Contact: Dan Morris 917.952.8920

Corey Johnson, Jumaane Williams, and Numerous Elected Officials Join 120 Advocacy Organizations to Call for Greater Protections for Homeless New Yorkers Against Spread of COVID-19

New York, NY - Today, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and numerous other elected officials joined 120 organizations to push for greater protections for more than 80,000 homeless New Yorkers at risk of exposure to COVID-19.


They urged Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to enact an immediate plan to house and protect more than 80,000 currently homeless New Yorkers against the spread of COVID-19.


Their call to action comes as the first homeless New Yorker with COVID-19 has reportedly died, and the number of infected homeless New Yorkers in shelters has dramatically increased.


Advocates and elected officials urged Cuomo and de Blasio to do several things to help homeless New Yorkers stay safe and healthy. Below are key recommendations, from a letter initiated by Communities United for Police Reform (CPR)Human.nycNeighbors TogetherPicture The HomelessSafety Net Activists of Urban Justice CenterVOCAL-NY, and endorsed by 120 national, state and local organizations:


1)    Meet the survival and health needs of homeless New Yorkers by providing hand-washing stations, portable toilets, hygiene kits, hand sanitizer, socks, nutritious food, charging stations, and other critical supplies to homeless New Yorkers on the street.


2)    End all law enforcement sweeps, diversion, and targeting of homeless New Yorkers by eliminating stops, tickets, or arrests for low level offenses by any law enforcement agency, including the NYPD, and removing police from homeless outreach. The Center for Disease Control advised against law enforcement sweeps of homeless people with guidance that "unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19".


3)    Feed homeless New Yorkers so that no one is left hungry by providing fresh, healthy, nutritious food that meets different dietary restrictions to those in shelters, hotels, quarantine, and on the street.


4)    House the homeless now by giving them access to vacant apartments in city or state-owned buildings, privately-owned buildings, empty NYCHA units, and vacant hotel rooms. A large number of currently vacant apartments must be made available to homeless New Yorkers now. The state of California is already working to use hotels, trailers and other means to house homeless people amid the COVID-19 crisis. France and the UK have also begun to plan to use hotel rooms to shelter homeless people who live on the street.


5)    Increase safety measures, social distancing, and cleanliness standards in all shelters. Residents of shelters must be allowed to stay during the day and be provided with access to hand sanitizer and cleaning products. Cleaning standards must be enforced and residents should be allowed to remain in shelter during inspections.


6)    Ensure that homeless New Yorkers have access to quality healthcare. The city and state must provide access to quality health care services to support the diverse health needs of homeless New Yorkers, including harm reduction services for people who use drugs, mental health services, and care for people with chronic health conditions.


The full letter, including the list of 120 endorsing organizations, is here.


“Homelessness has long been a problem in our city and is now further complicated by the coronavirus. These New Yorkers need help to better protect themselves from the infection and that means bold measures like outdoor hand washing stations and more beds to socially distance those living in shelters. We must make sure this high needs population and the people who help them have the needed tools during this pandemic so we can flatten the curve,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.


“Homeless New Yorkers are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 in our city, yet they are also among the most overlooked, ignored, and disadvantaged,” said NYC Public Advocate Jumaane WIlliams. “We have a moral obligation and a social responsibility to provide critical aid to people living on streets and in shelters— and this crisis only makes that demand even more urgent and dire. By providing homes and healthcare while ending unnecessary enforcement, we can protect and uplift the most vulnerable New Yorkers suffering in our housing and homelessness crisis from this new crisis of public health.”


“A crisis does not suspend civil rights and constitutional law but does call for common sense.  Homeless New Yorkers call upon NYC to stop sending us into a dangerous overcrowded shelter system that right now might kill us.  We want the faith based community to immediately step up and where they have sanctuaries we want them to help house homeless New Yorker's during this pandemic. NYC should provide us with hotel rooms where we can be safe and follow the Javits Center example by refurbishing abandoned buildings and house the homeless,” said Jean RiceFounding Member of Picture the Homeless


"People in shelters are not able to social distance from each other. In my shelter, sometimes up to 20 people will crowd together in a room to eat. Cleaning and sanitation is no better, and I have ended up mopping and sweeping just to keep things clean," said Bernard Ward, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY. "The situation for people in shelter is dire. Many people are already suffering health issues inside the shelter system, without the threat of COVID-19. If Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio fail to provide safe housing, food or basic sanitation, people will get sick and many more will die."


"The high rate of homelessness in our state was already a public health crisis, and it has only been exacerbated by this emergency," said Senator Julia Salazar. "We should immediately provide people experiencing homelessness with safe housing, healthcare, and freedom from harassment by law enforcement. This will curtail the spread of the virus by allowing our neighbors without homes to remain stationary in a safe place instead of being left out in the cold."


Senator Brad Hoylman said: “There are nearly 70,000 New Yorkers experiencing homelessness—during a public health crisis like COVID-19, they’re some of the people most at risk. Already, at least 30 New Yorkers experiencing homelessness have been diagnosed with COVID-19. We must treat these New Yorkers with respect and dignity by ensuring they have resources like food and shelter.”


“Amidst this unprecedented public health crisis, it is imperative our State’s homeless receive the direct services and resources they desperately need to survive this pandemic," said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. "Their needs must be addressed immediately as they are particularly vulnerable to this terrible crisis." 



”In times like these as we are trying to protect New Yorkers against the COVID-19 virus, we must not forget one of our most vulnerable populations which is our homeless population,” said Senator Jamaal Bailey. "New Yorkers who are homeless don’t have the ability to ‘stay home’, and as our shelters become over crowded and the virus continues to spread, we must ensure the safety of all. Many of our homeless New Yorkers struggle everyday for food, basic necessities, and do not have access to healthcare. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, Mayor De Blasio, and my colleagues in government to address this serious and growing issue.”


"Many of us are fortunate to have a roof over our head and a bed to sleep in during this pandemic but there are many Homeless New Yorkers who don't have those luxuries.  They don't have the resources to house and care for themselves, therefore it falls upon us to care for our fellow New Yorkers in the midst of COVID-19. I stand with Communities United for Police Reform and other advocates in calling on the governor to provide for this vulnerable population," said Assemblymember Walter Mosley.


"In the midst of this Coronavirus pandemic, any Homeless person who sleeps on the street, on a bench, on the ground cannot go and stay home. As my mother was once homeless, it is very personal to me that we do not forget the most vulnerable community especially during times of crisis. We must provide safe spaces for our Sisters and Brothers who don't have a home to go each night. A health crisis should not lead to worsening the ever present Homelessness crisis," said New York State Assemblymember Michael Blake.


“We know that housing saves lives. But 80,000 people across New York City don’t have housing to protect them from COVID-19,” said New York State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou. “We cannot respond with policing and jail. We must provide immediate resources to ensure people are safe and healthy. Our City and State will overcome COVID-19, but we cannot rest until every New Yorker is housed.”


“Every New Yorker is affected by the public health crisis gripping our city and state and we have a duty to step up for homeless New Yorkers, who are among the most vulnerable and susceptible to falling ill. It’s unconscionable that our Governor and Mayor would expect homeless New Yorkers to remain inside and wash their hands without dramatically increasing state and city support to help them meet these guidelines. I’m proud to stand with advocates and join them in calling for a set of commonsense solutions that will improve health outcomes for all New Yorkers,” said Assemblymember Epstein.


"Although New Yorkers have been ordered to stay at home for their safety and for the safety of others, a growing population of New Yorkers have no home to stay in," said Assemblymember Dan Quart. "The novel coronavirus outbreak demands we protect society's most marginalized and there are few groups as vulnerable to COVID-19 as the homeless. This pandemic must be the impetus for ensuring every New Yorker has a home."


“Our city and state must do more to address the needs of our homeless neighbors and the providers that serve them, especially during the public health crisis we are currently facing. We should utilize vacant public spaces, hotels, and SROs to provide safe places for the homeless, halt the subway diversion program, and provide the necessary services, materials, and funds to ensure the health and safety of homeless New Yorkers, outreach teams, and shelter employees,” said New York Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi


"Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and leaders across the globe are calling for people to "stay home" in order to stay healthy and stop the spread of the COVID-19, but for homeless New Yorkers, it is impossible to heed this call," said NYC Councilmember Antonio Reynoso. "Folks without a place to call home are being left out in the cold; without proper resources and protections, homeless New Yorkers are at a high risk for infection, putting in danger themselves and anyone they come in contact with. It is imperative that Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo house and care for homeless New Yorkers in the face of this unprecedented crisis." 


"Homeless New Yorkers need immediate support and resources now and post-Coronavirus," said Council Member Donovan Richards. "We can train and provide safety equipment to the selfless and motivated outreach workers in our city that are willing to get homeless individuals the care and housing they absolutely need. Ignoring and forgetting them during this pandemic will become a crisis on its own and come with an immense price to pay that I don’t think we can afford. We’ve got to take the responsible steps to prevent homelessness and from it being an additional risk factor during this time we are all trying to keep healthy." 


"How we respond to COVID19, especially with respect to the most vulnerable New Yorkers, will reveal the depth or shallowness of our progressive rhetoric. We can either continue to criminalize homelessness, and make the situation worse, or give our homeless neighbors housing, healthcare, and food, and make the situation better. The City and State must enact an immediate plan to protect the homeless. Otherwise, paeans of 'we are all in this together' are condescending and cruel,” said New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca.


"New York City is facing an unprecedented public health crisis and our vulnerable communities are at the greatest risk. We need solutions that match the scale of the problem and that includes immediate action to protect homeless New Yorkers. I urge the City and State to implement the aforementioned recommendations without delay; every day that we wait compromises our communities' health and safety. Measures such as hand-washing stations and public toilets, food and social distancing measures, and housing for homeless New Yorkers are all achievable now: we cannot look back at this moment and regret not doing everything we could," said Council Member Stephen Levin


"Just as we are working hard to surge hospital capacity, we have to surge housing capacity for homeless New Yorkers,” said Councilmember Brad Lander. “There are empty hotel rooms and unoccupied units across this city that can serve as safe places for people who are crowded into shelters and doubled up in shoebox apartments, at great risk of spreading and contracting the virus. We have the space, we just need to get people there. This pandemic is throwing into sharp relief how those who our city has consistently left behind are at far greater risk for this deadly illness." 


"We cannot neglect the responsibilities we have to the well-being of homeless New Yorkers during this crisis," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "The lives of New York City's homeless population are threatened by COVID-19 in ways that many New Yorkers cannot relate to. We must take the necessary steps to shield our homeless residents from the spread of the virus, make sure their immediate survival needs are met, and tend to their medical needs if they do become infected."    


"New York City must operate in new ways to ensure that we protect vulnerable communities. Providing adequate resources, including immediate housing, will help to keep New Yorkers who are homeless safe as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19. I thank advocates for their tireless work here," said Councilmember Keith Powers. 


 “Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio must take action immediately to protect the 80,000 currently homeless New Yorkers who are at risk of exposure to COVID-19 on the streets and in shelters. As part of that effort, Cuomo and de Blasio should ensure that homeless New Yorkers are not unfairly targeted, harassed, or harmed by any law enforcement agent or police officer during this COVID-19 crisis - that's why we’re calling for an immediate end to all sweeps and raids targeting homeless people and an end to all stops, tickets, and arrests for low-level offenses,” said Anthonine Pierre, a steering committee leader of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR).


“A huge portion of the homeless population are considered extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, and we need our elected officials to act with urgency if they plan to avoid a public health disaster. Housing is healthcare, and we need to swiftly house those living in dormitory style shelters and on the streets through the use of vacant hotels and SRO’s to ensure their safety - and make sure we are meeting basic survival needs in shelters and on the streets including access to healthy food, cleaning supplies, quality healthcare and protection from law enforcement targeting. We need to enact these measures immediately and save thousands of lives.” said Denny Marsh, Executive Director at Neighbors Together


"Saving the most vulnerable is saving ourselves," said Peter Malvan, leader with the Safety Net Activists. "At a time where the tourist industry is struggling and thousands of hotel rooms are empty, housing the homeless will save people's jobs and save people's lives."


“Unsheltered homeless New Yorkers are fighting to survive with limited or no access to showers, bathrooms, meals, and space to social distance. We need to enact a plan to move people from the streets, subways, and congregate shelters into single hotel rooms today. If we don’t, the alternative will be devastating,” said Josh Dean, Executive Director,


“It is unconscionable that we have not taken care of homeless New Yorkers as a first response to this pandemic," said Charles King, Housing Works CEO. "They are among the most at risk of infection and of death.  And police diversion simply drives people underground.  It must end!”


"What the current crisis illuminates so starkly are the incredible existing barriers that homeless New Yorkers, including transgender people and people living with disabilities, face when trying to secure safe and accessible housing. Conditions in NYC homeless shelters have facilitated the rapid spread of the coronavirus, and demonstrate why we need urgent action. The community-driven solutions outlined in this letter offer clear steps forward for the de Blasio administration and we call upon the New York City government to rise to the challenge and meet the homeless community’s needs," said Nahal Zamani, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights. 


“In the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, we must focus policy and resources on one of our most marginalized populations: the housing insecure.  Providing safe and stable housing to all New Yorkers has to be a priority for Governor Cuomo in order for him to truly lead on behalf of the people of this state.  We cannot accept rhetoric which panders to those with privilege.  Instead, we need actions which aid the most vulnerable in our communities, and we need it immediately," said Rebecca Garrard, Campaigns Manager For Housing Justice, Citizen Action of New York.


"The homelessness issue in New York is an on-going public health and moral crisis that is being further exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak. More than ever it is obvious that until every New Yorker is safely and permanently housed, we are all potentially vulnerable. The fact that people are forced to choose between sleeping on the street or in shelters that were oftentimes considered unsafe even before the COVID-19 crisis while up to a hundred thousand hotel rooms and thousands of new condominiums are unoccupied is a moral failure, and one that puts the lives of all New Yorkers at risk,” said Alex Fennel, Political Director Churches United for Fair Housing


"During this public health crisis we need to protect the working class and the most vulnerable first. COVID-19 has exposed the deep flaws in our current system. We need to immediately and permanently rehouse the 80,000 homeless New Yorkers and ensure that their needs are being met without fear of arrest or police harassment," said Sumathy Kumar, NYC Democratic Socialists of America Co-Chair. 


“Is it not our duty and our call to ensure that all New Yorkers are safe during this COVID-19 crisis? Our homeless community members are some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in this moment. Their dignity, humanity, and well-being must be protected," said Crystal Walthall, Faith in New York Executive Director.



About Communities United for Police Reform

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and reduces reliance on policing. CPR runs coalitions of over 200 local, statewide and national organizations, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.