Given close quarters, compromised immune systems, and an aging population, people experiencing homelessness are exceptionally vulnerable to communicable diseases, not excluding the current outbreak of coronavirus, COVID-19.

People Experiencing Homelessness are Exceptionally Vulnerable

People living on the streets, in shelters, or in their cars are more vulnerable to an outbreak of highly communicable diseases like COVID-19. Without adequate, permanent and stable housing, people lack a restroom for frequent handwashing, laundry facilities, and personal hygiene. Because homelessness disparately affects people of color, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ populations, particularly LGBTQ youth, and these groups experience marginalization in other ways in our economic and health care systems, both the economic and health care aspects of this crisis will disparately impact them as well.

Housing Is Health

Forcing people experiencing homelessness into close, congregate facilities such as large scale shelters is a recipe for rapid spread of disease. The threat of COVID-19 should not be viewed as an excuse to revisit such approaches under the guise of quarantine. The American Medical Association and American Public Health Association have both adopted official policy statements supporting the protection of the civil and human rights of individuals experiencing homelessness and opposition to laws and policies that criminalize individuals experiencing homelessness for carrying out life-sustaining activities conducted in public spaces when there is no private space available. Both affirm that the best tool to resolve the public health concerns associated with unsheltered homelessness is housing.

Responses Should be Built on Science and Best Practices, Not Prejudice

  • California – The State of California awarded $100 million in emergency grant funding to provide support for the “health and safety of people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Thus funding is intended to be immediately available for people experiencing homelessness and is intended to provide various types of support, such as to provide medical services or supplies.
  • Santa Clara County, CA – Santa Clara County issued a moratorium on no cause or non-payment of rent evictions related to “a substantial loss of income or substantial out-of-pocket medical expenses resulting from the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic or any local, state, or federal government response to the pandemic.”
  • Seattle, WA – The City of Seattle announced that it would ease enforcement of some parking regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The City will suspend enforcement of 72-hour parking rules, limit towing of vehicles to situations creating safety hazards or access issues, and create “temporary loading zones” for restaurants to facilitate food pick-up.

Take Action

Send a letter calling for communities to stop sweeps and place people into individual housing units. With the passage of the CARES Act, there is no excuse for communities to continue sweeping encampments or placing people into congregate shelter facilities.

  • House people experiencing homelessness in hotels, motels, and/or RVs for the duration of the crisis.

  • Place a moratorium on sweeping encampments and seizing homeless people’s tents and other temporary structures and stop enforcement of laws prohibiting resting and sheltering oneself in public space.
  • Increase access to hygiene and sanitation services for those living in unsheltered areas.

  • Place a moratorium on vehicle ticketing, towing, and impoundment.
  • Immediately and safely decrease the number of people incarcerated for laws criminalizing homelessness and other non-violent offenses.
  • Schools must take students experiencing homelessness into account as they close down.
  • Universities must also take students experiencing homelessness into account as they close.
  • Federal, state, and local surplus governmental property available for safe camping, parking and access to supplies and services.
  • Prevent new homelessness by immediately halting ALL eviction and foreclosure proceedings, put a moratorium on evictions, and ban the imposition of late fees on missed rental or mortgage payments during the crisis.
  • Ensure that any emergency cash relief measures designed to assist people with the economic impact of the Coronavirus crisis are also made available to and reach homeless people.
  • For an in-depth breakdown of the recommendations described above, read our COVID-19 Statement.

COVID-19 Resources

Schools, advocates, and government entities should center equal access to all services, including:

  • Modifications to curricula and distance learning, including access to course materials, and remembering that not all students will have access to computers, internet, or other digital methods of learning;
  • Access to food and monetary aid and ways to effectively distribute aid to homeless students and unaccompanied minors who may not be able to reach common distribution points;
  • Setting up processes to keep up with currently identified students experiencing homelessness and to identify students who may be losing housing during this hard time;
  • Heeding CDC guidelines on refraining from forcing people, including children and youth, into group shelters during the pandemic;
  • Prioritizing access to housing and healthcare, especially for unaccompanied youth who usually may not meet requirements for certain housing or aid programs.

For more on McKinney-Vento education provisions requiring that students experiencing homelessness have equal access to education and school services, and how the provisions can specifically be applied during the pandemic, see this living Q & A document by SchoolHouse Connection.

American Bar Association

The American Bar Association has free legal guidance for income-eligible users surrounding housing, unemployment, and other civil legal questions during the coronavirus pandemic. The created ABA task force mobilizes online legal guidance to pro-bono opportunities for attorneys, while addressing the inquiries and needs stemming from the COVID outbreak for people who need help.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its Interim Guidance for Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) among People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness. This guidance is intended to provide key actions that local and state health departments, homelessness service systems, housing authorities, emergency planners, healthcare facilities, and homeless outreach services can take to protect people experiencing homelessness from the spread of COVID-19.

Family Promise

Family Promise focuses on families who are housing insecure or at risk of homelessness, especially during the given precariousness of a global pandemic. Their press release stresses how housing instability and poverty can affect a family’s susceptibility to disease, especially given a disproportionate economic impact on low-income parents who lack paid leave. Family Promise supports extended sick leave and unemployment, technological help for remote work, and abatement of evictions, utility shut-offs and foreclosures in the near term.

Funders Together to End Homelessness

Funders Together mobilizes philanthropic voices to bring financial and intellectual resources to end homelessness. In response to COVID-19, they are regularly holding member calls to share information and share what is happening in communities with regard to people experiencing homelessness.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness emphasizes the mental health effects of panic, isolation, grief, loneliness, and financial stress during the outbreak of COVID-19. Further insight on how mental illness connects with homelessness and incarceration is also highlighted in their resource guide.

National Alliance to End Homelessness

NAEH seeks to understand how the pandemic is affecting people experiencing homelessness. This study they published projects 40% of the homeless population to be infected at the peak infection rate, and those infected and homeless are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population.

National Center for Housing and Child Welfare

During the COVID-19 outbreak, NCHCW is standing up for former foster youth in college who are facing housing instability with their dorms and dining halls closing. They support the utilization and extension of the Chafee Foster Care Independence Act as a means for providing former foster youth in college support with room, board, and housing needs as schools and universities are closing. More information on former foster youth aging into independence and finding housing with dorms closing can be found here.

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans

Given veterans experiencing homelessness and their susceptibility to the COVID-19 pandemic, NCHV submitted a request to Congress for the inclusion of resources directly targeted to addressing the needs of this population.

National Health Care for the Homeless Council | Quality. Access. Justice. Community

National Health Care for the Homeless Council offers resources regarding health care and public health concerns for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 epidemic. This includes a brief explanation of why people experiencing homelessness are a high-risk group and policy recommendations for community response teams. NHCHC demands evictions and encampment sweeps are prohibited to ensure stable health and housing conditions during a pandemic.

National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition leads the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, working to prevent housing instability and homelessness as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes policy recommendations for people experiencing homelessness; protections for low-income renters with no margin for financial emergencies; and broad, long term solutions. NLIHC supports providing housing for people experiencing homelessness, a moratorium on evictions, and an emergency assistance fund to prevent eviction and stabilize housing during such crises.


The National Network to End Domestic Violence centers on the unique needs of survivors in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as home may not be safe in cases of abuse or violence. In response, their statement supports that flexible financial assistance be made available to survivors, including food, housing, and paid sick and safe days.

COVID-19 Map

Source: Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering

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