In one of the richest countries in the world, Americans seem to be one of the poorest in our disregard for human life. Every day someone’s daughter is going without a meal and someone’s brother is begging for change. We all see it, but it is easier to look away.
No matter what side of the political divide you land on, we can all agree that change is essential to ending the epidemic of homelessness. According to the National Alliance to end Homelessness, 567,715 people in the nation are facing homelessness every night. So why is it not yet a reality? The substantial number of Americans living in inhumane conditions truly reflects the values of our nation. Do we truly value every voice? Do we truly care about every life? The lack of resources allocated to this social problem as well as the accountability in the distribution of its funds suggests that we do not.
Amid a national pandemic, those living on the streets are especially at risk for infection. Based on research done by the Centers for Disease Control, it is found that sleeping outdoors often does not provide protection from the environment, adequate access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, or connection to services and health care.
If the housing of thousands of Americans is a matter of such urgency, why are we still falling short? The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or the HEROES Act, was created this year in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Its purpose is to alleviate economic hardships for businesses, communities and local governments following the unprecedented virus. Despite ongoing conversations and minimal progress, it is unlikely that the updated HEROES Act alone will provide the resources needed to address the current problems. However, it should act as a springboard for addressing the issue moving forward. Even though it may seem like a small Band-Aid over a gaping wound, the HEROES Act 2.0 can be effective as long as it is followed up by a third stimulus package sometime next year.
Although this virus is a danger to a large portion of the population, individuals experiencing homelessness are some of the most vulnerable. A vital aspect of the relief package is the protection and housing of those in desperate need of resources. According to research from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), an additional $11.5 billion in Emergency Solution Grants (ESG) would be effective in ensuring that public safety measures are provided in shelters, as well as widening the access to those who need to stay there. Despite this estimate, the updated version of the HEROES Act provides just $5 billion towards the protection of the homeless community, about $10 billion short. Without additional assistance, thousands of U.S. citizens are left at risk.
There are many elements within the HEROES Act that make it a successful answer to the issues that plague our nation. However, this can only be considered a success if it is followed up by more legislation that provides the assistance needed long term.
Another $5 billion toward protecting those without shelter and $50 billion in rental assistance are both key missing pieces to the puzzle. Most research suggests that this is still not enough, but it is movement in the right direction. The short-term focus of the HEROES Act leaves an opening for providing more resources down the line. The United States has the opportunity to do so through a third stimulus package. It is important that as a society we continue to advocate on their behalf in order to see this change come to light. While these partisan negotiations often feel unwinnable for the public, impact can still be made as constituents. We implore you to reach out to your representatives, sign petitions, and attend advocacy meetings where social distancing allows. But most importantly, be creative and intentional in using your voice for those who cannot. Though it often feels like an echo, it could be the very one to save a life.