During this extraordinary and challenging time, I have been awed and inspired by so many of you – by your perseverance, advocacy, creativity and commitment. Many of you are frontline workers, working in homeless shelters, as homeless outreach workers or affordable housing providers. You are working incredibly long days and making significant personal sacrifices to protect the most vulnerable people in your communities. You are doing this work without the equipment or resources you need to keep yourselves, your families, and others safe.
I’ve talked or texted with many of you over the last couple of weeks. I know you are overwhelmed and tired, and some of you are sick. I know you are scared and heartbroken by the tsunami of need and pain before you. You are doing incredibly important work, and we will continue to do all we can to support you. I am deeply appreciative of your bravery and heroism.
Some relief is on the way. Thanks to your dedicated and effective advocacy, last week we secured twelve billion dollars in homelessness and housing funds in the latest coronavirus spending bill. These funds are urgently needed, and they will go a long way towards supporting your work in communities. The funds will shore up understaffed and under-resourced homeless service providers who are responding to the tremendous new challenges that COVID-19 presents. The eviction and foreclosure moratoriums included in the law, while not going as far as needed, will provide important assurance to many low-income renters and homeowners.
But the passage of this bill marks the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. We have much more work to do as coronavirus spreads like wildfire in a growing number of communities, posing the greatest risk to our country’s most marginalized and most vulnerable people. We will work with HUD to ensure that these funds are allocated as quickly and effectively as possible to the people and communities most in need, and with Congress to ensure that the next stimulus package includes tens of billions of dollars in rental assistance and support for affordable housing providers, among other things. We will keep pushing for a uniform national eviction and foreclosure moratorium that assures each of us we won’t lose our homes during a pandemic
Tragically, our worst fears and predictions of coronavirus’s impact on people who are homeless are starting to be realized. At least three people who were homeless have died from coronavirus. In New York City, there are over 60 confirmed cases of coronavirus among people who are homeless; they slept in at least 40 different congregate shelters. The outbreak we feared of coronavirus among homeless people is happening in New York and likely elsewhere. We must work together to get needed resources to shelter providers to contain these outbreaks and protect those who are homeless from being exposed to the illness by stably housing them, even if temporarily, and we will redouble our efforts to ensure that not a single person who is currently housed loses their home during the pandemic.
We must work quickly. Dr. Dennis Culhane and his colleagues recently did an analysis of exposure, hospitalization, potential mortality rates among people who are homeless if they were exposed to coronavirus; the findings are dire. They estimate that homeless people who contract COVID-19, when compared to others with the virus, will be twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die. If left unchecked, as many as 20,000 people who are homeless could require hospitalization and nearly 3,500 could die.
This has enormous implications: for our unhoused neighbors, and for some of our country’s already besieged and overwhelmed hospitals. It’s never been clearer that housing is health care. When our collective health depends on our ability to stay home, we all suffer when people are left unhoused. If any one of us – and especially when hundreds of thousands of us – are without homes during this public health emergency, we can’t as a country truly contain the pandemic. Ensuring everyone is stably housed is not only a moral imperative – it’s a public health necessity.
If our interconnectedness was not obvious before, it is now. We all benefit when we prioritize the needs of the lowest-income and most marginalized people in our country – people experiencing homelessness, undocumented immigrants, tribal communities, people with disabilities, low-income people of color and others. Doing so protects the health and lives of tens of millions of people, the front-line providers serving them, and our health systems. It slows the trajectory and speed of the pandemic, improves the health of the entire country, and ensures an equitable and just recovery.
This is a difficult time, and things will get worse before they’ll get better. But they will get better. Please stay strong, stay healthy, take care of yourselves and each other. We will get through this, together.
P.S. Today at 2:30, we’ll host our next national call on Coronavirus, Housing and Homelessness. We’ll hear from Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), who will share their thoughts on what Congress will do next to help people who are homeless or right on the cusp; from FEMA Deputy Administer of Recovery Keith Turi, who will share the latest on FEMA’s response to the national emergency; from partners in Puerto Rico, Florida and New Orleans who will share updates from their communities; and from national partners who will share details of the eviction/foreclosure moratoriums and Emergency Solutions Grants funding and what more we can do to support tribal and other marginalized communities.
Join us on the call (register here) and in our continued work to ensure the lowest-income people are prioritized in our nation’s response to coronavirus.