Building Momentum in Our Drive to End Family Homelessness

USICH staff, federal partners, and community leaders meet in
New Orleans to build momentum on ending family homelessness.

Last month, USICH brought together 17 thought leaders on family homelessness who are driving progress in states as distant as Hawaii and Connecticut and from cities as disparate as Winston-Salem and San Francisco. These leaders shared their best practices, strategized around each other’s challenges, and committed to supporting other communities as we build momentum behind national efforts to end family homelessness.

Over the course of two short days in New Orleans, everyone rolled up their sleeves and brainstormed pages-long to-do lists (and some went back to their communities promising to get started the very next day!). Attendees weren’t shy to offer us and our federal partners a to-do list as well. As a result, in the months ahead, we’ll be sharing what we know is working through peer-to-peer calls, webinars, case studies, and profiles. And we’ll be working closely with communities as we develop federal guidance over the next year.

 Our discussions in New Orleans were based on a shared understanding of what has driven and will continue to drive our work to end family homelessness: building a coordinated community response in every community; using data-driven strategies to improve our effectiveness; and leveraging mainstream resources to scale progress.

Building on this foundation, we dove headfirst into brainstorming solutions to challenges we share: in addition to conversations about strained resources and affordable housing, our hosts in New Orleans kicked off a discussion on race and homelessness. Leaders in New Orleans and across the country are digging into their data to understand how racial dynamics—prejudice, discrimination, and racism—are playing out in their homelessness service systems among clients and staff in order to inform their strategies to turn the tide on institutional racism. Some communities’ approaches include using data to identify disparities in which clients exit to permanent housing quickly; investing resources in criminal justice system exit planning; and offering professional development opportunities for case managers and frontline staff.

When it came to successes, we heard about Houston’s system-wide rapid re-housing model that helps standardize program implementation; the strong partnerships between the homelessness service system and domestic violence service providers in Las Vegas; and the ground-breaking institutionalization of diversion within Phoenix’s family homelessness service system. These strategies, and the leaders who crafted and fine-tuned them, gave our team renewed energy and drive to support this work nationwide.

Just days before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the team from New Orleans also offered their insights from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Led by Martha Kegel of UNITY of Greater New Orleans, our hosts offered us an up-close view of the challenges they’ve faced and what it took to drive down the average length of time families spend experiencing homelessness by nearly 70% over the last two years. We met with members of their outreach team, who live and breathe their mantra of “whatever it takes,” as well as their squad of housing navigators who meet weekly to ensure that families are being connected to permanent housing as quickly as possible.

We know it will take significant investments to end family homelessness nationwide, but it will also require a commitment to improvement and innovation that we saw in each of our participants. We’re looking forward to lifting up their progress, and supporting other communities as they strive to do the same.

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