New York City has been fully in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic for a month, which has magnified the longstanding holes in our social safety net. Long before COVID-19’s arrival, New York City was already in the midst of a historic homelessness crisis – with more than 62,000 New Yorkers sleeping in municipal shelters each night and thousands more bedding down on the streets and in the transit system. The swift and deadly COVID-19 pandemic has made two things abundantly clear: Housing is health care, and all levels of government must come together to ensure that every person has the basic stability and safety of permanent affordable housing.
Coalition for the Homeless has spent the past several weeks calling for urgent policy changes, such as allowing homeless New Yorkers to move out of congregate shelters and off the streets into hotel rooms where they can safely isolate (read some of our recent letters urging elected officials to protect homeless New Yorkers during the public health crisis here, here, and here). Our team has also regularly updated resource guides (available here) so our neighbors know where to go for help at a time when many services have closed. Furthermore, we have adapted in order to continue operating our lifesaving direct services, such as our Crisis Intervention Program (which is now a hotline at 212-776-2177) and our Grand Central Food Program nightly mobile soup kitchen (view the stops here). Through our frontline work, we have already begun to witness the heartbreaking impact of the sudden economic recession, with more and more people lining up to get a meal from our Grand Central Food Program. With the city largely shut down and countless New Yorkers finding themselves unemployed or at risk of becoming homeless, the need for bold policy solutions has never been greater.
This week, Coalition for the Homeless signed onto a letter calling on Congress to include $100 billion in additional stimulus funding – with $10 billion for New York State – for housing and rental assistance. The letter, coordinated by State Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi and signed by more than 200 State and local elected officials along with advocates, stated:
“We believe that giving those who are currently homeless an opportunity to obtain and stay in permanent housing must be a primary focus of our response to the pandemic in New York State. It is equally urgent to support all those who are now at risk of displacement from their homes by investing in existing housing, and providing both project- and tenant-based rental assistance for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who can no longer afford the rent.”
Coalition for the Homeless Deputy Executive Director for Policy Shelly Nortz explained:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has already taken the lives of dozens of homeless New Yorkers, and displaced countless others from the most tenuous and unstable housing situations throughout New York. It teaches us that crowding large numbers of poor people into congregate shelters and cramped single rooms is a deadly practice that must end. The solution lies in the provision of adequate rental assistance for all who need it to keep their apartments or move out of shelters and off the streets. Housing is Healthcare and it is the only long-term solution available to save lives in the new normal laid bare by this crisis. We are so grateful to Assemblymember Hevesi and Senator Kavanagh for their tireless advocacy on behalf of our homeless neighbors.”