Last week I had the opportunity to attend the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ annual conference in Washington D.C. The three day conference, focused on ending homelessness, was attended by over 1,500 providers, advocates, funders, and government partners from all across the country. The conference was packed full of workshops and presentation on a range of topics from supportive housing for youth to improving employment outcomes to ending veterans’ homelessness. There was something for everyone and so many new ideas and program models to be explored and discussed. Highlights from the conference include a keynote address from Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a visit to the Capitol to meet with Senator Brown’s staff, and a panel of experts from philanthropy, government, non-profit, and academia.
It would take several pages to outline all the workshops and programs featured at the conference, so I will focus on a few key themes that reemerged throughout the workshops, keynotes addressed, and expert panels.
Targeting –> Throughout the conference there was tremendous consensus about the need for good targeting of resources. There are a variety of programs and interventions available, but it is a challenge for systems and communities to match the right family or individual with the right intervention. Proper targeting was especially important when discussing the use of homelessness prevention and permanent supportive housing. The effectiveness of prevention is always hard to prove – how can you guarantee that “but for” the assistance the family would have been homeless? We do know, however, that there are some key indicators of risk that make some households more like to experience homelessness including: previous episodes of homelessness, involvement with the child welfare system, and lack of a social support network. Permanent supportive housing is a deep resource including pairing a housing subsidy with ongoing support services, but because of the depth of these resources, it is also one of the most expensive interventions and therefore should be used carefully. Many families can be re-housed with a smaller “dose” of service or housing support and the rich combination of subsidized housing and services should only be utilized for families with the most significant barriers to housing retention. How to properly target this resources was a topic of much conversation at the conference and while there is not exact agreement in how to do this, experts point to multiple episodes of homelessness and severe disabilities as two key indicators of a family who should be targeted for permanent supportive housing.
Dosing –> Dosing, or getting the right amount of intervention to each homeless or at-risk family, was another topic that reverberated throughout the conference. Much like targeting, dosing is about matching the household with the right amount of support/assistance. In a world of scarce resources, getting each family the right amount of financial assistance and supportive services is essential if we are going to try to serve as many families as possible. When the system “over-spends/over-doses” on one family, we limit our ability to serve another. Families need to receive enough assistance so that they are able to be re-housed, but not any more than they need. Dosing is rational in concept but extremely challenging in practice. Many presenters look to the practice of progressive engagement as a way to deliver the right dosage. Salt Lake City is an example of a community that has embraced the practice of progressive engagement as a dosing tool to end family homelessness. Click here to access the presentation from The Road Home in SLC.
Rapid Re-Housing –> Maintaining rapid re-housing programs, which began in most communities with the stimulus program’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), was a major topic of discussion at the conference. Unlike in years past, there seemed to be a consensus among conference participants that rapid re-housing works for most individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness. With the end of HPRP, communities around the country are struggling with ways to fund and maintain effective re-housing programs. HUD’s new ESG program is one funding sources and, here in Massachusetts, HomeBASE is another source for re-housing dollars. But questions remain about how to house families that won’t be successfully served with rapid re-housing, how to re-house families with limited re-housing resources, and how to successfully maintain housing with limited access to permanent housing subsidies and stabilization services. Click here to access some presentation materials on rapid re-housing.
Youth –> For the first time, youth homelessness was a major focus of the annual conference. There were workshops on everything from counting homeless youth to creating inclusive shelter and housing programs to permanent supportive housing for youth. Throughout the youth-focused workshops I attended, the idea of collaboration with various state and federal agencies, like the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, was a recurring theme. In addition to the need for collaborations, there was much discussion on meeting the unique needs of homeless and at-risk youth and how challenging that can be if trying to serve youth within an adult-focused system. Click here to access some presentation materials on serving homeless youth.
Overall, the conference was an inspiring gathering of committed and passionate stakeholders from across the country who came together to learn, share, and advance the movement to end homelessness. Click here to access additional presentation materials from the conference.