Housing and Homelessness in the World of COVID-19
From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking care of our homeless neighbors has been a priority. The City and County collaborated to get more than 500 vulnerable people off the streets and into safer settings that allowed for physical distancing.
Housing instability has long been associated with poor health outcomes. People experiencing homelessness are disproportionately impacted by severe chronic health problems ranging from heart disease and cancer to substance use disorders and mental illness. Through partnerships with Dane County, the City of Madison has prioritized the use of local hotels to shelter homeless individuals at higher risk for COVID-19. Though this has proven to be an effective strategy, it is, unfortunately, very costly and likely not sustainable without the continuation of federal funding made available through the CARES Act.
The use of hotels has reduced pressure on local shelter facilities and enabled operators to provide proper social distancing that would not otherwise have been possible. To further improve safety among shelter users, COVID-19 screening has begun at four of Madison’s homeless shelters. A team from UnityPoint Health – Meriter and Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) will rotate between the sites to offer testing every other week to both shelter users and staff, and follow up as appropriate. The City of Madison is supporting this initiative by supplying personal protective equipment to staff and volunteers involved in on-site testing. The early results from this testing offer clear evidence that public health protocols being implemented within the shelter system have been effective, thus far, in protecting the homeless community from the spread of COVID-19.
To a great degree, housing is health care. Stable housing offers not only safety and privacy it also provides a place to rest and recover from illness. And, of course, housing is the solution to homelessness. With that in mind, the City, in collaboration with the Dane County Continuum of Care, has just released a funding opportunity, offering more than $3 million to service providers to support rapid re-housing efforts. Rapid re-housing programs support rental assistance, housing relocation and stabilization financial assistance. With these funds, we hope to help individuals at high risk of COVID-19 get connected to permanent housing with adequate support services.