The pandemic could mean new housing for those experiencing homelessness
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Homelessness advocates across the country are feeling pretty hopeful right now. And, weirdly, it’s mostly because of the pandemic.
“I’m much more confident about our ability to reduce the number of homeless people, at least in the short run,” said Nan Roman, chief executive of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
That’s because COVID has resulted in a tidal wave of federal money directed at helping the roughly 580,000 people without stable shelter.
Under the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, $10 billion is set to go to local governments this year for emergency housing vouchers and low-income housing.
Compared to the plan’s $1.9 trillion overall price tag, that may not sound like much. But Roman said the additional funding could be a game-changer.
“We think it would allow us probably to house about 150,000 people, and create about 30,000 units of affordable housing,” she said.
Money alone won’t solve the problem. States, cities and counties still have to find available property for homeless housing.
The pandemic may have made that easier, too.
“There is a lot of hotel and motel stock that’s been losing money and is acquirable,” Roman said. “There are also office buildings that have been abandoned.”
Repurposing vacant space is part of a new San Francisco Bay Area plan to house 75% of the region’s unsheltered residents in just three years.
Tomiquia Moss is the chief executive of All Home, a nonprofit that’s leading the effort. She said she knows the dustbin of history is littered with plans to end homelessness that, well, didn’t end homelessness.
“I think it’s fair that folks are skeptical, given the history,” Moss said.
Take those empty hotels and offices. With the economy rebounding, there are more private developers ready to compete with governments and nonprofits. And many homeowners will still fight to keep homeless housing out of their neighborhoods.
But at the very least, the pandemic may be making the public more receptive to Moss’ message about the urgency of the crisis.
“I have been doing this work for more than 20 years in the Bay Area, committing to treating homelessness like a public health crisis,” Moss said.
A deadly virus is a good reminder of that.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?
This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.
Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?
India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.
Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?
As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.
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