Housing is Healthcare: Coalition for the Homeless Releases Policy Recommendations to Limit Spread of COVID-19 Among Vulnerable Homeless New Yorkers, Ensure their Safety

Homeless New Yorkers Experience Compounding Risks from Exposure to COVID-19; Coalition Calls for Immediate Action From the City, State, and Federal Leaders

 Increased Hygiene Supply and Capacity for Self-Distancing Needed, Suspend Eligibility Hurdles for Families Entering Shelters, Monitor, Support, and House High-Risk Individuals  

NEW YORKAs New York and the nation grapple with the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the Coalition for the Homeless released a set of policy recommendations today for the City, State, and Federal governments to address the pandemic in a comprehensive and systematic way. These policy recommendations will be updated regularly to reflect the ever-changing reality on the ground.

The virus exposes the vulnerability of those living without the security and privacy of a home. With New York entering its fifth decade of a record-breaking homelesssness crisis, the Coalition is calling for immediate action, including increased hygiene supplies, expanded and more open surge drop-in center capacity for homeless New Yorkers on the streets, suspension of eligibility hurdles for families entering shelters, provision of private isolation space for homeless single adults, and preemptive identification of high-risk individuals for monitoring and support. 

“A significant percentage of homeless New Yorkers are considered at high-risk for COVID-19, including seniors as well as adults and children with underlying health conditions. Many of the current recommendations like self-quarantine and social distancing are impossible for homeless New Yorkers, who lack the security and privacy of a home. However, there are ways the Department of Homeless Services and our governing bodies can work together to ensure vulnerable populations like the homeless are well-supported and provided with critical resources in order to limit the spread of the virus and severity of its impact,” said Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless. 


Shelter and Outreach Policies

  • DHS must immediately suspend all eligibility investigations for families applying for shelter at PATH and AFIC, provide immediate needs placements to all households coming through the front door, and cease requiring that children report to PATH for any reason.

  • DHS must implement thorough up-front screening and triage for all people entering all shelters, including deploying the use of thermometers to take people’s body temperature.

  • DHS must preemptively identify people in shelters and known to outreach teams who are at high risk for exposure and infection, provide isolation options for them, and monitor them closely for symptoms.

  • DHS must provide private space for isolation of symptomatic individuals, either through hotels, unused hospital space, or other available single room occupancy locations.

    • Other methods of isolation for groups of shelter residents at high risk may need to be explored.

  • DHS must ensure that individuals who are unsheltered have access to basic hygiene supplies, including hand sanitizer, socks, blankets, wipes, and any other items they may need to keep themselves warm, dry, and healthy.

  • The City must immediately provide access to public restrooms for individuals sleeping on the streets and in transit systems.

  • DHS must expand drop-in center capacity and provide expanded resources for individuals needing showers, bathrooms, indoor space, and supplies. Unused facilities should be brought on line quickly in order to give homeless people safe indoor spaces in which to obtain these services.

  • DHS must provide clear, constant, and up-to-date communication to individuals living in shelters and on the streets. Multiple types of communication should be provided, including written materials and a hotline to answer questions or provide basic information.

  • DHS must ensure all shelters are adequately staffed to provide basic needs and safety.

  • DHS must make sure shelter staff have adequate access to supplies that will help them stay safe while working, including but not limited to disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, soap, face masks, and gloves.

  • DHS must immediately suspend the Income Savings Plan program for single adults and halt its planned implementation for families.

  • DHS, in conjunction with DOE, must make sure all homeless students in shelters have the space and technology, including WiFi, to participate in remote learning.

Public Assistance

  • New York State must immediately authorize basic needs allowances for individuals in shelters and on the streets, including for those who are presently receiving the much smaller personal needs allowances.

  • New York State must immediately suspend local requirements to pay shelter rent or participate in mandatory savings programs or program fee agreements as a condition of receiving shelter.


  • The Federal government should provide significant emergency funds for housing assistance to New York City, including Section 8 vouchers and the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

  • New York State must immediately pass and fully fund the Home Stability Support program (HSS) in the State budget.

  • New York State and City must continue the moratorium on evictions until such time as the economy has fully recovered

See full recommendations