Visiting Senior Fellow
The CARES Act’s $4 billion for housing under its Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program, along with its other COVID-19 relief, can go far in serving people experiencing or at risk of homelessness during this crisis. But how far it goes depends on any steps that states and communities take to not only address the current crisis but correct longstanding inequities that perpetuate homelessness, particularly among people of color. That’s why we and our partners at the National Alliance to End Homelessness created a framework to help CARES Act recipients and service providers make strategic housing decisions to help marginalized communities and extremely low-income people.
To be sure, the CARES Act funding will not help safely house everyone experiencing or at risk of homelessness. To fill some of the gaps, the House-passed Heroes Act called for substantially more funding for homelessness services, prevention, and rental assistance. Our framework will help decision-makers prioritize the funding they have from the CARES Act and that they receive from any future legislation.
Homelessness assistance providers are used to working in cash-strapped environments and doing more with less, often needing to make life-and-death decisions about who receives shelter, housing, and other services and who doesn’t. The COVID-19 pandemic has further stretched resources for public and private service providers, which are responding in real time by implementing social distancing protocols in congregate settings, conducting outreach to people in encampments, and creating non-congregate options for shelter or isolation and quarantine for people at high risk of contracting the virus. These providers must also prepare for a greater need for homelessness prevention resources as the economic crisis makes it harder for many struggling households to pay rent, increasing housing instability and placing more families at risk of homelessness.
CARES Act funding will provide important resources to address these challenges — but only if communities use them wisely and target the populations most affected, especially those already facing longstanding economic and other inequities. That includes African Americans, who even before the pandemic comprised 40 percent of those experiencing homelessness but just 13 percent of the U.S. population, and LGBTQ+ people, who experience homelessness or housing instability at rates twice as high as their share of the population, according to one study.
The framework incorporates evidence-based practices to prevent or end homelessness and applies them in the context of the public health and economic crises. Further, it sequences recommended actions so that communities can focus on the right activities at the right time while also building toward longer-term goals like economic recovery and preparedness for future public health crises. But the framework’s most important aspect is its justice and equity approach. It’s designed to guide decision-makers in the states, counties, and cities that receive the CARES Act’s supplemental ESG and Community Development Block Grant funds in serving marginalized populations that the pandemic and economic fallout have disproportionately affected.
The framework focuses on five key recommendations: