With the spread of COVID-19, we must remember that our communities’ health is interconnected — it is critical to ensure adequate medical care and hygiene for every person, especially those who are unhoused. Many houseless people are immunocompromised or disabled due to the difficulties of living without shelter. Many are elders. We should resist any further stigmatization of those living in encampments or shelters and demand they are provided the resources to prevent infection and further spread of the virus. We demand that public officials work to ensure the health of both our unhoused and housed communities.
Moratorium on encampment sweeps, closures and vehicle tows. Encampment sweeps and closures shall be ended due to the necessity for sustained public health outreach and disease control as has been done in cities such as San Jose. Sweeps pose a serious health risk as they disrupt consistent access to services and ability for outreach and health workers to provide continuous care. These services are critical at this time. Shelters are not a solution for many people as they pose an increased risk of contracting illnesses due to close contact with others. Many will choose to stay on the streets where one can have more space, open air, and better ways to avoid contact spread of the virus. Forcing people to live in close quarters is not an acceptable solution.
Moratorium on evictions. Halt all eviction processes immediately and put a moratorium on evictions. Preserving existing housing is necessary as it allows self-quarantine and prevents more people from ending up on the street. It is also unsafe for many people, especially those who are elderly or immunocompromised, to appear in crowded courts in order to defend against their evictions.
Moratorium on RV and vehicle tows. Vehicles house people which allow them to self-quarantine. No vehicles shall be towed due to unpaid parking violations or debt collection.
Moratorium on arrests for crimes of poverty. Arrests shall be halted for loitering, camping, criminal trespassing, or other crimes of poverty.
Access to health and hygiene. Regularly maintained bathrooms or portable toilets and handwashing stations shall be placed in areas accessible to large unhoused populations and encampments. Hand sanitizer shall be distributed to unhoused people along with information about avoiding and preventing COVID-19. Medical care shall be provided on-location for those who are unable or unwilling to enter hospitals due to substance use or mental health concerns.
Access to safe spaces. Vacant city, state, and county-owned buildings and other public land shall be utilized immediately in order to provide access to public health workers, hygiene supplies, garbage pickup, bathrooms, food, water and other supplies necessary to slow/stop the spread.
Release incarcerated people. Incarceration greatly increases risk of spreading disease. People who are immunocompromised, elderly, held pre-trial, and those set to be released within 90 days shall be immediately released. Those set to be released after 90 days shall have their release date expedited. All youth shall be released from Juvenile hall. All calls shall be free within jails and proper hygiene and sanitation practices shall be ensured.
Housing accommodations. Housing accommodations shall be arranged immediately for anyone infected who does not have the ability to self-quarantine, as has been done in the Seattle area. Hotels or other contained living quarters shall be used for people to quarantine. This shall include safe parking programs for people who are vehicularly housed.
Shelters. Existing conditions and risk of illness are exacerbated by being forced into close contact with others, including shelters. Staff shall regularly sanitize and disinfect surfaces to prevent contamination. Additional space should be made between mats/beds. Individual accommodations shall be arranged immediately for anyone infected and anyone who is known to have been exposed to the virus. Those staying in shelters shall have access to harm reduction tools and shall not be denied service for any rule violations short of violence. Shelters shall be opened 24/7.
Consider this a wake-up call. Many of these services are necessary to maintain public health and should continue to be offered until every person has a stable home.
These demands are adapted from recommendations from health professionals, outreach workers, and both unhoused and housed advocates and organizers.