Mayors from 36 communities and across three entire states have been able to stand up over the last two years and say that the leadership they provided and the partnerships they fostered ended Veteran homelessness among their constituents. In December, Regional Coordinator Katy Miller and I joined nine mayors from California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington in a summit focused on strategies for ending homelessness in high-cost, low-vacancy housing markets. And a few weeks ago, Regional Coordinator Bob Pulster and I attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting, and presented at a joint meeting of their Hunger and Homelessness Task Force and Veteran Homelessness Task Force, chaired by Mayor Helene Schneider of Santa Barbara, CA, and Mayor John Giles of Mesa, AZ, and featuring remarks from Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, TX. We also met individually with many other leaders who are working diligently to achieve the goal of ending Veteran homelessness and are translating those successes to ending homelessness for families, or youth, or people with disabilities.
All of this work with mayors reinforced three clear impressions for me: mayors across the country are wrestling with the very toughest issues facing their communities, including the challenges of unsheltered homelessness and encampments; mayors are undaunted and have made solving these challenges a key focus of their leadership; and their leadership has created an unprecedented opportunity for progress and success in ending homelessness within our country.
I, and the team at USICH, remain committed to supporting mayors — from all kinds and sizes of communities — in their efforts to prevent and end homelessness. We know that we cannot tackle the work ahead without their leadership, their commitment, their partnership, and their passion for strengthening their communities. Here are some of the ways we know that mayors can, and already are, driving progress:
Mayors can continue to prioritize local data gathering and strong accountability to outcomes. Strong data and analysis help us hone effective — and cost effective — strategies that can be tailored and replicated in communities across the United States. It has been exciting to see how many mayors participated in their communities’ annual Point-in-Time counts this week and last. Mayors can also bring together leaders and practitioners to explore how to continuously improve data gathering — both real-time data and annual and point-in-time efforts — as well as strengthen local understanding of how different data can be overlaid to have the most accurate projection of the array of interventions and resources communities will need to end homelessness.
Mayors and other local officials can mobilize resources and efforts behind a shared vision. For example, the almost 900 elected officials from 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico who signed on to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness have been working to achieve the criteria and benchmarks for ending Veteran homelessness , which are driving investments into the most cost-effective, proven strategies. Mayors now have further tools at their disposal with the June 2016 criteria and benchmarks for ending chronic homelessness , and the January 2017 criteria and benchmarks for ending family homelessness and youth homelessness .
Mayors can promote deeper partnerships among sectors and people that haven’t historically worked closely together. In order for communities to offer a full array of services and supports to those experiencing a housing crisis, all public services must work together to more efficiently and effectively reach those in need — services like health and behavioral health, TANF, and Social Security. And beyond that, mayors can encourage real estate developers, landlords , businesses, foundations, and the faith community to take on meaningful roles in the overall community effort to end homelessness and set individuals and families on a path toward achieving their goals.
Mayors can help identify local barriers to housing development and work to reduce them. Ending homelessness requires that communities have an adequate supply of affordable and supportive housing, but local ordinances can reduce the ability of housing markets to respond to growing demand. Mayors can broker the conversations that are necessary to ensure that all members of the community have access to housing that they can sustainably afford.
The extent to which mayors, and many other local and state officials, have used their unique capacity to drive change and progress is a tremendous source of inspiration to me and to everyone here at USICH. To help mayors play these essential roles, we’ve created a special webpage gathering resources that may be of particular interest to mayors and their teams.