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May 8, 2020

Pressley, Warren, Tlaib, and Neguse Call for Robust Funding to Aid the Homeless During COVID-19

WASHINGTON— Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), along with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Joe Neguse (D-CO) sent a letter urging House and Senate leadership to include $11.5 billion in funding for Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) in the next relief package to aid the nation’s homeless population who are experiencing heightened vulnerability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, Congresswomen Pressley and Tlaib introduced the Public Health Emergency Shelter Act, legislation to invest $15.5 billion in ESGs for local service providers

On any given night, half a million people in the United States will face homelessness. This includes more than 50,000 families with children, who often turn to emergency shelters for housing. These congregate settings can accelerate the spread of COVID-19, particularly among a population disproportionately more likely to have underlying health conditions. These vulnerabilities put both those experiencing homelessness and our frontline healthcare and human services workers at higher risk.

“Housing is a critical determinant of public health, and that has never been more true than during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “We have a moral obligation to protect the health and safety of all people, particularly our most vulnerable, and that includes ensuring our neighbors facing homelessness and the workers who support them have the resources they need to remain safe and healthy amid this crisis. These Emergency Solutions Grants give local providers the flexibility to be responsive to the needs of their communities by providing funding for training, protective equipment, rapid rehousing efforts, and more.”

“We must do everything we can to meet the safety and emergency housing needs of Americans without stable housing during this public health emergency,” said Senator Warren. “Investing in the ESG program will help us protect families and individuals experiencing homelessness—who are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19—and the frontline workers providing those critical services.”

“Any further relief packages that don’t address the dire vulnerability of the hundreds of thousands of people experiencing homelessness in our country is a failure of our moral duty as Congressmembers to be a voice for the least fortunate among us,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “Those without roofs over their heads, the ability to regularly wash their hands, or even seek medical care should they contract this life-threatening virus need our support more than ever. Our congressional leaders must insist that we prioritize the most basic human needs that our neighbors deserve to have met, especially during this crisis.”

 “The COVID-19 pandemic has left the nation facing unprecedented public health and economic crises that have exacerbated underlying inequities and devastated those already living on the margins,” said Congressman Neguse. “Those experiencing homelessness are more likely to be hospitalized or need critical care if they contract COVID-19, and lack of sanitation and shelter make them all the more vulnerable to being infected. We must not let this vulnerable population remain in the shadows of society, and we must provide adequate resources to keep our homeless population and the brave workers who assist them keep safe during this health crisis.”

The flexibility of ESG funding allows states, localities, and nonprofits to react quickly to the needs of these vulnerable communities, including through rapid rehousing and expedited long-term rehousing, and helping to lessen the density of, and reliance on, temporary shelters. These funds may also be used for sanitation efforts such as portable hand-washing stations and the purchase of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, so individuals can follow the health practices recommended by public health experts to halt the spread of coronavirus. 

Today, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) signed on as original co-sponsors of Senator Warren’s legislation, the Public Health Emergency Shelter Act, which would provide $11.5 billion in critical funding to states and local governments responding to the needs of families and individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis.

The full text of the letter can be found here.