Supporting Children and Families During the Pandemic

Even under normal circumstances, service providers struggle to meet the needs of children and families experiencing homelessness. And, these are far from normal times. Millions of families are now at risk of homelessness due to the impact of COVID-19. The danger associated with unsheltered homelessness and congregate living has increased for single adults and families alike. It has become more challenging for children experiencing homelessness to stay connected to school, more challenging for parents to find and keep employment safely, and more difficult for families to find new housing options to escape homelessness.

The Alliance and its national partners released the Framework for an Equitable COVID-19 Homelessness Response to help state and local stakeholders make the most strategic use of new resources to help people experiencing homelessness during this pandemic, including philanthropic funding and CARES Act funding (such as ESG-CV). In December, these partners released three new Framework resources specifically focused on the need for investments to support programs serving children and families experiencing homelessness. 

  • Making the Case for Families and Children explains why a separate COVID-19 strategy for families and children is necessary. It also presents guiding principles for allocating funds, including the critical importance of advancing racial justice and equity in allocating funding, targeting those with the highest needs first, using funds strategically, growing partnerships across service systems, and getting people back into housing quickly.
  • Responding to Homeless Families’ Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis provides a picture of the unique risks children and families face during the COVID-19 crisis, including the disparate risk of both homelessness and COVID-19 among Black families and other families of color. The paper also outlines funding priorities to support children and families, including funding needed to: help unsheltered families stay safe, provide safe and comprehensive services to families in shelter programs (including access to educational supports for children), and re-house families quickly. It also addresses how to use resources strategically and provides recommended steps to promote race equity.
  • Video: Making the Case for Families and Children During the Pandemic is a short video profiling Cicely Dove (Crossroads Rhode Island) and Elizabeth Eastlund (Rainbow Services) who make a call for action for policymakers and other funders to center the needs of children and families experiencing homelessness in the planning for protecting people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19.

The new Framework resources are particularly timely, given that new federal funding opportunities are emerging. In the next section of this blog, we’ll discuss the new funds, and how they may compel stakeholders to revisit how they are using existing rental assistance and ESG-CV funds to make the broadest possible impact in protecting children, families, and single adults from COVID-19 during this pandemic.

Reassessing Funding Strategies for Families

There are two important funding opportunities that will affect every community’s work on behalf of families:

  1. States and localities will soon receive their share of $25 billion invested for the Emergency Rental Assistance Act: funds that can be used to help families at risk of homelessness stay housed.
  2. President Biden also recently issued an Executive Order stating that FEMA will cover 100 percent of the costs of providing non-congregate shelter, retroactive to the beginning of the pandemic and ending September 30, 2021. This Executive Order will allow states to vastly expand safe shelter options for individuals and families, including those now living unsheltered, that will not only protect them from COVID-19 but could also provide life-savings protection from hypothermia.

Both initiatives should compel states and localities to reconsider their current CARES Act spending plan, including use of ESG-CV.

With new dedicated homelessness prevention funding via the Emergency Rental Assistance Act, stakeholders should strongly consider reallocating ESG-CV resources from prevention and put it towards meeting the urgent needs of those living without shelter, or those struggling to regain housing.

And with FEMA reimbursement covering 100 percent of non-congregate shelter, localities can consider reallocating further CARES Act funding from the cost of sheltering people, to instead funding other critical needs such as outreach to help people transition into shelter, and, of course, efforts to help people regain housing.

The Emergency Rental Assistance and FEMA reimbursement represent critical new investments that can significantly reduce child and family homelessness, and homelessness overall. Like all investments in the homeless service sector, including ESG-CV and other CARES Act funding, the new resources will make the biggest impact in reducing homelessness if used strategically. Localities can consider how the new funding opportunities will allow existing resources to go further in helping people escape unsheltered homelessness, find safe shelter, and quickly regain new housing.


Children and families experiencing homelessness face unique challenges and they deserve tailored responses. They require protection from acquiring or transmitting COVID-19, and they require support to minimize the harm and trauma that so often accompanies homelessness.

With the development of new Framework resources and additional funding from the federal government, we hope that these resources will be useful to you and your colleagues in building comprehensive systems of care for children and families experiencing homelessness.