Ending Homelessness – We Know How
This is the time of year when area jurisdictions begin to release the results of their Point-in-Time surveys. These surveys are a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. This annual count is a HUD requirement for Continuums of Care to identify homeless persons who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and Safe Havens on a single night. These PIT counts as they are known, not only provide data on homeless persons, they inform us as to whether the strategies we are using to address homelessness are effective.
By all accounts, many local governments in Northern Virginia have made real progress as the trend in homelessness is declining. Recently, Alexandria and Fairfax County announced significant decreases in their homeless populations.
The progress that we’ve made on this issue indicates that we know how to end homelessness. Coordinated strategies among shelters, nonprofit service providers and local governments help stabilize homeless individuals and families, and offer supportive services in their journey to greater self-sufficiency. Faith communities have made a considerable contribution as well. Persons who are formerly incarcerated or released from a hospital have a detailed discharge plan rather than being dropped off unannounced at the local shelter. As a nation, we have determined that veteran homelessness is unacceptable so we have marshaled the resources needed to ensure that no one who served in our military should go without a safe, decent home. Now, we should state that in a nation blessed with such an abundance of wealth and talent, no one should be homeless.
Key to our success is building the public commitment and willingness to invest adequate resources in the programs that have generated favorable outcomes. That includes Housing First to bring chronically homeless persons off the streets; permanent supportive housing for frail, poor seniors and persons with mental and physical disabilities; and affordable housing for those working households who are one paycheck away from homelessness.
As communities who want to truly end long term homelessness, we need to examine how our local regulatory and financial structures (read zoning, land use and housing financing) challenge our ability to provide a variety of affordable housing choices for lower-income people. The solution to end homelessness is housing. Do we have the community support and the political will to meet the challenge?