Housing is Health Care – by Diane Yentel, NLIHC President and CEO

Congress is about to pass an emergency spending bill that neglects the urgent needs of people experiencing homelessness, a glaring and appalling oversight. People experiencing homelessness are at high risk of both severe illnesses from coronavirus and of potentially spreading it to others given their inability to isolate or self-quarantine after being exposed to the illness. It has never been clearer that housing is health care.

Homeless service providers and outreach workers are doing their best to respond to tremendous new challenges, but they are understaffed and under-resourced. Throughout last week and over the weekend, I heard from some who can’t access hand-sanitizer and others struggling to find, prepare and staff the spaces needed to allow people in shelters to self-isolate if they get the coronavirus or to protect highly vulnerable residents from exposure. They are counting on congressional leadership to give them the funding they desperately need to keep their residents, themselves, and their communities safe.

Congress must get back to work to provide these needed resources to shelter providers and to quickly and permanently house people experiencing homelessness. The very least our country must do during a national health emergency, particularly when our collective protection against the spread of the illness depends on our ability to self-quarantine at home, is ensure we house the lowest-income and most vulnerable people. It is equally important to ensure more people are not pushed into homelessness through evictions and foreclosures; Congress should enact a national moratorium on both and provide temporary rental assistance to the lowest-income people in need.

Today at 2:30 p.m. ET, NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition will host a call on housing and homelessness needs and the impacts from the coronavirus. Over 1,300 people are registered to join the call, during which we will hear from providers in Seattle, New York, and California; discuss the urgent and unique needs of tribal communities, immigrants, people with disabilities, and others; and share updates from congressional offices and NLIHC staff on progress to achieve our policy recommendations to ensure housing stability for low-income individuals and people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. NLIHC has also put together a regularly-updated webpage with relevant updates from across the country on COVID-19 and housing.

Join us on the call (you can register to join the call here) and in our advocacy to ensure the lowest-income people are prioritized in our nation’s response to coronavirus. Providing resources to protect against an outbreak of coronavirus among people who are homeless and to keep the lowest-income people housed is not only a moral imperative; it’s an urgent public health necessity.


Diane Yentel