On the longest night of the year, we remember friends, family members, and neighbors who passed away this year without a home. We remember their smiles and their stories. We recognize their pain and isolation. We remember the fear, discomfort, and the risk of violence that comes with homelessness.
As we grieve those we have lost, it’s hard not to feel anger and regret. Homelessness is a choice; collectively, it’s our choice. We know the solutions. We need to fund and implement them.
We’ve seen formerly homeless people blossom in permanent supportive housing, despite years struggling on the streets with mental health and substance use disorders. We hear stories of how newly-housed individuals elaborately decorate their keys and proudly give caseworkers tours of their homes. We see research that shows improved health care access, and reduced emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and incarcerations once people are housed.
We’ve also seen the impact of rapid re-housing to help make homeless service systems work better. When people have help getting out of shelter quickly — through housing navigation, short-term rental assistance, and follow-up case management — homelessness is minimized, and shelters can serve more people. When families are housed, children do better in school.
We know that homelessness isn’t necessary in our society. Communities have dramatically reduced homelessness by targeting and ramping up interventions. People who seem to have the greatest challenges can be stably housed. Most people who turn to shelter can be quickly reconnected to housing.
On December 21, we take time out to mourn. But starting on December 22, we must re-commit to raising our voices, so that homelessness ends once and for all. It will take all of us.
At the federal level, Congress will soon determine the amount of resources dedicated to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Program, a primary funding source of permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing. They need to know how important their role is. At the state and local level, policymakers can explore what they can do differently to help people experiencing homelessness. They will need your input. Civic, faith-based, and philanthropic groups also invest their time and resources to combating homelessness. They will need your support.
We know how to end homelessness. Homeless Person’s Memorial Day is an urgent reminder that we all have a role, and how much that role matters.