On March 30, 2020, MCAH and over 80 Michigan organizations submitted a letter asking that Governor Whitmer prioritize homelessness during our state’s response to COVID-19. The full text of the letter, including the list of signatories, is included below. To learn more about how MCAH is working with state leadership during this time, we invite you to participate in our monthly Legislative Action Committee call on Monday, April 6. You can register at: bit.ly/LACRegistration.

WE NEED TO PRIORITIZE HOMELESSNESS IN MICHIGAN’S COVID-19 RESPONSE

March 30, 2020

Dear Governor Whitmer,

The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness (MCAH) is a nonprofit organization working with over 650 shelters, homeless service providers, and housing agencies around the state. We write to you in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and state of emergency to share our gratitude for the swift actions you have taken to protect Michigan residents, and especially those vulnerable populations that are most likely to be impacted by this pandemic.

Though we applaud your recent actions to prevent foreclosures on rentals and mobile homes and the legislative supplemental funding bill that provides $125 million for the COVID-19 response, we are increasingly concerned about the capacity of our homeless shelters and their staff, outreach workers, and other service providers to successfully care for individuals and families experiencing homelessness during this time.

A recent study attempting to model the impact of COVID-19 on the homeless population predicts that when compared to the general population, individuals experiencing homelessness are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die.[1] Michigan had over 65,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in 2018, with approximately half of that population being adults and children in families.[2] Our shelter and outreach staff are reporting that they don’t have the space, medical and sanitation equipment, funding, or other resources to adequately provide for individuals seeking assistance.

There are steps that Michigan can take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and the potentially fatal impact on individuals experiencing homelessness and the staff who serve them, but only if we take action now. MCAH, along with the undersigned agencies, are requesting the following actions:

  • Fund emergency housing resources to support individuals experiencing homelessness and prevent future homelessness – such as flexible funding to place individuals in hotels/motels, emergency rental and deposit assistance, and support for increased staffing capacity at homeless shelters. DHHS has requested $1M from the state’s supplemental budget passed on March 17. In addition to this, we ask for future supplemental packages to include increased funding for these resources.
  • Prioritize homeless shelters and street outreach workers as recipients of available resources including sanitizers, protective gear, disinfectant supplies, thermometers, masks and gloves and other essential items. Like our healthcare workers, staff serving individuals experiencing homelessness are on the front lines of this pandemic, working in tight communal living spaces, and serving individuals at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • Provide guidance to local government and law enforcement that clearly exempts individuals living unsheltered in our communities from the penalties enacted under Executive Order 2020-21 (Stay Home, Stay Safe Order). This should include a moratorium on encampment sweeps and vehicle impounds and directives for public restrooms to remain open and stocked with soap and water so individuals experiencing homelessness have access to vital sanitation stations. We also ask that campgrounds open early and be made available to individuals and families unable or unwilling to stay in emergency shelters. This is in line with interim guidance issued by the CDC for responding to COVID-19 among people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.[3]
  • Identify additional spaces for sheltering individuals experiencing homelessness – both for quarantine and for non-quarantined habitation. Michigan shelters are creating separate spaces for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 quarantine, which often requires a dedicated space that reduces bed capacity. As a result, shelters are at risk of not being able to accommodate the need of individuals seeking shelter without violating safe distance guidelines. Communities should be directed to supply additional and appropriate spaces to assist in housing individuals and families experiencing homelessness, including hotels/motels and other accessible facilities.
  • Extend the moratorium on evictions and include utility shut-offs and foreclosures. The financial impacts of COVID-19 are currently unknown, but low-income Michiganders will face significant loss of income and unemployment which could result in missed rent and payments for many months to come. Nobody should face losing their home or access to power and water as a result of COVID-19. We thank the Governor for the moratorium on evictions through April 17, but this should be extended by a minimum of 90 additional days.

MCAH and the undersigned agencies believe that these actions, when combined with the tireless work done by the individuals on the front lines of this pandemic, will have a direct and positive impact on mitigating COVID-19 in Michigan. We ask that as we all continue to do our part, our elected officials prioritize the risk to individuals experiencing homelessness and the staff serving them and commit to doing all that is possible to protect these vulnerable individuals. Further, we ask that the state work with MCAH and our partners after the end of the pandemic to identify ways to reduce and eventually end the prevalence of homelessness in our state through continued financial and programmatic support through proven tools that reduce housing insecurity, such as funding the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund.

Thank you for your swift actions and commitment to the safety and security of all Michiganders during this crisis.

Sincerely,

Eric C. Hufnagel, MPA

Executive Director

CC:

Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield

House Democratic Leader Christine Greig

Signed by:

3-11 Youth Housing

8Cap Inc.

Abigayle Ministries

Alliance for Housing

Authority Health

Avalon Housing

Barry County Cares, Inc.

Bethany Housing Ministries dba Community enCompass

Blue Water Center for independent Living

Blue Water Residential Nonprofit Housing

Center for Civil Justice

Community Action House

Community Housing Network

Compassionate Companions Inc

D Gore Consulting LLC

Degage Ministries

Easterseals Michigan

ECHO His Love

Emmanuel Mission Shelter

Every Woman’s Place

Family Promise of Barry County

Family Promise of Genesee County

Family Promise of Grand Rapids

Freedom House Detroit

Full Circle Communities, Inc.

Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan

Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation

Grand Rapids Homes for All

Grand Rapids HQ

Grand Rapids United Progressives

Gratiot County Hope House

Guiding Life to Independence through Development and Education (G.L.I.D.E.)

Have Mercy

HAVEN

Hearts for Homes, Inc.

Hood Church Rhema Out Reach Center

HOPE Shelter

Hope Shores Alliance

Housing Services Mid Michigan

HRI Inc

Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice

Kalamazoo Community Foundation

Lakeshore Housing Alliance

Lakeshore LifeWorks Ministries

Lighthouse of Michigan

Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team (MCREST)

MDHHS of Ingham County

MDS Community Action Agency

Mel Trotter Ministries

Michigan Community Action

Michigan League for Public Policy

Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc.

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Michigan’s Children

MISSION, Peace House, Ypsi

Neighborhood Legal Services Michigan (NLSM)

New Hope Center

Northeast Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness (NEMCAH)

Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency

Oceana’s Home Partnership

Open Doors Kalamazoo

Our Brothers Keeper Shelter

Ozone House Youth & Family Services

Red Maple Resources, Inc.

Rescue Ministries of Mid-Michigan

Resilience: Advocates for Ending Violence

Ruth Ellis Center

Share the Warmth of Lenawee

Solve It Forward Consulting

Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency

Sparta High School

Staircase Youth Services, Inc.

Superior Housing Solutions

The Haven

The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan

The Philip House Mission

Trinity Lutheran Church

TrueNorth Community Services

United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Wayne County SAFE

Wedgwood Christian Services

Well House

YWCA West Central Michigan

[1] Culhane, et. al (2020). Estimated Emergency and Observational/Quarantine Capacity Need for the US Homeless Population Related to COVID-19 Exposure by County; Projected Hospitalizations, Intensive Care Units and Mortality. Retrieved from: https://endhomelessness.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID-paper_clean-636pm.pdf

[2] Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness (2019), Ending Homelessness In Michigan: 2018 Annual Report (2019). Retrieved from: https://mihomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2018-Annual-Data-Report.pdf

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2020). Interim Guidance for Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) among People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/homeless-shelters/unsheltered-homelessness.html

By Laurel Burchfield, MCAH Manager of Marketing, Growth, and Development. You can contact her at: lburchfield@mihomeless.org.