A Big Year for Homelessness: The Work Ahead in 2024

Is it too late to say Happy New Year?

At the Alliance we have spent the past several weeks looking ahead to what we think 2024 will bring for homelessness and housing issues, and how we as a field can best position ourselves to be successful across a number of priorities. These include rehousing as many people as possible; navigating the increasingly challenging local, state, and national political environments; advocating for the policy and resources needed to increase housing supply and services for people experiencing homelessness; and educating communities about the causes of homelessness. With these priorities in mind, here are some key things to look out for in the upcoming year.

Responding to New and Existing Challenges

We start the year knowing that homelessness – especially unsheltered homelessness – increased last year across the board: the total number of people experiencing homelessness at a point in time in 2023 surpassed the 2007 total, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) first began collecting data on homelessness. As we head into the 2024 Point-in-Time Count this week, communities continue to report challenges with the availability of low-income housing and access to the services people want and need.

We also know that many communities are facing an unprecedented inflow of people experiencing homelessness for the first time, older adults, and new arrivals to America that are straining our systems’ capacities. It is imperative that we work together to let our local, state, and national leaders know what works and what investments are needed to turn the tide. Over the coming year, the Alliance will create plenty of opportunities to advocate for these important resources. Sign up for our advocacy alerts to stay informed.

Homelessness as an Election Issue

What makes 2024 extra important is that this is, of course, a Presidential election year. Homelessness is affecting all communities, and it has caused enormous pressure on local officials. That’s created momentum for fast but harmful responses – like policed camps, and ticketing, fining, or arresting people for being unsheltered – and has challenged the foundations of evidence-based strategies that are proven to work.

We all have to step up to educate elected officials and the public so that we are actively working towards solutions. We must all challenge and name when tactics are advanced in the name of political opportunists, or as a means of dividing voters: because our communities are safer and stronger when everyone has a home, and this benefits us all.

Although the national attention may be on the Presidential election, state and local elections as just as important, given how many decisions about housing and homelessness are made by elected officials at those levels. Homelessness is on the mind of candidates at varying levels of government, and of voters nationwide. The fact that this housing market is challenging for so many people with different incomes gives advocates an opportunity to make affordable housing an election issue that focuses on what everyone wants – a safe, affordable place to live. We know that when all members of a community have that, the community is safer and stronger for everyone. In 2023 the Alliance helped to produce to develop a playbook for how to talk about affordable housing and homelessness in this context. You can download it here to get prepared for the important discussions of 2024.

Homelessness and the Supreme Court

In addition to elections that will impact affordable housing and homelessness across the country (whether positively or negatively), the Supreme Court recently announced that they will hear the City of Grants Pass, Oregon v Johnson case, their first case on homelessness in 40 years.

The Supreme Court will decide if localities can ban involuntary unsheltered homelessness within their borders, or if doing so when no shelter is available constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In the case of the City of Grants Pass, the definition of “camping” used to ticket people included the use of a pillow, blanket, or a piece of cardboard by an unsheltered person even though there is a shortage of affordable housing and very few resources for people experiencing homelessness. Oral arguments are expected in April and a decision is expected in the summer. For more information, visit johnsonvgrantspass.com.

Anticipating Progress in 2024

Among all of these hard things, we offer some bright spots that we think will continue in 2024.

Affordable housing is already winning on the ballot. In 2023, voters across the country responded positively to measures that fund affordable housing. We also saw some communities buck the national trend of increasing homelessness – driving down unsheltered homelessness with the execution of well-constructed plans, direct-to-housing encampment strategies, and strong leadership by elected officials, Continuums of Care, and non-profits alike.
In several states where pro-criminalization lobbyists have gotten bad legislation introduced, advocates for evidence-based strategies and the respectful treatment of people experiencing homelessness have fought back and defeated these efforts. National organizations are joining the fight by supporting local efforts by talented advocates in key states.
Programs are using their funds to innovate – creating things like new harm reduction programs and tailored interventions for families, youth, older adults and individuals. More people with lived experience of homelessness are leading across our field. Homeless service providers are continuing to show up, be creative, and provide the best care possible to people experiencing homelessness.
The Alliance’s work is helping people in our sector to do their jobs better. The Center for Capacity Building has launched a new YouTube channel, updated trainings, and a new webinar series that provides key information on best practices. The Homelessness Research Institute recently released two reports that highlight how we can better equip our workforce, and a report on homelessness among gender expansive people. The Homelessness Research Institute has also created new partnerships with several researchers around the country to explore topics like unsheltered homelessness and supportive housing. The Alliance has also expanded its conference programming to integrate more peer-to-peer sharing and learning opportunities, and is continuing to further integrate people with lived experience of homelessness into the organization’s overall work.

Looking Forward with Determination

While the homeless services field will certainly have challenges ahead of us this year, we also have the talent and determination of so many people in our sector who will not just stop the bad stuff, but who will promote the good stuff. At the Alliance, we are so grateful for our partners at the local, state, and national levels that join us in this work every day.   

2024 will be a big year for homelessness. We need each and every person to stand with us. If you haven’t yet done so, please sign up to receive our advocacy alerts and get time-sensitive information from us throughout the year.

I wish everyone health and happiness in 2024, and I look forward to seeing you online or at one of our conferences this year. Happy New Year.