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Spotlight: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership – Emergency Rental Assistance Program

As COVID-19 cases increase and unemployment rates rise, renters across the country are particularly vulnerable. Of the 110 million renters living in the U.S., an estimated 19-23 million are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, 2020. In response to this crisis, The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (the Housing Partnership) acted quickly to set up an Emergency Rental Assistance Program for the City of Charlotte (ERAP-CLT) to assist clients experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. The Housing Partnership is one of North Carolina’s leading affordable housing organizations, serving low- and moderate-income households and communities through real estate development, homeownership education, financing and neighborhood revitalization.  

Since early April, ERAP-CLT has served more than 2,000 applicants. In an effort to expand the reach of the program and help as many individuals as possible, the Housing Partnership has leveraged its network of partner organizations to address a broad range of tenant needs that might not otherwise be covered by a typical rental assistance program. As a result, ERAP-CLT has grown into a program that assists clients with utilities and hotel bills, as well as legal and job counseling. Importantly, ERAP-CLT’s flexible and adaptive program design has also opened the program to cost-burdened households above 80% of the area median income (AMI). ERAP-CLT has not only reduced the pipeline of eviction filings, but has provided much-needed support to those living in Charlotte’s missing middle housing.

The National Housing Conference connected with Erin Barbee, senior vice president of programs and fund development, to find out how the Housing Partnership was able to put together a rental assistance program so quickly and how the program has evolved over the past few months. This conversation was edited for brevity. 

What is ERAP-CLT and who does it serve?  

We began the program with funding from the United Way and later expanded through partnerships with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, utilizing community development block grants (CDBG) and CARES Act funding. We have also received funding from Truist, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. These diverse sources of funding have allowed us to create a comprehensive program that addresses a broad range of challenges brought on by the pandemic.    

We have processed more than 2,000 applications from individuals and families facing COVID-19 related financial hardship. The program was initially intended to help tenants living in income-restricted rental units serving those at 80% AMI and below. However, as the program evolved, we saw that there was a need for residents who were in the 80-120% AMI range. The county and CARES Act funding we received allowed us to serve cost-burdened tenants in market rate properties and tenants at 120% AMI and below.

In order to receive assistance, a tenant must fill out an application and have experienced at least one of the following types of hardship as a result of COVID-19: job loss, wage reduction, illness, or childcare challenges.

The tenant must also be living in an eligible property. In order for a property to be eligible, property managers must fill out an application and agree to certain terms and conditions. This includes providing their rent rolls every month so that our organization can double check the information against what the tenant has provided. We also require the managers to agree to certain conditions—a small rent concession, not charging late fees, and importantly, not moving forward with eviction.  

These conditions ensure tenants are not negatively impacted by arrears or late fees. We also wanted to leverage this program to help reduce the pipeline for eviction filing. The City of Charlotte now has a mediation process. So those who take part in this program must agree to participate in a mediation process instead of going through the court system.

As the program has evolved, we have expanded the qualifying criteria for properties in order to help as many people as possible. We initially served three properties at 80% AMI and below with the help of private funding. When the city of Charlotte came forward with the CDBG emergency funds, we started to work with properties that had City of Charlotte investments, which brought us up to about 101 properties. Mecklenburg County also approved funding for 120% AMI and below. Now we have funds from the CARES Act and we’re able to open up the program to larger multifamily properties, or single-family homes with three or four renters.

Can you walk us through the application process and how you and your team interact with the impacted tenant?  

Tenants typically find out about our program when they receive a flyer along with a late notice. To apply for assistance, they need to complete an ERAP-CLT registration form and upload supporting documentation. When we started the program, we had three properties and we received 300 applications in our first few weeks. So, we created an online application using Smart Sheets to streamline and automate the process and allow people to fill out the form on their phone or computer. The application contains demographic and eligibility information as well as authorizations, releases and additional verification items.  

For clients who have challenges with technology, we have a dedicated phone line so they can connect to a counselor who will complete the application over the phone with them. To overcome the technology barrier, we also had some staff meet clients outdoors and assist them with paperwork while practicing social distance.

After the application is submitted, we check the documentation and ensure the tenant lives in an eligible property, then we assign the tenant to a counselor via email. The counselor will reach out to the tenant within 24 hours and set up a budget session. After that, the counselor qualifies the tenant based on the documentation and specific COVID-19 related need. As long as tenants can show month-over-month that they have a COVID-19 related hardship, they are eligible for the funds. Our goal is to process applications and approve clients for payment within 72 hours. After the counselor approves the application, the information is sent to our fiscal agent, Social Serve. In turn, they issue funds to the tenant’s property manager within 24 to 48 hours. Tenants need to reapply each month; as long as they remain eligible, tenants may reapply for as many months as they are in need.  

It’s important to note that ERAP-CLT does not issue funding directly to the tenant. Funds are distributed to the property manager and does not cover past due arrears. In turn, the property manager is contractually obligated to credit each customer’s rental obligation. 

How have you handled staffing for the ERAP-CLT program?  

When we started the program, with no additional staffing, it was difficult to manage the volume of applications. To increase our capacity, we had to work around the clock and pull staff from other projects. As we have secured additional funding, we have been able to scale up using temporary employees. In order to determine how many staff we needed, we came up with a formula. In the first month, we received 300+ applications and we had eight people dedicated to the program. For every 80 applications, we need another counselor. Counseling sessions with each applicant take 30 to 45 minutes. Now we are receiving between 800 and 1,000 applications per month. Scaling up in this manner allowed us to avoid having an application backlog and waitlist. 

How have your partnerships with other organizations evolved as the program has expanded?

Our clients have complex needs and often face more than one challenge. Knowing that the majority of applicants have suffered job loss, we started to work with Charlotte Works, our workforce development partner, to help tenants access opportunities. Applicants can opt-in to the workforce development part of our program and work with Charlotte Works to receive either job opportunities or training and education opportunities. 

Our partnership with Legal Aid seeks to assist tenants with housing-related legal issues. Legal Aid provides counseling on tenant rights and rent disputes. Through our direct referrals to Legal Aid we seek to prevent evictions and provide tenants with information about their legal rights. 

The ability to pay utility bills has also become a challenge many of our clients are facing, so we have partnered with the county to provide funding to support those in need of utility assistance.  

As COVID-19 cases increase and unemployment rates rise, renters across the country are particularly vulnerable. Of the 110 million renters living in the U.S., an estimated 19-23 million are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, 2020. In response to this crisis, The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (the Housing Partnership) acted quickly to set up an Emergency Rental Assistance Program for the City of Charlotte (ERAP-CLT) to assist clients experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. The Housing Partnership is one of North Carolina’s leading affordable housing organizations, serving low- and moderate-income households and communities through real estate development, homeownership education, financing and neighborhood revitalization.  

Since early April, ERAP-CLT has served more than 2,000 applicants. In an effort to expand the reach of the program and help as many individuals as possible, the Housing Partnership has leveraged its network of partner organizations to address a broad range of tenant needs that might not otherwise be covered by a typical rental assistance program. As a result, ERAP-CLT has grown into a program that assists clients with utilities and hotel bills, as well as legal and job counseling. Importantly, ERAP-CLT’s flexible and adaptive program design has also opened the program to cost-burdened households above 80% of the area median income (AMI). ERAP-CLT has not only reduced the pipeline of eviction filings, but has provided much-needed support to those living in the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.   

The National Housing Conference connected with Erin Barbee, senior vice president of programs and fund development, to find out how the Housing Partnership was able to put together a rental assistance program so quickly and how the program has evolved over the past few months. This conversation was edited for brevity. 

What is ERAP-CLT and who does it serve?  

We began the program with funding from the United Way and later expanded through partnerships with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, utilizing community development block grants (CDBG) and CARES Act funding. We have also received funding from Truist, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. These diverse sources of funding have allowed us to create a comprehensive program that addresses a broad range of challenges brought on by the pandemic.    

We have processed more than 2,000 applications from individuals and families facing COVID-19 related financial hardship. The program was initially intended to help tenants living in income-restricted rental units serving those at 80% AMI and below. However, as the program evolved, we saw that there was a need for residents who were in the 80-120% AMI range. The county and CARES Act funding we received allowed us to serve cost-burdened tenants in market rate properties and tenants at 120% AMI and below.

In order to receive assistance, a tenant must fill out an application and have experienced at least one of the following types of hardship as a result of COVID-19: job loss, wage reduction, illness, or childcare challenges.

The tenant must also be living in an eligible property. In order for a property to be eligible, property managers must fill out an application and agree to certain terms and conditions. This includes providing their rent rolls every month so that our organization can double check the information against what the tenant has provided. We also require the managers to agree to certain conditions—a small rent concession, not charging late fees, and importantly, not moving forward with eviction.  

These conditions ensure tenants are not negatively impacted by arrears or late fees. We also wanted to leverage this program to help reduce the pipeline for eviction filing. The City of Charlotte now has a mediation process. So those who take part in this program must agree to participate in a mediation process instead of going through the court system.

As the program has evolved, we have expanded the qualifying criteria for properties in order to help as many people as possible. We initially served three properties at 80% AMI and below with the help of private funding. When the city of Charlotte came forward with the CDBG emergency funds, we started to work with properties that had City of Charlotte investments, which brought us up to about 101 properties. Mecklenburg County also approved funding for 120% AMI and below. Now we have funds from the CARES Act and we’re able to open up the program to larger multifamily properties, or single-family homes with three or four renters.

Can you walk us through the application process and how you and your team interact with the impacted tenant?  

Tenants typically find out about our program when they receive a flyer along with a late notice. To apply for assistance, they need to complete an ERAP-CLT registration form and upload supporting documentation. When we started the program, we had three properties and we received 300 applications in our first few weeks. So, we created an online application using Smart Sheets to streamline and automate the process and allow people to fill out the form on their phone or computer. The application contains demographic and eligibility information as well as authorizations, releases and additional verification items.  

For clients who have challenges with technology, we have a dedicated phone line so they can connect to a counselor who will complete the application over the phone with them. To overcome the technology barrier, we also had some staff meet clients outdoors and assist them with paperwork while practicing social distance.

After the application is submitted, we check the documentation and ensure the tenant lives in an eligible property, then we assign the tenant to a counselor via email. The counselor will reach out to the tenant within 24 hours and set up a budget session. After that, the counselor qualifies the tenant based on the documentation and specific COVID-19 related need. As long as tenants can show month-over-month that they have a COVID-19 related hardship, they are eligible for the funds. Our goal is to process applications and approve clients for payment within 72 hours. After the counselor approves the application, the information is sent to our fiscal agent, Social Serve. In turn, they issue funds to the tenant’s property manager within 24 to 48 hours. Tenants need to reapply each month; as long as they remain eligible, tenants may reapply for as many months as they are in need.  

It’s important to note that ERAP-CLT does not issue funding directly to the tenant. Funds are distributed to the property manager and does not cover past due arrears. In turn, the property manager is contractually obligated to credit each customer’s rental obligation. 

How have you handled staffing for the ERAP-CLT program?  

When we started the program, with no additional staffing, it was difficult to manage the volume of applications. To increase our capacity, we had to work around the clock and pull staff from other projects. As we have secured additional funding, we have been able to scale up using temporary employees. In order to determine how many staff we needed, we came up with a formula. In the first month, we received 300+ applications and we had eight people dedicated to the program. For every 80 applications, we need another counselor. Counseling sessions with each applicant take 30 to 45 minutes. Now we are receiving between 800 and 1,000 applications per month. Scaling up in this manner allowed us to avoid having an application backlog and waitlist. 

How have your partnerships with other organizations evolved as the program has expanded?

Our clients have complex needs and often face more than one challenge. Knowing that the majority of applicants have suffered job loss, we started to work with Charlotte Works, our workforce development partner, to help tenants access opportunities. Applicants can opt-in to the workforce development part of our program and work with Charlotte Works to receive either job opportunities or training and education opportunities. 

Our partnership with Legal Aid seeks to assist tenants with housing-related legal issues. Legal Aid provides counseling on tenant rights and rent disputes. Through our direct referrals to Legal Aid we seek to prevent evictions and provide tenants with information about their legal rights. 

The ability to pay utility bills has also become a challenge many of our clients are facing, so we have partnered with the county to provide funding to support those in need of utility assistance.  

As COVID-19 cases increase and unemployment rates rise, renters across the country are particularly vulnerable. Of the 110 million renters living in the U.S., an estimated 19-23 million are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, 2020. In response to this crisis, The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (the Housing Partnership) acted quickly to set up an Emergency Rental Assistance Program for the City of Charlotte (ERAP-CLT) to assist clients experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. The Housing Partnership is one of North Carolina’s leading affordable housing organizations, serving low- and moderate-income households and communities through real estate development, homeownership education, financing and neighborhood revitalization.  

Since early April, ERAP-CLT has served more than 2,000 applicants. In an effort to expand the reach of the program and help as many individuals as possible, the Housing Partnership has leveraged its network of partner organizations to address a broad range of tenant needs that might not otherwise be covered by a typical rental assistance program. As a result, ERAP-CLT has grown into a program that assists clients with utilities and hotel bills, as well as legal and job counseling. Importantly, ERAP-CLT’s flexible and adaptive program design has also opened the program to cost-burdened households above 80% of the area median income (AMI). ERAP-CLT has not only reduced the pipeline of eviction filings, but has provided much-needed support to those living in the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.   

The National Housing Conference connected with Erin Barbee, senior vice president of programs and fund development, to find out how the Housing Partnership was able to put together a rental assistance program so quickly and how the program has evolved over the past few months. This conversation was edited for brevity. 

What is ERAP-CLT and who does it serve?  

We began the program with funding from the United Way and later expanded through partnerships with the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, utilizing community development block grants (CDBG) and CARES Act funding. We have also received funding from Truist, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. These diverse sources of funding have allowed us to create a comprehensive program that addresses a broad range of challenges brought on by the pandemic.    

We have processed more than 2,000 applications from individuals and families facing COVID-19 related financial hardship. The program was initially intended to help tenants living in income-restricted rental units serving those at 80% AMI and below. However, as the program evolved, we saw that there was a need for residents who were in the 80-120% AMI range. The county and CARES Act funding we received allowed us to serve cost-burdened tenants in market rate properties and tenants at 120% AMI and below.

In order to receive assistance, a tenant must fill out an application and have experienced at least one of the following types of hardship as a result of COVID-19: job loss, wage reduction, illness, or childcare challenges.

The tenant must also be living in an eligible property. In order for a property to be eligible, property managers must fill out an application and agree to certain terms and conditions. This includes providing their rent rolls every month so that our organization can double check the information against what the tenant has provided. We also require the managers to agree to certain conditions—a small rent concession, not charging late fees, and importantly, not moving forward with eviction.  

These conditions ensure tenants are not negatively impacted by arrears or late fees. We also wanted to leverage this program to help reduce the pipeline for eviction filing. The City of Charlotte now has a mediation process. So those who take part in this program must agree to participate in a mediation process instead of going through the court system.

As the program has evolved, we have expanded the qualifying criteria for properties in order to help as many people as possible. We initially served three properties at 80% AMI and below with the help of private funding. When the city of Charlotte came forward with the CDBG emergency funds, we started to work with properties that had City of Charlotte investments, which brought us up to about 101 properties. Mecklenburg County also approved funding for 120% AMI and below. Now we have funds from the CARES Act and we’re able to open up the program to larger multifamily properties, or single-family homes with three or four renters.

Can you walk us through the application process and how you and your team interact with the impacted tenant?  

Tenants typically find out about our program when they receive a flyer along with a late notice. To apply for assistance, they need to complete an ERAP-CLT registration form and upload supporting documentation. When we started the program, we had three properties and we received 300 applications in our first few weeks. So, we created an online application using Smart Sheets to streamline and automate the process and allow people to fill out the form on their phone or computer. The application contains demographic and eligibility information as well as authorizations, releases and additional verification items.  

For clients who have challenges with technology, we have a dedicated phone line so they can connect to a counselor who will complete the application over the phone with them. To overcome the technology barrier, we also had some staff meet clients outdoors and assist them with paperwork while practicing social distance.

After the application is submitted, we check the documentation and ensure the tenant lives in an eligible property, then we assign the tenant to a counselor via email. The counselor will reach out to the tenant within 24 hours and set up a budget session. After that, the counselor qualifies the tenant based on the documentation and specific COVID-19 related need. As long as tenants can show month-over-month that they have a COVID-19 related hardship, they are eligible for the funds. Our goal is to process applications and approve clients for payment within 72 hours. After the counselor approves the application, the information is sent to our fiscal agent, Social Serve. In turn, they issue funds to the tenant’s property manager within 24 to 48 hours. Tenants need to reapply each month; as long as they remain eligible, tenants may reapply for as many months as they are in need.  

It’s important to note that ERAP-CLT does not issue funding directly to the tenant. Funds are distributed to the property manager and does not cover past due arrears. In turn, the property manager is contractually obligated to credit each customer’s rental obligation. 

How have you handled staffing for the ERAP-CLT program?  

When we started the program, with no additional staffing, it was difficult to manage the volume of applications. To increase our capacity, we had to work around the clock and pull staff from other projects. As we have secured additional funding, we have been able to scale up using temporary employees. In order to determine how many staff we needed, we came up with a formula. In the first month, we received 300+ applications and we had eight people dedicated to the program. For every 80 applications, we need another counselor. Counseling sessions with each applicant take 30 to 45 minutes. Now we are receiving between 800 and 1,000 applications per month. Scaling up in this manner allowed us to avoid having an application backlog and waitlist. 

How have your partnerships with other organizations evolved as the program has expanded?

Our clients have complex needs and often face more than one challenge. Knowing that the majority of applicants have suffered job loss, we started to work with Charlotte Works, our workforce development partner, to help tenants access opportunities. Applicants can opt-in to the workforce development part of our program and work with Charlotte Works to receive either job opportunities or training and education opportunities. 

Our partnership with Legal Aid seeks to assist tenants with housing-related legal issues. Legal Aid provides counseling on tenant rights and rent disputes. Through our direct referrals to Legal Aid we seek to prevent evictions and provide tenants with information about their legal rights. 

The ability to pay utility bills has also become a challenge many of our clients are facing, so we have partnered with the county to provide funding to support those in need of utility assistance.  

We also work with Crisis Assistance Ministry who are able to serve those that aren’t eligible for our program, but are still in need. This could include those who cannot demonstrate that their hardship was due to COVID-19, which is required for our program. Through funding from the Foundation of the Carolinas, we are able to work with Crisis Assistance Ministry to share data and transfer information so the individual doesn’t have to start a new application process. Crisis Assistance Ministry can also provide utility assistance to those who aren’t eligible for our programs.  

ERAP-CLT’s Hotel Guest Rent Relief Program

As the program has progressed, the Housing Partnership has become aware of the need to assist those living in hotels and experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19.

  • ERAP-CLT serves two categories of hotel residents:
  • Homeless individuals who are employed but cannot afford a monthly rent payment.
  • Individuals living in a hotel permanently—defined as more than 30 days and receiving mail at their hotel address.
  • ERAP-CLT can pay up to $2,000 of a guest’s hotel bill and requires only a one-time application. Once they begin receiving funding, the individual is partnered with a social worker to connect them with services and support.  
  • The Housing Partnership works with Charlotte’s 211 service and Social Serve to assist with finding permanent housing for hotel guests who have jobs and can afford a low monthly rent payment. Assistance includes help with first and last month’s rent.
  • It is important to note that the eviction moratorium does not apply to evictions from hotel spaces. After COVID-19, many hotel guests have been evicted and gone into homelessness and shelters. ERAP-CLT uses rental assistance funding to keep people in their hotel space for at least another 30 days, or until they are placed into more permanent housing.

How did you market the program?

In the beginning, we did targeted marking in three properties. We created a flyer that was distributed with late notices, and we also posted flyers in elevators and common spaces. As we expanded the footprint of the program, we began coordinating with the City of Charlotte to get the message out about ERAP, which also included presenting at City Council meetings and working with city council members to get the message out to their constituents.  

Along the way, we have focused on the need to have strong relationships with property managers so they can help promote and explain the program. Given the amount of funding we have received and the need we know is out there, we have developed a marketing plan that utilizes all media outlets in order to reach as many people as possible. This strategy is also informed by the data we have collected since April. We have also begun to work with the Apartment Association in order to do more targeted marketing and reach more people in lower AMI areas. 

Importantly, we have to spend all CARES Act funds by Dec. 31, so we are using every avenue that we can be able to get the message out. 

What lessons do you feel like you’ve learned developing and implementing the program that you would like to share with others standing up a COVID-19 rental assistance program ? 

We have learned that we have to be flexible in how we design the program. As the need continues to grow and we receive new funding sources, each one has different requirements. So we have to be able to adapt based on the funding sources and their particular requirements. At the same time, it has been critical to keep the application process as simple as possible.

We’ve also learned that having multilingual applications is critical for outreach. Initially, we only had an English application, which left out a whole segment of the population. Later, we created mortgage and rent applications in Spanish, which better reflect the diversity of our city.


Erin spoke about the Housing Partnership’s ERAP-CLT work at Neighborworks’ CORES platform in a May 5, 2020 webinar titled, “Developing and Launching a Rental Assistance program.” You can view her presentation here. Learn more about the Housing Partnership’s services and response to COVID-19 here.  

Spotlight: Colorado Coalition for the Homeless

With a 35-year history in Colorado and in the Denver Metro Area, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) has been at the forefront of working collaboratively toward the resolution and prevention of homelessness, providing integrated health care, as well as supportive and vocational services. As the owner and operator of 2,000 units of permanent supportive and affordable housing, and the operator of a Federally Qualified Health Center system, CCH has worked to create lasting solutions for families, children, and individuals who are experiencing, or are at-risk of, homelessness throughout Colorado. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed Denver’s public services and shelters, CCH leveraged its existing partnerships and organizational resources and systems to roll out an effective, collaborative, and innovative response to the pandemic. Its comprehensive approach to managing the outbreak—providing integrated health care coupled with locations for isolation/quarantine—has already proven to be a powerful model of care for a highly vulnerable population. More broadly, it has underscored the link between housing and health, a concept that is central to CCH’s mission and advocacy efforts. 

We met with Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy, to discuss CCH’s multi-pronged approach to addressing homelessness during the pandemic: housinghealth caresupportive services, and advocacy. The following conversation has been edited for brevity.


Can you describe the approach you and your partners in Denver have taken to address the needs of homeless individuals during COVID-19? 

The first thing that became very clear is that the status of being homeless is absolutely incompatible with this public health crisis. Lack of housing means an inability to shelter in place and access hand-washing stations, both of which have proven challenging. Because of the congregate setting that shelters provide, physical distancing is not possible. This created a problem early on, so we joined shelter providers in their effort to de-densify existing shelters and to set up an auxiliary shelter to address these critical public health needs.

Next, we had to address how to screen people coming to the shelter. Though we lacked adequate testing supplies, we created a clinical triage process to provide screening and determine the best next step for each client. We are now partnering with our local public health department to do testing at all of the other shelters as well. We also had to adjust our screening strategies—something we continue to do—as we learn more about the virus, including that asymptomatic individuals can be contagious.

Once screened, people with no symptoms were housed in an auxiliary shelter (one for men and one for women) where they received a bed, three meals a day, laundry services, internet access, restrooms, and showers, as well as primary, mental, and behavioral health care. We currently have clinical staff on site in a “pop-up” clinic that we set up inside the shelter. We also have a testing tent just outside the building. Between the two auxiliary shelters, approximately 700 to 900 people are served each night. 

Individuals who tested positive, were symptomatic, or high-risk, had to be separated from the rest of the shelter guests to prevent exposure and the spread of COVID-19. To do this, we contracted with a number of motels to provide the necessary space for isolation/quarantine. We have about 800 rooms and separated these sites into two categories, (1) Activated Respite Sites and (2) Protective Action Sites.

Activated respite sites provide isolation/quarantine with medical, behavioral health, and case management support for those with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case. While there is no set amount of time that individuals can stay in Activated Respite, the typical stay has been seven to 14 days. 

Protective action sites are for those who are not symptomatic but are high-risk. For example, they may be over the age of 65, immunocompromised, diabetic, obese, asthmatic, or possess other respiratory illnesses. If they were to be infected, they would very likely require critical care or hospitalization. In addition to offering a safe environment where these individuals were less likely to be exposed, we provided medical and clinical support to help them manage whatever condition has made them high-risk. 

We have case managers and provide medical and behavioral health services at various levels across the three different types of sites. We have a more concentrated presence on-site in our COVID-positive facilities in order to prevent the deterioration of guests’ health and ensure we can get those in need to the hospital as quickly as possible. Another newly added component of our health care services has been medication delivery across these new sites. So far, we’ve done 3,000 deliveries of medication to motels and hotels to serve our clients, many of whom require between three and eight prescription drugs a day to address multiple health conditions.

In addition to the shelter and services, we realized early on that we were going to have to create a way to store and deliver personal protective equipment, medical supplies, food, and clothing to all of the sites. We set up a centralized supply center in one of our existing buildings. This allowed us to take in large donations and provide food and supply delivery for those at the activated respite and protective actions sites, where most clients have small refrigerators and microwaves. It also allowed us to provide clothing—an essential need—because most of our clients come directly from the streets with little more than a backpack worth of belongings. Since CCH is not a shelter provider with these items readily on-hand, so building this capacity was critical to ensure each of the sites have what they need.  

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless staff at the testing tent set up outside the auxiliary shelter

Can you tell us about ongoing testing efforts in Denver?

Now that testing supplies are more available, and our Denver Public Health (DPH) and Denver Department of Public Health and the Environment (DDPHE) have more staffing and supply capacity, we are expanding testing efforts. Originally, we were only able to test symptomatic individuals, primarily at our Stout Street Health Center. We are now able to do more widespread testing to isolate asymptomatic carriers and high-risk individuals. Our first testing pilot identified about a 20% prevalence rate of COVID-19 among asymptomatic individuals experiencing homelessness. We knew we needed to ramp up testing efforts quickly to identify and isolate those asymptomatic carriers so that they wouldn’t spread the virus to more high-risk individuals. DPH and DDPHE now have ongoing testing efforts at all of the shelters. We were also able to conduct a testing pilot for a small, unsheltered group who were camping in downtown Denver. Of the 50 people we tested, zero had positive results. This indicates to us that during this crisis response, we need to assist our unsheltered population with sanitation supplies, services, and access to housing, and not move them around the city where they are more likely to be exposed to the virus.

The Importance of Telehealth in the Time of COVID-19 

CCH was using telehealth on a limited basis and also working on state legislation to better facilitate the provision of telehealth services. In response to COVID-19, they have greatly expanded their capacity so that their Federally Qualified Health Centers could continue to provide medical support and services.  

  • CCH purchased equipment to make sure clients had the resources they needed to utilize telehealth services during COVID-19. 
  • Colorado’s Medicaid agency implemented an emergency rule for the reimbursement of telehealth, which has been very helpful and allowed CCH to scale telehealth services.  
  • Building on the work done pre-COVID-19 and the lessons learned from this crisis, CCH is looking at legislative and regulatory actions that will better facilitate the provision of telehealth services.  
  • Going forward, CCH sees opportunities to expand telehealth to their properties. For example, sending a nurse with a computer to check in on residents and help them connect with a doctor via video as necessary. 

How have your existing partnerships helped you respond to the needs of your clients during the pandemic?

The partnerships we have built over the years have been an invaluable resource for our COVID-19 response. Two years ago, we partnered with the shelter provider community across Denver to create the Homelessness Leadership Council (HLC). Through HLC, we have been able to provide collective and consistent feedback and strategy recommendations to the City for assisting our unhoused community. Our meetings over the last two years, and the trust and collective expertise we have built as a community, has been a great asset in delivering a comprehensive response to address the unique needs of our community during the pandemic. 

Using hotel and motel rooms to meet COVID-19 needs seems like a unique solution. How did you come up with this approach? 

Last year, we purchased a motel and spent six months converting it into 139 studio apartments called Fusion Studios. This required interior renovations to make the rooms code-compliant with full-time, residential property building standards. In February, we started moving people in. Prior to Fusion, we owned another motel that we used for bridge and transitional housing that we turned into permanent supportive and affordable housing. At the time, we didn’t realize we were going to have to ramp up to this level so quickly. We are always on the lookout for opportunities to convert hotels into housing. 

For our COVID-19 response, we negotiated with each motel separately, addressing their particular issues and liability concerns, also taking into account the specific services being provided at each location. Given the emergency declaration, we have been able to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to serve as reimbursement to acquire these spaces and to manage any damage that occurs on site. In addition, in some cases, we have the option to purchase their facilities after a period of time of use. We are constantly evaluating  what the next stage of our COVID-19 response efforts will look like, and how long these spaces will be needed. We are considering purchasing two of the properties to provide housing for people who don’t need to be in the hospital, but need to isolate or recover and don’t have a home.

What do you think are the next steps after responding to the immediate crisis? Are there areas you would like to focus on more going forward?

First, we are actively thinking through a rehousing strategy, now that we are moving beyond the immediate crisis. After the pandemic is over, what do we do with the 800 clients we have in motel rooms, and the 700 to 900 individuals in our auxiliary shelters? Do we send clients back to the shelter or to the street? That is not an option, especially with those individuals we’ve removed from congregate settings because they’re high-risk. Instead of putting people back in high-risk environments, we need to find more transitional housing options. We’re working to find the resources to create more permanent supportive housing down the road, including converting more motels to meet these needs. 

Second, in the aftermath of COVID-19, I can’t imagine a world where we don’t have a clinical component to our shelters. The lesson this pandemic taught us is that it’s imperative to couple shelter/housing with clinical services, and we and our shelter partners are looking to advance this model. Our shelter providers have been appreciative of the clinical staff on site, because that’s not their area of expertise. They serve in the role as emergency responders and while they can do non-clinical health screens, they are not equipped to manage ongoing or long term physical or behavioral health issues. I envision transitioning back to multiple shelter environments, each one with clinical services onsite, or with a clinical component employing our mobile health unit for regular site visits.


Cathy spoke on CCH’s work for NHC’s Solutions for Housing Communications convening in May 2020. You can view her presentation here. Learn more about CCH’s areas of expertise and response to COVID-19 here