CDC: Housing, Not Handcuffs Is the Way to Stop COVID-19 Amongst Homeless Populations

Advocates Hail First Step, Call for More Help



Contact: Crys Letona

202-638-2535 x 109

(March 23, 2020, Washington, D.C.) – Late Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued official guidance stating, “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19.” The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center) and our Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign members agree with the outlined recommendations and are grateful that the CDC has laid out actions that will help, not harm, people experiencing homelessness.

“We thank the CDC for emphasizing that from a public health perspective, stopping sweeps of homeless encampments and providing housing, or at least sanitation for encampments, is a necessary immediate step in addressing the COVID-19 crisis,” said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at the Law Center. “But now Congress and our communities need to do their part to ensure housing and other aid make it to people experiencing homelessness and those who are caring for them.”

The Law Center put out its top-10 recommendations on constructive ways that cities, states, and the federal government should be addressing homelessness in light of the COVID-19 crisis last week. The CDC adopted a few of these recommendations, and now we turn our focus to other issues that need addressing:

  • None of the COVID-19 relief bills to date have provided additional funding for those serving homeless populations;
  • Congress has not yet placed a nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures;
  • As Congress debates sending direct relief checks, Sens. Schatz, Hirono, Wyden, Sanders, and Durbin issued a letter to Senate leadership expressing concern that people experiencing homelessness who may not have a permanent address or ID may not be able to access such relief;
  • Schools and universities need additional resources to ensure students experiencing homelessness are able to receive equitable access to the same online curriculum and are provided continued meals programs;
  • Shelter is still inadequate; vacant federal, state, and local surplus properties, as well as hotels and cruise line recipients of any bailouts, should be made available for housing, safe parking, and service distribution.

“The message from the public health experts at the CDC is clear: housing, not handcuffs or forced congregate sheltering, for those experiencing homelessness, is the way to best ensure we all remain safer in the face of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Eric Tars, legal director at the Law Center. “And to get them into that housing, Congress must make clear that any hotel or cruise line that wants our public dollars in a bailout must offer to put to their rooms to public good!”

The CDC Guidance is available here:

The Law Center’s recommendations and other best practices from across the country are available here:


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.

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