Actions That Must be Taken to Protect Homeless People and Prevent New Homelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Advocacy Platform of UNITY of Greater New Orleans  and the Homeless Continuum of Care for New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and Kenner

Adopted April 17, 2020 by the UNITY Service Providers and Professionals Association

With New Orleans and Jefferson Parish experiencing one of the highest per-capita rates of coronavirus deaths in the nation, the approximately 1200 homeless people here are particularly at risk.  According to a recent national study, homeless people are nearly three times as likely to die from coronavirus as the general population because of their age and chronic health conditions. As of April 17, at least 250 people are still in dire straits sleeping outside every night in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish.  On the street, they can’t protect themselves from exposure to the virus, have little access to bathroom facilities, and cannot get a good night’s sleep, impairing their immune system. Public health experts agree that everyone should isolate at home in order to slow the spread of disease. Homeless people must have a place to isolate in safe and sanitary conditions.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that people living in encampments be offered individual housing units such as hotels.

In this pandemic, we are all responsible for caring for the most vulnerable.  We call on the federal, state, and city government to take the following actions, with assistance from the National Guard, non-profits, philanthropy, the business sector, and private individuals, to ensure that the lives of homeless people of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish are protected:

Immediately move all homeless people off the streets into private hotel rooms and ensure that social distancing guidelines are observed.

Ensure that Congress provides at least $11.5 billion in additional funds for national homeless programs (Emergency Solutions Grants and Continuum of Care grants) for homeless housing and services so that all homeless people can be moved from hotels and shelters into apartments, and imminent homelessness can be prevented, through rent assistance and Problem-Solving strategies.

Ensure Congress provides another $100 billion for emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention to prevent a wave of new homelessness caused by the economic downturn.

Provide Personal Protective Equipment to all homeless service organizations working directly with clients, including shelter staff, street outreach workers, case managers, housing navigators, housing inspectors and others, to prevent the spread of the virus to homeless people and to homeless service workers (who are considered essential workers).   

Provide increased funding and National Guard assistance to homeless shelters, including day shelters, to allow them to be fully staffed and maintain social distancing. 

Provide regular testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and staff in homeless shelters and homeless programs to avoid further catastrophic outbreaks. Regularly report coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths among the homeless population.

Immediately implement a multi-prong strategy to sharply reduce racial disparities in coronavirus illness and deaths, including expanded provision of testing and outreach to neighborhoods of color; provision of Personal Protective Equipment to all essential workers, including all workers who go to hospitals and medical clinics, food service workers, mail and package delivery workers, transportation workers, and sanitation workers; and ensuring there are no racial disparities in provision of the highest-quality medical care. 

Provide national, local and statewide protection from eviction from rental housing, hotels, motels, and campgrounds throughout the pandemic in order to prevent new homelessness.

Boost the minimum wage and ensure paid sick leave for all Americans, in order to prevent new homelessness.

Expand unemployment benefits across the state by waiving the minimum base-earnings requirement, implementing a flat-rate subsidy, and enacting work-sharing to keep more people employed.

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