As an outsider, it can be easy to see homelessness as a deeply entrenched issue that will always be a reality. There are countless reasons why individuals and families find themselves experiencing a housing crisis, and some just seem more resilient than others. The more I think about the issue, however, the more I realize that the solution to homelessness itself (not poverty – that’s a bigger issue) is pretty simple: get people off the streets and into housing. Real progress and strategies towards ending homelessness were the focus of the 2014 National Alliance to End Homelessness conference that took place in Washington, DC. While there were many themes and important takeaways from the event, if I had to pick just one it would be this: ending homelessness (itself) is absolutely possible and is already happening in communities across the country.
How are communities effectively tackling homelessness? The conference stressed a few key points:
- Using resources they have better: Systems thinking, comprehensive data collection and analysis, and “right-sizing” are helping communities to avoid over-serving or under-serving populations in housing crisis. It is also helping to allocate money to more cost-effective interventions like rapid re-housing or permanent supportive housing.
- Coordinated assessment: Our community has been working hard to enhance access to homeless services and to streamline access to resources. Coordinated assessment makes it easier for people experiencing a housing crisis to more efficiently get matched with a program that meets their needs. The faster people are matched with the right program, the faster they are able to move into permanent housing. The implementation of tools like the VI-SPDAT are helping this process by prioritizing serving those who are most vulnerable.
- Diversion: Providers find that many people come into the homeless services system who would actually be best served by another social services system. By effectively diverting these individuals out of homeless services and into the appropriate system, the number of people to be served stays manageable and the resources needed to serve these individuals and families are more available.
- Progressive engagement: Not everyone needs the same level of intervention, and many people can bounce back after a crisis situation with minimal help. By better adjusting service provision according to need, more resources are available to help people exit homelessness.
By staying focused on ending homelessness (itself, first), maximizing resources through right-sizing, coordinated assessment, diversion and progressive engagement, and doing what data continues to demonstrate (that rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing are cost-effective interventions) ending homelessness is happening. Ending veteran homelessness by 2015 is the first big goal, and we as a system can do that in the Greater Richmond region. Then we’ll end chronic homelessness by 2016, and move on to children and family homelessness after that. Continued investment and public commitment to ending homelessness will be critical to this process, but we know it can be done.