Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator
Mecklenburg County Community Support Services
Last week’s blog post covered the first three (of the six total) impact areas for communities to consider as part of a public health and economic recovery framework response to address housing instability and homelessness.
These impact areas are locally extrapolated from a new tool “The Framework for an Equitable COVID-19 Homelessness Response” which was first released in May 2020 and updated this week. The tool has gained new partners and focuses on equitable decision-making. This link takes you to an important, 2-minute video about why communities should consider implementing such a framework.
The framework provides guidance to communities on how to maximize funding 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.
Using the framework as a starting point, this week’s blog post takes a deeper dive into the fourth and fifth impact areas: sheltered homelessness and permanent housing.
“Sheltered homelessness” is a term used to describe the population experiencing homelessness in either an emergency shelter or a transitional housing facility. “Emergency shelter” is defined as any facility with the primary purpose of providing temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness. Emergency shelters include facilities that are open seasonally or year-round. In contrast, “transitional housing” is temporary housing that is usually coupled with supportive services; and can last up to 24 months. Emergency shelter is a temporary housing resource that is immediately available if a person needs it; and can generally flex in response to community needs. Transitional housing tends to be reserved for specific populations; has eligibility requirements that must be met prior to entry; and has a fixed capacity. This impact area is focused solely on emergency shelter.
In response to COVID-19, a new sub-category of emergency shelter has emerged: non-congregate shelter. Prior to the global pandemic, most emergency shelters have operated in congregate settings to provide as many beds as possible. Standard operations included activating overflow beds; or placing mats in other open-area settings, like a cafeteria. According to the 2019 Housing Inventory Count, there were 1,281 total emergency shelter beds in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC). To align with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent and/or reduce the spread of the coronavirus, congregate shelters have had to halve their capacity. To address the resulting displacement of individuals and families from these settings, communities are setting up new, non-congregate shelters. This strategy often utilizes empty hotel or motel rooms.
In the weeks and months ahead, communities will have to reckon with what has become the “new mode” of emergency shelter. Some of the changes made to create a non-congregate shelter model could (and should) become permanent to ensure the health of shelter residents and the public. Some of the priority actions related to emergency shelter are highlighted below:
- Ensure that all existing and new shelter options are low-barrier; culturally appropriate; non-discriminatory; and readily accessible.
- Ensure that adequate screening and testing are in place in all shelters; monitor the physical health and safety of people staying in congregate and non-congregate shelter settings; and adjust as needed.
- Assess equitable access to new and existing shelter facilities for people of color; examine data to determine if there are other disparities to be addressed, such as by race, ethnicity, disability, gender status, family composition, etc.; and adjust as needed
- Begin planning to sustain as well as open new non-congregate shelter capacity to replace congregate shelters.
Click link for a full list of action priorities related to emergency shelter.
“Permanent housing” is a category of housing interventions considered to be permanent in nature. Permanent housing includes housing assistance through rental subsidies; unsubsidized housing; and homeownership. The assistance may be one-time; short-term (3 – 6 months); or entirely open-ended, so long as a household continues to meet eligibility. Housing is both the solution to homelessness as well as the best way to protect public health.
In addition to supporting shelter operations, CARES Act funding can be used for permanent housing. This funding includes new allocations made through the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG); Community Development Block Grant (CDBG); and Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). Funding needs for permanent housing exists on a continuum: for some households, a security deposit is all that is required in order to secure housing; for others, a 12-month (or longer) subsidy is necessary.
It is important for communities to think about permanent housing funding as tiered, and tailor distributions to meet specific needs. Some of the action steps related to permanent housing are highlighted below:
- Use data to project the need for different housing interventions (rapid re-housing; Permanent Supportive Housing; long-term rent-only subsidies; one-time fee payments, like security deposits and/or past-due rent); and begin to identify the resources that can support longer-term interventions.
- Stand up new housing inventory and leasing protocols to both track unit availability and minimize time from housing identification to lease-signing.
- Mobilize scaled-up investments in a continuum of permanent housing options.
- Sustain system-wide landlord engagement strategies to ensure that tenant-based rental subsidies can be utilized quickly and efficiently.
Click link for a full list of action priorities related to permanent housing.
New local, state, and federal funding in response to COVID-19 enables communities like Charlotte-Mecklenburg to 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.
The pandemic has also shined a light on important questions for communities to consider or revisit related to shelter and permanent housing resources.
- If permanent housing is the solution to homelessness, how many emergency shelter beds are truly necessary?
- How can new, non-congregate shelter settings (such as hotels) be converted into permanent housing?
- If permanent housing is cheaper than emergency shelter, why not invest more dollars in permanent housing?
Stay tuned for next week’s blog, which will cover the sixth and final impact area: strengthening systems.
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.