Pandemic Response Next Steps: Using A Framework for COVID-19 Homelessness Response

This blog was written by Ann Oliva, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Leader in Residence with OrgCode, and Iain De Jong, the President and CEO of OrgCode.

We hope you all have read A Framework for COVID-19 Homelessness Response put out by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If not, you can read it here. Regardless of whether you still feel like you are fumbling in beginning steps or are ready for longer-term planning, the Framework is a comprehensive resource that will be updated regularly.

The Framework is critical for our response as a sector – but it has to be used in concert with strong leadership at all levels in order to be maximized. It examines different timeframes for different activities in our response and outlines which area of the service system we need to work on (e.g., unsheltered homelessness, housing, shelter, prevention and diversion, and strengthening). Another interpretation of the Framework is a list of everything we need to prioritize for funding and implementation in our communities, along with where we need to advocate for change or resources to be effective.

The decisions we will need to make, the partnerships we will need to create and the speed at which this is all happening is daunting for any leader. But even though reviewing the document can feel a bit like drinking from a fire hose, it can provide the structure needed to help you and your partners navigate through difficult decisions. Step number one for your community is figuring out which aspects of the Framework are relevant, which ones are not relevant (at least not now), and prioritizing implementation from there. This will be based upon where you are at generally in your community response: items that need to be addressed immediately; items to be addresses in the short-term; items for the medium-term; and, items that are longer-term in nature.

You will have work to do in figuring out the “how” for items in the Framework. It does a lot with the “what” and “when”, touches a little on the “why”, and not (yet) on the “how”.

A pathway to recovery in homelessness and housing in your community is going to require leadership. Those leaders need to come from non-profits, as well as government. It needs to include public health officials as well as homelessness and housing experts. This should not be an exercise in one side being the funder and the other being a recipient without dialogue of how to recover, following the steps and ideas of the Framework. There should be collective decision making about which resources to invest in which manner moving forward.

The journey ahead is going to come with even more decisions being necessary than have already been made. One of the toughest decisions will always be “What is right?” This is especially true when there is pressure to do what is politically palatable or easier, when that may not hold the right answer. For example, doing prevention for higher income folks without taking into account the needs of people experiencing homelessness or the most at risk/marginalized populations first may be the easiest thing to do with the money coming down, but it is not going to impact the most hard-hit or marginalized.

Our recovery must compel us to lead with equity. The reason that we need to make the hard decisions is because people of color and other marginalized populations (people who are disabled, those who identify at LGBTQ2S+ or are extremely low income) often get left out of these conversations and resources. That is a mistake. Who is making the decisions and who is at the table matters. Communities and organizations should deliberately involve people who are impacted so that good decisions that reflect real experiences and lived expertise can be made.

The Framework is not the answer to all of our struggles or resource shortcomings. In fact, the Framework even notes:

“Communities should use funding as strategically as possible. National estimates for need on homeless response to COVID exceeded the amount allocated for ESG-CV, therefore it is important to ensure that planning includes ways to maximize ESG while using other non-dedicated resources for eligible activities.”

Better that we use any and all available resources to their maximum potential rather than just relying upon new resources to meet all of the homelessness response needs.

As the journey to recovery continues, the Framework will be updated on a regular basis by the National Alliance and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. As such, this needs to be seen as a living document for leaders to reference back to on a regular basis.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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