Texas Homeless Network’s Letter to the Governor in response to COVID-19

March 20, 2020

To: Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen

We applaud the Texas Supreme Court’s recent decisive actions to protect Texans by halting some evictions as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. We share your desire to protect those most vulnerable and most likely to experience dire health and economic consequences. As you prepare additional solutions and resources to address COVID-19 in Texas, we strongly encourage you to include funding for homelessness and homelessness prevention as a top priority – tens of thousands of individuals and families are already experiencing housing instability or are one paycheck away from homelessness

People experiencing homelessness have limited access to the preventive measures being recommended including handwashing, home isolation, avoiding high touch surfaces, and rapid access to health care to help prevent an outbreak. People who are experiencing homelessness are far more likely to have chronic underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk and can make the disease more deadly. Because people experiencing homelessness may be living in congregated communities – whether in encampments or shelters – and cannot self-quarantine, we must act now to contain any outbreak among people experiencing homelessness.

The most important thing to the health and well-being of this state and its citizens is slowing the spread of this virus. Our efforts to flatten the curve of infection are inadequate unless Texans experiencing homelessness are prioritized with other highly vulnerable populations for treatment and monitoring. People living without basic shelter are at a particularly high risk of a Coronavirus outbreak. The spread of this virus among people experiencing homelessness and ultimately, all Texans, will continue if we do not act now and help our public health agencies and homeless crisis response systems mitigate this issue as fully and as quickly as possible.  Considering the severity of this situation we are advising urgent action on the following recommendations. 

Provide urgent public health and financial support to homeless crisis response systems.

  • Devote Public Health Resources to Texans Experiencing Homelessness:
    • Utilize the Texas Department of State Health Services resources to connect public health departments in the state with homeless crisis response systems and require daily briefings to monitor virus spread and act as needed. 
    • Dedicate testing kits throughout Texas for persons experiencing homelessness to ensure swift and efficient mobilization of resources if outbreaks occur. 
    • Utilize outreach and telemedicine practices to engage with people experiencing homelessness in encampments. 
    • Identify public health resources to provide those infected with isolation and treatment locations and medical respite care. 
  • Provide critical financial support for homeless crisis response systems:
    • Provide funding to expand permanent supportive housing in Texas communities so households and programs have more options to move people out of crowded shelters. 
    • Provide all emergency shelters and homeless service providers with funding to sustain adequate staffing levels and pay facility overhead costs. 
    • Provide all emergency shelters and homeless service providers with the necessary sanitizers, protective gear, hygiene disinfectant supplies, and other needed materials and supplies;
    • Make all needed supplies, necessary testing, treatment, isolation/quarantine locations available to the programs and residents at no cost.
    • Provide resources to local communities so they can minimize the number of people living in homeless encampments by providing washing stations, sanitizers, securing transportation and space, including hotels, for isolation and self-quarantine. 

Mitigate the effects of coronavirus spread through Texans at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.

  • Enforce long-term Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures:
    • Texans are facing a loss of income as the result of businesses closing, workers being laid off, and those who are still employed are losing hours as they are 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 number of unemployment insurance claims is expected to increase exponentially after these executive actions. Without adequate housing, the most vulnerable Texans will be unable to adequately fight COVID-19 and other deadly illnesses.
    • The moratorium should be set for 60 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. 
  • Enact a statewide moratorium on sweeps of homeless encampments
    • By sweeping homeless encampments, the state will cause coronavirus to spread to new communities and disconnect vulnerable populations from services. The unintended consequences of sweeps far outweigh any perceived benefit and must be taken into account.

In conclusion

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 focused healthcare with expanded access, strong homeless crisis response systems, expanded shelter and housing opportunities, and protections from evictions or utility coverage. 

In order to prevent further illness and loss of life, we must devote public health resources to people experiencing homelessness, robustly support Texas homeless crisis response systems with immediate assistance, and enact policies that prevent and end homelessness for Texans at risk of or currently experiencing this vulnerable condition. 

Through these actions and this investment, we can continue our goal of making homelessness rare, brief, and a one-time event and flatten the curve of coronavirus spread across the state of Texas. 

The following Continuums of Care (CoC) serving people experiencing homelessness in Texas join THN in support of this statement. These eight CoCs coordinate homeless crisis response systems that cover 246 of Texas’ 254 counties: Coalition for the Homeless Houston/Harris County, El Paso Coalition for the Homeless, Heart of Texas CoC, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, Texas Balance of State Coc (215 Rural & Mid-Sized counties, and the Wichita Falls/Wise, Palo Pinto, Wichita, Archer Counties CoC.

Texas Homeless Network’s Letter to the Governor in response to COVID-19
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