Ending Family Homelessness: The Road Forward
At the end of February, I joined over 1,100 practitioners, service providers, advocates, people with lived experience, and government officials, at the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness. The few days we spent together in small groups, as part of interactive workshops, and in large plenary sessions were dynamic, engaging, and hopeful. I left the conference reflecting on the role of federal agencies, and how we can better support states and communities who are deep in the work of assisting families with children. People weren’t talking about reducing homelessness, but about ending it—so that every community has the capacity to respond with urgency whenever there is a family in crisis.
We released revised community-level criteria and benchmarks for achieving the goal of ending family homelessness last July. My fellow conference attendees told me those criteria set a high bar for what that end goal looks like, but they also said that we should expect nothing less for our families and children. They know, like I do, the importance of stability and safety in a child’s life. The early years are among the most formative for a child, both physically and emotionally. When stressful or traumatic experiences like homelessness are part of those early years, they can negatively affect people for a long time, including their physical and behavioral health, education, future employment opportunities, and overall well-being. Without a sense of stability—without a home—children cannot thrive. They cannot safely connect to the opportunities that lead them to be successful.
Our collective work means we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves higher, and dig deeper and wider. Ending family homelessness is not the responsibility of one program or system or agency—it’s the responsibility of every program, every service, every agency that touches the lives of our most vulnerable families. That means maximizing and partnering the targeted homelessness assistance dollars with mainstream resources to build a comprehensive response that includes a range of housing and service solutions tailored to the needs and strengths of families. This is why I am convinced that the key strategies of coordinated entry, tailoring interventions and assistance, connecting to mainstream resources, and building the evidence-base of what works, are the right strategies.
At the federal level, we are looking to our national, state, and local partners to keep holding us accountable. This accountability helps ensure we are providing the kind of guidance and clarity needed to work through barriers or challenges that impede or complicate local solutions. It also calls for understanding and sharing best practices while promoting cross-system partnerships. Above all, we must continue to amplify the message that our goal of ending family homelessness remains a priority for USICH and our member agencies.
As I shared with many of you, USICH has solicited a lot of feedback over the past year as we revise and strengthen the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, and what we’ve heard has reinforced our understanding of what it is going to take to build a coordinated community response, guided by the criteria and benchmarks, to achieve the goal of ending family homelessness:
- Preventing the experience of homelessness from occurring in the first place
- Expanding the supply of safe, affordable, and accessible housing
- Streamlining connections to permanent housing and related supports and tailoring assistance based on household need
- Strengthening effective implementation of the core elements of rapid re-housing based on local housing markets and economic environments
- Improving access to employment opportunities and strengthening the role of workforce systems
- Engaging public systems, like child welfare and criminal justice, that often intersect with homelessness, especially among families
- Promoting coordination with early childhood, education, health and behavioral health, and domestic violence resources.
Across this work, we must focus intentionally on the role that race and gender play in how families enter and exit homelessness, including the kinds of opportunities we make available to particularly vulnerable and marginalized groups.
We know that families will continue to experience crises. And sometimes, those crises will be enough to push a family that was already on the edge into homelessness. Our job is to make sure that we, as communities working together, can catch those families as quickly as possible and reconnect them to the housing and services that will promote the long-term well-being of each member of the household.
For our country to thrive, we must all have a stake in making sure that every family can find their way home.