Some Thoughts on the 2015 National Family and Youth Conference

Alliance staff people are back in the cold weather in Washington, DC, after the 2015 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in San Diego last week. The final count was 950 people attending, an all-time high for our family and youth conference. Traffic on Twitter was robust, giving people all over the country who couldn’t attend a taste of what was going on.

And once again, the impression we were left with was the overwhelming enthusiasm and determination that people in this field have, despite obstacles and challenges, to celebrate successes, push themselves to do better and never give up on the youth and families who are homeless. In the closing plenary Friday afternoon, Alliance President and CEO Nan Roman shared her thoughts on some things that had impressed her over the course of the conference. Here is a look at some of the highlights.

  • Systems work. Increasingly, work on homelessness goes beyond the running of individual programs and encompasses the creation and maintenance of coordinated local systems that will ensure that as many people as possible get the level of help they need. In particular, this means that the most intensive interventions, like permanent supportive housing, are targeted to people with the most severe barriers to housing stability. This systems work is essential for making the kind of impact we want to make. There is no dedicated source of federal funding for it, other than planning grants through the Continuum of Care, which compete with funding for programs. Nonetheless, communities are figuring out how to make it work, and the results are that the money goes further, more homeless people get housed, and their lives and the entire community are improved.
  • Employment. Since the start of the Great Recession, jobs have been extremely hard to come by, particularly for people with the least marketable skills. Now, years later, the slow recovery is finally beginning to reach people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. At the conference, our workshops on employment were packed with attendees, a dramatic change from recent years. With the Secretary of Labor chairing the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) this year, and the Department of Labor implementing an overhaul of its largest programs to help people get jobs, the time couldn’t be better for a push to make employment a more effective tool for ending homelessness, particularly as part of a strategy based on rapid re-housing.
  • Youth work ramping up. The attention paid to youth homelessness, at the conference and around the country, is increasing every day. There’s an emerging sense of what communities will need to do to make a real impact on youth homelessness, as well as what kinds of programs are moving youth quickly and reliably out of homelessness, and what policy agenda will support that. There remain many unanswered questions, blind alleys, and frustrations; but it looks like the coming year will be one of real progress on this issue.
  • A variety of partners. There was a marked diversity among the people who attended the conference in terms of their professional backgrounds and expertise. Beyond people who work directly on homelessness, we had government officials from all levels, people involved with an expanding range of mainstream programs, law enforcement, business owners, journalists, and those concerned with a range of connected issues like the rights of LGBT people, domestic violence, youth empowerment, children’s well-being. The wide variety of attendees shows that ending homelessness is important to them and people in their fields.
  • Dedication to doing better. Nearly a thousand people were there, dedicated in the end to doing their jobs better, which means learning from the successes of others, facilitating collaboration, and not being satisfied with the status quo. To some extent the conference involves celebration of success, but I never got the sense from any of the attendees that they had grown complacent. In fact, just the opposite. This is a movement that will continue to grow until we reach the goal of a country where no family, no young person, no American is homeless.

Thanks to everyone who attended. We have already scheduled our 2015 National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC, for July 15 to 17. You can keep up with announcements about registration, speakers, and workshop content with the Alliance newsletter.