The Black Lives Matter movement to “defund the police” and the statewide outcomes of applying CARES Act funding to address the issue of homelessness during the pandemic may have more congruity than meets the eye.
The state Senate Housing Stability and Affordability committee is considering the impact of COVID-19 on homeless shelters. Conflict and violence reduction, substance-abuse reduction, and fewer calls for police and fire departments to respond to behaviors concerning homeless individuals are all results of recent changes to homeless-shelter provisions. As it turns out, providing funding for changes in temporary shelter conditions, notably 24-hour access and private units, has led to safety benefits for the general public that far exceed controlling the spread of COVID-19, among other infectious diseases. Reductions in police response among homeless individuals who are temporarily sheltered through improved COVID-19 provisions means cost reductions for police and the criminal justice system.
The “Housing First” approach to addressing behavioral outcomes has been studied and repeatedly shows efficacy and cost savings for communities. The problem for implementation has been redirecting public funding. Now, upon experiencing the benefits of homeless program improvements through COVID-19 funding, we’ve reduced the need for some other public expenses, such as police.
Corrie Rae, Auburn, Master of Social Work student, University of Washington