USICH Taps Experts for the First in a Series of Listening Sessions

August 27, 2020

Earlier this month, USICH brought together a panel of people with lived experience of homelessness for a virtual listening session to inform policy around the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. The panelists were from different parts of the U.S., and represented mothers, youth, people with disabilities, people of color, seniors, and survivors of domestic violence who had experienced homelessness.

This is the first in a series of focused sessions to explore improved strategies for preventing and ending homelessness by directly consulting with the people who have experienced it firsthand. Below are each of the seven discussion prompts followed by the abridged responses of the panelists.

What programs or services are most important for ending people’s homelessness? What parts of those programs are the most helpful?

  • Affordable housing must accompany services. In communities like Los Angeles and Skid Row, people who are living on the streets are offered services but without a home. This creates barriers for people.
  • Widen the range of people that receive housing and then address underlying issues like substance abuse, mental health, and income issues.
  • Offer programs that teach people how to enter mainstream life while managing a household and the tasks connected to it, like maintaining a bank account, grocery shopping, and even decorating a home.
  • Wraparound services connected to employment and education should be more accessible for the overrepresented populations of people who experience homelessness, including people of color, youth, and LGTBQIA. Having knowledge of and access to those resources give people the opportunity to get an education and/or make a livable wage.
  • Services should be tailored to the needs of the people accessing them, they should meet people where they are.

What would better help prevent people from losing housing?

  • Advance housing as a human right.
  • Examine and remedy inequities in housing and eviction law. Applicants with low income should not have to pay additional moving and holding fees, which are delayed or never returned if an application is denied. People are often evicted for things out of their control and should have access to adequate representation.
  • It is more cost effective and less traumatic to prevent people from falling into homelessness in the first place, so more programs are needed to bridge the gaps to keep people from losing their home, like eviction prevention.
  • Shallow subsidies are needed that offer additional income to help towards rent or bills. This helps people who have had a loss in salary keep their home regardless of an income change.
  • Better partnership between youth-serving agencies and organizations, including government entities. For example, these organizations could create stronger transitional planning for youth aging out of foster care, which is when many youth fall into homelessness.
  • Two of the most common reasons that people lose housing is lack of affordable housing and income. Many people are working hard but need a livable wage to afford housing.
  • Many women become homeless either fleeing domestic violence or because of the financial burden related to domestic violence. Better coordination for referrals and tracking is needed to get people safely housed or in shelter.
  • There should be more targeted resources for people who are single adults, especially as this population ages.

What kind of help do people need to navigate structures and systems that are out there? What would help make access to those programs easier and smoother?

  • People with lived experience should be in the position of housing navigators, case managers, outreach workers, and peer support specialists. They are informed and in a better position to understand clients and systems.
  • A national hotline like 211 would be helpful to provide better navigation.
  • Remove the bureaucracy at housing authorities to process housing more quickly. Systems should be better connected so that delays can be traced back more efficiently.

What would make it easier for people to get into shelter or other emergency programs? Are there things that organizations and communities should do to make them more welcoming and helpful?

  • Better prepare staff to support clients. Also offer technical assistance, trauma-informed care and cultural competency training.
  • Shelters should be temporary, non-congregate for health and privacy, low barrier, accessible by public transportation, and offer a one-stop shop for training and access to wraparound services and documents.

Once people move into a new home, what services are most important to help them stay there? What would help those services be the most helpful?

  • Access to an afterhours mentor for support, questions, and guidance.
  • Following up on clients regularly after they are housed to help with isolation and depression.

How could we better address issues of racial inequities and other disparities in the plan?

  • The federal government must acknowledge inequities and include people of color in decision-making and policy changes to address disparities.
  • Address the role of structural racism in homelessness, and fair housing should be reinstated.
  • Make sure communities are looking at racial inequities within their homelessness system and enforce needed changes.
  • There are greater disparities among Latinx, indigenous, and Black people experiencing homelessness, so look at on-the-ground prioritization processes. Some assessment tools may push people of color toward temporary options for housing, even when experiencing the same issues as white clients who receive permanent supportive housing.
  • Given our country’s history of redlining, Black people should receive safe, racially equitable opportunities for placement in communities where they can succeed.
  • There should be accountability for housing discrimination around source of income.
  • Fair market rents that allow people to use vouchers in communities that have more resources should be enacted around the country.

How should we make sure that people with lived experience have leadership roles in ending homelessness?

  • Make sure people with lived experience are part of the decision-making process, allow funding to be guided by real needs and input from people with lived experience.
  • Explicitly state prioritization for communities who place people with lived experience in leadership positions. There should be options for technical assistance that fosters authentic collaboration.
  • Bring people with lived experience to the USICH and other federal agencies’ teams and set the standard for practice communities may follow.
  • Encourage Continuums of Care and communities to remove barriers, credentials, and degrees for roles people would otherwise qualify for.
  • Build leadership academies to train and invest in people with lived experience. Trainees should learn how to advocate, how to navigate systems, and how to use the power they have. Help shape leaders by training people on how to conduct a meeting, participate in public discourse, and advocate based on real-time issues.
  • It should be mandated that people with lived experience are working in homelessness organizations, supported in their roles, and provided resources to ensure success.

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