In the potential absence of federal appropriations, neither USICH nor would be operational. Read more about our shutdown guidelines.

Resource Roundup for Addressing Encampments

Communities across the United States are facing a crisis of unsheltered homelessness. Local decision-makers are caught between demands for swift action and the reality that permanent, sustainable solutions—housing with voluntary supportive services—take time and investment to bring to scale.

Some communities have turned to aggressive law enforcement approaches that criminalize homelessness and close encampments without offering shelter or housing options. While these efforts may have the short-term effect of clearing an encampment from public view, encampments will appear again in another neighborhood or even in the same place they previously existed.

In June 2022, USICH—in collaboration with several federal and national partners—released new guidance, “7 Principles for Addressing Encampments,” to help communities develop and implement effective and humane responses.

The following list of resources can help communities implement USICH’s 7 Principles for Addressing Encampments:

Principle 1: Establish a Cross-Agency, Multi-Sector Response

  1. Case Studies: Ending Homelessness for People Living in Encampments (USICH) provides examples of community efforts to increase permanent housing opportunities and ensure the safety and well-being of people living in encampments.
  2. Ending Homelessness for People Living in Encampments: Advancing the Dialogue (USICH) is designed to help communities develop action plans for connecting people with permanent housing opportunities.
  3. Effective Police-Mental Health Collaboration Responses to People Experiencing Homelessness (DOJ) provides an overview of permanent housing’s role in breaking the cycle of homelessness and incarceration, and highlights key strategies.
  4. What Other Cities Can Learn From Boston’s Public Health Approach to Homelessness (HUD) provides insight into key strategies and partnerships that the city leveraged to get people off the streets without an aggressive approach driven by law enforcement.

Principle 2: Engage Encampment Residents to Develop Solutions

  1. Engaging Individuals With Lived Expertise (HUD) provides guidance prepared by people with lived expertise on the importance of collaborating with, hiring, and sharing power with the people most impacted by this issue.
  2. Methods and Emerging Strategies to Engage People With Lived Experience (HHS) draws on lessons learned from federal human-services initiatives.
  3. Engaging People With Lived Experience to Improve Federal Research, Policy, and Practice (HHS) identifies methods and emerging strategies, and draws on lessons learned from federal human-services initiatives.
  4. People With Lived Experience Must Be Meaningful Partners in Ending Homelessness (USICH) provides tangible ways to collaborate on a daily basis and builds on the current efforts of programs, agencies, community systems, and national partners across the country.

Principle 3: Conduct Comprehensive and Coordinated Outreach

  1. Core Elements of Effective Street Outreach to People Experiencing Homelessness (USICH, HUD, VA, HHS, National Alliance to End Homelessness) identifies broadly-applicable elements that can be implemented under various funding streams.
  2. The Role of Outreach and Engagement in Ending Homelessness: Lessons Learned From SAMHSA’s Expert Panel (SAMHSA, HUD, USICH) synthesizes knowledge on outreach and engagement of people experiencing homelessness.
  3. How Not to Sweep Those Without Housing During a Pandemic: Pittsburgh (National Coalition for the Homeless) highlights local practices for leveraging resources and partnerships to best serve encampment residents.

Principle 4: Address Basic Needs and Provide Storage

  1. Interim COVID-19 Guidance on People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness (CDC) provides guidance for local and state health departments, homelessness service systems, housing authorities, emergency planners, health-care facilities, and homeless outreach services.
  2. Protecting Health and Well-Being of People in Encampments During an Infectious Disease Outbreak (HUD) focuses on steps to better protect people who will remain unsheltered.
  3. Infectious Disease Toolkit for Continuums of Care: Preventing & Managing the Spread of Infectious Disease Within Encampments (HUD) outlines steps to consider when working with local stakeholders to develop and implement sanitation guidelines.
  4. Health Impact of Street Sweeps From the Perspective of Healthcare Providers (Journal of General Internal Medicine) is a qualitative study.
  5. Protecting the Health and Well-Being of People in Encampments and Other People Who Access Public Spaces (HUD) provides key steps for developing and implementing an inclusive public-space management strategy to keep all people who use public space—both housed and unhoused—as healthy as possible.

Principle 5: Ensure Access to Shelter or Housing Options

  1. Caution Is Needed When Considering “Sanctioned Encampments” or “Safe Zones” (USICH) weighs the costs and consequences of creating these settings and focuses on the goal of helping people stay in a safer and more sanitary environment—without the risk of arrest or citation.
  2. Exploring Homelessness Among People Living in Encampments and Associated Cost: City Approaches to Encampments and What They Cost (HUD, HHS) is a study, with a literature review, intended to inform policymakers and practitioners.
  3. Understanding Encampments of People Experiencing Homelessness and Community Responses, Emerging Evidence as of Late 2018 (HUD) covers literature produced by academic and research institutions as well as public agencies, and is supplemented by interviews with key informants.

Principle 6: Develop Pathways to Permanent Housing and Supports

  1. Case Studies: Ending Homelessness for People Living in Encampments (USICH) provides examples of community efforts to increase permanent housing opportunities and ensure the safety and well-being of people living in encampments.
  2. Planning a Housing Surge to Accelerate Rehousing Efforts in Response to COVID-19 (HUD) details the key components of a housing surge, outlines the steps and best practices for operationalizing one, and provides examples of community-implemented surges.
  3. Housing Surges—Special Considerations for Targeting People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness (HUD) is intended to help Continuums of Care.
  4. Model Transitions From Non-Congregate Shelter: Joint Recommendations for Assisting People Experiencing Homelessness (FEMA, HUD) provides strategies and funding sources to help communities move people out of COVID-specific NCS and into stable housing.
  5. Funding Supportive Housing Services for People With Behavioral Health Needs: Federal Resources (HHS) highlights how behavioral health and homeless service systems can use federal funding resources to improve access to housing-related services and supports.
  6. Federal Health and Social Service Programs That Support People Experiencing Homelessness (USICH) can help state and local leaders use multiple streams of funding for holistic supportive services that meet short- and long-term needs.

Principle 7: Create a Plan for What Will Happen to Encampment Sites After Closure 

  1. Coexistence in Public Space: Engagement Tools for Creating Shared Spaces in Places With Homelessness (SPUR and Gehl) includes exercises for city agencies, nonprofit organizations, and other park stewards to use in public meetings to inform public space projects and master planning.
  2. Research & Results: 9 U.S. Localities Offer Human-Centered Approaches to Unsheltered Homelessness (Arnold Ventures) covers evidence-based guidance and best practices that address the harm of punitive policies.
  3. 3 Ways Communities Can Promote Inclusive Public Space and Better Support People Forced to Live Outside (Urban Institute) provides strategies to support people living unsheltered and to improve everyone’s quality of life.