The Alliance’s National Conference on Ending Homelessness in July will be the first in-person conference we’ve held in more than two years. So much has happened since then. First, we’ve been in the midst of a health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic – where we know that people experiencing homelessness are at great risk of infection and/or serious illness due to factors like increased underlying health conditions and being unsheltered. The pandemic also brought economic hardship. For example, at the onset of the crisis many people lost employment and, subsequently, struggled to afford basic necessities like food and housing – placing even more people at risk of homelessness. Rates of mental health and substance use disorder also soared due to anxiety and stress related to COVID.
Racial injustice also gained a spot on the national agenda during this time. Sparked by the murder of Mr. George Floyd (and other deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement), more people began to recognize and challenge systemic racism. Additionally, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and the economic recession on people of color placed an even bigger spotlight on existing racial disparities, including the homelessness field.
To address issues related to the pandemic, Congress passed several bills that allowed for critical resources like emergency rental assistance and 70,000 Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness The field now has had more tools to house people. The Alliance has continuously encouraged communities to take full advantage of these resources, while emphasizing the importance of centering racial equity in housing strategies and getting the unsheltered into permanent homes.
The Future of Ending Homelessness
Let’s be clear: homelessness has always been a crisis, but no doubt the challenges to ending homelessness have been exacerbated over the last couple of years. At the Alliance, we see our upcoming conference as an opportunity to coalesce in a way that we have not been able to in a while, considering the extreme hardships brought on by COVID coupled with continued racial strife. Although we’ve held several virtual conferences over the course of the pandemic, we are looking forward to the extended exchanges that come with being in person (and not to mention the community feeling that also comes with it).
These are our hopes for the conference:
- that we provide useful information and tools that cover a range of areas such as lessons learned, best practices, equity, and leveraging available funds to end homelessness – we want people to be able to go back to their communities with more ideas and/or strategies about getting people permanently housed;
- that we reinvigorate and uplift the field – the past two years have been tough, but there have been and still can be gains made, including the advocacy needed to secure additional funding, and to protect rights of the most vulnerable;
- that we broaden the space and sharing opportunities at our conference by supporting more people with lived experience to participate in the conference either as speakers or attendees – we are looking forward to more learning and exchanges from people who have actually experienced the homelessness system.
There’s more challenging work ahead of us. We know that these are discouraging times, but we also know that we must push forward to make sure that the most vulnerable people in our communities are stably housed. It’s easier said than done – but let’s take this opportunity at the conference to recharge and to explore strategies. People experiencing homelessness are depending on it.