Ending Homelessness Requires Your Voices and Your Vigilance

July 24, 2019

Good afternoon! It’s always a great pleasure to be here. I think of these conferences as touchstones that help us assess where we are as a movement – both our challenges and our progress.

When I spoke here a couple of years ago, I talked about the core values that we’re trying to hold true to at USICH. Values like:

  • Staying true to the vision of ending homelessness
  • Focusing on evidence-based practices, like Housing First
  • And addressing racial disparities and the increased risks LGBTQ people face

And when I spoke here last year, I was proud to announce the release of the new federal plan, Home, Together – a plan that we feel strongly holds true to those values. But as I prepared for today, I couldn’t help but be aware that some of these values seem increasingly threatened. I am not going to take time today to outline all of those challenges and threats. Instead, I want to use my time to be as clear as I can be about the core values and beliefs that I, personally, am bringing to this work right now.

First, I firmly believe that to end homelessness, we must continue to embrace and strengthen our Housing First practices and approaches. It is those practices that are driving progress and that make sure that we’re best addressing the needs of everyone who experiences homelessness in our country.

I also firmly believe that we are not doing our work well if we’re making any people feel unsafe or unwelcome, or if we’re turning people away or removing them from housing or services or programs based upon their identities or based upon the composition of their families. I firmly believe that to end homelessness, we must hold true to the value that every person, every family, is worthy of housing and is worthy of our support.

I also firmly believe that we can bring diverse motivations and perspectives to our work. My motivation primarily comes from my belief in the importance of justice. You may have different motivations. For some of you, it is probably a commitment to being of service. For others of you, it is faith or religious belief. For others, a vision of community or country you’re striving to achieve.

I’d ask you to pause a moment and think about whatever motivates you at the deepest levels. My guess is, whatever it is, it’s a long game proposition, not something that can be achieved overnight, and not something that can be destroyed overnight either.

But I also expect that whatever motivates you most deeply also requires vigilance to protect. And as I think about the state of our movement, I firmly believe that vigilance is needed right now. But I also firmly believe that we have many reasons to be confident in what we can achieve together.

I see communities across the country still laser-focused on ending homelessness. For example, efforts across the country to end Veteran homelessness are continuing at a steady pace.

In the first half of this year, 10 more communities have achieved the goal and effectively ended Veteran homelessness. They have done that by embracing Housing First approaches. That brings us to a total of 79 communities.

I also draw confidence from the movement to end youth homelessness. These communities are embracing a model of change led by young people for young people. Young people are leading a movement that is committed to leaving no one behind—not young people of color, not LGBTQ young people, not young people with disabilities. No one.

I’m also confident because of the way you continue to take the work of preventing and ending homelessness into new territories.

I don’t remember a time in my lifetime when housing affordability was higher on the nation’s policy agenda, or when people, including elected officials, have better understood the connection between housing affordability and homelessness. And we need to seize this window of opportunity before it closes on us.

I also draw confidence from the continued innovation within our sector, like new emphasis on prevention and diversion, so that people won’t have to experience the trauma of even one night of homelessness.

Finally, I also take confidence from the work underway to deepen our understanding of the intersections of homelessness and racial inequities and racism. We have so much more work to do in this area , but more communities are wrestling with how to dismantle the racist practices, systems, and policies that have created – and that continue to sustain – racial inequities. Racial inequities in not just housing, but in justice, in employment, in health, and throughout our country and our culture.

There are many, many other reasons for confidence, but that confidence cannot distract us from the importance of our vigilance.

So, here’s the last of my core beliefs that I’ll mention today:

We won’t be able to stay on the best paths for preventing and ending homelessness by being silent, or by assuming that other people have already been persuaded by the power of our case, or by expecting that other people will make the case for our work for us.

I firmly believe that we must always be making the case for what’s working and why all the time and to everyone who needs to understand. And while Tweeting about it is good , it’s probably not enough.

Your motivations for doing this work may be different than mine. Your core beliefs may be different than the ones I’ve just described. There are probably things we disagree about – why wouldn’t there be?

But all of your voices matter and all of your expertise matters.

So, in closing, I am asking you to recognize that the policy and practice debates that are happening right now require you – as much as ever - to make your voices heard.

Because I firmly believe that we will only end homelessness in our country through your voices and through your urgent vigilance.

Thank you for your time today – and thank you for all that you do every day.

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