We Can’t Find a Cure for the Coronavirus Without Ending Homelessness

Andreanecia M. Morris
Executive Director, HousingNOLA

How can we tell people to stay home, when they don’t have homes? How can we tell people they’re safe today and make no plans for their future? These are the predictable and obvious consequences of our collective failure to address the housing crisis and allow housing insecurity to seep into every income bracket. The COVID-19 Crisis is being amplified by on New Orleans’ Affordable Housing Crisis and immediate action must be taken. HousingNOLA’s Advocacy Partner, the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA) has called on local, state and federal leaders to #PutHousingFirst when creating solutions.

Here in New Orleans, the city and state announced that the Hilton Garden Inn in the CBD has begun to transform into housing for the homeless. This is a tremendous and welcome first step, but we must remember that in last year’s Point in Time count, we had almost 1200 homeless individuals and over 50,000 households were housing insecure on March 1, 2020. The State of Louisiana and City of New Orleans must allocate funds for immediate rental assistance so landlords can continue to provide housing for renters, and to secure occupiable units like hotels and short term rentals (Air BNBs) for the homeless as shelter-in-place and social distancing policies extend.

We can no longer consign the homeless and housing insecure to our pre-COVID-19 Shelter System. We should fervently institute the programs which fully utilize the tireless efforts of case managers and the rapid rehousing programs that connects individuals and families to welcoming landlords. All programs moving forward, must cover the costs to ensure that the frontline property staff, who will be working to ensure the habitability of homes during this crisis, are also safe.

Recently, Congress and the president approved an emergency spending package in response to COVID-19. The final version includes billions that can be used to stabilize the homeless and housing insecure. New Orleans has more than 35,000 vacant units in the parish, including over 7,000 vacant apartments that are empty because they are overpriced. This is an unprecedented emergency and should be handled as such. For the past five years we have been calling on our leaders to act proactively, and NOW extraordinary measures MUST be taken! We need immediate, mid-term, and long-term solutions at the local, state, and federal levels, and we must act quickly! The virus cannot be contained if families are transient and must move from unstable rental units, to cars, friend’s homes and other temporary living situations.

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