The COVID-19 pandemic has communities around the world grappling with their response, especially to highly vulnerable populations. These include people currently experiencing housing instability and homelessness, and those at the greatest risk of losing their housing.
In addition to guidance from entities like the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD); the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH); and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), communities are sharing information with each other about how they are responding to the crisis.
This blog post is the first in a new series that will focus on sharing solutions from other communities and highlighting interventions that can be used in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Homelessness, defined at its most basic level, is the absence of a home. Using the broadest definition possible, it includes individuals and families who are residing in temporary facilities, like a shelter; staying with friends or family; paying week by week to stay in a hotel; and/or sleeping in unsheltered locations, such as in a car, or outside in tents or on the streets. These households lack homes in which to self-quarantine; have limited access to bathrooms and other resources to wash their hands frequently; and do not have space to stock up on or store food and other necessities.
In response, shelters across the United States have been even more creative with their existing resources to help keep homeless residents healthy. This includes implementing screening protocols; increasing distance between beds; setting aside space for isolation; adapting Coordinated Entry processes; ramping up cleaning measures; revising staffing protocols and procedures; and setting up hand washing stations in encampments. Many shelters have had to improvise daily to respond to new and changing guidance. Already on the frontlines, shelters are doing all they can to serve households in the midst of a personal crisis which predated the novel virus.
USICH is continuously updating their online clearinghouse of resources, with information from the CDC; HUD; Department of Education (USED); National Health Care for the Homeless Council; and the National Network to End Domestic Violence; as well as community resources from Seattle; King County; and Los Angeles. HUD has provided guidance on how to use existing federal funding to support local responses to COVID-19. Local schools, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, are providing access to food and other resources for students who need them.
While serving households currently experiencing homelessness, communities are also exploring and implementing measures to encourage households to stay at home and to keep new households from becoming homeless. For many households, especially those with lower-wage workers or in industries that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, a loss of even a week’s income can cause them to become homeless. With schools closed, households with children are also having to scramble to find affordable childcare so they can earn their paycheck.
Therefore, prevention interventions have centered around the following: moratoriums on evictions; continuity of utility services; access to internet to facilitate work and school activities; and supplemental income. Some communities, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg, have also set up special funds to support households experiencing a crisis as a result of COVID-19.
A crisis can provide clarity around what is important; it can also reorder and redefine priorities. A crisis also reveals existing structural weaknesses that do not necessarily disappear when the crisis is over. When communities implement changes or waive barriers during a crisis, they can also gain insight into what is possible when the emergency no longer exists.
Future posts in this series will focus on this important shift: from near-term crisis response to long-term intervention. What short-term, community responses can be transformed into long-term, systemic solutions? Which immediate interventions can effectively and efficiently address the structural issues that lead to housing instability and homelessness? What permanent changes are needed to produce a healthier community in the future?
Check back here each week to find out.
Courtney LaCaria coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.