2020 was a year of uncertainty. COVID-19 and the resulting economic recession have worsened the country’s already devastating homelessness crisis. As the new year kicks off, here are the advocacy efforts we are prioritizing in 2021.
Update on COVID Relief Legislation
On December 27th, President Trump signed the long-awaited Coronavirus Response Bill that includes a 30-day expansion of the eviction moratorium (now expiring on January 31st), and $25 billion in rental assistance. The bill also includes a one-year extension for Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) spending. The bill was officially signed by the President on Tuesday, December 22. For more information on the provisions of the bill, please see below (source: Low Income Housing Coalition):
Family Promise supports the measures that Congress has taken, with the expectation that Congress will look at taking expanded measures on housing and homelessness in the new year. As we look forward to the continuing need for COVID-Response support for homelessness and housing, we recognize that the above measures are not enough to serve the projected 19 million Americans under threat of evictions in the coming months. Family Promise is a member of the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign, a multi-sector collaboration that advocates on issues of housing. The campaign has identified four COVID-related policy priorities for joint-advocacy to address homelessness and housing:
- $100 billion for Emergency Rental Assistance ($75B remaining after the most recent congressional allocation)
- At least $11.5 billion for Homeless Assistance
- Uniform Moratorium on Evictions
- At least $4 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers
Family Promise will be advocating for these measures in 2021 as the pandemic continues. We will also work to keep our volunteers, partners, and Affiliates informed as specific advocacy opportunities arise.
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR ALL PROPOSED LEGISLATION: With the new Congress being sworn in during January, a new session of Congress will begin. Therefore, all previously proposed legislation will no longer be active and will need to be introduced for congressional consideration. This includes the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA) all other bills endorsed by Family Promise.
Message from the National Alliance to End Homelessness on Prioritization of COVID-19 Vaccines:
“As COVID-19 vaccines are nearing distribution to those at highest risk of contracting the virus, Continuums of Care (CoCs) should urge their state health departments to prioritize people experiencing homelessness and the workers who serve them.
Make sure state authorities know people experiencing homelessness are uniquely at severe risk for contracting COVID-19, given the prevalence of risk factors in homeless populations, including racial disparities.
The initial distribution of vaccines to those at highest risk of COVID-19 will save lives and reduce the rate of community spread – especially among people experiencing homelessness. CoCs should contact their state and local health departments as soon as possible to advocate for this prioritization.”
Family Promise has worked closely with the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness throughout the pandemic, and they have expressed agreement that shelter workers are considered front-line workers and should be prioritized.
The Federal Definitions of Homelessness
Family Promise continues to advocate for the alignment of federal definitions of homelessness. Too many children and families are excluded from eligibility for vital services based on government definitions, and Family Promise would like to see the federal government recognize the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness across federal departments (especially including HUD). We have plans to continue with this advocacy in 2021 and hope to see the Homeless Children and Youth Act (which would accomplish this policy priority) reintroduced early in the new congressional session. In the meantime, on December 14th, the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Children and Families released this memo recognizing the need for definitional alignment.
Gaps in the Department of Education’s Ability to Track Student Homelessness
Due to distance/virtual learning, the Department of Education’s federally mandated duty to track student homelessness and provide equal access to education has become exceptionally challenging. This will have dramatic impacts on the education gap for students experiencing homelessness and will need to be addressed in 2021 and beyond. The most recent annual report on student homelessness from the Department of Education showed student homelessness as highest on record.
- So far for the 2020-2021 school year, an estimated 420,000 students have not been identified or enrolled. Please click here for the full report from our partners at SchoolHouse Connection.
- 60 Minutes Segment on difficulties tracking student homelessness and serving those students.
At Family Promise, we believe that we can create great systemic change through strong Affiliate reach, collaboration, and closer access to state-level leadership. This year many of our Affiliates have made strides toward educating people on the issue of homelessness. In that effort, please see below-highlighted efforts:
Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis: FPGI has been instrumental over the last year in advocating for state and local laws that are fairer towards tenants. In the process, they and their advocate partners formed the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition with a two-pronged focus:
- Helping people hurt by the pandemic and facing eviction.
- Lobbying with the state administration. They are working to craft legislation to be introduced in the legislative session that begins in January.
For now, they are trying to gain support for the issues through a community reading experience. They are asking people to read the book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. They found a reading guide from the University of North Carolina, adapted that guide for Indiana, and started a reading campaign. They are promoting the campaign to congregations, book clubs, individuals, groups, and more. They are asking participants to read the book, download the reading guide, and register with them so that they can be reached for future advocacy opportunities. They have also started a webinar series.
Family Promise of Morris County: They are continuing to advocate for the passage of the Homeless Children and Youth Act and have even preemptively reached out to their Congressional Representative asking for co-sponsorship when the bill is reintroduced in the 2021-2022 Congressional Session!
As we enter the new year, Family Promise will continue to work tirelessly to provide support for families experiencing homelessness. We will continue to inform our partners and supporters as new legislation and bills arise, and we will advocate on behalf of those whose voices are stifled due to the stigma and misconceptions surrounding homelessness.