This past month was the hottest June ever recorded in U.S. history. For those living on the West coast, climate change has had drastic effects in recent years leading to extreme high temperatures, extensive droughts, and explosive forest fires. Many have lost their homes and their communities to these fires with no hope of returning and no place to go.
Climate change has exacerbated an already painful housing shortage on the West coast by displacing entire communities. Residents who lose their homes to fires not only struggle with the difficulty of finding a new place to live, they must also face the extreme heat and toxic smoke without the safety of a place to shelter.
Two-thirds of the 150,000 people experiencing homelessness in California alone are exposed to smoke and ash from forest fires because they do not have access to shelter. Poor air quality has a dramatic impact on respiratory health which is especially detrimental for those experiencing homelessness who are at greater risk of illness and disease resulting from barriers to health care, food insecurity, and limited access to resources and social services.
Since many shelters are still operating at a reduced capacity due to COVID-19, large numbers of people experiencing homelessness are likely to experience adverse health conditions this summer because they do not have access to shelter.
As we push through the remainder of wildfire season, we must support our unhoused brothers and sisters in every way possible. Following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, cities should halt all encampment sweeps unless housing options are provided. Tents provide individuals experiencing homelessness with protection from the elements, a way to stay cool, and allow for increased physical distance between themselves and others to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition, communities can still take advantage of 100% reimbursement by FEMA for the costs of non-congregate sheltering of people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic through September.
Permanent housing is the solution to ending homelessness and is the only way to ensure that everyone will be protected from the treacherous conditions outside. The Law Center continues to advocate for the human right to housing to ensure that no one suffers from heat stroke or respiratory disease because they do not have a place to call home.
The Staff of the National Homelessness Law Center
CDC Announcement on the Federal Eviction Moratorium
The federal eviction moratorium was extended from the previous June 30 deadline and is set to officially end on July 31, 2021. The Biden Administration has indicated there will be no further extensions after this date and that the President is acting swiftly to distribute critical aid to renters across the country who are at risk of eviction at the end of the month.
Many jurisdictions, however, report trouble spending the rental assistance aid, which was passed by Congress through several Covid-19 relief bills and totals roughly $46 billion. If emergency rental assistance is not distributed by the end of the month, the country is likely to experience a massive wave of evictions.
For more information on how to obtain emergency rental assistance, check out these updated fact sheets provided by the Department of the Treasury.
In addition to its announcement about the federal eviction moratorium, the CDC provided updated recommendations encouraging communities to consider the availability of housing before conducting encampment sweeps. The CDC also recommends that adequate sanitation and access to medical care should remain available at all times.
Department of Justice Letter on Eviction Diversion
The Department of Justice (DOJ) Associate Attorney General, Vanita Gupta, issued a letter with important resources for courts to prevent disaster while families wait for aid.
DOJ advises courts to consider taking the following eviction diversion steps:
- Require landlords to apply for rental assistance before filing;
- Extend time in pending cases;
- Modify summonses and other form filings;
- Partner with Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and Legal Services Providers to raise awareness about the availability of rental assistance funds;
- Build more robust eviction diversion programs to encourage landlords and tenants to resolve disputes without formal adjudication and increase the chance that tenants can stay in their homes.
The Law Center encourages attorneys and advocates to reach out to their local judges to urge them to put in place these protections.
On Thursday, July 15, 2021, Representative Maxine Waters (CA-43) announced the introduction of a groundbreaking legislative housing package. This legislation includes three distinct bills:
- The Housing is Infrastructure Act
- The Ending Homelessness Act
- The Downpayment Toward Equity Act
In previous weeks, Rep. Waters had released an updated discussion draft of the Ending Homelessness Act. This bill establishes a universal voucher program to ensure every eligible household can receive rental assistance, provides $10 billion to build homes affordable to people with the greatest needs, bans source of income discrimination and provides funding for fair housing enforcement, reduces segregation and expands opportunity by increasing housing choice, and permanently authorizes the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and the McKinneyVento Homeless Assistance Act.
Thanks to Law Center advocacy, Rep. Waters included language which prioritizes decriminalizing homelessness in the Ending Homelessness Act. Take action today by calling your members of Congress and urging them to co-sponsor the Housing is Infrastructure Act and Ending Homelessness Act!
Representative Ilhan Omar (MN-05) will be reintroducing the Homes for All Act which aims to provide every American with access to a safe and stable place to live. This bill would change public housing funding from discretionary to mandatory, create a new $200 billion fund under the Department of Housing and Urban Development to fight gentrification, and invest $1 trillion over 10 years to create 12 million new housing units that are permanently affordable, conveniently located, and provide voluntary support services to all residents.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, no state or major metropolitan area in the United States has an adequate supply of rental housing contributing to the growing housing gap that has left 12 million Americans severely housing cost-burdened.
The Law Center endorses Rep. Omar’s Homes for All Act because, if fully realized, the proposal will guarantee safe, accessible, sustainable, and permanently-affordable homes for all while affirming housing as a basic human right for every American. We encourage our readers to contact Rep. Omar’s office to support this legislation before and after it is re-introduced.
Representative Cori Bush (MO-01) will also be unveiling her Unhoused Bill of Rights in the near future. As a mother of two who previously experienced homelessness, Rep. Bush understands the difficulties of living without a home. An Unhoused Bill of Rights would protect people who are unhoused from laws that target homeless people for their lack of housing and use of public space.
Research has shown that the criminalization of homelessness does not address the real causes of homelessness, exacerbates homelessness, wastes taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to solving the problem, and is unconstitutional. The Law Center supports Rep. Bush’s steps to create an Unhoused Bill of Rights and is grateful to be given the opportunity to provide input on the bill.
Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction in Warren v. Chico
The City of Chico enacted ordinances that make it unlawful for any individual to sit, lie, stand, or sleep on any public property within the City without being subject to criminal penalties. As a result, homeless individuals are subject to criminal prosecution no matter where they go within the jurisdiction.
The 9th Circuit has previously held that ordinances such as this one are not enforceable, unless there is enough practically available shelter within the City for all unhoused individuals. In response, the City constructed an outdoor temporary shelter facility at the Chico Municipal Airport claiming that the temporary shelter is sufficient to accommodate the city’s homeless population.
Judge England rejected the City’s argument that the airport site constitutes “practically available shelter” indicating that the City cannot resort to arresting or imposing criminal penalties on homeless persons under the ordinance.
Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign Lawsuit and Press Conference
On June 29, 2021, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) filed several lawsuits seeking to prevent the eviction of families they had housed in vacant public housing properties against the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the City of Philadelphia, and others. The lawsuits seek to have the housing placed into conservatorship so that homeless families can continue to live in them. There are more vacant publicly-owned properties in the city than people experiencing homelessness, and the effort seeks to match these people-less homes with homeless people.
On July 6, 2021, PPEHRC held a conference to discuss these lawsuits at the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia, PA. Law Center Legal Director, Eric Tars, spoke at the conference about the growing criminalization of homelessness in the United States and presented data showing that there is a critical housing shortage in this country.
To learn more about the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, check out their website.