USICH and the Federal Response to Homelessness and COVID-19

June 11, 2020

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) has worked with federal partners, direct emergency service providers, local governments, public health systems, health care facilities, and the broader homelessness services system to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 to and among people experiencing homelessness. Collaboration is critical among these partners in order to ensure that people experiencing homelessness have access to safe and adequate shelter or housing and medical care at any time, but especially if they become ill with COVID-19. People experiencing homelessness require particular attention because they can have underlying conditions that increase the risk of severe effects from COVID-19.

Since early March, USICH has chaired the COVID-19 Homelessness Federal Interagency Workgroup. The  workgroup has been an avenue to bring together federal partners, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Education (ED), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), among others, and networks of emergency homelessness services providers. This workgroup meets weekly to share information and obtain front-line situational awareness on potential hot spots in order to direct additional technical assistance and support to affected communities.

Some workgroup activities have included:

  • USICH worked with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to formally include language on homelessness services in Updated Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers during COVID-19 Response . The language in the memorandum includes “workers who support food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for needy groups and individuals, including in-need populations and COVID-19 responders (including traveling medical staff).” This guidance has helped emergency shelters make the case that their services are essential and should remain open.
  • USDA worked with USICH and other federal partners to help spread the word about food resources for families and children experiencing homelessness. For example, USDA developed a site finder map that identifies entities that  served free meals to youth and children during the school year and throughout the summer. USDA has also shared a texting service that allows families to locate free meal sites within their communities. This texting service is available in both English and Spanish.
  • FEMA has partnered with USICH and other federal agencies on regular Emergency Support Function (ESF) Homelessness Policy calls and Mass Casualty calls. The purpose of this collaboration has been to streamline funding streams for direct emergency homelessness services providers in communities.
  • The Small Business Administration and USICH worked together to make sure SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and the Paycheck Protection Program addressed the needs of providers that serve people experiencing homelessness.
  • IRS and USICH worked together to identify mechanisms to ensure that people experiencing homelessness without bank accounts could access Economic Impact Payments and to alert communities to those mechanisms. USICH continues to bring forward concerns to the IRS that could be addressed through frequently asked questions.
  • USICH, CDC, HUD and other federal agencies have partnered on nationwide direct emergency homelessness services providers conference calls since early March. These conference calls created a space where emergency shelter providers could hear directly from federal agencies while lifting up immediate challenges at the local level.
  • USICH has been proactively reaching out to cities, counties, and states that have been potential and/or current hot spots for COVID-19 activity among people experiencing homelessness to exchange information and coordinate responses to address shortages of volunteers and staff, food insecurity, and lack of personal protective equipment.
  • USICH, in partnership with CDC, FEMA, HUD and other federal agencies, has been disseminating up-to-the-minute federal guidance on the COVID-19 response for the homelessness services system, reinforcing the importance of a whole-community approach to COVID-19, led by state and local public health departments, that include homelessness services systems and providers.

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