With the start of a new Presidential Administration, it’s a good time to look at what opportunities and challenges lie ahead as we seek an end to homelessness in the United States. In the coming months the Alliance will continue to work on keeping people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness safe from COVID-19, but like the Biden Administration and policymakers from both parties in Congress, we’re also seeing a longer vision of what could be, over the next several years and beyond.
A change in leadership on the federal level means that there will be policy shifts in the federal approach to both COVID-19 and homelessness. National attention to battling against racism will be central to this work. Homeless service providers and systems should keep the following priorities in mind as we collectively navigate this new political landscape.
Key Priorities for Homeless Service Systems Under the New Administration
Homelessness is an issue where racial disparities are more pronounced than in almost any other area of life. The underlying reality of homelessness – the fact that many Americans have no access to decent housing that they can afford – is one of the most prominent driving factors in the great inequality that continues to exist in the United States.
Many decisionmakers have a newfound willingness to pay attention to racial inequities in the United States. This is particularly hopeful – especially to those with lived experience of these disparities. Progress on defeating racism and progress on ending homelessness will happen together, or not at all. Providers and systems must use new resources to pursue racial equity in their policies and practices. The Alliance’s resources can help your community figure out where there are disparities in your system, and how to work to improve them. This work has never been more important.
Housing First is a strategy with proven results. This approach says that what’s most effective is getting people who are homeless into housing right away, so they can deal with whatever other challenges they may have from a position of strength. The Housing First philosophy meets people where they are, and doesn’t force any conditions or requirements on people other than those of a typical renter.
During the last year of the outgoing administration, this principle came under some attack through various policy proposals, although ultimately to little effect. Now, the incoming administration has expressed a commitment to Housing First as the keystone to its housing approach, and advocates nationwide are prepared to work together with the Administration to use Housing First to drive improvements in homelessness.
Communities should continue to focus their efforts on evidence-based practices like Housing First. The Alliance will be working to revitalize everyone’s understanding that these approaches have excellent impacts, and build support for more federal funding so that anyone who loses their housing can get that help immediately.
A Focus on Affordable Housing
What will be our country’s response to the fact that millions of people – disproportionately people of color – can’t afford housing? For decades, the answer to that question has been, “Not enough.” But that can change, starting this year.
The Biden Administration’s campaign platform material on housing, which articulates an aggressive, apt agenda, provides hope in this area. President Biden’s platform sets out important markers, including making rental assistance available through the Housing Choice Voucher program so that every eligible household gets the help they need immediately, rather than being placed on a waiting list. Other proposed measures include increased supply of affordable housing, providing tax incentives for affordable housing construction, reducing veteran homelessness, expanding supportive housing, and ensuring housing protections for the LGBTQ community.
The Biden campaign’s position was similar to the platforms of several other presidential candidates. It built on bills introduced in Congress over the past few years to comprehensively expand support of housing for people with low incomes. Public opinion polling has shown rapid and substantial growth in support for policies that treat housing as a public good that every American should have. Activism on this issue has grown, and continues to grow.
We have the opportunity now to make sure that affordable housing is at the forefront of our systems’ priorities – the pandemic has shown us that, and now we must seize that moment. A vision of modest prosperity for all Americans, particularly those who have been left behind for many years, can’t be complete without home at the center. It’s a vision that will take leadership from every quarter; know-how that is shared between communities and between systems and based on lived experience; and money that is increasingly understood as money well spent, bringing results that help everyone.
Making Needs Known
There are a lot of competing priorities as this new administration and Congress begin their work. We must let our policymakers know now just how important it is to make homelessness and housing a priority in their agendas.
A new administration and Congress call for new advocates. If you have never connected with your elected officials on the issue of homelessness, now is the time! Sign up for the Alliance’s advocacy alerts so you can quickly and easily ask your lawmakers to support measures that will help end homelessness. It is with the input of their constituents that Congress knows how to shape its priorities. You can help turn your Senators and Representatives, as well as local and state officials, into heroes who make a difference on homelessness, save people’s lives, and improve our communities and country.
The next four years hold a lot of promise for our mission. But ending homelessness will only happen if we continue to improve our systems, collaborate closely, and communicate with our lawmakers. It’s going to take a lot of work, and it’s going to make changes in millions of lives. I can’t wait!