People experiencing homelessness are uniquely at severe risk for contracting COVID-19, given the prevalence of risk factors in homeless populations. First, they have higher rates of chronic health care needs with limited access to health care. Second, people experiencing homelessness often find it difficult to comply with public health recommendations, such as physical distancing, isolation and quarantine because of issues like shelter conditions. People living outside or in encampments also often live in close quarters, share utensils and other personal items that could spread COVID-19.
More resources are needed to get people experiencing homelessness housed during the pandemic. Many communities have, for example, moved people from shelters into private hotel and motel rooms and will need resources to eventually transition people to permanent housing. Returning people to shelter or leaving people unhoused during the pandemic are challenges the field is desperately trying to overcome. Helpful resources are available right now.
Mainstream Vouchers: Available Funding
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced $150 million in housing vouchers for public housing authorities (PHAs) to expand housing capacity as a response to COVID-19. HUD’s Mainstream Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program is a great opportunity for non-elderly people with disabilities experiencing homelessness to access housing.
The notice includes the following:
- Allows PHAs with an HCV program to apply for new Mainstream vouchers; including those who do not currently administer HCV programs
- Provides waivers and alternative requirements for Mainstream vouchers
- Modifies the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) renewal formula
The deadline for applying for the new voucher funding is December 31, 2020.
Forming Partnerships to Make Change
As those of us working to end homelessness know, funding for housing vouchers are scarce – this $150 million in new funding from HUD is a needed opportunity to house more people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. Continuums of Care (CoCs) should contact their PHAs about applying for this funding.
Working across systems can be challenging, but CoCs have the expertise required to assist PHAs with these vouchers: CoCs have relationships with homeless populations, they know how to implement tenant based rental assistance programs, and they have coordinated entry systems to identify applicants. Through effective partnerships we can reach our ultimate goal during these challenging times: getting the most vulnerable into safe and affordable units.