There is growing public concern about unsheltered homelessness. 2021- onward
As leaders struggle to respond to public outcry, some are considering outmoded responses including arresting people for sleeping outside, or warehousing people experiencing homelessness into facilities with few services. Fortunately, this week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a special one-time Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to support the responses we know from research and experience will reduce unsheltered homelessness. This is an opportunity for communities to develop or enhance real solutions.
The results of the most recently-reported full Point-in-Time Count, conducted in January of 2021 (before the pandemic), marked the first time since HUD began collecting this data that there were more unsheltered single individuals experiencing homelessness in this nation than were sheltered. Unsheltered increases were also noted among veterans, families, and those with the highest levels of need – people experiencing chronic homelessness. Even prior to the 2020 Count, data showed an increase in the number of older adults who were unsheltered.
Unsheltered homelessness is a stark manifestation in inequity in our nation and within our homelessness systems. It disproportionately impacts marginalized populations, including people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite overwhelming public pressure and the dedicated efforts of the homeless service sector, communities lack the scale of housing and service resources commensurate to the needs of this increasingly visible and prevalent humanitarian crisis. This scarcity prolongs the crisis and deepens inequities. Instead of providing the needed resources, far too many communities have advanced carceral approaches that have criminalized the state of being homeless, further traumatized people experiencing homelessness, and broadly fail to achieve reductions in homelessness.
Similarly, rural homelessness represents a distinct challenge, made more complex by lack of infrastructure, capacity, and resources; as well as different needs and characteristics from other geographic areas. Of note, the 2020 Point-in-Time Count revealed that unsheltered homelessness was on the rise across all geographic categories, including rural communities.
HUD is making $322 million available for communities to address unsheltered and rural homelessness (approximately $267.5 million for unsheltered and $54.5 million for rural).
This funding, reclaimed from existing Continuum of Care (CoC) program funds, provides an opportunity for CoCs to identify thoughtful and strategic approaches in their applications for how these funds can be used to reduce and eventually end unsheltered homelessness in their communities. This is an essential opportunity for CoCs to reverse course on punitive tactics, support critically needed street outreach, and demonstrate meaningful reductions in unsheltered rates to their communities and the rest of the nation. National media coverage of Houston’s successful efforts illustrates the broad desire to see effective and humane solutions that work.
As outlined in HUD’s Notice of Funding Opportunity, the Alliance urges communities to approach their applications through the following lens:
Be urgent, but equitable: leverage lessons learned from the work to equitably allocate recent COVID relief resources, such as Emergency Housing Vouchers. Communities that have done the hard work of incorporating people with lived experience, forming diverse committees, developing plans to advance equity, and similar measures, will be best prepared for the funding moment. (This is an important reminder that advancing equity needs to be central to everyone’s work, and that failing to do so can leave CoCs scrambling to take advantage of important opportunities to do this). The Alliance encourages readers to consult existing resources and evidence, including those provided by the Framework for an Equitable COVID-19 Homelessness Response, to guide these decisions.
Help people facing the greatest needs: money set aside for unsheltered homelessness is specifically dedicated to serving the highest-need individuals and families, including those living in encampments. Avoid using these funds to serve those who could be aided with other resources.
Ensure that people being served through these plans have meaningful choices and that plans adhere to Housing First principles and practices.
Incorporate the needed services by collaborating closely with partners, including health care and housing providers, those focused on the needs of older adults, Tribal entities, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, among others. Scoring criteria in the NOFO emphasizes leveraging other resources besides this funding, both for housing and for health care.
The application deadline for this NOFO is October 20, 2022. The Alliance acknowledges the hard work that communities will need to do to complete this application, especially since the process will likely overlap with the regular Continuum of Care NOFO for Fiscal Year 2022, which has not yet been released. However, if used strategically and equitably, these funds will prove to be highly impactful for those CoCs that are successful in receiving them.
This special NOFO provides communities with an opportunity to use recaptured CoC funds to construct, strengthen, and fill gaps in a system that can substantially reduce both unsheltered and rural homelessness. In the coming days the Alliance, as well as HUD and others, will publish and transmit additional material, going into detail about aspects of the NOFO and what we know about how to achieve the results the NOFO seeks to achieve. Please be in touch about questions and issues.