We are asking Ellis County commercial and residential landlords and tenants to come together and work through this difficult time. Economists at Columbia University predict homelessness could increase 40 to 45 percent due to unemployment this year, and reducing rent to keep neighbors and families housed may prove instrumental to preventing a wave of homelessness.

Not providing the rental relief and assistance residents need to avoid homelessness will create an even greater long-term impact on our community. People experiencing homelessness are far more likely to frequent emergency services and with researchers at the University of Texas saying COVID-19 may now be spreading silently across rural counties, prioritizing housing may be critical to curbing a sudden surge in infection rates. Forcing people out of their homes also makes social distancing difficult and increases the risk of infection for the entire community.

In light of the soaring cost of medical care and the current strain on some hospital resources, keeping people housed is not only moral and in the interest of public health, it is also the fiscally conservative path. Marketplace recently profiled a program in which insurers and hospitals paid for housing and "wraparound" services – programs promoting comprehensive health and stability – for high-frequency patients with hospital bills totaling over $50,000 in one year. The total cost per program participant ranged from $1,200 to $1,800 per month, which included a rent allowance maximum of $850 per month. Housing these vulnerable individuals instead of discharging them to the street saved taxpayers at least $28,000 per participant per year. Similarly, landlords keeping tenants housed could save taxpayers, including themselves, tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long term.

Adopting flexible policies addressing renters’ needs in the coming months – e.g. canceling or reducing rent, offering payment plans, waiving all fees, renting out vacancies by room rather than by unit or letting tenants out of their leases without penalty – will help landlords and tenants alike weather the current economic downturn, save lives and save taxpayer money.

The Local Homeless Coalition in Ellis County is a community action group of concerned citizens and organizations dedicated to raising awareness, preventing homelessness and developing affordable housing in Ellis County. We meet the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m.

We are a part of the Texas Homeless Network (thn.org.), a nonprofit membership-based organization helping communities strategically plan to prevent and end homelessness. THN works to end homelessness in Texas by collaborating with all communities, large and small, across the state to build systems to achieve this goal.

Please check the HOME page on our website at elliscountyhomeless.com for the location of our next meeting in Ellis County.

James Bell is chairman of the Ellis County Coalition Against Homelessness. Contact him at james@elliscountyhomeless.com. For general information, email info@elliscountyhomeless.com or visit the website at elliscountyhomeless.com.