By Karen Santilli & Jack McConnell
We are all grappling with a challenge the likes of which no one
living has ever seen. Governors across the country — including Gov. Gina
Raimondo — and public health leaders like Crossroads RI board member
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott have carefully managed the rapidly evolving
Their message to stay home and keep social distance seems
to have been heard by Rhode Islanders. While we were one of the first
states on the East Coast to confirm an infection, our reported rate of
spread is lower than our neighboring states and we haven’t seen reports
of widespread hotspots.
That’s good news, but it’s naïve to assume
we will remain so lucky, especially if we don’t take more direct and
immediate steps to address the housing challenges of our most vulnerable
Unfortunately, individuals and families experiencing
homelessness are at an increased risk of COVID-19. Many already suffer
from multiple chronic health conditions. Others have weakened immune
systems and limited access to health care. And it can be difficult to
stay home, keep social distance, and wash your hands without a place to
In cooperation with our partners and the state,
Crossroads and all other providers have taken proactive measures early
on to prepare and help reduce the spread of COVID-19. We’ve put plans in
place to isolate anyone who shows sign of infection and identified
shelter space to accommodate clients with mild respiratory symptoms who
do not require hospital care.
These are necessary precautions and
in-line with recommendations by the federal Department of Housing and
Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control. But they’re
Band-Aids. Even with the best precautions in place, organizations that
provide emergency shelter are already highly vulnerable to an outbreak
and our systems are near capacity. As local unemployment claims
skyrocket, Crossroads and other providers are bracing for an increase in
But increasing shelter capacity is not a viable answer. The only proven solution to homelessness is housing.
normal times, investments in housing have proven to reduce public
health-care expenditures and improve health outcomes. But these aren’t
normal times. Right now, the need is even more urgent: Providing
homeless Rhode Islanders with access to rapid housing could be the
difference between managing our curve or creating a hot zone for
We can’t do this alone. States need federal taxpayer
dollars as a part of the stimulus package to provide housing subsidies
and direct cash for families and individuals facing uncertainty with
Vouchers and subsidies also need to come with funding for
support services to help individuals and families who have been
economically impacted by COVID-19 recover. These supports include
Housing First case management, job training, child-care support, and
access to health care.
Governor Raimondo has reassured tenants
that no new evictions will process any time before mid-April because
courts are closed, but we need a more explicit moratorium on evictions
to ensure that people have a place to recover economically, keep
socially distant, and adhere with directives to avoid large gatherings
during this immediate health response.
These are all measures that
need to be a part of the immediate crisis response, but there is also
an opportunity to use this moment to strengthen our resiliency for
whatever the next crisis is.
Whether it’s a major weather
emergency, another public health crisis, or a significant economic
catastrophe, widespread access to affordable, safe, and secure housing
will be mission critical to our state’s response.
administration and General Assembly must work together to preserve the
proposed funding for housing and consider reforms to the original
proposal that create more flexibility for investments in low-income and
The bumper sticker mantra among housing
advocates across the country is that “housing is health care.” That’s
never been more accurate than right now.
Article available at providencejournal.com