On May 28, the Building Bridges blog introduced a new series covering a tool for communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg to use: a public health and economic recovery framework response to address housing instability and homelessness.
The new tool, A Framework for COVID-19 Homelessness Response, was released in May 2020 by the National Alliance to End Homelessness; the National Low Income Housing Coalition; and the Center for Budget Policies and Priorities. The framework provides guidance to homelessness assistance systems (like Continuums of Care or CoCs) on how to maximize new funding (whether from the CARES Act or other sources) to both respond to the immediate crisis and plan for a lengthy economic recovery using an equity lens. Communities can begin to adapt and implement this framework as part of both their near- and longer-term COVID-19 housing responses.
The first blog in the series provided an overview of the new framework, including how it is organized and guiding values for what is included and how it can be used effectively. Last week’s blog described the new COVID-related funding sources, including local allocations.
Using the framework as a starting point, this week’s blog post takes a deeper dive into the first three (of the six total) impact areas for communities to consider.
Coordinated Entry is Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s system that connects those who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability to an available shelter or other housing resource. Coordinated Entry also helps the community to both prioritize resources for the most vulnerable households and to identify gaps and shortages in housing resources. By participating in Coordinated Entry, housing organizations prioritize their temporary and permanent housing assistance for households seeking assistance through the Coordinated Entry “front door.”
In response to COVID-19, there are specific action steps communities can take to promote public health while at the same time ensuring access to shelter and/or housing resources is swift and equitable. Some of these priority actions are highlighted below:
- Implement a Temporary Housing Prioritization Policy to ensure that the most vulnerable populations (and any individuals at highest risk for COVID-19 complications) are prioritized for available housing resources. On May 28, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care Board adopted a Temporary Housing Prioritization Policy that prioritizes individuals and families who are at highest risk for COVID-19 complications.
- Leverage available waivers so that homelessness assistance providers can bypass regulatory requirements to access available housing units.
Click here for a full list of action priorities related to Coordinated Entry.
Prevention is a category of housing assistance that is targeted “upstream.” Prevention efforts are geared toward households facing housing instability but have not yet lost their housing. Prevention includes community-wide interventions aimed at changing systems and structures that perpetuate housing instability; cross-sector collaboration and coordination to reduce the prevalence of homelessness; and targeted interventions including financial and legal assistance to help households maintain their housing.
In response to COVID-19, communities have come to view ensuring housing stability as another way to protect public health. For example, many households in Charlotte-Mecklenburg pay week by week to stay in hotels and/or motels because they are unable to secure a long-term lease elsewhere. These households often pay more in weekly hotel bills than they would pay for renting an apartment. With reduced income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these families are at increased risk for displacement, and therefore homelessness. To ensure that everyone has a private space in which to shelter, communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg, have provided financial and/or legal assistance to maintain housing. Looking at the weeks, months, and years ahead, there are additional steps communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg can take. Some of these action steps are highlighted below:
- Implement and sustain jurisdiction-wide moratoria on evictions.
- Identify and support individuals and families who are facing instability (including households residing in motels and/or hotels) to prevent new entries into homelessness and facilitate pathways to permanent housing.
Click here for a full list of action priorities related to Prevention.
Unsheltered homelessness is when an individual or family experiences homelessness in a location that is considered unfit for human habitation. These situations include sleeping overnight outside, on the street or in parks; in encampments; in cars; or in abandoned buildings. According to the 2019 Point-in-Time Count, there were 196 individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness on one night in January 2019.
People experiencing unsheltered homelessness are already highly vulnerable to illness. Without a safe space to isolate and/or quarantine, these individuals are at a greater risk of being exposed, or exposing others, to the virus. This is, again, a concern for public health. In response, it is vital that communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg address the needs of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness to protect them, and others in the community. Some of these action steps are highlighted below:
- Implement robust outreach, screening, and testing protocols to assess the needs of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
- Provide hygiene resources (handwashing stations, for example); access to transportation to testing sites and/or isolation/quarantine facilities; and ensure availability of healthcare options.
Click here for a full list of action priorities related to Unsheltered Homelessness.
The problems of housing instability and homelessness pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic; and will likely worsen because of the long-term public health and economic effects. The influx of new local, state, and federal funding enables communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg to both address the pre-existing conditions of housing instability and homelessness and attempt to slow or prevent housing loss due to the economic and other factors related to COVID-19. To adequately address all the immediate and long-term impacts, it is critical that the response cover the full housing continuum. Failure to mitigate the housing crisis has the potential to amplify the public health crisis.
This does not have to be an “either/or” choice. Communities can (and should) make it a “both/and” solution. This is possible through strategic alignment of funding; coordination and collaboration across programs and service sectors; utilizing a systemic approach; and applying an equity lens. What might be a barrier for one program could be an expediter for another. When aligned in a system, the two individual programs can be complementary, meeting the shared goal of helping households who need it the most.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog, which will delve into the second three (of six) impact areas for communities to consider.
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.