Family Support & Well-being

Strategies for Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness and Housing Instability During COVID-19

During this difficult time, it is critical to regularly check in with families about the stability of their current living situation. This is especially important for families experiencing homelessness. Programs should use creativity in serving families remotely during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) emergency, including doing all they can to help families maintain their housing.

Families Currently Experiencing Homelessness

Explore considerations and strategies below for working with families who are or may be at risk for experiencing homelessness.

  • Stay in touch with families you have identified as experiencing homelessness, as they may need to relocate. Shelters have moved many families into hotels and other locations to implement social distancing and quarantine requirements. Families temporarily staying with others may have relocated due to illness or crowded conditions.
  • Consider reaching out to other Head Start and Early Head Start programs when families have moved out of your service area to ensure families and children have continuity, whenever possible.
  • If they are without homes or are housed temporarily, prioritize safety and well-being for families and young children.
    • Be sure families have regular access to age-appropriate and allergy sensitive food items (e.g., formula, cereal, baby food), clothing, diapers and wipes, masks as needed, and developmentally appropriate learning materials.
    • Given the increased need for hand-washing, check that they have ongoing access to running water or hand-washing stations, bathrooms and showers, and laundry facilities.
    • Work with families on safety planning. Make sure they have an emergency contact and a plan for the care of other family members if illness occurs. If families are making plans for alternative housing, consider using the Childproofing Checklist for Housing and Homeless Service Providers.
    • Help families access medical and mental health services as needed, including pediatric immunizations and early intervention services. Work with them to access any telehealth services they may need to use.
    • Provide families with mental health supports, such as mental health consultant check-ins. Include families in virtual parent meetings or support groups so they can connect with peers.
  • Assist families with technology needs (e.g., phones, phone minutes, charging capacity, Wi-Fi). Many Head Start and Early Head Start families are eligible for the Lifeline program. It provides a discount on monthly telephone, broadband internet access, or voice-broadband bundled services purchased from participating providers. The National Digital Inclusiveness Alliance updates a list of free and low-cost internet plans daily.
  • Establish or strengthen partnerships with local housing authorities, hotels and motels serving as shelter sites, local shelters, homelessness service providers, and faith-based entities to:
    • Offer ideas for parent-child activities and safe spaces and materials for young children.
    • Explore ways your program can help make shelter environments more early childhood friendly. Consider sharing the Early Childhood Self-Assessment Tool for Family Shelters.
    • Provide eligibility and enrollment information for your and other programs families may be eligible for, including screening and services for developmental delays or disabilities.
    • Help families access food and critical health appointments by coordinating transportation and mobile food delivery services, where possible.
    • Develop memoranda of understanding to help families access priority enrollment for Head Start, Early Head Start, or child care programs.
  • Ensure families are knowledgeable about registering their young children for kindergarten. Assist them in participating in any transition activities their school district may be offering. Connect families with the local education agency's McKinney-Vento liaison to access any available supports.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with additional funds for emergency and public housing and housing vouchers. Additional transitional and permanent housing may be available for eligible families. Reach out to your Continuum of Care program for more information on how you can help families access these resources. If you don't have a partnership with your local housing authority, start with the nearest Public Housing Agency in your state.

Families Who May Be at Risk of Becoming Homeless

  • Keep trying to locate all families you have not been able to contact. Some families may have had to seek temporary shelter locations due to illness, and they may experience difficulties returning to their original location following isolation or quarantine.
  • If families are at risk of losing housing due to loss of employment, help them access unemployment and health benefits.
  • Provide families with mental health supports, such as mental health consultant check-ins. Include families in virtual parent meetings or support groups so they can connect with peers.
  • Reach out to your local Community Action Agency (CAA). Find out whether housing- and energy-related emergency assistance funds are available through the CARES Act under the Community Service Block Grant and other funding sources. In many cases, your local CAA may be your agency.
  • Help families who are homeowners obtain a federal housing-insured single family home mortgage if they are having difficulty making their monthly payments due to the COVID-19 emergency. Find related mortgage relief options at Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
  • For families living in federally subsidized housing or who are renting from an owner who has a federally- or government-sponsored enterprise-backed mortgage, the CARES Act provides for a suspension or moratorium on evictions. Find out more about these protections from CFPB.

Featured Resources

Find resources to improve staff knowledge and skills in supporting families experiencing homelessness.

Supporting Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness
Use this interactive learning series to enhance your knowledge about family homelessness. Learn more about outreach, enrollment, and partnerships with Head Start and Early Head Start families experiencing homelessness.

Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness Webinar Series
This three-part webinar series features exemplary practices from Head Start and Early Head Start programs and collaboration directors.

Five Ways to Protect Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Experiencing Homelessness During COVID-19
Early childhood, housing, and educational providers can use these strategies to support young children experiencing homelessness during and after the COVID-19 emergency.