New Report: Poll Shows Strong Cross-Ideological Support for Housing the Unhoused, Halting Criminalization of Homelessness Amid COVID-19 Pandemic



As leaders scramble to protect vulnerable populations against the spread of COVID-19, new polling data shows that a broad majority of voters, including Republicans, support measures to provide temporary housing and relief to people experiencing homelessness in response to the pandemic.

The first-of-its-kind data, released Tuesday in a report by The Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress, comes as housing advocates call attention to the specific risks COVID-19 poses to people without homes, who struggle under a lack of access to general information, hygiene products, and the resources necessary to practice “social distancing.” Advocates have long argued that the best way to grant much-needed stability to people experiencing homelessness, especially during times of crisis, is to provide them with housing. They’ve also spoken out against the harmful effects of policies and measures designed to further destabilize unhoused individuals. The polling shows broad — and in some cases overwhelming — bipartisan agreement on these issues:

  • Eighty-one percent of voters, including 79% of Republicans, support measures for the government to purchase or take control of unoccupied buildings and houses and use them to provide temporary housing for the homeless. 
  • Seventy-four percent of voters, including 75% of Republicans, support a temporary ban on law enforcement clearing out homeless encampments for the duration of the coronavirus emergency. 
  • Fifty-two percent of voters, including 51% of Republicans, support a moratorium on enforcing laws that prohibit unhoused people from sleeping outside or in their vehicles, and 71% of voters, including 73% of Republicans, support a temporary ban on towing vehicles in which people reside.

“Homelessness was already a humanitarian crisis in the US before the pandemic hit, but rapid advent of COVID-19 threatens to transform it into a veritable public health disaster,” said Leo Beletsky, a law professor at Northeastern University School of Law who co-authored the report. “We know what programs and policies can prevent this, the only question is whether we will do what is needed to protect our unhoused neighbors during these unprecedented times.”

Co-author Sterling Johnson, who serves as a harm reduction advocate in Philadelphia at Black and Brown Workers Cooperative, said, “Even with clear guidance it is disappointing to see municipalities clearing encampments without providing shelter for unhoused people that allows for appropriate social distancing. Research suggests it will lead to harm that could have been avoided.”

The full polling memo is available here.

The Justice Collaborative Institute is a coalition of justice reform scholars from across the nation focused on providing an academic perspective to conversations and work surrounding mass incarceration and related issues.

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