Ensuring Access to Non-Congregate Shelter for People Experiencing Homelessness During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Since the start of the pandemic, the Coalition has been working with a broad range of stakeholders to ensure that families, individuals, and youth experiencing homelessness have access to housing and safe shelter spaces in which to practice social distancing. Given that most shelters in the state operate under a congregate model (where guests and residents share bathrooms, kitchens, common spaces, and, for unaccompanied youth and adults, bedrooms), we have been pushing for motels, dorms, and converted spaces to be made available as shelters.
 
Under the federal response to COVID-19, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made funds available to Massachusetts and other states to provide what is called “non-congregate medical sheltering” to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The Commonwealth has applied for and received authorization from FEMA to provide non-congregate medical sheltering to certain people experiencing homelessness, but unfortunately, the Baker Administration has not sought broad authorization that would cover all families, individuals, and youth who are experiencing homelessness. We continue to advocate with Governor Charlie Baker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders to seek broader authorization so that people experiencing homelessness who do not have a positive diagnosis; do not have a known COVID-19 exposure; and do not fall into one of the narrowly defined high-risk categories also can access safe non-congregate shelter. We have been joined in this effort by many State Legislators, including the sixty-nine State Representatives and Senators who submitted this letter to the Governor and Secretary Sudders in late May.
 
The authorizations from FEMA are for one-month periods, and can be renewed. The current authorization from FEMA will allow Massachusetts to provide non-congregate shelter to the narrower group of people experiencing homelessness through the end of August or the end of the state of emergency, whichever is sooner.
 
Through a series of public record requests from the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, we have gathered the documents sent by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to FEMA, and FEMA’s responses. Those documents are available through this Google Drive link.