We’ve been so excited to get Home, Together out into the world – to hear your thoughts and critiques, and to sit down with you to talk through how we’ll do this work together. In our conversations, we’ve heard many sighs of relief welcoming our explicit goal to end homelessness among all other individuals. We’re especially excited to participate in the National Association to End Homelessness’ (NAEH) Solutions for Individual Homeless Adults Conference next week to talk further with all of you.
While our explicitly stated focus on individual adults in the Plan is new, it does not represent a shift in our focus on ending homelessness for everyone, including families, youth, people experiencing chronic homelessness, and Veterans. Instead, it reflects a very real need to act urgently to refine and develop solutions that will end homelessness for these individuals. We’re confident that the Plan’s emphasis on supporting you – states and communities – to truly make homelessness a rare, brief, and one-time experience, and to sustain success once achieved – is absolutely the right framework for preventing and ending homelessness among individual adults.
It’s important to start with who we’re talking about , as we explored in great depth within Homelessne ss in America: Focus on Individual Adults . Among people experiencing homelessness in our country, we know that most are individual adults without children, including unaccompanied youth (ages 18-24) or people in multiple-adult or multiple-child households. They include a single woman living out of her car because she has a job in your city but can’t afford an apartment. Or a couple cycling between motels and shelters who were recently evicted because their medical bills were so high they could no longer make rent. Or a woman staying in a domestic violence shelter after fleeing human trafficking.
One challenge we face is that, compared to other groups who experience homelessness, there is relatively little research or data about the large group of individual adults who are not people with disabilities experiencing chronic homelessness. We know that on a single night in 2018, more than 372,000 individuals were estimated to be experiencing homelessness, representing 67% of the total estimated number of people. And between 2016 and 2018, the increase in overall homelessness can be entirely attributed to an increase in the number of unsheltered individuals.
While we still need more data and research, the time for action is now.
Ending homelessness among individual adults will require us to double down on our commitment to systems and programs that use Housing First practices to create greater flow through our systems – ensuring that people are connected to permanent housing and supports more quickly and with few to no preconditions or other barriers. And we must do it with a commitment to racial equity that not only acknowledges that people of color – specifically Blacks and Native Americans – are much more likely to experience homelessness than those who are white, but also with efforts to eliminate those stark disparities.
Making Sure Homelessness is Rare
With housing costs rising at a more rapid pace than incomes, it’s essential to act to ensure that households aren’t pushed into homelessness. Homelessness is less likely to occur when existing affordable housing is preserved, and new units are built – especially when units are affordable and available to people at the lower income levels and with other barriers to housing stability.
Making homelessness rare also requires becoming more effective at targeting prevention services to households – including individual adults – that are identified as most likely to become homeless. Through rent assistance, legal help, and other services, individuals can be supported in their own homes.
And for those who are knocking at the door of our homelessness services systems, diversion away from streets and shelters to other options and opportunities can be very effective. With the right mix of early services and limited financial supports, many individuals can avoid the traumatic experience of homelessness altogether.
Making Sure Homelessness is Brief
Many of you find your homelessness services systems increasingly bottlenecked due to the scarcity of decent housing at a cost that is affordable to the people you are serving. To counteract this effect, we must act now to bring affordable housing up to scale. And within the housing options, we must provide for the right mix of permanent housing to meet people’s needs and provide choice.
We also need to ensure that emergency shelters are low barrier and housing-focused to meet the immediate needs of people living unsheltered and in encampments. We know that the longer people live outside or cycle through shelters, the more at risk they are to develop chronic health conditions. The work to end individual adult homelessness helps prevent people from aging into chronic homelessness .
Making Sure Homelessness is One-Time
At the end of the day, the work we’re doing is to ensure that everyone can be connected to – and succeed within - a safe and stable home. This requires connections to adequate services and opportunities like engaging, person-centered case management, on-the-job training, supported employment and other employment and career pathways, behavioral health services, high-quality education, and quality health care services (to name just a handful).
We Have Work to Do
Of course, to sustain an end to individual adult homelessness, we first have to end it. And to end it, we have to take it on. Community by community. We still have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. Together. But, as Alice Walker said, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”