On March 18, a new Building Bridges blog series was launched to share solutions from other communities and highlight key interventions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week’s blog post focused on how communities have expanded shelter capacity. In addition to addressing the pre-existing issues of housing instability and homelessness, organizations are also adapting daily to the challenge of protecting the health of clients and staff. These changes are critical to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus and ensure that residents have safe, stable shelter or housing.
When an outbreak of the novel coronavirus was first reported in the United States, many communities began to prepare for its spread. Initially, there was little guidance available to housing and homeless providers. On March 10, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) released one of the first national resources, a 75-minute webinar called “Infectious Disease Preparedness for Homeless Assistance Providers and Their Partners.” In addition, communities without known COVID-19 cases looked to others actively addressing the virus to help craft their own local blueprint.
As shelter-in-place orders designed to manage in-person interaction were introduced, communication also ramped up and shifted online; information could now bypass any perceived geographic and/or bureaucratic barriers. New lines of access were opened among and between all levels of providers, funders, elected officials, and others. This led to an almost daily expansion of online resources, webinars, and large-group phone conferences. To help keep up with all of the new information being disseminated, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services launches today the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hub for Housing Information related to COVID-19.
This new Building Bridges series looks at community responses to COVID-19 using a prospicient lens: What short-term, community responses can become long-term, systemic solutions? Which immediate interventions can effectively and efficiently address the structural issues that lead to housing instability and homelessness? What “new thing” can evolve into “business as usual?” And what is needed to create healthy, stable communities permanently?
This week’s blog post is dedicated to new practices in how information has been shared and communicated in response to COVID-19.
CURRENT STATUS OF INFORMATION & COMMUNICATION
Groups and agencies (whether local, regional or national) are organizing regular calls for the purpose of sharing updates; coordinating efforts; problem-solving; planning; and advocating for additional support. Many calls are open to anyone who wishes to participate. This allows the spectrum from executive directors to frontline workers to not only access information but also be part of developing and implementing solutions. These phone conferences also provide opportunities for increased collaboration during a time of forced separation. One example is The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hub for Housing Information related to COVID-19, which shares information on how to access ongoing local and national calls. An example is the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC), highlighted below:
Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition | National Low Income Housing Coalition
The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition is a group of more than 860 local, state, and national organizations dedicated to ensuring the federal response to disaster recovery prioritizes the housing needs of the lowest income people in the impacted areas. The group, which is led by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, works with local partners affected by disasters. The DHRC holds calls focused on the the response to COVID-19, featuring COVID-19 housing and homelessness related updates from elected officials and leaders of public and private entities at local, state and national levels. These have included FEMA, HUD, Public Housing Authorities, Continuums of Care, and local and state-level organizational leaders. In addition to sharing updates, speakers have also discussed lessons learned and suggested areas to address next. As new legislation or funding nears release, the speakers also break down ways that communities can access and use resources to address COVID-19. The calls, which take place weekly on Mondays at 2:30pm are open to anyone; questions are also encouraged. To register to participate in these calls, click here.
WEBINARS & ONLINE RESOURCES
Each week, new resources and tools are being produced and shared for any individual or organization to use as part of their local efforts to address COVID-19. In early March, interim guidance was shared publicly by local departments of public health, as well as national entities like HUD and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). Then, as communities began to develop and implement action plans, participants also shared their work so that others could benefit. Many national level organizations also developed COVID-19 focused resource pages. Examples include the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH); United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH); and North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness (NCCEH). In addition, the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network (MHTTC) developed a page on “telehealth” with resources and tools to support staff who are providing services from a distance during COVID-19.
Click here to access multiple COVID-19 websites and webinars on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hub for Housing Information related to COVID-19
LONG-TERM VIEW ON INFORMATION & COMMUNICATION
Lack of coordination and alignment to effectively address housing instability and homelessness is not a new problem. In fact, whether the topic is communication; or funding; or leadership; the “silo problem” is endemic to many communities. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified structural issues that predate the crisis. More important has been the illumination of sustainable solutions that cut across what might now, given the lens provided by COVID-19, be viewed as arbitrary boundaries.
These efforts to share information, best practices, and lessons learned need not stop after COVID-19 is no longer the threat that it is today. Weekly calls to coordinate efforts in response to COVID-19 can be repurposed to address the elements of housing instability and homelessness that require a cross-functional, interdisciplinary approach. In addition, the lines of communication now open between local and national organizations can shape policy and build coalition. These practices are both low-cost and have the potential for a high return, especially for those in greatest need of help.
The example of communication highlighted in this blog post is another short-term solution that can easily become a long-term strategy to drive resource alignment, increase collaboration, and encourage accountability. The act of communicating also facilitates new opportunities for creativity and leadership that might not otherwise be considered. Learning and sharing what works can ensure that communities exit the global pandemic stronger and better positioned to meet the needs of their most vulnerable populations.
Future posts in this series will continue to focus on this important shift from short-term intervention to long-term implementation. Check back here each week to find out more.
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.