social distance, self-quarantine if need be, and have access to sanitation—providing life-saving aid to them and to entire communities,” said Maria Foscarinis, founder and Executive Director of the Law Center. “This crisis makes clearer than ever that ending homelessness is imperative, not only for those most directly affected by it but for all of us. Ensuring that everyone has a safe, decent place to live is essential,” she added.
Before the pandemic, only one in four people poor enough to be eligible for housing assistance received it; now, with large-scale layoffs already under way, already vulnerable people will be squeezed further. Last week, Rep. Jayapal introduced the “Housing is a Human Right Act,” with Reps. Meng, Garcia, Omar, Pressley, Tlaib, Blumenauer and Ocasio-Cortez are original co-sponsors. The Law Center supports the legislation, H.R. 6308, gave input in its drafting, and is calling for its passage.
These legislative measures will help support the Centers for Disease Control’s recently published guidelines for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. “The CDC issued guidance stating that the best public health approach in this crisis is to stop encampment sweeps and provide individual housing units, like hotel rooms, RVs, or modular homes, rather than communal shelters where the virus can be passed more easily,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at the Law Center. “This bill gives communities the dollars to do so, so now there are no excuses. It’s not just individuals’ duty to follow stay at home orders, it’s our governments’ duty to ensure people have a home to stay in—for their health, and for everyone’s.”
The Law Center’s recommendations for protecting and serving people experiencing during this crisis, as well as other best practices from across the country, are available here: https://homelesslaw.org/coronavirus/.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center) is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to prevent and end homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education.