Local governments are hastening to come up with solutions to the growing risk of homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would provide $2.96 billion in emergency grants to help homeless Americans, as well as those at risk of becoming homeless due to hardship caused by the coronavirus. Those funds are in addition to the $1 billion in emergency grants that were unveiled shortly after the pandemic began.

“Homelessness was a major issue in some cities across our nation long before this pandemic occurred, and unfortunately, the dire living conditions of our most vulnerable Americans left many without a home to isolate in or proper medical and health care resources to defend themselves against this invisible enemy,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

The grants will be made available to local governments in order to help those who’re either already homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, the HUD said. The funds can be used for emergency shelters, to provide hotel and motel vouchers to families, and to allocate essential services such as childcare, education and employment assistance to those in need.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty said in a statement that without homes to shelter in, homeless people are often left to fend for themselves.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance urging cities to house unsheltered people whenever possible, avoid sweeping encampments and reconfigure shelters to conform to social distancing and sanitation guidelines,” it said. “Unfortunately, compliance across the nation has been spotty at best, and people experiencing homelessness have remained at extraordinary risk.”

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