Municipalities Should Take Immediate Steps to Reduce Spread of COVID-19

Portland – Service providers and advocates are urging the mayors and city managers of Maine’s 15 largest municipalities to ensure that people experiencing homelessness, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, are spared the worst consequences of the pandemic. 

The letter, signed by 28 organizations, was sent last night to officials in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Auburn, Biddeford, Sanford, Brunswick, Scarborough, Saco, Augusta, Westbrook, Windham, Gorham and Waterville, as well as the Maine Municipal Association.

For people experiencing homelessness, options for following CDC guidelines such as hand washing and physical distancing are extremely limited. According to the letter, reports indicate “homeless individuals are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and once infected are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than the general population.”

The groups also argued that protecting people experiencing poverty from becoming infected is a matter of racial justice. People of color and Native Americans in Maine are more likely than their white counterparts to be experiencing homelessness. That fact, coupled with inequality in our economy and health care system, and early data showing that COVID-19 disproportionately harms Black Americans, suggests COVID-19 is far more likely to cause harm to non-whites in Maine.

The groups make several recommendations to reduce the harm done by COVID-19 to people experiencing poverty and, disproportionately people of color, including:

  • Increasing the availability of non-congregate shelter options, such hotels and motels, dormitories, and trailers;
  • Placing an immediate moratorium on the enforcement of laws or policies criminalizing homelessness (such as encampment sweeps and arresting people for offenses related to conducting daily life-sustaining mental illness or substance use disorder), which risk sending more people to jails where the risk of community spread is extremely high;
  • Following CDC recommendations to provide and maintain portable toilets, handwashing stations, and accessible public health information in public areas frequented by people experiencing homelessness;
  • Ensuring strong coordination with health care and social service providers to ensure people staying in shelters or have access to needed medical and behavioral health care and harm reduction supplies and practices;
  • And removing barriers to General Assistance, such as long waiting periods, which cause vulnerable people to go without the resources they need to get and maintain stable housing.

The full letter and recommendations are available here [note the letter was sent separately to officials in 15 municipalities]: