Por Safia Samee Ali – NBC News
To avoid staying in a homeless shelter, Kristie Filippello and her three children have been sleeping on the floor of a relative’s one-bedroom apartment for almost two months.
Filippello, 32, had to leave home after the pandemic caused her house cleaning business to collapse and the financial stress of not being able to pay the bills sparked abuse from her boyfriend, with whom she lived and was in a relationship of two years.
I had nowhere to go, and She and her children, ages 6, 8 and 11, spent two months in a homeless shelter in Florida. They then moved to Cincinnati to stay with relatives, after receiving money to relocate from the compensation fund for survivors of sexist violence in October.
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“The coronavirus was spreading, so being in a shelter was not a good idea, I also have daughters and a shelter is not the right place for any family to be unless it is the last option ”explained Filippello, who added that before returning to a shelter he would go to a motel with whatever money he has.
Filippello has been trying to enter a government rehousing program, but does not qualify because he lives in a house with a member of his family, even though the arrangement is unsustainable and he has separated part of the room to have some privacy.
“When it comes to seeking help, I am not considered homeless because I am not literally on the street and I am at someone’s house”, he pointed. “I feel like I have a lot of need right now, but very few doors are open to me,” he lamented.
The number of homeless people is set to grow in the coming weeks and months as Americans face the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the eviction moratorium expires later this month.
But vital housing assistance may not be available to families who do not meet the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of “homeless”, including those who, like Filippello, they have had to relocate to other homes.
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Relocation occurs when an individual or family temporarily lives in another home or moves indefinitely, often due to financial problems. People who relocate are not considered homeless by HUD and are not assigned rapid rehousing assistance, according to housing experts.
HUD generally defines homeless people as individuals and families lacking a “fixed nighttime residence.”, which includes those who live in shelters or on the street. Those who are relocated or staying in motels do not qualify.
While this exclusion was already causing problems long before the pandemic, the health crisis and dwindling shelter spaces have accelerated efforts to increase housing assistance to address the doubling population, which is expected to increase over the next year.
“With the expiration of the moratorium on the CARES Act and the expiration of unemployment insurance benefits, we know that families are already making difficult decisions. Even with the CDC’s moratorium on eviction, landlords are already filing evictions and using threats to get people to leave, ”said Eric Tars, legal director of the National Homeless Legal Center, referring to the Centers for Control and Disease Prevention.
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“If you have to choose between paying rent and eating, people choose to stop paying rent and move in with friends and family, even if it’s not where they want to be,” he explained. Although mixing families is a risk during the pandemic.
Being relocated is an “extremely temporary situation” that lasts for a short period of time, in part because the individual or the family has no legal right to occupy that space and can be asked to leave at any time, he recalled.
But the solution isn’t always as simple as going to a shelter, Tars added. Shelters across the country have a reduced ability to maintain social distancing, leaving fewer options for those who need a place to stay.
Even before the pandemic, many families avoided going to these spaces for security reasons and because some facilities separate men and women, dividing families. The risk of exposure to the virus is also a problem. Still, some families are forced to gamble to qualify for homeless assistance, according to Tars.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, dedicated nearly $ 4 billion to help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness from the coronavirus pandemic.
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But that amount is a fraction of what is needed to address pandemic-induced homelessness, said Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
And because there are enough funds to help everyone, it is up to state and local officials to decide how much to use for the homeless and how much for those who are at risk of homelessness.
“Federal law allows dollars to be spent for people who relocate if their income is low enough or if they are in a dangerous or unstable situation. But it depends on the local or state government how to prioritize its funding, which is very limited, “said Berg.
Most jurisdictions are spending CARES funds under the same guidelines set out by HUD, which means they are using the money to house people who are in shelters or at imminent risk of homelessness, not the population. relocated, said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a nonprofit organization that works for homelessness through education.
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In a statement to NBC News, Telemundo’s sister network, HUD indicated that “children and youth and families with children and youth who meet the Department of Education or other federal agency’s definition of homelessness that would not otherwise meet HUD’s definition of homelessness and are eligible for assistance in preventing homelessness under the Emergency Solutions Grant Program. “
The agency reported that “homelessness prevention has the same eligible activities as rapid relocation, including rental assistance and housing stabilization services. Additionally, the CARES Act provided $ 4 billion to the ESG program, and individuals relocated and deemed homeless by other federal agencies are also eligible for homelessness prevention under the CARES Act funds. “
But Duffield said that preventing homelessness is often the last priority for jurisdictions when it comes to HUD’s budget.
“Local housing advocates were excited about funding for the CARES Act, but your state now basically says, ‘We’re going to follow the definition of federal housing.’ A problem for people who fall outside of that definitionDuffield recalled. “Those who relocate are not really a priority because they are considered not to be at risk.”
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Those who are homeless can apply for special housing resources that allow them to enter the housing system, either in the short or long term. But relocated people cannot access those resources.
While there are other avenues and funds that relocated families do qualify for under HUD’s criteria, such as homeless prevention grants or if you are in imminent risk of losing a home, those are very small and often require several additional criteria, he said.
“When we get into the definition debate, the people who support HUD’s definition will say, ‘Well, they have a roof over their head. It’s okay. They are not at risk. They are not really vulnerable, but that is totally false. “
Roxann Block and her two sons, ages 9 and 10, move between three different homes in southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky each week because they can’t get into a homeless shelter that’s closed to public transportation.
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After confinement, she had to quit her job at a fast food restaurant to stay home with her children, who had to take their classes remotely. Then he lost his apartment and his car during the summer.
Block, 36, now sleeps in a tent that he puts in the garage of different family and friends’ houses.
“I have a roof over my head, but this is not a way of life for children,” said Block, who also has not been able to get housing assistance.
Other housing advocates claim that arguing about who qualifies and who does not qualify for homeless funds is a distraction from a larger problem: lack of funds.
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“The real problem is that there are all kinds of people who have serious housing problems. And the federal government lacks massive funds to help them. And that also applies to the CARES law, ”explained Berg of the National Alliance to End the Homeless, adding that $ 15 billion would be needed to provide housing assistance to match the surge in homelessness that occurs as a result. of the coronavirus.
“HUD has a budget of $ 50 billion a year, homeless programs have less than $ 3 billion,” he said. “I think asking who gets those 3 billion is not the question; the right question is if 50 billion is only a quarter of what it takes to meet the need, why aren’t we spending that much more?”
Berg adds that when people, including those who are relocated, can’t get help, it’s not because of the eligibility requirements of homeless programs – it’s because there isn’t enough housing. And the problem will only get worse.
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“The number of people who will lose a home at the end of the year if the eviction moratorium expires is in the millions, making the current level of homelessness seem like child’s play,” Berg said.
The CDC’s temporary order to stop the evictions will expire on December 31.
“I think that not treating housing as a basic need is the heart of the problem”, he opined. “It’s about housing, decent stable housing. And its lack causes many other problems that we have to solve, “he said.