Families at Risk of Homelessness Are Hardest Hit by COVID-19 

March 17, 2020

A message from Family Promise CEO, Claas Ehlers on COVID-19

SUMMIT, NJ—With the outbreak of COVID-19, we face an unprecedented challenge in this country. There is a lot we do not know, but there are some elements we can be sure of as they relate to families who are housing unstable, experiencing homelessness, or at risk of losing their homes.

First are the immediate factors for families who are homeless, doubled up, or staying in motels amidst our health crisis: 

  • Housing instability limits access to hygiene; families facing homelessness are not always able to secure cleaning products, sanitizers, etc. Panic buying only exacerbates this.
  • The stress of housing instability and lack of access to nutrition and wellness make families more susceptible to disease.
  • Families cannot effectively avoid infected individuals.
  • The process of getting housing involves meetings, visiting apartments, securing benefits; all of these are considerably more difficult to do virtually, even if the families can go online. 

But beyond the near-term effects, this outbreak will undoubtedly destabilize the housing situation of countless families in our country unless we take proactive steps to mitigate this now. One in seven adults in the U.S. lives in official poverty; approximately 40% of all households are unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense. 

Hourly workers have already begun to experience a significant reduction in their paychecks and there will assuredly be layoffs. As seen in other countries, those in service, retail, and hospitality will be hit the hardest. For many of our neighbors who do not have sufficient, if any, paid sick leave, an illness for themselves or a member of their family will mean serious losses to their household income as well. Those who already live in, or on the edge of poverty, will be hit the hardest and it is likely, if not definite, that we will see increases in homelessness, evictions, and food insecurity. 

As schools close, many low-income parents will be forced to make the decision between paying for childcare or taking extended unpaid leave from work. Further, nearly 30 million children depend on schools for meals, and between 2.5 and 3 million children are identified as homeless nationally. Conducting virtual classes compounds the challenges those students face and is not a realistic option for many low-income and unstably-housed children. 

We understand that securing public health is of the highest importance; however, the economic fallout of this crisis will disproportionately impact families in poverty. Beyond those currently homeless are the approximately 11 million households who pay more than 50% of their income to housing.  A single unforeseen financial crisis can undermine them, putting them at risk of homelessness. We need to take every precaution possible to prevent this from happening to low-income families.  

In crises such as this one, it is important that we display compassion and caring for every member of our community. While we are not able to physically come together, now is the time to show solidarity in the protection of our most vulnerable citizens. We believe the best ways to do this are to donate food, supplies, and funding to local shelters and service providers along with amplifying their work.  People should also reach out to local lawmakers to ensure they pledge and seek legislation, to support vulnerable families, and mitigate the impact on those at risk of homelessness. 

This is also the time for some immediate policies, on a national and local level, that can prevent a flood of homelessness. These include supporting extended sick leave, providing technology support to enable those who can work remotely to do so, abatement of evictions, utility shut-offs, and foreclosures in the near term, and expanding unemployment insurance benefits. For agencies, we need to loosen restrictions on existing funding to direct toward emergency response, and additional funding for rental assistance, childcare, and transportation to ensure parents can keep their jobs.

If you are a family in need of help, please contact your nearest Family Promise Affiliate. 

COVID-19 will change our way of life as we take preventative steps to contain it. Don’t let it change the lives of vulnerable American families forever. 

About Family Promise

Family Promise envisions a nation in which every family has a home, a livelihood, and the chance to build a better future. What began as a local initiative in Summit, NJ, has become a national movement that involves 200,000 volunteers and served more than 125,000 family members in 2018. Family Promise will change the future for 1 million children by 2030.

If you are a member of the media seeking comment on the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable families, please reach out to Katie Coughlin at kcoughlin@familypromise.org or Cara Bradshaw at cbradshaw@familypromise.org.

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