Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today urged Congressional leadership to include $11.5 billion in funding for Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) in the next relief package to aid the nation’s homeless population who are experiencing heightened vulnerability during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter was signed by 73 Members of Congress.
Wyden and Merkley also joined colleagues in introducing the Public Health Emergency Shelter Act, which would provide the $11.5 billion in critical funding to states and local governments responding to the needs of families and individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Oregonians across the state are facing unprecedented challenges in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, especially children and families experiencing homelessness. Our local communities urgently need emergency resources to respond to the unique health and economic risk of our most vulnerable neighbors needing shelter,” Wyden said. “Any future COVID-19 relief package must include significant funding dedicated to serving families and individuals experiencing homelessness.”
“As Oregon grapples with a housing crisis, this pandemic is only making it worse,” said Merkley.
“Between physical distancing challenges and a lack of access to sanitation services, Oregonians who are experiencing homelessness are among the hardest-hit by the coronavirus. We can, and must, help protect these individuals—and the safety of the health care workers on the frontlines of this crisis—by enacting bold policies to put roofs over their heads.”
On any given night, half a million people in the United States will face homelessness. This includes more than 50,000 families with children, who often turn to emergency shelters for housing. A new report estimates individuals experiencing homelessness who contract coronavirus will be twice as likely to be hospitalized, up to four times as likely to need critical care, and two to three times as likely to die as the general population. These vulnerabilities put both those experiencing homelessness and our frontline healthcare and human services workers at higher risk.
The flexibility of ESG funding allows states, localities and nonprofits to react quickly to the needs of these vulnerable communities, including through rapid rehousing and expedited long-term rehousing, and helping to lessen the density of, and reliance on, temporary shelters. These funds may also be used for sanitation efforts such as portable hand-washing stations and the purchase of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment, so individuals can follow the health practices recommended by public health experts to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Wyden and Merkley joined U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in introducing the bill along with U.S. Sens. Senators Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Tina Smith, D-Minn. The bill has been endorsed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Housing Law Project, and National Alliance to End Homelessness.