The Vantage Point of HCH Technical Assistance During COVID-19

In an average program year, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council provides technical assistance (educational resources, consultation, connections, encouragement, etc.) on at least 200 distinct topics ranging from safety in street outreach to categorizing shelter status in federal reports. In the last three weeks, just one topic has dominated our inquiries: COVID-19. The Council and its members are uniquely positioned to respond to disease outbreaks in the homeless population because the crisis situates precisely where our mission resides—the nexus of health care and homelessness. We are ready to meet this crisis with the competency and values it demands.

Three weeks ago, scarcely any resources existed on novel coronavirus and homelessness; now your inboxes are inundated daily. We are mindful not to contribute to the cacophony, but rather synthesize the resources that will be most helpful and focusing on urgent next steps. We are especially grateful for the leadership of some of our largest HCH members who have paved the way on this issue and so many others. But most HCH and medical respite programs aren’t Boston or Seattle, and we are especially mindful of these smaller communities as we develop and promote resources.

In the early days of this crisis, we were struck by this observation: approximately 9% of all HRSA-funded health centers are public agencies, such as local health departments, but 32% of standalone HCH programs are. The unique position of these public HCHs can often feel like a burden: belonging to a huge bureaucracy, having less control over operations, and so forth. But this crisis underscores the advantage of these HCH configurations. When this is over, we will live in a new, post-coronavirus world, and there will be much to analyze, lament, and celebrate; we anticipate honoring our public HCHs who have truly shown us the power of progressive government in caring for the most vulnerable.

This crisis will get worse before it gets better. Please know that the Council stands with you for the duration and beyond.

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