Communities all over the country are anxiously awaiting federal resources from the CARES Act to begin flowing. As the Alliance has addressed in previous blog posts , these funds are desperately needed for those working to end homelessness. While they may be short of what researchers estimate we actually need to appropriately shelter and house everyone who needs it during this emergency, the fact remains that these resources can have an enormous impact on the lives of vulnerable people experiencing homelessness, if we make plans to use them strategically.
That’s a big challenge, because we are all working in crisis mode right now. And as we all know, it is tempting during a crisis, to put our heads down and focus our efforts on our immediate needs, rather than planning ahead. In fact, it’s a natural thing to do.
But if there’s one thing we need everyone to understand, it is that we must invest the time now – right now, right this moment, and not a day later – to start planning on how we can best use these funds to serve people through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Alliance has already hosted a series of webinars to help guide communities through this effort, and we encourage everyone to review these materials. This blog series will help people think about how to frame their efforts, and begin the planning process or build upon current planning efforts.
Building a Framework
The first step in this process is to determine your priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alliance’s framework involves five key areas that every community should be centering their efforts around:
- Preventing and diverting people from imminent homelessness
- Promoting the health and safety of people who are unsheltered, while quickly transitioning them to temporary or permanent housing
- Expanding and improving shelter options to come into compliance with CDC guidance for separation, isolation, and quarantine.
- Stabilizing households in homeless system-funded programs like Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)
- Rapidly exiting people from the homelessness system into housing
This blog post will specifically address the first priority: prevention and diversion.
Focus on Equity
As one of our fundamental prevention efforts, communities must double down on their commitments to racial equity during COVID-19. As the coronavirus pandemic goes from being a public health crisis to an economic one, we know that people of color will be disproportionately impacted not only by the virus, but also by the forces that will put them at risk of homelessness. It’s essential that as we plan to put new federal resources to use, we do everything we can so that everyone has access to the same services, and opportunity for the same outcomes, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
Taking an Assessment
As you consider how CARES Act resources can help support your prevention and diversion efforts, take stock of your system’s existing prevention and diversion capabilities. A few core questions you should be asking:
- Are your efforts focused on people whose homelessness is imminent?
- Are you targeting homeless prevention dollars at the front door of the homeless system where they can have the greatest impact and leveraging non-homeless system prevention dollars for more upstream prevention, like eviction prevention?
- What are you doing to help people maintain their current housing situation when it is safe and appropriate to do so?
- What is the racial makeup of people at-risk of homelessness in your community? How can you ensure that people of color who are most at-risk are able to access prevention assistance?
Leverage Other Prevention Resources
Once all of your resources and capabilities are assessed, it’s time to determine what other, potentially non-homelessness system resources can support them.
For example, what safeguards can help ensure that people who lose employment do not spiral straight into shelter? How can your community advance efforts like eviction moratoriums, rental forgiveness, and legal assistance to prevent evictions?
Additionally, state and local resources are important. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) is an excellent example. Advocate for use of TANF reserves to increase cash assistance and offer eviction prevention assistance for at-risk families.
Get Your Prevention and Diversion Strategy Together
Once you’ve assessed your current resources, and identified other resources you can leverage to support prevention and diversion, it’s time to start planning for what you’ll do with new relief funds.
Some strategy suggestions include:
- How can you use these funds to build a robust financial assistance pool and case management for those in RRH and PSH and those who recently transitioned out of homelessness?
- Will you need to boost flexible financial assistance for survivors of domestic violence who need help to remain safe in their own home or secure new housing after escaping abuse/sexual assault?
- Does your community need funds to train public sector workers (e.g., criminal justice, public social services) on diversion practices and problem-solving efforts?
- Could federal funds help you increase problem-solving and flexible financial assistance efforts at Coordinated Entry Access Points, to identify opportunities for people to avoid shelter/unsheltered homelessness?
Obviously, we are dealing with a very long list of needs – and this is only the first of the five priority areas. But the point is that this challenge is simply too great not to start asking these questions and planning strategically.