Each month as rent comes due, more and more Americans can’t pay it: the pandemic coupled with the resulting economic crisis means choosing between paying rent and putting food on the table. A recent estimate projects a 40-45% increase in homelessness this summer alone.
My fear is that the impact will be much worse. Before the pandemic, there was already a decades old affordable housing crisis in this country. Some 10 million Americans were doubled or tripled up with friends or relatives—due to lack of resources. According to the federal government estimate—a severe undercount—over 500,000 Americans slept on the streets or in shelters on a single night.
This burden has never been felt equally: deliberate policy choices have excluded Black, Brown and Indigenous people from housing and the opportunity that comes with it. As a result, people experiencing homelessness are disproportionately people of color, even more so than other people living in poverty, as are renters paying large percentages of their incomes on rent.
COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis have made this situation much worse. People who were already struggling are being squeezed even more; they are also more likely to get sick and die. Once homeless, people are especially vulnerable: staying home and keeping social distance are difficult or impossible. And once infected, they are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than the general public.
Eviction moratoria—which do nothing to abate the rent ultimately owed—are now expiring. Even those that remain in place can be ineffective in practice: without legal representation, tenants don’t know they have this protection and can’t assert it; while a few cities have recently enacted a right to counsel for low income renters facing eviction, the vast majority have not. Proposals in Congress to extend and expand the federal eviction moratorium are pending but stalled in the Senate, as are desperately needed proposed federal rent relief funds and a proposal for a national right to counsel in housing court.
Meanwhile, some communities are placing people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in hotel rooms, as recommended by the CDC; some are buying hotels and converting them to affordable housing, contributing to longer term solutions. But others are continuing punitive policies such as sweeps—in direct contravention of CDC guidance—risking the health and safety not only of those who are “swept” but entire communities.
Thanks to the activism of millions of people and the BLM movement, we have a critical opportunity for real change. Funds now being spent on criminal justice responses to homelessness should be redirected to housing and other community supports: Housing, not handcuffs, is the solution. At the same time, momentum is growing for the human right to housing: Poor renters must be protected from eviction into a pandemic, through a national moratorium and real rent relief. And the pre-existing crisis must be addressed to ensure enough affordable housing for all, and a level playing field in court to protect it in practice.
Founder & Executive Director
Equal Access Rule
HUD has announced a proposed change to the Equal Access Rule, which protects transgender people from discrimination in homeless shelters by ensuring transgender people are able to access HUD-funded shelter consistent with their gender identity. The new proposed rule would allow shelter providers to decide whether people seeking shelter are eligible for single-sex or sex segregated shelters. By allowing shelters to consider a range of factors, including religious objections, in determining whether or not to appropriately house a transgender person, the proposed rule condones discrimination against transgender people and makes shelters an unsafe place for them.
The Law Center is working with pro bono partners and other organizations to develop official comments disputing the legality of this proposed rule and highlighting the harms it will inflict on the trans community. You can join the fight against this proposed rule change at https://housingsaveslives.org/
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
Law Center Launches Bi-Weekly COVID-19 & Homelessness Webinar Series
On May 6, 2020, the Law Center began hosting its bi-weekly webinar series on COVID-19 and homelessness. Generally during the summer, the Law Center hosts an annual forum, which attracts homelessness advocates across the country to learn and share information with each other. Due to COVID-19, the Law Center was unable to host this gathering, so it began this webinar series to share crucial information and tactics for advocacy with advocates across the country for use during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
Since May, the Law Center has hosted six webinars, averaging over 650 registrants for each. Past webinars have focused on combating criminalization, constitutional rights, the human right to housing, racial equity, policing, and protecting renters. Over 1,100 people registered for the webinar on policing. Past webinars in the series can be viewed in full at the Law Center’s webinars page. Since starting the webinar series, the Law Center’s Housing Not Handcuffs campaign has enjoyed over 1,000 new endorsers.
Registration for the next webinar can be found here. The next webinar is scheduled for Wednesday July 15, 2020 at 2PM ET / 11AM PT and focuses on creating change at the federal level. In addition to our other great panelists, we will be joined by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA 7th District), who will highlight her recently introduced Housing is a Human Right Act.
Oak Foundation Provides $100,000 Grant for COVID-19 Support
The Oak Foundation—a longtime supporter of the Law Center’s programs—has awarded an $100,000 grant to support the Law Center’s work during the pandemic. This support comes at a critical time, as the Law Center works to advocate for housing people experiencing homelessness in hotels, motels, and/or RVs for the duration of the crisis, stronger guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and additional resources and funding for our unhoused neighbors as quickly as possible.
With this support, the Law Center continues to provide resources to the field—including a letter template for local advocates to use to alert their local governments about the CDC guidelines and to prevent sweeps and demand housing—and the Law Center’s special ongoing COVID-19 webinar series.
The Oak Foundation has been a supporter of the Law Center’s work to end and prevent homelessness for over ten years. The Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. With offices in Europe, Africa, India and North America, Oak Foundation makes grants to organizations in approximately 40 countries worldwide. The Law Center is incredibly grateful for the Oak Foundation’s ongoing support, as well as this special funding during these extraordinary times.
Changing Laws. Changing Lives.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center) is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to end and prevent homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education.