The Road Just Forked in Our Efforts to End Homelessness. It’s Time to Decide Who We Want to Be.
By Jennifer Rich and Lindsay Knotts
Envision with us an America where everyone has a safe place to go to regroup from the stress of the day. To laugh over a shared meal, to study for exams, to take medications, to exercise, to get a good night's sleep. To be well. How would that nation feel? Strong? Vibrant? Caring? Alive with the potential of all its citizens? Ready for the future?
A more just future is ahead of us, if we choose it. The solutions to homelessness aren't hard. As we have done in decades past, we need to decide as a nation to invest in housing. And we need to decide to invest in the wellbeing of our people. Those are human choices. And they are also policy choices. Choices at the voting booth to pick leaders from city council to mayor to Congress and the White House who recognize that we are stronger and healthier as a nation when everyone has a home.
Unless we act now, that future is in danger. This week, opportunists and ideologues in the Trump Administration released a new and deeply cynical federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. That document upends years of established research into what works to end homelessness in an attempt to funnel taxpayer money to programs that don't. Programs that, until recently, paid their salaries, and will probably pay their salaries again once this Administration is over. If allowed to happen, such a reversal would do long-lasting damage to the decade of progress that has already been made and stifle the urgency and innovation that we’ve seen in communities across America these last nine months in response to COVID-19.
This is not partisan politics. Both Republicans and Democrats across the country -- including in Congress, and in state houses, and mayor’s offices -- have called on this Administration to stick to the evidence and be good stewards of public resources. There is broad agreement that we as a country need to invest in more housing, make rents more affordable and wages more livable, and reimagine and rebuild the web of supports that people used to be able to count on when times got tough.
Those priorities make everyone’s life easier, and they also work to end homelessness. We know that because they are already working in dozens of communities across the country that have made a commitment to ensure our military veterans have a place to call home. More than 80 communities have achieved the criteria set out by the federal government for ending Veteran homelessness, and 12 have been recognized by nonprofit changemaker Community Solutions for achieving a similar “functional zero” designation. Both designations are rigorous and demanding and offer proof that ending homelessness is possible.
Let’s be clear: There is no magic wand that will ensure that everyone in America has a home tomorrow. Our current housing scarcity was seeded over 40 years ago, when different leaders decided to gut our national investments in housing. And it’s exacerbated by the historical and persistent structural racism that blocks Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color from wealth and opportunity. And then, of course, there’s the pandemic. All those things will take time to fix.
But we have the roadmap to a future where America is stronger and healthier for everyone through housing justice. It's been coming together slowly over the last 20 years, spurred by both creativity and rigorous research in communities across America. And the last nine months of COVID have only reinforced that local leaders, working in solidarity with people with expertise from their own lived experience, can accelerate change when given enough resources to do it.
Those leaders in cities and towns across America deserve leadership in Washington that supports their vision for a more just world. That listens to their needs, provides steady, unwavering support behind what we already know works, and marshalls the resources to get the job done.
Communities are poised and ready for an Administration and a Congress that prioritize housing for everyone.
It's now up to the American people to deliver it to them.
Jennifer Rich, senior communications strategist at TheCaseMade, is the former Director of Communications at the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Lindsay Knotts, an independent consultant, is a former Policy Director at the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.