Several organizations that work with people who are facing homelessness or in need of affordable housing want equitable treatment and more aid to those populations as the pandemic has exacerbated these problems.
As the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic worsens for millions of Americans, the number of people facing housing insecurity and homelessness is increasing. Several organizations—including the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and others—have partnered [PDF] to request pandemic-related relief be used to help those individuals.
“Eleven million of the poorest households were already paying 50, 60, or sometimes 70 percent of their income on rent,” said Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy at NLIHC. “Before the pandemic, one shock would have pushed them over the edge to homelessness. For many, the pandemic is that shock.”
While organizations want to provide help to these individuals and families in need, mask requirements and social distancing can make it more difficult. For example, the summer heat wave has left many more needing immediate access to cooling centers and shelters, but safety precautions are limiting the help.
“There are a lot of places that are doing a ton of work to decongest their shelters to allow for social distancing and safety measures,” Saadian said. “They have been forced to close their doors to new people in need, because they don’t have the ability to serve everyone safely.”
Saadian added that the pandemic has also highlighted the racial disparities that persist in housing. “The pandemic has both exacerbated that crisis and laid bare many of the racial impacts of that housing crisis,” she said. “It has made it worse because there are so many more people facing housing insecurity. We have known for months that this pandemic will translate into a homelessness crisis.”
As a result, organizations like NLIHC have adapted their work style to contend with the challenges presented by the pandemic. They’ve relied on their member organizations to help transition to working in a virus-laden society. “When the pandemic started, we tapped into that network of groups that already had experience of going through disaster,” Saadian said.
Part of this strategy includes holding weekly national calls where people can offer advice and best practices and work with groups on the ground to help them adapt.
Advocacy is another a part of the strategy. Saadian said many constituents have been contacting their legislators about help for those needing moratoriums on rent and mortgage payments, and how that will translate to more homelessness. However, the legislative grind is slow: A key federal provision preventing evictions expires on July 24.
“Even if the new [pandemic funding] bill includes the moratorium, there is going to be a gap where people aren’t protected,” Saadian said. “If they are evicted, there’s not as much of a safety net there because all the resources are stretched by this pandemic.”