New Funding Opens Opportunities to Address Unsheltered Homelessness Crisis

Communities across the country are grappling with the overwhelming growth of unsheltered homelessness, spurred by rising housing affordability challenges and insufficient resources to respond to the crisis. Some are engaging in misguided and harmful attempts to criminalize homelessness instead of addressing root causes. Many are trying to prioritize dignity-centered housing solutions, but face resource constraints.

To address these concerns, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released $486 million to address rural and unsheltered homelessness. Most funding ($420 million) was allocated towards unsheltered homelessness. These new grants represent a historic investment with a specific aim: to help communities marshal their resources in a coordinated response to unsheltered homelessness, bolstering their systems from initial to permanent housing placement.

Who Received Funding?

Thirty-two communities within 22 states received these awards to address unsheltered homelessness. Most awardees are in Western and Southern states but cover the whole country from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Major urban hubs like Los Angeles and New York City received funding, as did smaller cities and rural areas in states like Washington and Kentucky. Awards ranged in size from $386,000 to $60 million. The funding competition required communities develop a comprehensive plan for addressing unsheltered homelessness and demonstrate established partnerships with mainstream healthcare and housing providers. Funding can be used to support a variety of services and housing programs, depending on the specific needs of the community. The allowable expenses generally align with the programs HUD typically funds through the annual Continuum of Care program, with some additional flexibilities. Grants are funded for three years with the possibility of renewal.

What Are Communities Doing with the Funding?

Investing in permanent housing. Housing solves homelessness, and communities reflected this understanding in how they plan to use their funds. Communities will dedicate nearly two thirds of their funds to increasing their permanent housing capacity, mostly through new or expanded permanent supportive housing (PSH).
Increasing supportive services. Twenty-four communities are choosing to fund supportive services projects, representing about 29 percent of the overall funding. Several communities will improve their street outreach programs by hiring peer navigators, expanding their geographic reach and hours of operation, and solidifying partnerships with health care providers and other stakeholders. Dedicating additional staff and resources to these efforts increases their reach, enabling them to serve more people and make quicker connections to housing.

Some examples of these expanded services include:

  1. An organization in Oakland will provide trauma-informed advocacy and legal supports for older adults experiencing unsheltered homelessness to facilitate transitions to housing.
  2. Communities from New Orleans, LA, to Madison, WI will ramp up housing navigation capacity to work with people who are unsheltered, including through street outreach and in sanctioned campgrounds
  3. Los Angeles will fund location-based coordinated entry staff to assist with strategic encampment response.
Expanding crisis housing options. A quarter of funding recipients will invest in joint component Transitional Housing-Rapid Re-Housing (TH-RRH) projects. These projects aim to supply a safe and stable place for people to go immediately as well as a pathway to permanent housing. TH-RRH projects should be low-barrier and operate in alignment with the Housing First approach. People with lived experience in Chicago, for example, designed a model of “triage housing” — non-congregate interim housing with supportive services for people who prefer that pathway into permanent housing.

Across the community plans to address unsheltered homelessness, common themes arose.

  • Communities are seeking to fill gaps in their homelessness services system: gaps that result from funding models that have been historically focused on individual programs, rather than bolstering a cohesive response.
  • The additional flexibilities in this funding opportunity create opportunities for systems to meet people where they are: outside of business hours, at new physical drop-in centers, and through transportation and other supports.
  • Communities can now add capacity to services that are often under-resourced and under-staffed but crucial to finding permanent housing, such as assistance securing documentation and accessing benefits.
  • The potential of new funding incentivized other stakeholders, including healthcare and housing providers, to come to the table and commit resources to the cause of ending homelessness – recognizing that we can’t solve systemic problems in siloes.

What Can We Learn From These Communities?

These grants open exciting possibilities for these communities to engage in new strategies and scale up proven housing solutions.

The Alliance is looking to partner with awarded communities to learn more about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it so that others can learn from the experience, too. The Alliance’s research team is interested in understanding the barriers and facilitators to implementing their new projects, and how they plan to measure their effectiveness. As communities use their new programs and funding to address encampments and rapidly house people directly from unsheltered homelessness, the Alliance is planning to document and disseminate best practices.

The crisis of unsheltered homelessness can seem intractable — gaining increasing news attention and public debates over solutions. Homeless service providers across the country are working tirelessly to serve people who are enduring unsheltered homelessness. This funding is an opportunity for communities to assist people who may have suffered a long time without any intervention available. The Alliance looks forward to learning from this cohort of communities as they undertake new strategies to address unsheltered homelessness.