Experiencing homelessness is absolutely incompatible with the current public health crisis we are in. You can’t “stay home” when you don’t have one. Further, living in congregate shelter facilities or encampments can increase exposure to and the spread of COVID-19. The crisis of homelessness has been exacerbated by this pandemic and it seems only to be getting worse.
The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project estimates that over 400,000 people in Colorado could face eviction as moratoria expire and extended unemployment benefits cease. Just recently, the Aspen Institute reported that 190,000-259,000 households are at risk of eviction, which equates to 436,000-596,000 people entering the cycle of homelessness. Where will these people go? Our shelter systems across the state, stretched thin prior to the pandemic, are having to operate at reduced capacity because of physical distancing requirements and loss of staff and volunteers. Many say they are having to turn people away because of reduced capacity and the inability to access timely testing for COVID-19. Testing is needed to prevent carriers from coming in and potentially infecting other guests. While motels/hotels have been acquired in some areas of the state for people to recover in or to use as a protective action from the virus, many communities don’t have access to these resources or other alternative shelter options, leaving thousands of individuals and families with no options if they lose their homes.
Without a doubt, COVID-19 has presented our state, our nation, and our world with unfathomable challenges for the health and safety of people everywhere. Everything requires adjustments, thoughtful and evolving responses, and adaptations to a “new normal.” We cannot allow, nor should we accept, a quadrupling of homelessness as part of that new normal.
Safe, stable housing is the foundation on which all other life factors depend, and it is the only way to protect oneself from the dangers of COVID-19. Ensuring access to housing, protecting housing stability, and resolving homelessness should be a top policy and moral imperative at all levels of government.
Cathy Alderman is chief communications and policy officer for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.