Reflections from Nan Roman

Nan RomanThis is my final week with the National Alliance to End Homelessness. It has been a privilege to work with the many brilliant Alliance staff members over the years; to be led by a committed Board of Directors; to have been educated by those of you on the front lines, running programs and making policy; and to have had the opportunity to learn from so many people who have experienced homelessness.

Homelessness has always seemed to me to be a solvable problem. I know that it is not inevitable, because when I began my career there was not widespread homelessness – that only emerged in its modern form in the early 1980s. And even as homelessness began to grow – driven by the increasing shortage of affordable housing – it was still a problem that a nation with the resources of ours could solve.

There has been progress, and I am proud that the Alliance has been part of it. We’ve learned a lot about what causes homelessness, who is susceptible to it, and what is needed to end it. Over time, the homelessness system has gotten better at using its resources strategically – prioritizing those with the most serious problems, while trying to ensure meaningful help for everyone. As a field, we have recognized that people experiencing homelessness are disproportionately people of color – the result of historical and systemic racism in housing, health care, employment and more. Importantly, the homelessness system has begun to identify and address its own racial disparities, finding equitable and culturally responsive ways to meet people’s needs. We are learning how to tap into the knowledge of people who have experienced homelessness. Over the years, the Alliance is proud to have been a partner in the funding and adoption of impactful new strategies like permanent supportive housing, Rapid Re-Housing, critical time intervention, diversion, Housing First, the collection and use of data, and more.

We know more about what works to end homelessness on an individual basis, and many thousands of people have been helped as a result. I am proud that the Alliance has been a partner in a homeless system that is more effective.

But… that system is only big enough to shelter half the people who become homeless: the other half are unsheltered. And that system houses only a fraction of the people fortunate enough to enter it – despite the fact that housing is ultimately what ends homelessness. The homeless system is currently too small to solve the problem, and with an affordable housing gap of nearly 7 million units, the end of homelessness is far down the road.

Still, I leave the Alliance feeling that if we can help our nation find the determination to do so, we can end homelessness. We know the solutions. A home ends homelessness; services help people get and stay in that home; and a focus on equity ensures that no one is left behind.

And I am confident that the National Alliance to End Homelessness and all our wonderful partners are up to the task, both of making progress with the resources we have; and of building the will to END homelessness. The gifted and determined Alliance staff will continue to pursue those goals, now under the leadership of its new CEO, Ann Marie Oliva. I can think of no one better to lead the organization in this endeavor than Ann.

So, while I wish that I could say the end of homelessness is just around the corner, there is still a great deal of work to do. What I can say is that I am proud of what the National Alliance to End Homelessness and its many partners have done – and will do – to help achieve that goal for each individual experiencing homelessness, and for the nation.