We keep hearing on the news that the COVID-19 pandemic is “unprecedented.” It absolutely is, with the U.S. having an exponentially higher death rate than any other country, and the number of deaths rivaling that of war casualties. The thousands of deaths in the U.S. would have been mitigated if not for the indefensible actions, and inaction, by federal, state, and local elected officials. The crisis has already led to an almost unprecedented economic downturn, with nearly 40 million people filing for unemployment benefits due to business closures and layoffs. Our overloaded hospital system would have been better prepared if our nation had more robust government healthcare systems and funding. Our public health response would have been more effective had we had a more proactive, rather than reactive, medical system. And millions of people would not be at risk of homelessness if we provided housing as a human right.
NLIHC receives hundreds of calls and emails from people facing eviction or already experiencing homelessness, who fear for their survival on the street or in a shelter. People experiencing homelessness cannot abide by “stay at home” orders, and sheltering in place, socially distancing, and practicing proper hygiene are challenging at best. It is essential that everyone remain stably housed throughout this pandemic. As you know, COVID-19 is not the reason we have more than 500,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in America. Homelessness is a result of the lack of affordable homes, housing discrimination, and declining incomes that existed long before this pandemic. COVID-19 has exposed the cracks in our system and exacerbated the suffering of millions, particularly low-income people.
Several recent developments give hope. Some state and local leaders on both sides of the aisle have softened the blow of the pandemic by issuing eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, using hotel rooms as alternatives to congregate shelter for those without homes, providing some rental assistance, and releasing incarcerated individuals to return to their families. These measures will help those suffering the most —people with the lowest incomes – but much, much more is needed.
NLIHC continues to advocate for the bold federal response that is needed to protect low-income renters with the most urgent needs. Many members of the media and elected officials say we need to get back to “normal.” But “normal” is not enough. Homelessness and housing insecurity have been matters of life or death for too many people for too long. We must provide decent, accessible, affordable homes for all - now and into the future.