Mayor LaToya Cantrell Hopes to Keep New Orleans Homeless Sheltered in Place through July, Continue to Connect Population to Services and Expand Capacity of Shelters

Washington, DC –The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their official guidance on COVID-19 to include sheltered homeless populations, stating, “Depending on resources and staff availability, non-group housing options (such as hotels/motels) that have individual rooms should be considered for the overflow, quarantine, and protective housing sites.”

The CDC’s guidance for unsheltered populations already emphasizes that “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19.”

This new guidance comes as new stories of widespread asymptomatic spread at congregate homeless shelters in San FranciscoBostonDallasLos Angeles and other cities are emerging.

The Law Center has pushed the effort to house people experiencing homelessness in hotels, motels, and/or RVs for the duration of the crisis, and to make sure they never have to return to the streets after the crisis is over.

The city of New Orleans moved quickly to house much of the homeless population as the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact the city. With help from the state, New Orleans began moving some homeless residents from encampments and housing those testing positive for COVID-19 in quarantine at Bayou Segnette State Park in Westwego. Many more who were not COVID-19 positive were moved to local hotels in late March and early April, where they are also able access an array of services made available.

“And it’s working,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell during an exclusive interview with the local Black press on April 24. “People are being connected to services like permanent placements, mental health services and substance abuse counseling.”

Mayor LaToya Cantrell also talked about what will happen with the city’s homeless population once stay-at-home orders have been lifted.

“I have requested (in my weekly call with the governor) for the city of New Orleans to keep our people placed where we have them now for as long as possible. He agreed to that, and I am hoping that is around in July. What we have been told is that as long as its COVID-related–and we believe its is–we will be able to keep our people placed where they are, buying us more time to build capacity (in homeless shelters).”

Mayor Cantrell said the city is still working to get about 70 residents off the street in the midst of the pandemic, adding that ensuring that sufficient services and placements are available for the homeless after the COVID-19 crisis is the focus.

“The hope is to move forward with our plans of permanent placement with our shelters and utilizing this emergency declarartion that we are in to be able to make this happen sooner rather than later,” she said. “We are looking at multiple things–one is adding several floors to the low-barrier shelters that we stood up a couple of years ago. We have worked with the state to restructure our allocation from the Louisiana Housing Corp to activate some additional dollars for this purpose–meaning homelessness. We are aggressively trying to stand up additional capacity so that when this time comes our people don’t have to go back to the street. They can go to a place of care and case management.”

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center) is grateful for the CDC’s guidance, and hopes governments will use it as a baseline to build upon.

“We call on hotel owners—and especially those who have been helped with our public dollars through the federal relief package—to act in the public good and make it easy for communities to follow the CDC guidance to quickly place people experiencing homelessness into their vacant rooms for the duration of the pandemic,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director at the Law Center. “We also urge elected officials to use vacant federal, state, and local properties for emergency housing and as a space to help transition people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing after COVID-19.”

The CDC also emphasizes that communities should “plan for how to connect clients to housing opportunities after they have completed their stay in these temporary sites.” Elevating conversations on housing services post-COVID-19 allows us to step back and think about the long-term solutions we need to end homelessness.

“Given what we now know about the aerosolization of COVID-19 and asymptomatic spread, it is inexcusable for communities not to be moving people into individual housing units as quickly as safely possible,” said Eric Tars, legal director at the Law Center. “And to prevent the next wave of COVID-19, we need to make sure we are building the capacity so that once people are off the streets or out of shelters, there are permanent places for them to stay, and no one ever returns to the streets. Housing is healthcare, and both are human rights that need to be guaranteed to all, for all of our good.”

The CDC Guidance is available here:

The Law Center’s recommendations and other best practices from across the country are available here:

The New Orleans Tribune contributed to this Black Press USA report.

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