Framework for an Equitable COVID-19 Homelessness Response

frameworkNLIHC, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, National Health Care for the Homeless Council, National Innovations Service, Urban Institute, Barb Poppe and associates, and Matthew Doherty Consulting collaborated on a Framework for an Equitable COVID-19 Homelessness Response to help ensure states and jurisdictions effectively use federal resources to address the health and economic crises created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Framework provides guidance on addressing structural racism, a key factor for why people of color are hardest hit by the pandemic and overrepresented in the homeless system.  

To assist people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, the Framework urges communities to prioritize providing access to much needed safety and hygiene resources (e.g., toilets, handwashing stations, showers, etc.). Program staff should also focus on connecting unsheltered people to non-congregate shelter opportunities (such as hotels, motels, and dormitories) to allow for social distancing, isolation, and quarantine, as well as connecting people to health care services and paths to permanent housing. The Framework suggests that communities engage people with lived experience and grassroots organizations to improve services for unsheltered people.  

The Framework’s recommendation for sheltering systems is that they remain non-congregate for the foreseeable future, to reduce trauma and create a safer, healthier space for recipients. The Framework also states that shelters stay/become low-barrier, open 24 hours per day, culturally responsive, non-discriminatory (including race, gender expression, and sexual identity), accessible for people with disabilities, and open to families.  

The Framework includes recommendations for ending homelessness, such as expanding access to different housing programs for people experiencing homelessness. These programs include permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, and affordable rental housing subsidies. Communities should also strengthen landlord engagement efforts and ensure equal access to resources based on input from people with lived experience and data analysis. 

To strengthen homeless diversion and prevention services, the Framework advises communities to prioritize activities targeting people with the greatest risks of experiencing homelessness, including people who have previously experienced homelessness, people most impacted by COVID-19, people with the lowest incomes, and people whose support networks have fewer resources. Communities should develop a more comprehensive understanding of the services needed by different sub-populations and adapt approaches appropriately.  

To strengthen systems for the future, the Framework suggests that communities should prioritize activities to strengthen homelessness response systems by evaluating data and consulting with people with lived experiences. Communities should also embed racial justice and equity principles in their approaches to ending homelessness, create stronger partnerships across systems and sectors, and adopt policies to protect tenants—like source-of-income discrimination bans, inclusionary zoning, and resource targeting—at the local, state, and federal level.  

To support these activities, the Framework recommends using such funding mechanisms as: FEMA Public Assistance dollars, federal Emergency Solutions Grants, Community Development Block Grants, Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds, and philanthropic grants. 

In addition to the Framework, a set of resources and tools were created to aid organizations with implementation, which you can find at: These resources include information on funding sources and allowable activities; regulations and program design from states, counties, cities, towns, Continuums of Care, and nonprofits; federal guidance, information, and rules; places to look for more resources; interactive tools; and videos and infographics. 

By utilizing the Framework and its resources, communities can provide equitable care for different subpopulations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Without smart planning and appropriate levels of investment, the number of families without homes will grow—particularly among communities of color.