As our country continues to reel from the COVID-19 virus and the economic fallout it has created, some of our elected leaders are relying on old models of thinking to try and bring our country through a series of crises that require new ways of doing business. For example, while debating a long overdue relief bill, a choice has been presented between preventing a catastrophic wave of evictions and housing those who are already experiencing homelessness.
This is a false and harmful choice.
This spring we came to understand what advocates have been saying for years—housing is healthcare. Sheltering in place to prevent the spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus is not an option when you have no home, and maintaining social distance is no more than a notion if you live in a communal shelter. While COVID-19 is the most immediate example of the connection between housing and health, there are many more. You cannot stabilize your life while living on the streets or couch surfing. You cannot expect kids to be successful students when they do not have a safe place to sleep. You cannot apply for food stamps or unemployment assistance without an address, and securing a job is next to impossible.
Our home is our refuge, our source of security and solace. Like food and water, it is a basic human need that no one can thrive without.
Understanding this need, the Reaching Home Campaign—in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Housing and key local, state and federal partners—announced an effort to house 1,000 people experiencing homelessness by the end of September. It is a model being implemented successfully across the country, but it can only work long-term if it is funded fully. This big push to house the state’s homeless residents was made possible through the CARES Act, which provided flexible funding to rapidly re-house people experiencing homelessness. (Reaching Home Campaign is a project of Partnership for Strong Communities, a grant partner of the Trust.)
Any new COVID-19 relief package must include comprehensive support for housing AND homelessness. Specifically, we need ample funds to house people already experiencing homelessness, emergency rental assistance to keep people in their homes and more housing vouchers to help households who cannot afford fair market rents even in good economic times. Securing these things now will not only stave off an onslaught of imminent housing instability and homelessness, it will help us face what may come next.
As millions of Americans struggle financially, mentally and physically, we do not have to choose between helping only a few of our most vulnerable neighbors. We can and must do better.
Susan K. Thomas