More than 9,040 people registered for the Homelessness and Housing First webinar hosted by NLIHC, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) on January 9!
The webinar, “A World without Housing First,” addressed what life was like for people experiencing homelessness and homelessness programs before Housing First was widely adopted and what it would mean if our efforts to defend Housing First are unsuccessful. NAEH CEO Ann Oliva began the webinar by addressing anti-Housing First legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives during the last Congress, noting that the legislation’s sponsor will likely seek new opportunities to move the legislation forward during the next two years. She discussed how the rise in the criminalization of homelessness across the country is tied to the anti-Housing First approach and to the flawed assumption that homelessness is the result of personal failures and bad decisions. “We know that the roots of homelessness are systemic and not personal. The truth is that mandating participation in recovery programs or other types of services does not end a person’s homelessness – housing does. Passing a law that forbids someone from being unsheltered and outdoors does not solve homelessness – housing does,” explained Ann.
Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), the ranking member on the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, thanked advocates for their commitment to ending homelessness and urged attendees to educate their members of Congress about the real solutions to homelessness and the importance of Housing First. “As the homelessness crisis continues to rise in our nation, it is more important than ever that we use our collective power to fight for affordable housing and promote the importance of Housing First policies. The simple truth is that the Housing First approach is a proven, bipartisan, and evidence-based solution to addressing homelessness,” said Ranking Member Waters.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, thanked attendees for their dedication to addressing the needs of individuals and families experiencing homelessness, noting that their “focus on Housing First is helping to reduce the number of people who are homeless.” Vice Chair Collins addressed the affordable housing crisis and urged advocates to take action. “The shortage of affordable housing is a growing crisis nationwide. No single entity can successfully resolve this challenge. It requires both commitment and collaboration at the federal, state, and local levels. It also requires strong partnerships between housing and service providers. Your engagement with your elected officials is critical to promoting better understanding of effective approaches, like Housing First,” said Vice Chair Collins.
Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward in Richmond, Virginia – one of the nation’s most successful homeless service programs – described what homeless services were like before Housing First and what would be lost if anti-Housing First legislation were enacted into law. Kelly shared how her organization embraced Housing First and shifted from a “first-come, first-served” approach to serving the individuals most in need of assistance. “When we adopted Housing First, the biggest impact that we saw was community clarity and accountability. We really began to understand that we could end homelessness. It didn’t mean that we had solved all of the world’s problems, but that more limited and more targeted goal had a huge impact on our community, on all of us, and on the neighbors we were working with to get into housing,” explained Kelly.
Dr. Sam Tsemberis, founder of the Housing First model and CEO of the Pathways Housing First Institute, addressed what homelessness was like before Housing First and explained how the implementation of Housing First has shifted the overall system of homeless services. Dr. Tsemberis described the world before Housing First as a world of homeless services that did not offer a direct exit out of homelessness, especially for people struggling with addiction or mental health problems. He argued that ending homelessness is an achievable and powerful goal. “I don’t want to improve the homeless service system; I want to end homelessness,” said Dr. Tsemberis.
Crissy Canganelli, executive director of Shelter House in Iowa City, shared how her organization shifted from a focus on transitional housing to fully embracing Housing First. She spoke about the paradigm shift that occurred as Shelter House undertook the “hard and necessary work to realign [its] culture, shift from managing homelessness to ending it, build new partnerships, and find new champions.” Crissy emphasized that unsheltered homelessness would increase if the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were to back away from Housing First.
Donald Whitehead, Jr., executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, addressed the impact of criminalization and anti-Housing First legislation on people experiencing homelessness and reminded listeners about the importance of centering the voices of people with lived experience. Donald ended his remarks by emphasizing the underlying causes and solutions to homelessness: “Homelessness is solvable, it is a structural issue, and we need to address those issues. We need to produce more housing, and we can end homelessness in America.”
NAEH Chief Policy Officer Steve Berg wrapped up the call by sharing how advocates can engage with their members of Congress on Housing First and counter efforts to undermine proven solutions to homelessness. Steve encouraged advocates to educate their Congressional delegation on homelessness solutions and build local alliances to promote Housing First in their communities. He invited advocates to sign their organization on to a statement of values opposing criminalization.
We encourage all advocates to educate your elected officials about the importance of Housing First and the need for robust investments in affordable housing and homelessness resources. Use this advocacy toolkit published by NLIHC. The toolkit includes everything you’ll need to engage your elected officials, including talking points, tips for scheduling in-district meetings and tours of affordable housing developments, social media messages, and more.
Resources Discussed on the Webinar:
- Housing First Resources (NLIHC)
- Housing First Fact Sheet and Tools (NAEH)
- Advocacy Toolkit (NLIHC)
- Fact sheet on the research supporting Housing First (NLIHC/NAEH)
- Data Visualization: The Evidence on Housing First (NAEH)
- Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives by Deborah Padgett, Benjamin Henwood, and Sam Tsemberis
- Talking Points to Oppose the Cicero-Backed Legislation
- Talking Points to Oppose the Housing PLUS Act
- Fact Sheet: Responding to Unsheltered Homelessness (Joint Resource)
- Bring America Home Now Campaign
- HUD Recovery Housing Brief
- Sign your organization onto NAEH’s statement of values opposing criminalization.
Register for the next webinar, “Housing First Promotes Health,” taking place on Tuesday, February 21, from 2:30 to 4 pm ET. Register at: https://bit.ly/3vIbn5o
Homelessness is a crisis in many communities – one that demands urgent action. To end homelessness once and for all, federal, state, and local governments must invest in proven solutions at the scale necessary to address the problem. The Housing First model is one of the best strategies for ending homelessness. Housing First recognizes that affordable and accessible homes are the foundation on which people thrive, and by combining housing with access to supportive services, Housing First can help people exit homelessness and live stably in their communities.
In communities across the nation, however, some misguided policymakers are responding to this crisis by advancing dangerous rhetoric and harmful, dehumanizing measures that will make it even harder for people to exit homelessness. It is critical that advocates nationwide are unified in pushing back against stigmatizing and counterproductive efforts that seek to criminalize homelessness, impose punitive requirements, and even prevent the development of affordable housing.
As our communities struggle with soaring inflation, skyrocketing rents, increased evictions, and, in many cases, more homelessness, it is more important than ever that advocates work together to advance the bold policies and anti-racist reforms needed to ensure stable, affordable, and accessible homes for all people experiencing and at risk of homelessness.
Learn more about Housing First at: https://bit.ly/3ViLyU6