April 01, 2020

Senator Warren Unveils Legislation to Protect Individuals Experiencing Homelessness During Coronavirus Pandemic

Bill Ensures Homeless Americans Have Access to Shelter and Safety Needs Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Data Show Homeless Individuals with COVID-19 More Likely to Be Hospitalized, Need Critical Care, or Die Than General Population

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today introduced the Senate companion to the Public Health Emergency Shelter Act, legislation that would provide critical funding to states and local governments responding to the needs of families and individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis. The legislation was first introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

"Americans need access to stable housing to protect themselves and their families from coronavirus," said Senator Warren. "There is an urgent need to expand the availability of emergency shelter, ensure access to soap, running water, and other safety needs, and support frontline workers providing critical supports to individuals experiencing homelessness.  I won't stop fighting until families experiencing homelessness have access to shelter and safety needs during this crisis."

"Any further response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is not centered on the most vulnerable among us is not a comprehensive one-and that is what we need to ensure no one is left behind in this crisis," said Congresswoman Tlaib. "Families and individuals already dealing with homelessness are more vulnerable to this potentially fatal disease through no fault of their own. We must ensure they are granted the access to safe shelter and necessary medical care that they need, regardless of their circumstances."

Across the United States, more than 500,000 people are experiencing homelessness, and many homeless individuals-including more than 50,000 families with children-are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19. A new report estimates individuals experiencing homelessness who contract coronavirus will be twice as likely to be hospitalized, up to four times as likely to need critical care, and two to three times as likely to die as the general population.

The Public Health Emergency Shelter Act would protect individuals experiencing homelessness-and the frontline health care workers who serve them-during this public health emergency by providing $11.5 billion for the Emergency Solutions Grant program under the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act. The funding for these grants, which support direct engagement with individuals experiencing homelessness, shelter operation and services, rapid re-housing, and prevention services-will be delivered via a formula that accounts for the risk of transmission, rate of sheltered and unsheltered homelessness, and economic and housing market conditions. The bill provides flexibility for use of funding and includes provisions waiving certain requirements, like matching funds, to streamline funding for providers.

The legislation is endorsed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

"It has never been more clear that housing is health care. People experiencing homelessness are at high risk of both severe illnesses from coronavirus and of potentially spreading it to others given their inability to isolate or self-quarantine after being exposed to the illness," stated Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. "The recent coronavirus package included $4 billion in critically needed resources for people experiencing homelessness, but far more is needed. NLIHC will work with Senator Warren to ensure that Congress includes her bill in the next spending package to fully provide the resources needed to protect against or contain an outbreak of coronavirus among people who are homeless. This is not only a moral imperative; it's an urgent public health necessity. Our collective health depends on every one of us being safely and affordably housed."

In an op-ed published earlier this month, Senator Warren called for a grassroots economic stimulus package, including an increase in funding for homelessness services.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Warren has pressed the Trump Administration to respond effectively to deliver the robust set of resources needed to address this emergency. She recently unveiled detailed plans to increase diagnostic testing nationwide, and sounded the alarm alongside Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) over the Trump Administration's failure to deliver federal support for testing and care in Massachusetts. Earlier this month, she put out a plan for getting relief directly to workers, families, and small businesses, and has fought to prioritize federal aid for keeping workers on payroll and helping hospitals, states and localities respond to the crisis -- before bailing out giant corporations.