Key Takeaways from Ending Homelessness: A Virtual Conference

This year, the Alliance’s conference looked and felt different: for the first time, it was virtual. Most everyone attended from their offices or homes, and the number of workshops was smaller than previous conferences. However, Alliance staff, participants, and attendees left this conference with a renewed sense of hope and encouragement to face ongoing and new challenges in the mission to end homelessness. As we gear up to meet those challenges and opportunities, here are key takeaways from the conference:  

Consumer Voices Are Critical 

Due to the nature of the event, a record number of people currently or formerly experiencing homelessness could participate in this conference and share their perspectives on policies and service provision. Our success or failure in ending homelessness depends on incorporating and listening to the people we serve in a meaningful way. A resounding number of people with lived experience expressed a tremendous sense of urgency for us to act now to get people off the street, out of shelter, and into homes. 

Housing First Works 

Data and examples from communities support Housing First. After years of attacks on Housing First, this approach and philosophy recognizes that a decent place to live is a basic human right. Core to Housing First is quickly and aggressively moving people into permanent housing and connecting them to any services they need.  Speakers from USICH, HUD, VA, and communities across the country agree that Housing First works. 

The American Rescue Plan is a Game Changer 

With the passing of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to quickly get everyone into housing and keep people from entering homelessness. ARPA provides $5 billion in new funding specifically to reduce homelessness, more than $21.5 billion to replenish the emergency rental assistance fund and $5 billion in emergency housing vouchers. Effectively using these resources will undoubtedly have an unprecedented impact on thousands of people. Additionally, ensuring the proper use of resources and securing results will help assist in our advocacy for more resources in the future. 

We Need to Improve Our Data 

Creating equitable solutions to homelessness is the goal. Data helps improve outcomes and address health and racial disparities. Participants expressed that the homelessness system data infrastructure could stand a reboot; the coordinated assessment process needs improvement, and the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) should be used in local jurisdictions. There were calls to standardize the Point-In-Time count. Improvements to data will give us the information we need to dismantle long-term, systemic, racist, and unjust policies and practices. 

Employment is Key 

Research demonstrates that when given the right support, people experiencing homelessness want to work. Creating systemic pathways that address the needs of clients and the barriers they face to employment is key. Without these connections, youth and young adults will not attach to the job market, increasing their likelihood of long term homelessness as they age. Therefore, we must think ahead and collaborate with our workforce development and private industry partners. 

The Link Between Housing and Health 

Before the pandemic, more people were linking housing and health care than ever before. The pandemic has heightened the need to move people from congregate settings, off the street, and into housing. Now that we are responsible for ensuring access to the COVID-19 vaccine, we must develop trust and expand access to people experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is a public health issue, and we must take advantage of opportunities created pre, during, and post-pandemic. 

Post Pandemic Planning Starts Now 

Amidst the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic, historic resources, and steep uphill challenges, void from this event were post-pandemic plans for sustaining success or reimagining our homeless system to serve people at risk or experiencing homelessness. The pandemic is still ongoing and dynamic, making it difficult to plan far into the future. This year is ripe with tremendous work for everyone, but at some point, sooner rather than later, we must think about the role of shelter, partnering with other systems, and addressing the costs of building and sustaining affordable housing. Lessons learned and lessons to be learned should help us develop a path forward. 

The Alliance expresses its gratitude to the speakers, attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors who made this virtual event a success. The virtual environment has created countless insights into how we connect with each of you, and we look forward to building on this success for future events.