What Can We Learn About Unsheltered Homelessness?

The Alliance’s upcoming virtual conference, Ending Unsheltered Homelessness: Strategies and Policies the Work, is set to kick off this coming Wednesday, February 16. The Alliance is looking forward to learning and sharing important perspectives focused specifically on unsheltered homelessness. Here are a few areas we hope to learn more about:

Exploring unsheltered homelessness. Unsheltered homelessness is a topic where the precise details of appropriate strategies are not as clear as in some other topics. We’ll be featuring communities that can talk about the struggle to achieve the right balance of keeping unsheltered people safe and moving people more quickly into housing. Other session topics will include building local political consensus around homelessness priorities; addressing racial and other disparities; finding resources in unlikely places; and coordinating shelter, housing, health care, and other resources.

Effective practices. Many of the programmatic interventions have been developed based on careful listening to people who have experienced homelessness. Taking this lived experience into consideration will get good results for people who are unsheltered. Often, however, adjustments are needed to take account of the unique situation people face when unsheltered. People at the conference will hear about examples of outreach strategies, housing-focused shelter, permanent housing interventions, and layering of supportive services as needed.

Solidifying new partnerships. The dire health care needs of many people living unsheltered (including treatment for mental illness and substance use disorder), the increase in older Americans living unsheltered, the appearance of significant numbers of unsheltered families with children among the unsheltered population in some communities, the ongoing struggle of youth and young adults on the streets: these and other aspects of unsheltered homelessness call for new partnerships to bring in specific expertise, community building, and funding.

Using federal resources strategically. New one-time funding since the pandemic began has allowed communities to take on new solutions. However, this surge of funding has also created pressure to ramp up quickly, even in the face of staffing shortages and lack of information. Speakers will provide examples of how communities are using emergency funding for housing, health care, and other purposes to get good results.

Scaling solutions. The one-time funds have certainly helped, but it is increasingly clear that solving the problem of homelessness — using a Housing First approach — will require significantly more funding, staffing, expertise and leadership than are currently available. With public demands for solutions to homelessness at an all-time high, people at the conference will consider strategies for upsizing, short-term and long-term.

This is an important moment in this struggle. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone!