Last updated: May 5, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the country, we must remember that all of us are better off when everyone, especially members of our community experiencing homelessness, are healthy. We all have a role to play in ensuring that we have what we need to be well. People experiencing homelessness are uniquely at risk of being exposed to and contracting COVID-19, but we know that safe, stable housing is a key to saving lives and keeping communities healthy. If we are thoughtful and intentional about how we act now, we can end homelessness. This means holding government accountable and being strategic in our own philanthropic response to create new systems rooted in justice.
Equity Implications of COVID-19 Efforts
As stated in our Commitment to Racial Equity, the work to end homelessness must center racial equity to strengthen existing strategies and solutions and create new approaches that more effectively recognize and meet the needs of people of color experiencing homelessness.
And during a time of crisis, this is especially true.
Despite the rhetoric, COVID-19 is not a “great equalizer.” In fact, it has only exacerbated structural inequities that already existed. Black and Latinx communities have been impacted by the virus at a disproportionate rate. In Chicago, for example, the general population is 30% Black, but 70% of COVID-19 related deaths are Black people. In California, Black patients ages 18-49 are dying at nearly two and a half times as often as their share of the state’s population. Similar statistics are coming out of other communities. Likewise, people of color are more likely to experience homelessness and housing instability, so the inequitable connectedness between homelessness and COVID-19 is undeniable.
The disparities we are seeing are rooted in structural racism and are not about race. This is not about pre-existing conditions. It’s about pre-existing inequities from stolen Indigenous land and chattel slavery. As Race Forward reminds us, COVID-19 kills, structural racism is its accomplice.
It is crucial that resources go toward the most vulnerable and historically marginalized communities, like Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ people, and youth and young adults, that are often overlooked and left out of response efforts. In order for response and recovery efforts to be equitable, these questions, shared by the Consumer Health Foundation, should be asked at each step of any design and implementation process, including your philanthropic response:
- How does your response, even in the midst of crisis, contribute to long-term systems change?
- How are the voices of impacted communities centered?
- What data (quantitative or qualitative) are driving resource allocation? And what does that data tell you about the experiences of various racial/ethnic groups? How are women and LGBTQIA people of color particularly impacted?
- What are possible unintended consequences of the decisions you might make?
- What additional disaggregated demographic data will you collect, track, and evaluate to assess equity impacts in COVID-19 response moving forward, and how will that data inform your future decisions when the crisis is over?
- How are the actions you are taking grounded in history?
Federal Relief Package: CARES Act
In late March, Congress reached a bipartisan agreement on a $6 trillion package, including $2 trillion in direct spending, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, called the CARES Act. More than $12 billion for HUD programs was in the bill, including $4 billion for Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), $5 billion for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), a moratorium on evictions for renters in homes with federally back mortgages, and $150 billion of flexible funds, called the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Communities are now grappling with how these funds are allocated and used. The prioritization of people experiencing homelessness and members of other historically marginalized communities is essential.
More information can be found on our summary of the CARES Act from March 2020.
Recommendations for Philanthropy
The role of philanthropy during this unprecedented time cannot be overstated. Philanthropy should heed the calls to action to address systemic racism in our grantmaking and our advocacy. The following recommendations were formed to provide guidance to philanthropy around both the immediate needs (response) and long-term strategies (recovery) for effective and equitable solutions to support people experiencing homelessness.
These recommendations incorporate key guidance from the Framework for COVID-19 Homelessness Response from our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH). We plan to revisit our recommendations regularly to update and add to them as the environment changes and we learn more about what is working.