COVID-19 Protections for Homeless Populations

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COVID-19 Resources

Responses Should be Built on Science and Best Practices, Not Prejudice

Hotel / Motel Rooms for People Experiencing Homelessness: Various cities and states nationwide are making efforts to provide individual housing units for people experiencing homelessness so they may isolate themselves during the Coronavirus pandemic. This includes cities from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. 85 state and local initiatives and 10 private initiatives to provide individual units for people experiencing homelessness during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Project Roomkey (CA): California announced the Project RoomKey program through which it has secured FEMA funding to secure 15,000 rooms for people experiencing homelessness. The state will work with counties to locate and secure hotels for housing. As of April 3, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said state officials had secured nearly 7,000 hotel rooms to house individuals experiencing homelessness and has already housed about 870 people.

Hotel/Motel Vouchers for People Experiencing Homelessness (VA): Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that the state is making efforts to provide temporary housing for Virginians experiencing homelessness. The state is able to provide temporary housing for about 1,500 Virginians who are experiencing homeless through hotel/motel vouchers, using federal funds granted through the public assistance portion of the state’s major disaster declaration. Officials estimated that 500 hotels and motels across the state are willing to provide rooms. Northam also announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be providing food, cleaning supplies, and transportation to Virginians experiencing homelessness.

Executive Order to Provide Non-Congregate Housing for People Experiencing Homelessness (CT): Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut signed an executive order authorizing non-congregant housing for persons at risk. Executive Order No. 7P authorizes the Commissioner of Public Health, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, and commissioners of Emergency Services and Public Protection and Housing to issue “such orders as they deem necessary to provide or arrange non-congregant housing with sufficient physical distancing capacity” for individuals at increased risk of exposure, infection, or transmission of COVID-19. In response, the Department of Public Health issued an Order directing state, local, and private sector partners to work together to “immediately arrange for the movement as needed of people experiencing homelessness from congregate shelters to alternative housing for the purpose of providing adequate social distancing between all individuals, including appropriate housing for currently healthy, reasonably believed to have been exposed to or infected with COVID-19, or recovering from COVID -19 individuals.”

Housing Assistance Grants (CO): The State of Colorado announced it will receive more than $34 million in grants specifically for housing assistance programs. The HUD grants have been awarded through the Community Development Block Grant program, the Emergency Solutions Grant program, and the Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS program. The Governor announced plans to add 10,000 beds for COVID-19 patients needing quarantine or basic supervision, including asymptomatic patients or those experiencing homelessness, by May 15.

Emergency Rental Assistance (DE): The State of Delaware introduced a program to provide emergency housing assistance of up to $1,500 for renter households. Eligible applicants must have a maximum household income at or below 80% of the county’s Area Median Income, and provide documentation showing an impact on their employment or income beginning March 10, 2020, or later that is attributed to the pandemic, including “a layoff, reduced work hours or needing to take unpaid leave due to childcare or other issues arising as a result of the health crisis.”

Funds to Ensure Housing Accessible to All (NV): The State of Nevada has announced a prioritization of resources to help people experiencing homelessness, including to “protect the health and safety of Nevadans [by] ensuring that housing is accessible to all.” Nevada communities received over $20 million in funding from the CARES Act grants, to be used for the housing programs Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).

Hotel Rooms for People Experiencing Homelessness (New York City, NY): On Saturday, April 11, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 6,000 people experiencing homelessness would be relocated to hotel rooms. The mayor also announced that 3,500 of these 6,000 individuals had already been placed into hotels for shelter prior to the pandemic. These individuals will be placed into hotels by April 20. Seniors, individuals exhibiting symptoms, and individuals in crowded shelters will receive priority in this relocation effort. Furthermore, an additional 250 transitional housing of safe haven beds will be made available for people who have been sleeping on the streets or subways. On Tuesday, April 28, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the City will continue to move 1,000 or more homeless New Yorkers into hotel rooms each week.

Landlord Engagement and Assistance Program (San Diego, CA): On April 21, 2020, the City of San Diego has requested that local landlords rent units to people experiencing homelessness as part of the city’s “Landlord Engagement and Assistance Program.” The program offers participating landlords up to $500 for the first unit rented out to a person or family experiencing homelessness and $250 for each additional unit. Participating landlords will also receive up to double the contract rent in security deposits, approximately $100 in utility assistance per household, and a contingency fund to cover expenses that exceed the security deposits.

Housing and Services (Tucson, AZ): The City of Tucson is utilizing some of the $1.67 million received from the Emergency Solutions Grant to house individuals experiencing homelessness who meet certain criteria in hotel rooms. The city will place 115 people experiencing homelessness who are already sick in one hotel and allocate the remaining 200 rooms in another hotel for individuals who may be high-risk, screened based on age and high-risk health factors.  The “second phase” of the city’s plan will focus on homeless individuals in parks and encampments to provide services, as well as those who have been discharged from hospitals. The city is also offering medical, case management, and behavioral health services for those in need.

Housing and Services (New Orleans, LA): New Orleans city and state officials reached an agreement to convert a 155-room hotel into an intake center for people experiencing homelessness. Individuals will be provided housing, three meals a day, laundry services, and other supplies, and active measures are being taken to ensure isolation and compliance with social-distancing guidelines.  The program will be paid for using a mixture of federal, state, local, and philanthropic funds.

Emergency Funds (Atlanta, GA): Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms announced an executive order on March 17, 2020 to create a $7 million emergency fund to assist those who have been impacted by the coronavirus. The order will allocate, among other funds, $1 million to provide emergency assistance to homeless preparedness, $1 million to provide emergency assistance to child food programs, and $1 million to provide emergency assistance to food programs for seniors. Mayor Bottoms also signed an executive order on April 8, 2020, to match all private donations of up to $1.5 million to provide additional shelter for people experiencing homelessness in the Atlanta area. Leading up to this executive order, many people experiencing homelessness have been sleeping in Atlanta’s airport each night.

Temporary Housing Units and Resources (Hilo, HI): Volunteers in Hilo, Hawaii constructed thirty-two temporary housing units for people experiencing homelessness to utilize beginning the week of April 20th. Each housing unit is 10-foot by 8-foot and includes a bed with linens and other necessities. The units will house at least 40 people. This temporary emergency shelter is called the Hale Hanakahi Emergency Shelter, located in the NAS Pool parking lot. Several non-profit organizations, including HOPE Services Hawaii and the Neighborhood Place of Puna, are working together to provide shelter-monitoring services, grab & go meals, laundry services, and services pertaining to behavioral and mental health. HOPE Services will provide counseling to connect each resident with permanent housing opportunities. The units will remain for the duration of the crisis.

Individual Housing Pods (Los Angeles, CA): Agile Medical Systems has created individual housing pods to help isolate COVID-19 patients and has made an offer to the City of Los Angeles to purchase pods to house people experiencing homelessness. The pods are waterproof, weatherproof, and they have built-in heat and ventilation. The company is selling the pods for about $4,000 apiece, and it estimates that it can deliver about 2,500 pods a week.

Moratorium on Encampment Sweeps (Reno, NV): The city of Reno, Nevada discontinued cleanups of all encampments on March 11, 2020. The policy was extended by the Nevada Department of Transportation, which canceled an additional cleanup scheduled for April 15 (after originally providing notices directing individuals to relocate) and suspended all plans for further cleanups.

Resolution Against Sweeping Encampments (Oakland, CA): The Oakland City Council passed a resolution asking the City Administrator to follow CDC recommendations against clearing encampments unless individual housing units are available.

COVID-19 Testing and Resources via Street Medical Teams (Los Angeles, CA): Beginning on Monday, April 20, Los Angeles officials will dispatch “street medical teams” to administer coronavirus testing at homeless encampments in the area, including Skid Row. These medical professionals will also provide these individuals with information to help combat the virus, including preventative measures. Additionally, officials have opened a pop-up testing site in Skid Row, which is staffed by the LA Fire Department. These teams will also provide transportation to individuals who need shelter to areas for quarantine, and convey valuable information regarding coronavirus and preventative measures to those who may not otherwise have access to the information.

Medical Outreach and Services for People Experiencing Homelessness (Gainesville, FL): On Wednesday, April 8, county officials in Gainesville, Florida announced a plan to assist people experiencing homelessness within the county. The county will partner with United Way, a nonprofit organization, to conduct medical outreach to people experiencing homelessness in the Gainesville Area. This outreach will consist of checking residents for flu-like symptoms and distributing hand sanitizers and toiletries. They plan to use tablets to map where individuals experiencing homelessness are staying and continually follow up in the future. Gainesville has also been utilizing three hotels to house people experiencing homelessness who have exhibited symptoms for fourteen days.

Testing and Medical Services Facility for People Experiencing Homelessness (Springfield, MA): The city of Springfield, Massachusetts created a state-of-the-art testing facility to provide medical services for those experiencing homelessness who feel they have symptoms. These precautionary and proactive measures are designed to help combat and stay ahead of the spread of COVID-19. The Homeless Tent Triage is comprised of three tents: one tent is reserved for testing, one for those with symptoms to isolate, and one to hold people in quarantine.

Shower and Sanitation Facilities (Los Angeles, CA): Los Angeles officials have reached a deal with the YMCA to open shower and sanitation facilities at nine locations to people experiencing homelessness, many of whom had been depending on similar facilities at gyms that were closed under public health related orders during the coronavirus outbreak. The nine YMCA sites will be available to ‘folks who are living on the streets but need to have the same sanitation requirements that those of us that are housed do.” The city will pay $20,000 a month to each of the nine YMCA facilities to enable access.

SAFE Teams to Visit Encampments and Provide Access to Transportation to Receive Medical Services (Snohomish County, WA): Snohomish County has established the SnoCo Agencies for Engagement (SAFE) team to engage people experiencing homelessness and to identify those with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or underlying serious health issues. A team comprised of physicians, community paramedics, social workers, and law enforcement officers will visit encampments and known congregation areas. Individuals with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will be referred to the County’s Isolation and Quarantine Facility at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett for further testing or will be offered transportation to receive other medical services.

Mobile Testing & Transportation (Hartford, CT): Hartford HealthCare will begin to pilot mobile COVID-19 testing for the city’s most vulnerable populations, including nursing homes and hotels housing people experiencing homelessness. The city additionally announced that it will offer free rides to those with an appointment at two local hospitals who do not have transportation on their own. The network has secured testing kits and increased its testing capacity in recent days.

Transportation to and From Urgent Care Facilities for Women Experiencing Homelessness (Waltham, MA): Beginning the week of April 20, 2020, local businesses in Waltham, Massachusetts partnered with the city’s mayor to assist in transporting women experiencing homelessness to an area clinic to receive coronavirus testing. The AFC Urgent Care provided free testing to the women, who are all residents staying at the Bristol Lodge Women’s Dry Shelter in the City of Waltham. Watertown Ford provided a rental van to and from the urgent care facilities, and Quick & Clean Car Wash of Waltham sanitized the van afterward.

Testing for All People Experiencing Homelessness (Boston, MA): The City of Boston launched an initiative to test all persons experiencing homelessness for COVID-19. This comprehensive testing is aided by a donation of 1,000 additional test kits from Boston-based company Orig3n. Nonprofit groups, the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and Boston Public Health Commission, have also partnered with the city to conduct additional tests for people experiencing homelessness.

Testing, Treatment, and Medication for People Experiencing Homelessness (UT): Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah healthcare provider, is increasing testing available for those experiencing homelessness and coordinating with local health departments for care. The organization is setting up mobile unit hotspots for testing and treatment, providing hospital stays and meals for those awaiting test results, and providing medication for those experiencing homelessness for fourteen days after they are discharged.

Mobile Shower Facilities (Nashville, TN): In Nashville, Tennessee, Paul Schmitz, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization Shower-Up, is providing mobile shower facilities for people experiencing homelessness to utilize during the COVID-19 pandemic. The shower spaces within the mobile truck are 6 feet by 4 feet with separate changing areas, with toiletry items provided, including soap, shampoo, toothpaste, brushes, and razors. The program is expected to provide 5,000 showers in 2020.

Hand-Washing Stations (Atlanta, GA): In Atlanta, Georgia, the founder of homeless advocacy group Love Beyond Walls, Terence Lester, responded to the need for sanitation services for people experiencing homelessness by bringing 40 hand-washing stations to Atlanta. Each hand-washing station has a 5-gallon water tank connected to a foot-operated pedal that controls a hose that connects to a sink bowl and spout. The sinks each have a 5-gallon water tank, which volunteers work to refill daily. The sinks cost about $100 per unit. Lester estimates that these sinks serve more than 1,000 people each week.

Handwashing Stations, Shower Facilities, and Distribution of Resources, Including Mobile Phones and Toiletries (New York City, NY): Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is partnering with local group shelters in New York city to provide resources to improve infection prevention and control measures. Such resources include handwashing stations, distributing mobile phones to New Yorkers without access to technology to contact support services and telemedicine providers, and the opening of a temporary shower trailer for those lacking access to such facilities. Visitors to the shower trailer receive toiletry packets. Doctors without borders has donated over 80 handwashing stations to soup kitchens and supportive housing facilities and more than 1,000 mobile phones.

Funding for Food (FL): The United Health Foundation has committed $1 million to support Feeding Florida and the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. The funds will be used to harvest, prepare, and distribute healthy food; create isolation units to house those with COVID-19 symptoms; retrofit and expand shelter capacity; and expand food service providers.

“Eating Together Apart” Program to Provide Food for People Experiencing Homelessness (Austin, TX): Officials in Austin, Texas have partnered with officials in Travis, County and local nonprofits to help provide meals for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. The coordinated initiative, titled “Eating Together Apart” (EAT) aims to provide the homeless “with critical nutrition” during the pandemic. As part of the initiative, the Central Texas Food Bank supplied the city of Austin with food provisions that were then packed into 1,000 bags and distributed to encampments outside of the city’s “urban core”. The meal bags distributed as part of this initiative also include sanitation products and toiletries, including health information and trash bags. The City of Austin says that future meal bags will also contain protective face coverings, hygiene products, and toilet paper. With the understanding that some people experiencing homelessness may be unable to store food products, the City developed a plan to provide one thousand refrigerated, ready-to-eat meals a day, which will go into place on April 20.

Meal Provision (Philadelphia, PA): With a goal of ensuring individuals experiencing homelessness have at least two meals a day, Step Up to the Plate has been providing> approximately 3,600 meals per day to individuals in need. Ultimately, through partnerships with other organizations in the area, the goal is to also offer coronavirus testing at the site.

Reduction of Parking Restrictions and Citations (Pasadena, CA): Pasadena local officials announced they have curbed parking restrictions, including temporarily suspending metered enforcement in an effort to increase up delivery and curbside pickups for restaurants, placing a hold on any “noncritical vehicle impounds,” and forbidding booting vehicles with a significant number of parking citations and expired registrations. The city of Pasadena has also set aside $150,000 to research and devise a plan on how best to bring meals to residents in need.

Reduction of Parking Restrictions and Citations (Seattle, WA): The City of Seattle announced that it would ease enforcement of some parking regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The City will suspend enforcement of 72-hour parking rules, limit towing of vehicles to situations creating safety hazards or access issues, and create “temporary loading zones” for restaurants to facilitate food pick-up.

Reduction of Parking Restrictions and Citations (Washington, DC): Washington, D.C. announced that it is suspending vehicle booting and towing as well as ticketing for the following scenarios:  emergency no parking violations (vehicles will be relocated without charge and not ticketed), expired plates and inspection stickers, expired residential parking permits, and expired meters. The District will still enforce ticketing for safety violations, i.e., blocking a fire hydrant.

Widespread Early Release of Inmates with Expiring Sentences (OH): The state of Ohio will release hundreds of inmates with 90 days or fewer remaining on their sentence. Governor DeWine authorized the release of 105 non-violent inmates 90 days ahead of their scheduled release. Governor DeWine said that he expects more inmates to meet the qualifying criteria and to be released regularly in the coming weeks as they hit the 90-day mark. Sentencing judges have also deferred sentences for 500 inmates, and DeWine has asked judges to release dozens of medically vulnerable inmates. All released inmates will be tested prior to their release.

Incarceration Relief (Middlesex County, MA): The Middlesex Jail & House of Correction in Massachusetts has managed to decrease the number of incarcerated people by more than 100 over the course of four weeks–a 15% population decline. The Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, district attorney, local law enforcement, and courts are limiting arrests and releasing vulnerable inmates to slow down the spread of coronavirus in the jail. Other inmates have been placed into the electronic monitoring program. Bail has been reduced, and as a result, 48 people were released. The Mass Bail Fund has also worked to release 19 people who were on low cash bails.  Officials evaluating all forms of release have given preference to elderly inmates and those with chronic health conditions, as outlined by the CDC.

Reduced Prosecution (New York City, NY): Eric Gonzalez, the District Attorney of Brooklyn, has shifted his office’s policies towards releasing incarcerated individuals. The Brooklyn DA’s office has consented to the release of 275 people and declined to prosecute 400 cases. Gonzalez also advocates for a non-cash bail system.

Release of Low-Level Inmates (New York City, NY): Mayor De Blasio has begun releasing low-level offense inmates in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus in New York City jails. The City has released over 1,400 inmates who were vulnerable to contracting coronavirus as well as those who were deemed a low risk for re-offending or who had short terms left on their sentences; as a result, the city’s jail population has dropped below 4,000 for the first time since WWII. De Blasio has also announced that he will be filling 11,000 hotel rooms with sick New Yorkers who need space to quarantine; public hospitals and local health clinics will determine who gets these accommodations. The rooms will also be available to health care workers and people experiencing homelessness who have been exposed to the virus.

Food Services for Students (WV): West Virginia will address food insecurity among students by providing pandemic EBT cards. The cards will provide more than $300 per child in a household to assist with food payments. For those with SNAP benefits, those funds will be loaded on to that card and for those without a card will be sent in the mail.

Food Services for Students (MD): All Maryland students who receive free or reduced lunches will potentially be eligible for a new program approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program will benefit an estimated 427,000 children who have missed meals due to school closures from COVID-19. Funds will be issued via EBT cards and monthly assistance will be calculated at $5.70 per day per child for every day since school closures.

Housing Vouchers (Boston, MA): The city of Boston announced 1,000 housing vouchers to be provided to families with children in Boston Public Schools who are experiencing homelessness or living precariously, to help resolve the current issue of shelter overcrowding and multiple families in a room. Half of these vouchers are new, and half were announced before the spread of the coronavirus. The first of the families will be placed in housing in May. However, thousands of homeless families who do not have kids in school will not be eligible for this housing.

Food Services for Students (Smyrna, DE): The Smyrna School District in Delaware has continued to provide meal service to those students in need as the schools have closed locally. 1,600 meals are going to students each day, and the meals are made from scratch and provided in single-use containers. Some funds come from the Harry K Foundation, which raises money and donates it to address food insecurity, and have been used to set up food pantries at the Smyrna School District separate from the meal service.

Food Services for Students (Cambridge, WI): The Cambridge, Wisconsin school district is offering meals to all students regardless of their financial need during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program originally started in early March and was only serving students identified by the district.  Beginning April 13th, the program expanded to any student, 18 and under. Students will receive two meals for two days each on Mondays and two meals for three days each on Wednesdays.

Food Services for Students (Coos Bay, OR): The At Risk Kids Project, in Coos County, Oregon is delivering hot meals to students in the school district, provided by local restaurants. The organization reached out to the school district to find out which students would be in need of meal provisions during the pandemic. In addition to hot meals, the organization delivers homework and will continue these services into the summer.

Funds Distributed to Students in Colleges and Universities (CA-39, CA): California Congressman Gil Cisneros has announced that the $31 million his congressional district, CA-39, is receiving from the CARES Act will be used in part to fund homeless assistance, medical facilities, food banks, and various other needs related to the economy or housing. Cisneros also announced that $100 million in aid would be distributed to students, colleges, and universities in the district, with half of that money going to students to provide financial support for urgent needs like food, housing, course materials, technology, healthcare, and childcare.

Food Services for Low-Income College Students (Los Angeles, CA): Everytable, funded by government organizations, has provided nearly 300,000 free meals to over 1,000 residents in Los Angeles who are experiencing homelessness and currently in hotel rooms. The meals are funded by government agencies. An additional 168,000 meals were provided by donors and foundations and will be distributed to foster youth and low-income college students.

Use of State Parks as Temporary Encampment Grounds (KY): On May 15, 2020, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced that state parks will reopen on June 1. However, two parks, Lake Cumberland State Park and Lake Barkley State Park will remain closed to allow for individuals experiencing homelessness residing in the parks to stay.

Temporary Tent Villages (Portland, OR): City officials in Portland, Oregon will open three tent villages this week to provide people experiencing homeless safe housing during the pandemic. The City Hall will provide tents, elevated cots, and sleeping bags to those residing within the tent villages. These tent villages will be located in three separate sites across the city and will each include 45 tent platforms that are all separated by at least ten feet. Outside tents will not be allowed. The tent villages will provide drinking water, phone charging stations, food areas, a shower truck, and trash services. Currently, Portland has not mandated that people experiencing homelessness must be relocated into these tent villages.

Resolution to Create Temporary Sanctioned Encampments in Empty Parking Lots (San Francisco, CA): On April 21, 2020, San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced a resolution to transform empty parking lots into sanctioned encampments where people experiencing homelessness may set up tents. These tents would be set up six feet apart, and the people residing in them would have access to bathrooms, handwashing stations, meals, drinking water, and garbage disposal.

To download and print a categorized list of highlighted practices, click here.

A list of local and state COVID-19 responses is available here from the Law Center.

Disclaimer: Data in this list is intended as a reference, and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty does not endorse any specific practice. This information was compiled by tracking COVID-19 response data as identified in media publications nationwide or through information shared from local advocates or agencies. Data in this list might be incomplete, contain inaccuracies, contain duplicate entries, and/or might depict policies or practices not being properly implemented. This list will be corrected and updated as more practices are identified. If you are aware of a policy or practice not included in this list, please contact rbal@homelesslaeorg.

To download our recommendations and statement, click here.

Take Action

Send a letter calling for your community to stop sweeps and place people into individual housing units in accordance with CDC guidance, a letter calling for your community to deprioritize use of congregate shelter facilities for individuals experiencing homelessness, or a letter calling for both. A template press release is also available.

Source: Brooke Anderson Photography

COVID-19 Webinar Series

The Law Center launched an ongoing webinar series in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Upcoming topics include racial equity, policing and incarceration, and renters’ rights. These webinars serve as a way to share resources and advocacy tools to people across the country so that we can all work together to end and prevent homelessness.

Our webinar page is updated every week with video recordings of past webinars and information on more to come.

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COVID-19 Resources

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