A gathering of people with previous experience with homelessness on November 12, 2022 to set a national agenda for ending housing instability in America.
Why Do We Need to Meet?
For 42 years, the National Coalition for the Homeless has worked to amplify the voices of those without housing on the national level. We have worked with leaders on the local level to bring their voices to Congress and to the attention of national media. We have regular interaction with advocates in the major cities in the United States and receive input from people living in urban and rural environments. NCH is governed by a majority of people with previous experience and we have a sizable number of our staff who were once homeless. We believe that it is critical for the groups to meet together to share common advocacy strategies, find out about the obstacles faced by other communities, and to work together on a common agenda.
In 2015, we held a gathering in Denver, Colorado of over 100 individuals who all represented constituents of people currently or formerly homeless. This gathering was the beginning of the strategic planning process, and an event in Washington would be the continuation of that movement. We had some best practices featured and a long day of workshops and the start of building community. A great deal has changed in the last seven years and it is time to complete the work of 2015.
Because of Covid, we have not been able to meet in person for three years. While we can accomplish a great deal via Zoom, it does not afford the individuals the opportunity to express themselves. We also believe that breaking bread together at a soup kitchen, church basement or a hotel conference room is important for building interpersonal skills and trust among the groups.
In 2021 we held a follow up summit via Zoom in which 65 people attended virtually. We talked about community organizing strategies, we had various leaders talk about successful strategies from the past including demonstrations, using art to win the message, and lawsuits. We talked about how groups sustain themselves and how we can work together going forward. We distributed a community organizing manual that people could use in their local work to lift people up.
Goals for the 2022 Leadership Conference
These are the recommendations from the groups that attended the first organizing meeting.
Develop a national strategy of priorities that the grassroots can rally around
We want to have a specific focus on how we can stop the criminalization of homelessness.
Provide the tools for the local community to act with lessons from the past and strategies that have worked in other communities.
Meet with national leaders to listen to the issues that groups face on the local level.
Work with the local community to have those who are without housing are in the lead in a real way and not just figuratively.
Develop hotspots that with some national pressure might be willing to change policies to better serve those without housing.
Develop an action plan for the participants to go back to their communities which will result in real solutions to the affordable housing crisis.
We are Broken Hearted this Valentine’s Day Over the Deaths of our Neighbors whose lives were cut short by Homelessness. Urge our Elected Leaders to Do More to Create and Build More Affordable Housing.
In 2018, National Healthcare for the Homeless estimated that at least 17,500 people experiencing homelessness died without a home. That’s at least 49 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters or friends dying everyday because they were unable to afford safe housing and adequate health care. How many more people have to die before Housing is a Human Right in this country?
Those who died were artists, teachers, first responders, those laid off because of the pandemic, and business owners. They were followers of nearly every major religion and spent countless hours volunteering to serve others. They lived in the richest country on the planet and yet died because they did not have the basic income needed to pay the bills or to afford housing or quality health care. Each of their lives counted, even though they were cast aside by their country and communities.
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), and hundreds of partners across the country have remembered their names and their stories for over 30 years on National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, held symbolically on the winter solstice. On February 11, 2022, NCH Staff and Advocates who have experienced homelessness will read over 3,000 names of individuals whose lives were cut short due to the effects of unstable housing.
But we need to do more than remember their names. We can begin by passing the Build Back Better Act, which includes direly needed and historic investments of almost $170 billion in housing accessibility programs. NCH is sending “Broken Heart” Valentine’s Day messages to every member of the US Senate that include the names of constituents who have died without housing.
We are urging you to send a similar message to your elected leadership in your local, state or national leaders.
Does your heart break for the 17,500+ people without homes who die each year? The Senate must pass the critical housing investments in #BuildBackBetter to prevent more unnecessary deaths! #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB
My heart breaks for the more than 17,500 people who die without homes each year. We have to do better! We can start with passing nearly $170 billion in critical housing supports in #BuildBackBetter! #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB
Data shows that between 17,500 and 46,500 people die without housing each year. That’ s at least 17,500 people dying due to extreme weather, violence or unattended health conditions. That’s at least 17,500 people dying preventable deaths. #PassBBB #BuildBackBetter #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths https://nhchc.org/homeless-mortality/
Dear Senator: You have the power to undo decades of disinvestment in housing programs and communities that could prevent more of your constituents succumbing to deep poverty and homelessness. Pass #BuildBackBetter with housing. Save lives, [your state] needs you. #BrokenHeartValentine #HomelessDeaths #HousingNOW #PassBBB
Let’s Talk About Homelessness in the State of the Union
By Brian Davis
The problem of homelessness was once a prominent part of every Presidential campaign from Nixon, Carter to Reagan each released plans to house every American. It should be understood that Reagan’s plan (the last time the President was pushed to address homelessness) was rather specious in having every church and synagogue adopt “10 welfare families” until the inflation crisis was over. There were dramatic expansions of federal housing support from the 1960s to the mid 1980s that really made an impact. In 1984, Jesse Carpenter froze to death on a bench very near the federal agency in charge of housing and everything changed. The Homeless Persons Survival Act was written in the offices of the National Coalition for the Homeless and was passed in 1986 and began a huge escalation in federal dollars toward the emergency needs of those on the streets.
This resulted in a huge infusion of dollars to keep people from freezing to death, and a steady decline in the construction and repair of affordable housing. The problem of homelessness no longer was an emergency that politicians set their hair on fire to address. It became a routine to check people in every night, process their paperwork and have them wait in a bunk bed for a month, a year, a decade for the next available unit of affordable housing. Then it became to norm to have children skipping school because they lost their housing so we set up a program for homeless children. Every city started seeing people living in their cars, and that became a problem to overcome in the short term. Talented artists, teachers, athletes lined up for shelter and our community accepted that reality as well. Tents popped up and instead of creating housing opportunities, cities answered with tickets and arrests. The issue also fell off the Presidential docket except for some occasional volunteering at Thanksgiving or MLK Day. Homelessness became routine; shelter became the response and housing grew increasingly out of reach.
The United States is at the tail end of a crisis that caused thousands of deaths in the homeless community and did not discriminate based on your housing status or your income. We need to come together to repair the social safety net and commit to never again keeping a segment of the population in an extended state of emergency. The human body can only deal with so much stress; so much sleep deprivation; and only so much trauma. We have learned that stuffing as many people as possible into a gymnasium is not healthy and we know that periods of homelessness reduce the life expectancy of a segment of the population. While the growth of shelter in the late 20th Century has saved the life of hundreds of thousands of people, it has also extended the time the average person spends without stability by months if not years.
We need the President and Congressional leaders to regularly talk about homelessness again. We need to get back to a time when the federal government takes the lead in providing a plan to house everyone residing in the United States. We need to re-prioritize housing as a key piece of infrastructure in every community. Here are some things the President could say during the State of the Union address to get back to a time when we prioritized housing for voters:
As I campaigned on, I want to see homelessness end in the United States. The first step down payment on that promise is universal access to a housing voucher coupled with a national prohibition on landlords not accepting the federal assistance program. If you can’t afford housing, the federal government will provide a hand up to those struggling.
With the Omicron variant on the rise in the United States, we need to recommit to safety protocols for those without safe, secure housing that offers privacy. No city or local government should be engaged in any activities that disrupt those who are forced to live outside unless it is offering them a housing unit. Congregate shelters are not a safe alternative at this time until we have near universal vaccination rates.
As we come out of the pandemic, dust ourselves off and put our minds to fixing all the holes left from this national emergency, one of the glaring issues is that the American system for meeting the emergency housing needs of the community does not work during a health emergency. We need to completely re-think shelter in the United States and focus on healthy alternatives to meet the needs of those with long term chronic health conditions including behavioral health issues.
Why does the federal government have multiple definitions for the word “homeless”? This makes no sense and can be confusing the mom attempting to enroll her child in school and has to interact with multiple federal agencies all with a different definition of homelessness. We need to adopt the Department of Education definition as the standard for all federal, state and local jurisdictions. This is the easiest definition to understand and will make it a lot easier to provide services.
The Housing First model is a proven success, and it needs to be adopted for every single individual seeking help with their lack of a safe place to sleep. We should prioritize preventing homelessness with legal representation, rental assistance and mediation services. If those fail, then how do we get the family back into housing within 24 hours of their seeking help? This should be the standard and every community needs to construct systems to engage every level of government to make this a reality.
The United States needs to value the work of every single citizen who puts in 40 hours of work so that they can afford at least a one bedroom apartment in every single community. If a business cannot pay a living wage, then the government should provide a monthly tax credit to get the individual up to a living wage for their household. The businesses not able to pay living wages should be asked to pay a higher tax rate to subsidize these lower wage workers.
Healthcare should not be tied to a job because that disproportionately leaves out those in the service sector and those who change jobs frequently. As I campaigned on, I want to expand Medicaid to include those who cannot find healthcare in the market. We may not be able to move toward universal health care, but we should be taking steps toward that goal every year. Coming out of a pandemic is the perfect time to move toward an expanded Medicaid program.
If you cannot work because you are disabled in the United States that should not mean that you will live in poverty for the rest of your life. We need to reform the disability assistance to encourage those who can contribute in a meaningful way have that opportunity, and not face penalty for receiving some limited income. We also need to raise the standard of living of everyone on full disability so that their income translates into a living wage in the community in which they reside.
Local jurisdictions are receiving millions of dollars from the federal government to serve those without housing and those with extremely low incomes, and they are turning around and harassing, arresting and threatening those very same people that the federal government is showering them with funding to serve. This is hypocritical to take the assistance and then punish those individuals the city has pledged to help. It stops now! If you want federal funds to feed, educate, house, and provide health care for, each city, county or local jurisdiction will have to certify that they are not using law enforcement as social workers to deal with behavioral health issues, homelessness, or poverty related complications.
While this is broader than strictly a homeless issue, we would be negligent if we did not mention that you need to tell us how you are going to re-institute voter protections especially for those who move frequently because of poverty issues. This is the most important issue to restore free and fair elections and remove all barriers to get every citizen to vote. We urge the President to address the path to passing the two voter protection laws that the House of Representatives already passed.
The collapse of the Build Back Better shows that Congress is hopelessly broken and needs significant reform. We need to tear down the current model for our democracy back to the studs and start over so that we can work together on a future national crisis and not have to lose 600,000 Americans unnecessarily. We need to restore representative democratic principles to force more universal participation in governance. We need to remove propaganda from tipping our governmental leaders to more authoritarian tendencies, and we need to protect a free and fair independent media. National crisis such as the pandemic can destabilize a government and in the blink of an eye a “savior” can come to power and crush the opposition.
by Kelvin Lassiter
As the country emerges from the shutdowns surrounding the pandemic, Americans have become inpatient. Promises made regarding voting rights, paid time off, and tax hikes on the wealthy to pay for much needed infrastructure have not come to pass.
Now, after several months of negotiations, the president’s original $3.5 trillion-dollar spending measure for the infrastructure bill and the social spending package has now been reduced in price tag to $1.75 trillion dollars (read the text of the Build Back Better bill). Some of the highlights of the bill include:
150 billion in housing investments
Extension of the Child Tax Credit for one year
100 billion to reduce immigration backlogs
Expansion of health care coverage that will save nine million Americans $600 a year on their premiums
Things left out of the final framework:
Paid family leave
Clean Electricity Performance Program
Ability for the government to negotiate with drug companies for Medicare also won’t be allowed.
While the American people appreciate the efforts for the things that will remain in the bill, it is severely underfunded, and will affect our housing insecure population for generations. The cities of New York and Los Angeles combined need at least 150 billion alone to being their public housing infrastructure up to code. Also, eliminating the ability for the government to negotiate drug prices is damaging. Who wants to make the choice to pay for medicine, or pay to survive without medicine?
In his latest remarks, President Biden reminded the country that this bill is historic, and an investment in the American people. Not everybody got everything they wanted including me, but that’s what compromise, and democracy is. While his remarks are true, the American people counted on lower drug prices, lower housing costs, clean air, and paid family leave to survive. Are the American people getting what they voted for? It remains to be seen, stay tuned.
Bring America Home Now Campaign Supports the Build Back Better Act
Bring America Home is focused on six key policy areas:
Bring America Home, therefore, supports Build Back Better as it includes important provisions within many of the Campaign’s core elements. Specifically, if passed, the Build Back Better Act would help move us toward the goal of preventing and ending homelessness by making significant investments in Housing Choice Vouchers, the Housing Trust Fund, rural rental housing, HOME, and CDBG programs. Additionally, the Act contains important provisions around zoning, fair housing protections, and addressing homeownership disparities through a down payment fund. Beyond housing, Bring Back Better further seeks to secure broader economic security, as envisioned by the Campaign, through job training and workforce investments, an expansion of the child tax credit, extending family leave, and increasing childcare options.
It is urgent to act. To ensure the inclusion of these critical investments in Build Back Better, it is necessary your Senator and Representative hear from you immediately. Call Now and express your support for these provisions within the Bring Back Better Act. To find your representative and Senators, click here: GovTrack.us: Tracking the U.S. Congress or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121
By Zachary Bernstein, Summer 2021 NCH Civil Rights Intern
During our conversation, Loh asked me to imagine my family and I were victims of one of the wildfires currently ravaging the western part of the country. Imagine your documents—passports, birth certificates, etc.—were destroyed in the fire, Loh said, and you do not qualify for assistance based on your economic status. It takes a while to get those documents back, Loh pointed out, and meanwhile you have nothing, and no help—nothing more than people staying in shelters, or tents in the woods, or directly on the street. “This is how people fall into deep poverty,” Loh told me.
Cleveland is one of the most historic cities in the United States, Loh said, and yet they allow nearly half the children in the city (46.1% in 2019) to live below the poverty line. That means one of every two children does not have enough to eat and goes to bed hungry nearly every night in Cleveland. This is clearly not the fault of each individual person, Loh emphasized again and again, but a failure of the system to keep people from slipping into poverty.
Loh, a community activist in Cleveland, Ohio, works with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, the Homeless Congress, and with the Poor People’s Campaign to amplify the voices of those struggling with housing. Loh has experienced homelessness for the past ten years. We spoke for just ninety minutes, but over the course of that time, Loh painted me a portrait of a system of shelters, service providers, and government bureaucracy that has failed its most vulnerable citizens at every level. Having dealt with activism and struggling as a person experiencing homelessness and as an activist, Loh understands the ins and outs of this system in great detail—Loh understands why it has allowed its citizens to live on the street, why it has allowed its shelters to fall into disrepair, and why it has repeatedly stonewalled efforts to help these people. But most importantly of all, Loh understands how to thwart that system.
To Loh, the most important principle of organizing for the homeless is that you cannot solely organize people experiencing homelessness. The reason people are homeless, Loh points out, is because they do not have resources, they are already overwhelmed with their own economic and personal issues. In addition, Loh observes, homeless people often do not want to go out of their way to let people know they are homeless. Loh believes that organizing for homeless advocacy must involve targeting those who are housed as well as those with resources and political will. A key is to target the powerful and those who have decision-making authority to enable the movement to thrive and achieve its goals.
In one story Loh told, a class at the Cleveland Institute of Art wanted to start an artistic outreach project for the homeless community, but had several eye-opening experiences attempting to gain access to people staying in shelters, realizing the extent of the systemic failure experienced by the homeless. Working with Loh and other members of the Homeless Congress, one student in the class changed his project to stage mock groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies that included testimonials from homeless people about their experiences in shelters. The project got publicity in newspapers, and Loh recalls how people were amazed at the stories that shelter residents had to tell. This is merely one example, but it demonstrates the power of pairing the knowledge of people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness (such as Loh) with the power, time, and resources of those who are not. “You have to be able to organize people outside the system,” Loh emphasizes. Loh is a fixture at the County Council meetings railing against the lack of oversight of the shelters and services by the funders. By respecting the resources and points of view each other brings to the table, we can build activist movements which have power and influence and are also built around those with lived experience and knowledge of the system.
In speaking about the importance of a systemic understanding, Loh emphasized that it is not enough to merely understand that the police do bad things to the homeless community, or that the justice system is broken, it is necessary to grasp the wider scope of the problem, to understand how systems interlock with one another to produce the problem. This is especially important, Loh says, because homeless people do not have the time or energy to think about why the system does not work. Several of Loh’s stories from the field have demonstrated how the system has failed the homeless community. The story of the art class attempting to reach out to the homeless community is especially demonstrative—at every step, Loh related, the government and service providers would delay or divert their attempts to reach out. When they wanted to create a sculpture for a shelter, they were told that the sculpture had to be metal because, a director told them, the people in the shelter were crazy, angry, stupid, and violent, and would destroy the sculpture in a short time. The reduction and mischaracterization of an entire community based on a dangerous stereotype is just one example of the pervasive and ingrained misunderstanding of the issue of homelessness.
Loh has extensively documented the mistreatment and horrible conditions at shelters with some amount of creatively particularly in the use of photography and poetry. The shelter Loh stays at, which Loh refers to as “The HELL”. In a series of photos and captions, Loh shows insects on the floor of the only area the homeless people are allowed to eat, mold growing on the showers, and broken toilet stall doors. In a poem, Loh describes the inadequate facilities at the shelter which were originally built as two business buildings, and now involves lots of stairs, heavy doors to navigate. Loh characterizes her experiences as painful due to the injuries sustained from the unsafe environment of the shelter. Loh views these problems as a direct result of systemic failure, a system which causes Loh and thousands of others physical pain because of their lack of care. Loh described to me the network of service providers and government agencies in a dizzying flurry of acronyms. These agencies, which purport themselves to be non-profits, have no real intention of helping homeless people, Loh told me, they simply play politics to make more money. “Society produces homeless people,” Loh often says, because there is simply a lack of care and effort put into solving the problem, and these seemingly impenetrable systems of bureaucracy and capital foreclose any attempt at undermining it.
But that does not mean that there are no ways of doing so—in fact, Loh has successfully staged resistance from the inside. On one occasion, Loh was offered housing in response to complaints about the quality of the shelter. When they offered it, Loh asked if they could give 200 units because there are other people with problems like Loh’s—but they refused. Loh observed how demonstrative this experience was of the systemic failure: “You claim you are an organization to help homeless people and especially those with mental health struggles, but you have no real intention to help them.” But Loh also shows us how the system can be undermined—Loh’s request of 200 housing units is a perfect example of a way in which we can take a stand in spite of the failure of the system. Loh’s tireless dedication to solving the problem of homelessness for all and keen focus on understanding the very roots of that problem can inspire us to think in new ways about homelessness and the systems that perpetuate it. After all, if we can understand what causes the problem, we are one step closer to finding its solution.
After the Peachtree-Pine Shelter was forced by the city of Atlanta to close its doors in 2017, Anita Beaty has remained dedicated to activist efforts in the homeless community, continuing her decades-long career advocating and providing for those in need. Beaty, who oversaw the Peachtree-Pine Shelter for twenty years, has worked in the homeless community for much longer, her history of activism stretching as far back as the eighties. Whether it was activism or overseeing the shelter, Beaty consistently abided by a philosophy that no one should be left behind or left out. She has always placed high value on “letting the people who needed the service run the service,” and described how this philosophy of care for others informed her activism through the years.
In one story, Beaty described a march she organized every year for twenty-nine years to celebrate homeless memorial day on November 1st. Various shelters, congregational groups, or other facilities would carry banners representing their group, made in the Peachtree-Pine art studio, along with a procession of crosses with the names of homeless people who had died that year. Each year, she recalled, there would be around 60 to 80 crosses. The procession finished at the Cathedral, where there would be a ceremony addressing the issue of homelessness, with a Litany created by the Task Force, and remembrances of the dead, name by name.
Beaty and her organization, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, would hire buses to pick people up at every shelter that would participate, and the cathedral served them a hot meal. Looking back, Beaty recalled the event with fondness for the community it fostered.
Beaty also reflected that a key component of her personal philosophy was an element of playfulness. “I need to enjoy what I do,” she said. In one story she recounted, Beaty and the Task Force were protesting the improvement project the city of Atlanta was undertaking at Woodruff Park prior to their hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympics. The park had been a gathering place for members of the homeless community, so when the mayor of Atlanta showed up in a hard hat for a photo-op groundbreaking on the construction, several of the protestors laid in the hole the mayor was to stand in, completely preventing their chance at a photo-op. Beaty chuckled as she recalled how the mayor’s face turned purple with rage, and when he retreated to his car the protestors followed, and it looked as if he was the one leading the march. Beaty also recalled a city council meeting they attended, when she handed out signs to everyone with them that said “true,” “false,” and “bald-faced lie.” When one of the council members said something about homelessness, the crowd held up their “bald-faced lie” signs, and Beaty recalled it was “hysterical” as the council member tried to talk down the signs.
The visual arts have always been a major part of Beaty’s activism. During her time as its leader, Beaty opened an art studio at Peachtree-Pine, where shelter residents could come to draw, paint, and be creative. Beaty sometimes brought in artists from around the country, especially artists who had been homeless or experienced similar struggles. They “had a ball with us,” she remembered. “It was so exciting to intentionally bring in like-minded people who can show folks who’ve been excluded from all that that they, too, can dream.” Beaty emphasized that giving shelter residents access to resources that they would not otherwise have access to was a way of lifting them up: “There are artists who don’t even know it, don’t have the leisure to explore that, or could become artists and become part of that culture.” Beaty’s art studio is living proof that art has the power to bring out the best in people who are experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, or other problems. Not only that, Beaty noted that putting shelter residents’ work on display helped to bust public stereotypes about them.
“Let’s break the mythology,” she said. “Let’s take care of the fear by being together in fun places: food, art, coffee.”
Beaty is sure to acknowledge that activist efforts do not always turn out the way we hope they will. When she took part in the Housing Now March on Washington in 1989, she recalls the immense expectations they had: “It was an action that we thought was gonna change the world, change this country at least, and sensitize the policymakers to the absolute necessity of changing laws,” she remembered. Obviously, the march did not have the effect Beaty and its organizers hoped it would. The funding of a growing homelessness services “industry” was a direct result, but the right to housing, permanent affordable accessible housing, was then and is still the emergency need.
But Beaty also believes the march did make a difference, even if it wasn’t on the wide scale she had hoped it would. “Success is relative,” she said, recalling many times when she thought an effort she was part of was more successful than it was. But activism can still be successful, even if it’s in the smallest of ways. One outcome that Beaty pointed out from the Housing Now March was HUD policy, which, she says, she is still looking at to determine how it has evolved over the decades since the march.
Beaty’s long career in activism shows us that success, whether small or large, can be found through determination to make a difference and a passion for celebrating inclusion. It is the stories of activists like Beaty that have the most to teach us about how to make change happen, and Beaty’s stories remind us that change happens in and with communities, leaving no one behind, including the excluded in operating, managing, and developing of all services designated for those very people, and working together to foster a just and creative world.
I have interviewed so many unhoused people who have found the violence, victimization and exploitation of homelessness to be overwhelming.
Many people experiencing homelessness reject the shelters based on reputation or bad personal experiences within the system. From theft to staff mistreatment, the shelter system in the United States has gone from emergency housing by people of good will to permanent institutional incarceration. I hear all the time, those without housing begging for someone who will understand and will listen in order to help them steer through this most difficult time in their lives. The amount of danger living on the streets is far greater, but there is a degree of freedom outside. US citizens love their freedom. The tremendous loss associated with homelessness in the destruction of family relationships and the giving up all your valuables is often too much to bare for some. These individuals accept their fate as a forever condition and stop trying to find housing or stability.
This is a mock groundbreaking that a group of artists staged in Cleveland for the development of a new women’s shelter designed, built and run by those experiencing homelessness. It never materialized but it was a good idea.
Unfortunately, the social service system is not built to be supportive of the unique needs of most of the population. It is built to be cost effective, sterile, with a rigid code of conduct. It is run like a military barracks with curfews, lights out, no pets or anything comfortable, a schedule for eating, rules and mandates that many compare to a jail that kicks out everyone in the morning who then voluntarily return at night. It is not the shelter provider’s fault. They are dealt a hand that would be impossible to manage in the best of times with full employment, universal health care and cheap housing. The shelters are stuffed every day full of people with multiple barriers to housing. They are regularly over-capacity and the only way to keep order is with strict lock down type procedures. This is the system we have built in the United States. We have created a mental health/ drug treatment system disguised as a homeless system.
We need a safe space for those experiencing homelessness to come to relax, listen and talk about the issues they are facing. We need alumni to come back and be willing to provide some advice to their peers. We need the people who oversee local homeless funding to come to the space as guests and hear from those struggling with housing about the messy system they have created. Those without housing need to push community leaders to make changes in a timely manner and then come back to show that these changes are in the works. The unhoused need help with the mundane like cutting through the bureaucracy of getting ID to the major undertakings of getting a crime from 12 years ago expunged from their record. They need government to get their boots off their necks and not be so tied to the sacred property rights of abandoned housing/warehouses/land. They need landlords, employers, health care professionals to forgive and see every person entering the office for their humanity and not their past mistakes or solely their economic status in society. If we provided safe spaces, leaders would emerge to push good ideas to provide affordable housing to the masses. A million good ideas would bloom. Some would work and some would fail, but in the end fewer people would give up and sleep on the nation’s sidewalk.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness announced in June that it would be working to update the coordinated Federal plan to end homelessness. Comments were solicited via the USICH website, though now, all mention of this comment process have been removed.
Below are the concerns and comments that the National Coalition for the Homeless shared:
NCH Comments on the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness Submitted to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness July 2020
Thank you for your efforts to revise the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness, and to gather comments from stakeholders. However, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is concerned that the US Interagency Council on Homelessness is not soliciting input from a broad enough audience, nor in a transparent process that includes people who have experienced homelessness as key drafters.
After nearly four decades of advocacy on behalf of those experiencing homelessness, NCH believes that any further Federal Strategic Plans to End Homelessness must be made in direct partnership with people who lived the experience of homelessness. The true experts, people with this “lived experience” of homelessness know first hand the effects of Federal policy and as such, can hone in on what changes can be made to achieve the goal of ending mass homelessness in the United States.
Further, any Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness must:
Have clear and quantifiable goals, objectives and action steps. The plan should include a timeline, parties responsible for implementation, and a description of funding needs and sources.
State that housing is a civil and human right, as a safe, stable home is the foundation for human development, student achievement, economic survival and community health.
Identify the systemic causes of homelessness, including structural racism, redlining, and other disinvestment in black and brown communities. The plan and its objectives should be written with a clear equity lens.
Affirm that any efforts to criminalize people, or the daily survival acts of people, who live outdoors – things like urban camping bans, food sharing restrictions, and limits on when and where people can sit or lie down – are counter-productive, cause trauma, and should be halted or reversed in city code.
If you were to propose one new initiative that the federal government is not doing now what would it be?
Fund Permanent Supportive Housing from the Housing Choice/Section 8 Program (with program changes that provide flexibility for criminal/credit/tenant issues)
Do not dismantle COVID-19 response networks, maintain the CDC guidelines for encampments including access to sanitation and water
Decisions and priorities on use of funds should be locally driven not HUD driven
Return to funding transitional housing, both in scattered sites and through rental assistance
Outside of prior USICH federal strategic plan focuses, what else might the federal government do to prevent and/or reduce homelessness?
Increase workforce development programs that train people experiencing homelessness as Peer Advocates to supplement the current homeless provider workforce.
Listen to people who have/are experiencing homelessness and include at decision making tables on types of programs that work.
Equity in funds – ensure tax credits, bonding, appropriations, etc. reserve funding for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness and rental housing at below 30% of median income
Strengthen the interagency coordination of resources for livable incomes and employment (both FT and part time/contracted/gig/piece work and migrant/day labor) and public assistance including unemployment, SSI and Social Security.
Universal Health Care/Immediate and voluntary access to medical services for all individuals, youth, families experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness.
A guaranteed opportunity for permanent housing that is affordable at their income for all individuals, youth, families experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness.
What is one activity the federal government is doing that you believe should be deprioritized?
Coordinated entry – Implementation is inconsistent and costing millions in HUD TA, and systems often lead to discriminatory and unethical service delivery
Point in Time count – It is archaic and an inaccurate system- does not count people in programs where most of the homeless funding is going to: permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing
HMIS –violates Data Privacy, HIPPA laws
HUD controlled process of how funds should be used by communities
HUD’s homeless definition -utilize one homeless definition (the Department of Education’s definition or similar) across all agencies.
What is one activity that the federal government is doing well and that should be prioritized?
The Youth Advisory Boards Model should be implemented in the Adult population. People who have/are experiencing homelessness need to be voting decision making members of the Federal and all State Interagency Councils and at CoC level and funded agencies.
The Veteran model that includes dedicated vouchers (VASH), Transitional Housing, workforce development (HVRP, CWF), Healthcare to scale and prevention (SSVF) should be mirrored that can be accomplished with substantial increases for targeted homeless programs through HHS and DOL.
Overall, what would you say the top 3 federal priorities should be as they relate to preventing and ending homelessness?
Listen to people who have/are experiencing homelessness. Decisions and priorities on use of funds should be locally driven with people who have/are experiencing homelessness not HUD driven.
HUD programmatic changes: Funding Permanent Supportive Housing from the Housing Choice/Section 8 Program (with program changes that provide flexibility for criminal/credit/tenant issues), Rapid Re-Housing must include a livable income component to be able to pay rent after subsidy ends (employment and /or public assistance access/ housing assistance)
Creating a Unified definition of homelessness across federal agencies and Immediate and voluntary access to emergency housing/shelter for all individuals, youth, families experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness.
In terms of homelessness, what areas are in need of greater attention at the federal, state, and local levels?
Affirm the Right to Housing and protection of the civil rights of people experiencing homelessness.
Listen to people who have/are experiencing homelessness and include at decision making tables on types of programs that work.
Fund Expanding Affordable Housing Stock to Pre-1970 Levels.
Expand and fund the use of innovative housing approaches: Tiny Homes, Shared Housing, Small Market FMR’s, Community Choice in Service Delivery, homeownership, scattered site/rent subsidy transitional housing
Expand homeless prevention to include eviction protection, a right to counsel, and cash assistance
Universal Health Care
Expand fair housing protections to prevent rental redlining and source of income discrimination.
Coordination and placement into housing opportunities that are affordable for people being discharged from correctional/ mental health/chemical health/physical health/etc. institutions.