CARES Funding Proved Critical for Homeless Services, but More Planning is Needed to Ensure People Experiencing Homelessness Receive Vaccines

The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) released a fourth report as part of its series on homeless system responses during COVID-19. The report, Voices from the Field: Responding to COVID-19, provides the results from a fourth round of surveys with Continuums of Care (CoCs) on how COVID-19 has impacted people experiencing homelessness and the systems that serve them. The results suggest that CoCs were able to acquire space for non-congregate temporary shelter due to the CARES Act, that more planning is needed to vaccinate people experiencing homelessness, and that more crisis housing is needed.

NAEH sent online surveys in February and March 2021 to representatives of CoCs, advocates, and service providers, and received responses from 147 unique CoCs, 113 advocates, and 453 service providers.

The survey asked CoCs and direct service providers about vaccination plans in their area. Fifty-six percent of the CoCs said that homeless status was used in the prioritization process for vaccination. Slightly less than half (49%) affirmed that their community had a plan in place to conduct mass vaccinations of people experiencing homelessness, though that was only true for one in three CoCs in rural areas. Most CoC respondents indicated they did not have plans to track vaccination status in their Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) or another database, which the authors note might impede efforts to gauge how well people experiencing homelessness are being served. Among respondents speaking for shelters and other direct service providers, 76% knew of clients who had tested positive for COVID-19, and 27% had experienced an outbreak among their clients. Sixty-one percent said that at least some of their clients had begun receiving vaccinations. The vast majority of these providers (86%) reported they were educating their clients about vaccination resources, and 57% were providing a space for vaccinations.

The surveys asked respondents about their crisis response housing. Among those who had stopped operating crisis response beds (e.g., hotel/motel rooms), 43% reported that funding limitations had played a role. Seventy-nine percent of responding CoCs indicated that they were still operating crisis response beds, and the vast majority indicated that available funding was critical to being able to continue operations. On average, CoCs added 66 non-congregate beds between 2020 and 2021. While FEMA announced in February 2021 that it would reimburse 100% of eligible activity costs tied to non-congregate shelter, only 47% of CoCs said they were planning to participate. When asked why they were not participating, CoCs cited being left out of decision-making by city or county officials, concerns about the speed of reimbursement, or insufficient staffing to manage the efforts.

Surveys sent to CoCs also asked about the 2021 annual Point-in-Time count, which aims to provide a snapshot of homelessness by producing a count of those experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness on one night in January. A third of respondents reported they cancelled their attempt to count people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in 2021, and among those who did go forward with a count, 85% had to make changes to their methodology because of the pandemic.

The full series of reports and resources is at:

The most recent report is at: