Planning and Preparing for COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

March 12, 2020

We know that communities and providers across the country are working around the clock to prepare for potential COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreaks and their impacts on people experiencing homelessness. Here are a few key recommendations and resources to support your efforts, including several materials developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

1. Collaborate. Homelessness service systems should work closely with local government, public health systems, and health care facilities to ensure that people experiencing homelessness have access to safe and adequate shelter or housing and medical care if they become ill with COVID-19. We strongly encourage all homelessness services system staff, VA Medical Centers and homeless programs, public health departments, Health Care for the Homeless programs, and homeless outreach teams to immediately convene discussions to plan local responses to COVID-19 infections among people experiencing homelessness.

2. Plan and prepare. The CDC and HUD have developed guidance to support preparation and planning efforts. If you have not begun to use these resources, the time is now.

  • Use preventative strategies and have supplies on hand. CDC recommends several preventative strategies that homelessness service providers, including emergency shelters, can begin implementing immediately. Supplies include soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol, tissues, trash baskets, and disposable face masks. If you are having trouble accessing necessary supplies in your community, contact your state and local health departments to determine ways to increase your inventory.
  • Develop or update your emergency operations plan. Identify a list of key contacts at your state and local health departments, identify health care facilities to make referrals to, if and when necessary, and include contingency plans for staffing as described below.
  • Develop staffing contingency plans. If possible, develop flexible attendance and sick-leave policies. Staff (and volunteers) may need to stay home when they are sick, caring for a sick household member, or caring for their children in the event of school dismissals. Identify critical job functions and positions, and plan for alternative coverage by cross-training staff members.

3. Ensure your planning encompasses these four groups of people experiencing homelessness. Homelessness services systems, in coordination with public health partners, should plan responses for the following groups:

  • People experiencing unsheltered homelessness, including those living in encampments
  • People residing in sheltered locations, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, and other temporary locations
  • People living in permanent housing programs, including permanent supportive housing
  • Children and youth experiencing homelessness

Programs should not preemptively deny site access to individuals experiencing homelessness who are exhibiting influenza-like symptoms without consulting local health authorities. Further, public health departments should be identifying appropriate quarantine venues for highly vulnerable people, including people experiencing homelessness, to receive treatment if they are symptomatic and/or screen positive for COVID-19 but are not ill enough for hospital-level care. Homelessness service systems and individual providers should collaborate with their state and local public health departments to help them determine where people can go in the event that quarantine is necessary.

4. Seek training and stay up to date. Homelessness services system staff and volunteers will need ongoing and up-to-date information and training to protect people experiencing homelessness and themselves from potential exposures to COVID-19. The homelessness services system should seek information and training from public health departments to meet their personal safety concerns and to respond to people experiencing homelessness who have been exposed to infection. Homelessness services providers and facilities can begin implementing infection prevention techniques to protect both consumers and staff immediately.

5. Use these resources in your response to Coronavirus (COVID-19). We will continue to add resources to this page as they become available .

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Department of Eduction

National Health Care for the Homeless Council

Resources from Local Jurisdictions

We want to express our sincere gratitude for all that you’re doing, today and every day, to connect people experiencing homelessness to a safe and stable home and to support their health and safety, as well as the health and safety of your staff.

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