As of Thursday, August 26, 2021, the federal moratorium on evictions related to COVID was lifted. As many as 35 million people in the United States, whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by the pandemic-related economic shut down, are at risk of homelessness.
What’s more, there are hundreds of thousands of people and families who were placed into hotel rooms with CARES Act funding that is due to expire. Many of these folks will be forced back onto the streets, and into congregate shelters, with desperately increased risk of contracting COVID, at a time when hospitals are operating at capacity.
This is a massive economic and public health crisis, disproportionately affecting people of color.
Lack of capacity at the state and local level, combined with bureaucratic red tape, has prevented up to 75% of aid from the Federal government from reaching renters desperate to maintain their housing.
Even though it is illegal, families forced back into homelessness risk losing custody of their children. Studies have shown overwhelmingly that safe housing has more to do with a child’s wellbeing and achievement than any other single factor.
People who are unhoused face targeted enforcement and criminalization of life-sustaining activities. This over-criminalization separates families, eliminates employment options, and further jeopardizes the mental and physical health of those affected.
Last week I wrote about immediate steps each of us can take as individuals to help those in our communities who are currently living in homeless conditions or who are on the verge of homelessness.
Long term solutions to ending and addressing the underlying causes of poverty and homelessness are also needed. I share some here.
Advocacy is critical to creating the systemic changes needed to end homelessness. Advocacy is intended to bring about positive changes in policies and programs on the local, state, and federal levels. It means working with various sectors of the community (e.g. city/county officials, members of Congress, direct service providers, and the business community) to develop workable strategies for responding to homelessness.
- Lobby. Your lobbying efforts can take the form of letter writing, visits, phone calls, and/or emails. Ask policy and law makers and other public officials at the city, county, state and federal levels what they are doing about homelessness and/or relevant legislation. When legislators receive more than a few visits or letters about any subject, they sit up and take notice. Personal visits are the most powerful; letters, e-mails, and phone calls are next. To see six practical tips on how to lobby your legislator or elected official, click here.
- To find necessary contact information:
- Members of Congress (both Representatives and Senators)
- State legislators and elected officials
- Local elected officials (cities, counties, townships, etc.)
- Federal agencies and departments
- Encourage those most directly involved to advocate. Encourage people experiencing homelessness, agency volunteers, and staff to contact officials at all levels of government. Encourage letter writing by providing paper, pens, stamped envelopes, and sample messages at every meeting and event. Have a “Call In Day.” Try organizing a few people with cell phones to go to shelters or meal programs to get people experiencing homelessness, volunteers, and staff to call the Governor (Mayor, Council Member…) asking them to stop future cuts in essential services.
- Follow local politics. Attend neighborhood and public meetings and speak up in favor of low-income housing, group homes, shelters, and homelessness prevention programs.
- Contact your local government. Find out if there is a local eviction ban or other tenant protections in place in your area. To see if your state has an eviction ban or other protections in place, click here.
- Contact advocacy organizations. Consider contacting your local tenants union and housing advocates in your community to learn how you can help.
- Create a “reverse panhandling” activity. Get people experiencing homelessness and other volunteers to hand out quarters and ask people to call their legislators.
- Register people experiencing homelessness to vote. People experiencing homelessness are one of the most poorly represented blocks when it comes to voter turnout. These individuals may lack the resources to familiarize themselves about candidates or lack transportation to the polls on Election Day. The “You Don’t Need A Home to Vote” campaign is a nonpartisan voter registration/education/get-out-the-vote campaign that occurs nationwide each election cycle. You can click here to download a voter registration toolkit and here for a 50-state Know-Your-Rights guide for unhoused voters. Find out how you can lobby for a homeless voting rights written policy or law in your state, if it doesn’t already have one.
- Educate your leaders. Organize site visits for political leaders and the media to visit local homeless programs to highlight ways that your community is (or isn't) addressing the many problems associated with homelessness.
- Involve the media. Call or write the media to inform them of your concern for people experiencing homelessness in your area. Write editorials when important issues related to homelessness arise in your community.
- Get involved with a local street newspaper. Street newspapers educate the general public about homelessness while providing people experiencing homelessness with a creative outlet to have their articles, photos, artwork, and poetry published and providing employment opportunities as vendors and writers. To get in touch with the street newspaper nearest you or to get help in establishing a newspaper in your community, contact the International Association of Street Newspapers.
- Join the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign. Local homeless activists are working to stop the trend of criminalizing homelessness by using litigation, lobbying, community organizing, documentation, and research. Learn more about the campaign here.
- Organize a “Faces of Homelessness” panel. Through NCH’s “Faces of Homelessness” presentations, the voices and faces of those who have experienced homelessness personalize the issue, dispel stereotypes, inspire involvement, and serve as a training, skill building, and empowerment tool for those who have experienced homelessness.
- Sponsor a Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. NCH and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness (NSCAHH) co-sponsor an Awareness Week every year during the first full week before Thanksgiving. Awareness weeks are organized in more than 500 campuses and communities nationwide. For more information visit HHWeek.org.
- Organize other events. Consider coordinating an event including advocates, service providers, organizations, homeless and formerly homeless individuals/families, religious leaders, city representatives, students, and concerned citizens. If holding events this year either do so virtually or ensure appropriate social distancing at events. You can download NHL’s official organizing manual here.
- Provide a Speaker. You can invite one of NCH's trained homeless or formerly homeless speakers to share their story at an event or with your group. You can learn more about the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau and about the stories of the individual speakers here.
- Recognize National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. The National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day takes place each year on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice (usually December 21st). On that day nearly 100 communities nationwide hold local memorial services to remember people who have died homeless during that year. The sponsors—The National Coalition for the Homeless, the National Consumer Advisory Board and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council—encourage communities to host such public events.
- Participate in the National Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness. This year the event will take be held at more than 700 locations across the country from November 13-21, 2021. Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, founded in 1975, is an annual program where people come together across the country to draw attention to the problems of hunger and homelessness. Participating groups spend the week holding a series of educational, service, fundraising, and advocacy events. You can host an event, make a donation, or volunteer to work at an event.
For those of us who go to sleep every night in the comfort of our own beds, and who tuck our children into their beds under their own covers with their stuffed animals, it is hard to imagine what it must be like to sleep in a crowded shelter or in a car, or a tent on the street having lost all possessions.
I’ve presented short- and long-term actions that each of us can take. Consider what you can do to end and prevent homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights are protected.