COVID-19 Has Exposed a Family Homelessness Crisis

As the end to state and federal eviction moratoriums looms, many women and families are living on the brink of homelessness.

COVID-19 Has Exposed a Family Homelessness Crisis
Unless immediate action is taken to prevent a tidal wave of women and children from losing their homes in the year ahead, even more families will fall into the vicious cycle of homelessness.  (moms4housing / Instagram)

It is impossible to overstate how the pandemic has disproportionately burdened mothers in America, with a particularly devastating impact on Black and brown women. As COVID-19 cases spike, more women of color lose their jobs. As child care centers remain closed and schools stay remote, more mothers take on the additional responsibilities of teacher and caretaker during the workday. 

For the millions of mothers raising their children in or near poverty, the consequences are even more dire. They are facing impossible choices between putting food on the table, taking their clothes to the laundromat, or getting their kids the tech they need for remote learning. As the end to state and federal eviction moratoriums looms, many are living on the brink of homelessness.

America was experiencing a family homelessness crisis long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless immediate action is taken to prevent a tidal wave of women and children from losing their homes in the year ahead, even more families will fall into the vicious cycle of homelessness. 

In New York City, where I am proud to sit on the City Council, families with children make up 68 percent of the NYC shelter population. The majority of these families are headed by a single woman of color. Ninety-five percent of the families in NYC shelters are Black or Hispanic, and 69 percent are single mothers. A shelter is no place for a child to grow up, and now due to COVID many are forced to go to school there too, often without sufficient internet access or devices to fully engage in learning.

Domestic violence is a leading cause of family homelessness in New York and across the country. A 2019 report from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that domestic violence accounted for 41 percent of the family population entering shelter—a 44 percent increase from five years prior. In New York, 96 percent of domestic violence survivors are women. For women and children facing abusive situations at home, the pandemic has locked them in, making resources even more inaccessible and the risk of homelessness even greater. 

Kadisha, a New York mom, entered shelter with her young daughter when an unsafe domestic situation put them in danger. They lived in a shelter in Queens, and Kadisha would have to get up at 5 a.m. to get her daughter to school in Brooklyn before hopping on a train to get to her job in Manhattan and repeat the same route every evening. It took a year and a half for Kadisha and her daughter to get out of the shelter system. During that time, she struggled with depression as she saw her little girl impacted by the trauma of homelessness.


Here at Ms., our team is continuing to report through this global health crisis—doing what we can to keep you informed and up-to-date on some of the most underreported issues of this pandemic. We ask that you consider supporting our work to bring you substantive, unique reporting—we can’t do it without you. Support our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


Not enough of the extensive news coverage on how women are hurting amid the pandemic has examined the untenable circumstances under which women are struggling to raise their children in poverty, barely paying bills and in jeopardy of entering shelter. If leaders at every level of government don’t take action soon to support women and families in New York and across the country at risk of losing their homes, more will fall into the intergenerational cycle of homelessness. 

To ensure the most vulnerable women and families can remain stably housed while the pandemic rages on, states and municipalities must invest in affordable housing, rent relief, rental subsidies and aftercare supports that ensure families remain stably housed after leaving shelter. In particular, my counterparts in the New York State legislature must prioritize passage of policies outlined by advocates like Housing Justice for All, which empower and protect renters.

Fighting family homelessness in America isn’t just a housing issue — it’s a women’s rights issue and a key tenet of racial justice. Women across America need help, and the tens of thousands Black and brown women and mothers languishing in shelter with children or at risk of becoming homeless can’t wait.

You may also like:


The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

About

Carlina Rivera is a New York City councilwoman, representing the 2nd Council District. She has championed issues around affordable housing, small business survival, equitable healthcare, transportation, and quality of life issues. She has also taken a stand for gender equity as the Co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus by sponsoring legislation on sexual harassment and the gender wage gap.