Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, impacts countless vulnerable Texans. The elderly, immunocompromised people, low-income households and people living without basic shelter are all at a higher risk of contracting, spreading, and dying from this virus. Texas Homeless Network realizes the breadth of this impact and seriousness of the consequences at hand if we do not act thoughtfully and strategically now.
Today, we are putting forth a letter that outlines our recommendations for local, state, and federal agencies to consider in supporting those currently experiencing homelessness, preventing increased rates of homelessness as a result of this pandemic, and mitigating the spread of coronavirus in Texas communities. We urge you to use this information and speak directly to your legislators about acting on these points. Texas Homeless Network’s recommendations include swift and robust funding directed to homeless crisis response systems (especially emergency shelters) to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, a moratorium on sweeps of homeless camps, outreach and street medicine expansion, and medical respite care.
Provide urgent financial and public health support to homeless crisis response systems
People experiencing homelessness often stay in congregate care settings and spend time in shared spaces while seeking critical services. Even those staying in encampments also often live in close proximity to one another. As the virus spreads, these individuals are at increased risk of exposure because of the nature of their shared living arrangement and inability to self-isolate. It’s critical that we call on policymakers to ensure that shelters and service providers communicate daily with county public health departments and receive immediate funding to maintain staff levels and facility costs, the provision of needed supplies to sanitize and disinfect regularly, and financial resources to access isolation/quarantine locations for those demonstrating symptoms. This response is critical to the well being of every Texan and to slowing the spread of coronavirus.
Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures
With each passing day, more households find themselves unable to afford their rent or mortgage. Texans are facing a loss of income as the result of being forced to stay home from work for the protection of everyone’s health. New data from the Texas Workforce Commission shows that unemployment claims from March 8 – 14 are up over 7,000 as compared to last year. While we commend Gov. Abbott on his actions to temporarily close dine-in establishments and gatherings of over 10 people, this means more workers will be out of work and we should expect the number of unemployment insurance claims to increase exponentially after this week’s executive actions. This makes it harder to pay already unaffordable rents across the state. An increased inflow of new homelessness would overwhelm already taxed homeless response systems and without adequate housing, the most vulnerable Texans will be unable to adequately fight COVID-19 and other deadly illnesses.
If more Texans are evicted in the coming days and weeks, COVID-19 could start to spread more rapidly among those who become homeless that easily would not be able to adhere to the recommended preventative measures. Our state cannot let that become a reality. While the Texas Supreme Court has halted some evictions until April 19th, we know that the impacts of this pandemic will last far beyond that time. And while counties throughout our state have issued moratoriums on COVID-19 related evictions, we know that these are only temporary actions. We urge Texans to ask their legislators to expand on their example and lead the nation by issuing a moratorium on evictions in the face of COVID-19. The moratorium should be set for 90 days after the president ceases a declaration of a national crisis, with the option to expand depending on the circumstances. In addition, issuance of writs of possession should be halted by Justice Courts around the state.
The court is already unsafe for the elderly, homeless, and the immunocompromised. To force the most vulnerable Texans into court, against the advice of public health professionals, adds the cruel insult of exposure to a severe health risk to the injury of eviction.
Moratorium on sweeps of homeless encampments
The CDC recently issued guidance that discourages sweeping homeless camps. In addition to the clearing of encampments being an inefficient use of resources, it could cause coronavirus to spread to new communities as people relocate and may break connections with service providers. The unintended consequences of sweeps far outweigh any perceived benefit and must be taken into account.
In addition, Texas Homeless Network believes that any effort to house people experiencing homelessness should be voluntary and respect their civil and human rights. Instead of spending money on forcibly relocating people, we ask the state for tangible resources that are needed to provide encampments with hand-washing stations, temporary restrooms, and other preventative hygiene measures. We know that this will help protect and support people experiencing homelessness as well as the communities they reside in.
Outreach and street medicine expansion
People experiencing homelessness are often in poor health due to a lack of access to the healthcare industry, co-occurring illnesses, and an avoidance of traditional medical settings. These combined factors make unsheltered individuals even more susceptible to untested and untreated illnesses, including COVID – 19. We must promote added resources in our communities to provide outreach to unsheltered individuals and street medicine can ensure that people experiencing homelessness have access to the care and resources they need.
Medical respite care
Respite care is needed to provide a safe and restful place for individuals who need to quarantine because of suspected exposure and/or while they are awaiting test results and/or who need to recover from the Coronavirus but have nowhere to safely isolate.. Without respite care, individuals experiencing homelessness have a higher chance of transmission to their neighbors and would face an even greater chance of death. To ensure this, community members can advise legislators to ensure that funds allocated to Continuums of Care in our state allow money to be directed to respite care efforts.
This is not the first public health crisis our state has faced, nor will it be the last. The reaction to the crisis cannot be austerity. We need healthcare, housing, and utility justice.
In order to prevent further illness and loss of life, we must invest in public housing, services, and housing necessary to prevent and end homelessness for Texans experiencing or at risk of this vulnerable condition.
Stand with us in this crisis to stop preventable homelessness and deaths in Texas due to COVID-19. We can and will do this by providing urgent financial and public health support to homeless crisis response systems. In addition, Texas needs to enact a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures along with a moratorium on sweeps of homeless encampments. Lastly, we must prioritize outreach and street medicine expansion and medical respite care to those who need it.
By advocating with us for these recommendations, we can ensure a healthier and safer future for all Texans.
Texas Homeless Network