The Pittsburgh Foundation

Themes Heard from Housing and Homeless Providers

Below is what the Foundation's Program and Policy department staff heard after reaching out to nonprofit housing and homeless providers to better understand their concerns, challenges and needs to inform our most immediate grantmaking, convening and public policy activities.

Housing and homeless providers offer an essential service, so they are still unlikely to close, but will be challenged to coordinate logistics in response to the spread of COVID-19, especially quarantining in group settings.

“The only way to shut down is to close the buildings, and that's unthinkable, given the population they house.”

The individuals served by this population will be greatly impacted by this public health crisis, as these individuals will have nowhere to go, and others are hesitant to serve the homeless.

“There is stigma against the homeless, and so (some people) are stepping away from helping.”

Impacts of the spread of COVID-19 will be wide-ranging, including an increase in homelessness, an increase in anxiety-related disorders and in domestic violence. 

“We expect an increase in homelessness among single women with children because of the lay-offs, particularly when grandmothers can't provide child care; an increase in domestic violence and anxiety-related disorders; but probably a decrease in alcohol abuse since the liquor stores are closed.”

Access to services will be strained as a result of coronavirus due to staff and volunteer shortages, and limited opportunities for new clients to seek care.

“Staff have already been affected. Many of the volunteers they count on for help with the meals are staying home.”

“Some organizations… have begun to serve only their existing clients, shutting out the newly homeless, and thus decreasing available services.”

Providing food for residents in shelters is a new challenge. Organizations are having to get creative due to a loss in volunteers and changes in requirements for safe food distribution.

“Pittsburgh Mercy has been receiving 40-45 boxes of food a week from Light of Life. Next week, it is going to start an internal pantry with food from the Food Bank and will distribute to the encampments and its homeless facilities.”

There are technology needs so that providers can maintain contact with their homeless clients.

“They also need cell phones for the men in the encampments so the outreach workers can make sure they’re safe.”

“We need to build technology infrastructure like a help line, internet service, lap tops and cell phones so staff can stay in touch with its residents.”

Recommendations for Providing Support to Housing and Homeless Providers

  • Provide targeted cash assistance for rent and utilities; supplies like soap, masks, disposable cups and plates; and to purchase food. 
  • Provide technology to individuals so that staff can check on them throughout social distancing restrictions.
  • Create a pooled fund for services that fall outside of contracted services, such as expanding transportation and organizing a safe, community-wide campaign for donations of food and supplies.
  • Provide incentives for landlords to rent to those with Section 8 vouchers.
  • Convene providers and/or create a clearinghouse for sharing the common needs.
  • Consolidate and share resources to support organizations in the short- and long-term.
  • Advocate to give providers the ability to react creatively outside the constraints of government funding and challenge the federal government to loosen the regulations that stand in the way of meeting people’s needs.
  • Prepare for mass evictions once eviction moratorium is lifted.