Yet, the recent holiday weekend clearly demonstrated that homelessness is solvable! With temperatures and wind chills at dangerous lows, people came from all parts of the community to volunteer at our White Flag shelters – assisting in keeping people warm, and alive. For a few precious days, homelessness was solved for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Homelessness is the reflection of / or symptom of other system failures (education, employment, foster care, health care, mental health, housing barriers).
Think of homelessness as a bellwether. It’s an indicator for how well our systems are serving the needs of populations who are often the most marginalized, oppressed, or disenfranchised. If homelessness is the result of systems failing these individuals — the solution lies in fixing these systems, so they are designed to continuously end homelessness for all populations.
The inability of people to find and afford housing is the major driver of homelessness, and the major solution to it - Everything works better when people have safe, stable, affordable housing.
Committing to reaching zero sounds like an obvious step, but the truth is many people don’t believe homelessness is solvable. Seeing people without a place to live has become such a common experience that it has begun to feel normal. Yet homelessness is not normal — it is a deadly and urgent public health crisis. To solve it, we must first embrace the belief, at all levels of government and across our community, that solutions are both necessary and possible.
The next step is to focus on what we know works for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness — permanent housing. Most people vulnerable to homelessness are in the throes of a short-term health or financial crisis. Connecting them to permanent housing quickly can keep a one-time issue from defining the rest of their lives.
A housing-based approach requires new investments in workforce, affordable and supportive housing to create a broader range of options for people at all points on the income spectrum. Economists have known for years that these investments are good for everyone. They stimulate the economy, facilitate sustainable job growth and improve quality of life in our communities. A housing-based approach also requires a proven way of working together as a community designed to make new housing investments successful. We can’t just build or fund our way out of this problem — we must also bolster the ability of our local housing and social service providers to deliver accountable results with those investments.
Homelessness has been going up slightly every year since 2016. Due to the pandemic, we are experiencing a spike in homelessness. During the past two years, our community has received millions of dollars, through the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan, resources that people who are experiencing homelessness need to return to housing. These resources are not going to be enough to end homelessness, but they certainly help reverse its course.
As difficult and painful as homelessness is, action is the antidote. Learn and Volunteer! Help provide life-saving support, attend public meetings to learn about and support new affordable housing efforts, hold elected officials accountable, financially support the numerous organizations doing the work – you CAN be part of setting a new expectation that no one in Wake County goes without housing.
When 2023 comes to an end, when you look at the reflection of homelessness in our community, what will you see?