Save Lives in the DC Homeless Community!

Muriel Bowser, Mayor, District of Columbia

COVID-19 has moved, and continues to move, quickly and tragically through the DC homeless community. As of March 16, 2021, 523 people who are homeless in DC have tested positive and 25 people have died. A recent study found that the mortality rate from COVID-19 among people who are homeless in DC is twice that of the general population. More than 600 people who have been found to be at high risk of dying of COVID-19 sit on a waiting list for hotel placement, but the Mayor has announced no plans to expand the program.

Our society’s long-embraced solutions for homelessness are woefully inadequate to ensure the well-being of those community members who lack housing. Leaving individuals who are experiencing homelessness on the street or in large congregate settings where residents share spaces for sleeping, eating, and personal hygiene places them in greater harm’s way when the community experiences a health crisis such as COVID-19. People experiencing homelessness in DC are more likely to be elderly, Black, and suffer health conditions that place them at high risk of death or serious complications from COVID-19.  

The antidote to such harm is a simple one: safe private space. First, we are asking the Mayor to move everyone off of the street and out of congregate settings into empty hotel rooms (DC has about 30,000 empty rooms), non-congregate dormitories or available housing. The federal government has committed to paying 100% of costs for hotel rooms for high risk persons who are homeless! Then, we are asking the Mayor to ensure that safe, deeply affordable housing is a bedrock of our public health recovery. After all, housing is directly linked to improved health outcomes and lower transmission of the virus, for each individual who seeks to exit homelessness, and for the broader community as well.

To end the disparate impact of this pandemic on people experiencing homelessness now and in the future, to promote housing as a human right, and to further its commitment to racial justice and equity, the District of Columbia must significantly expand its investment in affordable housing, and it must explore new and creative strategies for ensuring that each DC resident has a safe and healthy place to call home.

To: Muriel Bowser, Mayor, District of Columbia
From: [Your Name]

Our community is working together to flatten the curve by practicing social distancing and, for those who are able, staying home. However, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating and highlighting the already existing racial and economic disparities in the District. DC residents experiencing homelessness are particularly affected.

We urge you to take swift action to protect the health and lives of DC residents experiencing homelessness from COVID-19, including offering universal testing and non-congregate placements for all people living on the street or in congregate shelters. Just as critically, we urge you to dramatically expand safe, deeply affordable housing as an integral part of DC's public health response and economic recovery. Now, more than ever, it is clear that housing is a vital public health intervention.

We urge you to act with the highest degree of urgency and humanity.