Even before a global pandemic changed everything, the state of homelessness in this country was dire.
The number of people experiencing homelessness increased in January 2020 for the fourth year in a row, as did the number of unsheltered people and people chronically experiencing homelessness. The nation’s homeless response systems have spent decades developing a comprehensive understanding of what strategies work to end and prevent homelessness, but a lack of federal investment, rising housing costs which are outpacing wages, and a number of overlapping crises have meant that more people are becoming homeless each year than the number of homeless people who are being housed.
That was the state of things before the impacts of the pandemic struck the world and the country simultaneously. The resulting economic uncertainty, coupled with the bubbling over of years of racial and social tensions, have meant that homelessness has become even more likely for the most vulnerable among us, and things have gotten tougher on those already experiencing homelessness.
How Homelessness Has Affected Different Populations
In particular, the proportion of unsheltered people among all people experiencing homelessness is rapidly increasing. In addition to the undermining of human dignity inherent especially in unsheltered homelessness, living in a space not meant for human habitation is associated with a number of risks: declining physical health, premature aging, a reduced lifespan. In general, the impact of homelessness on individuals, communities, and on the country are much more than we can collectively afford.
Further, we know that homelessness, and therefore its impact, is not an impartial threat. Several ethnic and racial minority groups are especially at risk of experiencing homelessness, and the same is true for people with certain gender or sexual identities. In 2020, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, Indigenous Americans, and Black Americans each experienced disproportionately high rates of homelessness, and LGBTQ+ youth were more than twice as likely to be homeless as other youth.
Doing What Works
Despite the abundance of troubling news, however, all is not lost. The homeless system really does know what works, as evidenced by the recent reductions in homelessness among veterans and people in families. Thanks to collective advocacy efforts, federal and local investments, and widespread public support, practitioners have been able to implement steps that are effective at preventing and ending homelessness for veterans and families.
Especially during the last two years, there has been a rapidly growing movement to right our many societal wrongs, including homelessness. Ending homelessness is an acute possibility, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness is uniquely situated to connect federal decisionmakers and local experts to the goal of ending homelessness.
By engaging in targeted research, supporting effective policies, and promoting policy solutions that work, the Alliance has already made change during the pandemic – including advocacy efforts that helped secure several billions of dollars in new federal resources to serve people who are homeless or housing insecure.
This holiday season, we hope you will choose to be part of the movement, and help us do what it takes to put homelessness behind us.