Turning this point in time into a moment in time when we achieve housing justice for all
COVID-19 has pushed an already under-resourced and overstretched shelter system to the brink. Forced to quarantine infected or exposed residents and to observe social distancing within the shelters, a system that was already beyond capacity has a gap of almost 2,000 beds. In the short term, people who were forced to leave shelters have been placed in hotels and motels because of public health safety measures. But when federal funding for this temporary solution ends, they’re going to need homes with supportive services – not to be turned back onto the streets or into crowded shelters.
“The need to provide supportive housing to chronically homeless individuals has never been more acute,” said Christi Staples, who leads United Way’s work to develop a comprehensive strategy to end homelessness for individuals, families and youth. “Homelessness is a public health crisis, and as our state continues to face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must reimagine and rebuild the systems to provide safe, stable housing for everyone.”
At United Way, this work includes an expanded focus on Housing Justice. In short, this means prioritizing the most vulnerable and marginalized communities and people for housing resources, especially those who historically have not had equitable access to housing. It means dismantling policies rooted in systemic racism. It means bringing lived experience to the table to shape solutions. As we invest funding and advocate for resources through this new lens, here are 3 priority areas we will focus on to address homelessness as we emerge from the devastating impact of COVID-19.
1. Creating deeply affordable housing and expanding supportive services.
Supportive housing is very affordable rental housing that creates a platform of stability for vulnerable people. This includes those who are very-low-income and experiencing homelessness as well as those who are leaving institutions or hospitals with no stable housing. Supportive housing is different from transitional or rapid re-housing models in that housing is deeply affordable, and the housing and services are not time-limited. And tenants have a choice of how and when they receive services and housing supports. These supports can include anything from intensive case management to workforce development and childcare. Often, tenants will have their own lease, giving them more control over the relationship with landlords and property managers. But, while independent, they still have dedicated support from case managers to develop the skills that will help them stay housed and thrive within the community.
This approach works. Since 2015, Massachusetts’ first-in-the-nation Pay for Success initiative to reduce chronic individual homelessness has provided stable housing for 1,014 homeless individuals. Through this partnership between the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Way and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, over 87% of the people aided by this program remained housed after one year or have transitioned to a healthy living situation.
These programs succeed by empowering people with the resources they need to live a life of dignity and safety. On a systems level, it’s also much more cost-effective. Pay for Success alone has saved Massachusetts an estimated $2.2 Million in shelter, emergency room, and inpatient hospitalization costs.
2. Ensuring equitABLE REPRESENTATION across sectors
A collective impact approach ensures that all parties involved are equitably represented and that the goals developed are agreed upon by all. This process allows effective solutions to move forward efficiently, preventing multiple agendas and priorities from fragmenting advocacy efforts and creating disjointed outcomes. By focusing on one, unified agenda, our voices will be louder and more powerful, creating more confidence from policymakers and key decision-makers that there is widespread agreement on the solutions and support.
United Way is leading a new movement for Housing Justice and equitable access to affordable housing, supportive services and shared power in decision making. This includes:
- Prioritizing those who haven’t historically had equitable access to housing due to systemic injustices embedded in the housing market.
- Dismantling policies rooted in systemic racism that perpetuate inequitable access.
- Bringing partners to the table (child welfare, mental health, health care, criminal justice, etc) and keeping them at the table to develop a common and unified agenda to move forward.
3. Grounding SOLUTIONS in lived experience
Shifting the decision-making power to community members who have lived experience with housing instability, homelessness and racism and grounding the movement in community-based voices and solutions will be a critical part of re-imagining how we create housing justice.
Historically, solutions to end homelessness have been created by people far removed from the problems they’re attempting to remedy. By bringing community members with lived experience to the table, we can address the existing gaps and build new systems that accurately represent the people they‘re created to serve. This also helps reduce bottlenecks in service, which results when these processes are designed from a textbook without the end-user in mind.
BUILDING A MOVEMENT
Housing justice will take all of us coming to the table, ready and willing to reimagine the system. To this end, we’re launching the United Way Home collective impact campaign to end and prevent homelessness across the lifespan. This movement for Housing Justice shares decision-making power with the community, bringing together players from across different sectors to streamline efforts and create change that lasts. And this is just the beginning. Together, we’re making sure that no one gets left out in the cold.