A Matter of Focus: Why We Need a Framework for Individual Adults

Every year, the staff of the Alliance has a strategic planning retreat. We get together to talk about where the nation stands on homelessness; tally what has been accomplished; and identify the challenges that lie ahead. We think about our own capacity, and then decide where we think we could make the most difference. 

I’m sure that all of you do something similar. 

A Gap

This year we saw one pretty significant gap in the overall approach to homelessness. There’s been real progress for homeless families, veterans, people with disabilities, and — increasingly — youth. Well-articulated strategies for ending their homelessness exist. Proven interventions are increasingly well understood and being implemented.  From our perspective, we had worked hard on these issues, and seen great progress. 

However, there was a group for whom proven strategies were not so well articulated, system-wide approaches were not working so well, and on whom, although many wonderful programs did exist, not enough attention had been focused. This group also happens to be the largest subpopulation of homeless people. It is individual adults who are homeless on their own. 

Homeless Individuals

Homeless individuals are two-thirds of the total homeless population. And almost half of them are unsheltered. Homelessness in this group is increasing. Clearly, we are not doing a great job.    

It is true that veterans, chronically homeless people, and young adults are included among homeless individuals. But we estimate that about 250,000 individuals fall into none of these categories. 

We’re not going to end homelessness if we don’t have a clear strategy for homeless individuals. I think the solutions are there — we just need to fit them together and create systems that will solve the problem. 

It’s a matter of focus.

The Alliance’s Commitment

For this reason, in our strategic planning process, the staff, and later the Board, decided to focus more attention on building a clear framework for reducing homelessness among individuals. 

What It Means

Our Center for Capacity Building has already been laying the groundwork. For more than two years, they have taken every job they could get working on crisis systems for this population. Together with Connecticut, Napa County, Las Vegas, Austin, Broward County and others, they are pulling together information about the best system to move people off the streets, through shelter (if needed), and into housing.

We also plan to focus next year’s West Coast conference (February 2019) on individuals, including young adults. This is a big change, but one that allows us to elevate the issue internally and explore what people are doing and what works best. It lets us all share information and energy, and builds common knowledge and will. 

Although the West Coast conference will not be focused on families, that doesn’t mean that we will reduce our work there. We will have plenty of content on families and youth at our summer conference in D.C. Our policy and research work on these groups will continue uninterrupted. But we see the West Coast conference as an opportunity to devote ourselves more to exploring solutions for individuals, and sharing that information with you.

I should mention, too, that our work on individuals will help us address three other major priorities of the Alliance. One is any disparate impact that the homeless system has on racial and ethnic minorities. The second is the importance of employment and attachment to the labor market — a primary solution for most individuals, and one of particular importance to the growing number of homeless young adults. And the third is the increasing age of individuals who are homeless, and how our approaches need to shift to address their changing needs. 

I know that I speak for the entire Board and staff of the Alliance when I say that our priorities for this year give us an exciting opportunity to hear new voices, to make new connections, to gain new insights, and to build the framework that will help us do better for homeless individuals — and ultimately to end homelessness, altogether.