The NC Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management (NCEM) and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced on Tuesday, Aug. 11 that the state is offering a new, expedited reimbursement program meant to expand sheltering options with proper social distancing in communities across the state.

The new funding allows local jurisdictions, agencies and community organizations to get reimbursements from the NCEM for all eligible costs for “non-congregate sheltering operations” and the related needed services for those clients such as providing food, security, laundry service and transportation.

Some homeless shelters in the state now use large, open spaces – in places like churches or community centers – instead of “non-congregate” settings like motels or dorms, where each person or family has its own living space.

“To slow the spread of this virus, individuals with an infection need to be able to isolate and avoid close contact with others — but in many circumstances, that can be a challenge,” NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohens stated in a Tuesday press release announcing the funding. “The contagiousness of this virus means people need access to non-congregate sheltering so they can isolate safely and protect their loved ones. This expedited funding will help communities create options for North Carolinians who need a safe place to stay due to COVID-19.”

State officials announced that Orange County is already planning on using the money to support single rooms for over 60 people who were previously living in congregate settings.

Earlier this summer, Guilford County began putting homeless people up in hotels if they were suspected of having COVID-19. This new state funding could help the county expand that program and alleviate some of the incurred costs.

NCEM Director Michael Sprayberry said this new funding should help out local governments a great deal as they battle the spread of the coronavirus.

“This pandemic has created an urgent need for more non-congregate sheltering options, and we’re acting quickly as a state to help our counties and local communities respond,” Sprayberry said. “Having the state cover the costs of this sheltering up front and then handle the federal reimbursement relieves county governments of that fiscal and administrative burden, and opens non-congregate sheltering to more people who need it.”