Homelessness is Solvable: Key Suggestions from Our Policy Forum

Suggestions to End Homelessness
            On June 14th, Care for the Homeless and the LIU Brooklyn MPA Program held a Policy Forum on Preventing and Ending Homelessness in New York City. Over 300 people came together to discuss how to prevent and end homelessness in New York City. The Forum included multiple panels and presentations on a range of pressing topics involving homelessness. It featured panelists who were educators, advocates, policy makers, service providers and experts in the field, including a number of people with the lived experience of homelessness.

The Policy and Advocacy team at Care for the Homeless and staff from LIU’s MPA program compiled a list of suggestions that were shared by the speakers and panelists during the Forum and the attendees who added their ideas to our suggestion box. It was our promise that we would put all the suggestions together and circulate it to Forum participants and New York City policymakers. Some of these suggestions are small or very incremental, and others are big picture ideas. Many are long discussed concepts, but others are novel. Some are specific to the homelessness crisis in New York City, but many are also applicable to areas around the country or around the world.
Thank you to all who contributed!  It is now up to each of us to work for the better public policies that we know can end homelessness as we know it!

We are in the most severe affordable housing crisis in history. Those that are living in deep poverty, and people with extremely low incomes, are disproportionately affected. Homelessness policies have focused on creating more affordable housing for the most vulnerable to keep people from becoming homeless, but the pace has not kept up with the demand. Having adequate permanent stable housing for people experiencing homelessness is a critical step towards ending the cycle of homelessness because it provides stability to allow them to connect with the services needed for employment and/or health care. In the long run, providing housing (especially supportive housing) results in cost savings because it prevents people from cycling in and out of homelessness, which is the ultimate goal. Not surprisingly, many of the suggestions had to with the need to increase housing options for extremely low income or homeless people. Below are suggestions to prevent and end homelessness:
-       To prevent eviction, vacancy decontrol and preferential rents need to be regulated because they are an increasing cause of displacement, and ultimately, homelessness
-       Move shelter residents and homeless New Yorkers into permanent housing and provide support services
-       30,000 Supportive Housing Units, as proposed by New York City and New York State, but in 5-to-7 Years
-       Build more supportive housing, but over a reasonable time (not 10 or 15 years)
-       Shorter timelines for housing programs in general
-       Much like NYC has a “Right to Shelter” let’s enact a “Right to Housing”
-       “Housing not Warehousing”. This is legislation that will mandate an annual count of vacant property in NYC, mandate a registry for all landlords holding their properties vacant and compile a list of all city, state and federally owned vacant property that can be used for affordable housing
-       Community Land Trust for government owned vacant properties
-       Under the Community Land Trust, use vacant land and publicly owned buildings in New York City to create immediate housing for people living in deep poverty
-       Social impact bonds to turn shelters into stable housing
-       Pass the “Home stability Support” legislation that modernizes the New York State shelter allowance for public assistance eligible households to 85% of the current HUD determined fair market rate  which reduces evictions and keeps families in their homes
-       Legalize already existing New York City basement apartments to expand tenant protections and create affordable housing for extremely low income people living in deep poverty
-       Create more permanent housing
-       The federal government must make adequate Capital funds available to renovate substandard public housing units and get them back in use
-       Protect affordable units and other incentive programs during development
-       Curb privatized “Public” housing. For example, Nixon-era vouchers and Bloomberg’s “80/20” infill programs transfer public money to private landlord and developer hands that needs to be regulated
-       Socialize real estate investment. If the land in New York is so profitable for development, then the city of New York needs to get in the game and build its own asset portfolio
-       Make full use of affordable housing resources to end homelessness by increasing the number of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) units set aside for homeless families and individuals
-       Repair NYCHA and HPD apartments to increase supply of available units
-       Use existing vacant apartments under Housing Preservation and Development and the New York City Housing Authority’s control to house homeless families and adults, immediately
-       More Housing First (similar to Utah) models in New York City
-       Relinquish HPD apartments from landlords who exploit their tenants and NYCHA apartments needing repairs. Then take these apartments and give them to nonprofits and let them rehabilitate them. Then those units can go to low income families and single adults who reside in New York City
-       Our Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy (FEPS) program is failing, the city needs to work on policy or laws to prevent that from happening.
-       Add a modest fee to all eviction and foreclosure filings as a dedicated source of funding for more housing for extremely low income people
-       Transitional Community Residence/Single Room Occupancy needs to be permanent housing, not a long-term stay pending a shared apartment
-       Create more vouchers and eviction prevention programs and partner clients with local Community Based Organizations with the expertise to connect them to funding and resources
-       Provide housing vouchers for those released from prison or discharged from state institutions
-       Pass legislation guaranteeing a non-time limited voucher entitlement for anyone who was homeless (done in Minnesota)
-       Given the anticipated decrease in federal funding (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development cuts), it is even more important that New York City  shift more focus from shelter to affordable housing/rent assistance
-       Make it harder for local governments to restrict developments that include substantial affordable housing, a way to fight NIMBYism (Not in my backyard-ism)
-       More socialized housing options
-       Stop increasing rent at the current rates and levels
-       More eviction prevention funding to stop evictions and help maintain people in their apartments
-       Take all public funds used to pay for storage of goods and use them to create housing for poor people
-       Restructure the New York City housing lottery system to favor extremely low income families
-       There are many old buildings in Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Manhattan. Why not have those building remodeled or torn down and rebuilt to host or serve as shelters, affordable housing units, program rehabilitations, centers or training facilities for homeless populations in NYC
-       Expand “Pay for Success” Models,  an approach to contracting that ties payment for service delivery to the achievement of measurable outcomes, i.e. “Homestretch” housing
-       To help New Yorkers fight eviction, the city needs to provide cash assistance to pay arrears and support legal services to increase housing stability
-       Promote programs for supportive housing residents that allows them to “move on” when ready
-       Create a “McArthur Genius” type competition to  come up with new ideas about how to create permanent, stable housing for people experiencing homelessness

Landlords and Realtors
Much of the blame for increases in homelessness in major cities is targeted toward rising rent prices and lack of effective government regulation over housing units. It is extremely difficult to get policy changed and new legislation passed, but the local and state government must do better. There was a wide range of suggestions directed at “market actors” including landlords and realtors for how we could make housing more available. Here are the highlights:
-       Offer more real estate guidance and assistance to people experiencing homelessness, like “navigators” for people seeking health insurance
-       Bar landlords who discriminate or abuse public programs from participating in any other government programs
-       There need to be policies put in place that make it harder for landlords to reject applicants and discriminate against people who were previously homeless and struggling
-       Implement better training for all licensed realtors regarding penalties for discrimination
-       Implement a tax for building owners who do not offer 50% of their units at an affordable cost, including some units for extremely low income people
-       Change the real estate policies for New York City and extend rent stabilization for all low income households
-       Make additional housing available in current market rent buildings
-       Generate more incentives for landlords to supply affordable housing units
-       Enforce anti-discrimination laws that criminalize discrimination based on rejecting any legal source of paying rent, i.e voucher programs
-       Increase fines and penalties for landlords who exploit their tenants. Offer them an alternative of turning people over to a public trust created for the purpose of using housing stock for people experiencing homelessness
-       The landlords and realtors need to be introduced to the Living in Communities (LINC) Rental Assistance program vouchers and encouraged to participate in order to create trust which was lost after funding for the Advantage Program was pulled, making it difficult for clients to find housing

Children and Young Adults
When most people picture homelessness, they think of a single, typically older, adult. Unfortunately, homelessness among children has skyrocketed in recent years. It now accounts for about 40% of the daily census in New York City Department of Homeless Services shelters. That figure is only for children in homeless families in the shelter system, but there are also many unaccompanied or runaway youth without housing and “feeder systems” for homelessness including the foster care system.  Often youth and young adults are not counted as “homeless” because they move around between relatives or friends, but they must not be overlooked.
-       Work much harder to prepare foster kids and at risk youths for the real world and make sure they know the full extent of their legal rights, as well as available benefits and supports
-       There needs to be more aftercare services post foster care
-       We need to give youth access and allow them to qualify for supportive/stable housing
-       There needs to be more tracking of young people after they leave shelters and/or foster care
-       The Right to shelter must be extended to include emancipated young people
-       Stop allowing DHS to separate adult children (18+) from their families when they enter PATH for placement. It is important to allow families to remain together so that the adult children can work and increase the likelihood that the family can obtain and maintain stable housing
-       Provide more/better after school programs to assist students at-risk of homelessness, especially in shelters
-       It would be beneficial to offer New York City homeless people, especially young people, free access to college courses, and support them getting a degree. Better education will create better employment opportunities
-       At the state and local levels, we must work to provide more high school work programs/internships so young adults can develop key skills to hold a successful career and contribute to the community. This would also allow them to build connection with employers who could help them in the future
-       Create an effective volunteer mentoring program with a goal of providing effective mentoring to every kid and young adult in shelter
-       Systems for young people going into the shelters (foster care, juvenile justice, domestic violence ect.) should help establish a requirement to create a written housing plan for each kid, at least 90 days from their “release date”
-       Establish a work program as a last resort for all kids over age 16 in shelters who want a job, offering both training and an opportunity for full-time work

Changes that could be made within shelters
Many people expressed interest in giving less money to shelters and more to affordable housing, but it is very important that we do not dismiss the shelter system. Shelter care is a key to ending homelessness and transitioning people to stable housing. As the system currently exists, shelters must become a crucial stepping stone out of homelessness. Shelters must provide the best services and environment that they can in order to get people back on their feet.  
-       It is crucial that shelters let residents be more independent so they are better prepared to live on their own once they get out of the shelter
-       Provide access to legal advisors for homeless people or people trying to escape homelessness
-       Improve shelter-divide. Intake units must place consumers with the services they need
-       Improve safety in shelters so that people feel safe to reside in them
-       There should be more specialized shelters, especially for people with disabilities or medical conditions, that provide specialized services
-       Provide health centers in all shelters
-       Every shelter should have co-located services, especially medical and mental health services
-       Every shelter should offer General Education Programs and other educational and vocational programs to help people receive beneficial education and training
-       Consumers must have more of a voice in what shelter they are placed in
-       There should be better efforts to place residents in or very near the community they have family or other social ties to, and where they are familiar with things and feel comfortable
-       Pay to end homelessness vs. pay for homeless shelters
-       Need for more “on demand” mental health care at shelters
-       Shelters should work to provide fulltime job opportunities to residents
-       Treat shelter residents with dignity, recognizing their ability to make choices for themselves
-       New York City needs a robust medical respite program- expand the Bronx Hospital Consortium demonstration project
-       Create medically appropriate shelters for residents with chronic conditions
-       Create “one stop shop” services in all shelters where care managers provide information and assistance with all benefit and support service programs

Policy Forum media panel (left to right): Courtney Gross of NY 1, Rosa Goldensohn of Crains New York, Zyphus Lebrun of CUNY TV, and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits

Ending Stigma, Expanding Public Knowledge, and Cultivating Community Involvement
It is time to end the stigma against poor and homeless people. Stigma is detrimental to society because it prevents people from getting involved in ending homelessness and it is detrimental to people experiencing homelessness because it makes it more difficult for them to obtain housing or employment. As policy forum panelist Zyphus Lebrun said, “We cannot be afraid to talk about these issues because of their stigma”. There’s so much more we can do to educate our peers and engage our community on the topic of homelessness. The following are some ideas:
-       Ending the stigma against homelessness in communities would be hugely beneficial to gain financial and community support to move affordable housing into nice neighborhoods
-       Advertise against “not in my back yard”(NIMBY) and promote local support of people experiencing homelessness by raising money from residents and get them more comfortable with the idea of helping homeless people to welcome them into their communities and neighborhoods
-       The religious community plays an important role in educating New York on social issues. It is important to call on them to help them humanize homelessness
-       We must increase public education on the many facets of homelessness so people can understand the actual face of it
-       We need to work on tapping into people’s emotions by telling real stories to remind the world that we’re housing people
-       The Face of Homelessness campaign is a great way to personalize homelessness and familiarize the public with the many facets of homelessness. It is important to note that the face of homelessness is shifting. It used to be single adults and now it is young adults, families with kids and young white people.  Because of the changing demographic, new interest in homelessness is being generated
-       Advocates need to stop stigmatizing single adults by creating categories of “more deserving” poor, like families with children
-       We need more advocates and homeless people who are willing to represent and speak publicly about the issue because personal stories allow people to relate and feel like they have a stake in the issue
-       We need to shift the way that homelessness is framed in the media and within the community of advocates. Shifting the rhetoric from an endless battle to one that contains a positive message with tangible solutions will perhaps counter “compassion fatigue” and can move people to understand that homelessness can be solved
-       The public needs more information on what to do when they come across a homeless person so they know how to best help them at the moment
-       Additional community involvement and coordination to provide support would be very beneficial. For example, clinics or shelters could coordinate on-site tutoring through local schools/universities
-       Politicians and policy makers need to have firsthand experience of homelessness either by meeting, visiting, or sharing a meal with a currently homeless family, single adult or aged out youth, and/or living on the streets and/or shelter for thirty days
-       Media should work to individualize stories of homeless people- each person is an individual with their own story
-       Need more “stories of success”, like the summer solstice stories of how homeless people overcome tremendous obstacles to find stable housing, employment, and deal with health issues
-       Treat people experiencing homelessness with dignity, let them make their own decisions, stop treating them like children

Access to good healthcare is crucial to helping people bring themselves out of homelessness. Nonprofits such as Care for the Homeless strive to provide the best healthcare possible throughout the city, but limited resources make this task very difficult. We know that people experiencing homelessness have extraordinary barriers to accessing medical healthcare, but we also know that adequate high-quality and appropriate healthcare produces far better outcomes and facilitates the transition from unstable housing to more permanent solutions. We also know that mental health care is often a contributor to becoming homeless or the inability to escape homelessness. It is very clear that we need to improve the way we diagnose and treat mental health issues for people experiencing homelessness. Shelters must provide a more comprehensive and readily available mental and medical healthcare model. Here are a few things that could be very beneficial to addressing mental and health care services for people experiencing homelessness:
-       Make health centers/healthcare more accessible to people experiencing homelessness by:
·         having locations that are easy to reach via public transportation
·         having extremely flexible hours for people who are work during the days
·         provide childcare for parents who have no one to leave their kids with
·         Provide evening hours at health centers in shelters and drop in centers
-       Promote healthier habits and provide health education consistently, before serious issues arise
-       Provide on demand drug and addiction services
-       We need medical respite shelters, so people in hospitals that don’t require very high levels of care, but can’t be released to the streets or a shelter, can be discharged
-       Provide more in depth mental health screenings and treatment
-       Stop co-occurring health and/or social problems if possible
-       Try to push government partners to be creative in their utilization of public spaces such as schools, libraries, and fire stations to use as temporary clinics for services like flu shots or brief annual checkups.
-       Create locations that are a “one stop shop” in community health
-       Post hospitalization recuperation/ respite with path for accelerated housing placement 
-       Conduct an in depth trauma-informed approach training for those working within shelter systems
-       We need more supportive housing for those trapped in adult homes/shelters with mental illness that offers services when they are requested
-       Continue to expand access to community based supports such as Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams for those struggling with mental illness
-       Coordinate locating community health centers near all shelters, community health centers can help de-stigmatize treatment
-       Serve healthier and better food at shelters, make fresh produce readily available

Much of the hard work to end homelessness has come from nonprofits and advocacy groups. They play a huge role in providing immediate care for homeless people on a day to day basis as well as generating progress through our elected representatives in the long run. Since funding is scarce, it is important that these groups do not allow money to create undue competition and remember that they are all fighting for the same cause. It is equally important that politicians continue to listen to and support these advocacy groups and bolster their efforts with just and effective policies.
-       The government needs to speak more directly with nonprofits and ask them about the direct issues they face with placing their clients into permanent housing
-       Nonprofits, especially nonprofit CEOs should look (demographically) like the people they serve
-       Pay people working to end homelessness much better salaries; many nonprofit and public employees live paycheck to paycheck, almost on the verge of homelessness themselves
-       Increase government funding because the lack of resources creates unnecessary competition between advocacy groups. This is an injustice to everyone because it prevents organizations from working together
-       Less politics and more professionalism
-       Nonprofits should try to hire people from among the vulnerable people they serve, giving their clients the opportunity for full-time decent jobs
-       Support exceptional supportive housing providers to create a standard for other providers to follow
Societal Changes
Homelessness is a direct reflection of our society. We cannot pride ourselves on being an extremely developed and advanced nation, while our neighbors sleep on the streets. We cannot think of it simply as a government problem or an issue that only plagues people living in poverty because we know it can happen to anyone.  As panelist Elizabeth Cohen said, “homelessness is not a diagnosis-it is a symptom of poverty and instability”. None of us should forget that homelessness is solvable.
-       There may be different solutions to ending homelessness in different neighborhoods. It is very important for legislators to consider local vs. hyper local solutions
-       End racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and ageism
-       Develop a strategy for addressing systemic issues in our society
-       Give people experiencing homelessness dignity and hear them, let them make their own choices, empower them to speak for themselves
-       There is a lack of integrated continuous support for people trying to come out of homelessness. People must help with making sure they are on the right track and mentors must help them learn what “the right track” is
-       End fear of applying to federal programs for immigrants. Many are extremely worried that they will be at risk for deportation if they reach out for help even though they do qualify for many programs
-       Right to legal counsel for undocumented people
-       Sanctuary cities don’t offer enough for immigrants. We need to make social service programs and subsidies available to undocumented people
-       Conduct more surveys directly with people experiencing homelessness so we can target the biggest challenges they face more precisely
-       Create equal opportunity in terms of employment and education
-       Hold your elected officials accountable- vote, call, email, attend hearings, ask questions!
-       Adequate resources for civil legal representation for poor people so they are not priced out of the justice system
-       Change the HOPE Count so it more accurately counts homeless people indoors (like all night restaurants, etc.), and includes people in Domestic Violence shelters, HASA transitional housing, and all city shelter system

Local Changes

New York City is one of the greatest and most unique places on earth. What separates New York from the average city is its expansive diversity in culture, race, religion, beliefs, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Its greatness makes it also one of the most desirable and expensive places to live, making it difficult to find stable affordable housing, especially for extremely low income households and those in deep poverty. The city has an obligation to help everyone find and maintain a place to call home, regardless of income or past history. The following are local suggestions for policy changes:

-       Evaluate and partner with regional leadership around money spent to shelter residents from municipalities outside of New York City ie: New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Ask for additional money from these states or to federal government based on those numbers
-       We can end homelessness by getting the city to comply to the right to shelter
-       Build more public transportation lines near affordable housing so people can still access jobs easily or build denser housing near transit hubs
-       Eliminate restrictive building codes to allow for higher density development
-       Create work groups for specific shelter populations (that are typically hard to place)  to bring shelter providers and the Department of Homeless Services/Human Resources Administration together to discuss barriers and solutions to permanent placement
-       Adopt a low cost MTA fare for people in poverty or in extremely low income jobs

State Changes
The state has tremendous power to end homelessness. The coordination between New York State (NYS) and New York City (NYC) is lacking when it is most important for them to work together to allocate resources to NYC where the highest percentage of homeless people live in NYS. Some suggestions that were submitted multiple times to our suggestion box were that New York State should raise minimum wage and increase funding towards affordable housing. Below are other suggestions:
-           Authorize the development of all 20,000 promised supportive housing units immediately as NYC has done
-           Adequately fund human services; eliminate artificial 2% budget cap
-           Create a regulatory structure to authorize the safe operation of “medical respite” program
-           The Federal government decreased veteran homelessness; this could be a model for the state to do the same
-           Higher New York State housing benefits could be an opportunity to engage reputable landlords. For example, enterprise community partners’ come home NYC recruited landlords to supply apartments for homeless families with children and provided a guarantee fund up to $3,000/lease to offset costs
-           Coordinate state and local regulatory matters such as inspections of shelters to avoid costly duplication
-           Co-operate on matters of real emergency shelter for people in situations like Hurricane Sandy
-           Create better protections against evictions and stronger penalties for violations
-           Create a real program for state government to promote hiring people experiencing homelessness in fulltime life-sustaining work
-           Provide comprehensive aftercare services to clients who are placed for up to one year to provide support and guidance to avoid/reduce recidivism
-           Create population specific rental subsidies that have built in structures to support placement, permanency and educational career growth
-           A right to shelter should also include a right to comprehensive mandatory services
-           Stop giving developers, landlords, and corporations tax credits
-           Work on general programs like Living in Communities (LINC), Section 8, Special exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS) programs, which don’t cover the economic credit standards of landlords. The client’s background is another obstacle and these factors affect us greatly in the development of our work to place clients in permanent housing
-           Use a portion of Medicaid, or other healthcare funding, for housing for people experiencing unstable housing, on the basis that stable housing produces much better healthcare outcomes, and actually saves more in health care spending than it costs
-           Pass and fund Home Stability Support in 2018-2019 budget to increase housing allowance for people on public assistance
-           Authorize localities to expand the DRIE program to include households where the disabled family member is not the head of household, for example, a child with a disability
-           Provide housing vouchers for those released from prison or discharged from state institutions
-           Strengthen rent laws: Eliminate vacancy decontrol and vacancy bonuses in the rent laws
-           Require allocation of 20% of vacancies in Mitchell Lama developments to serve homeless households with a disabled member and provide each with a state or federally-funded housing voucher
-           Double the independent living and preventive foster care housing subsidies to $600 per month (See A.00259/S.01291)
-           Adequately fund human services; eliminate artificial 2% budget cap
-           Enforce anti-discrimination laws

Federal Changes
The federal government must step up on funding to end homelessness throughout the nation. States have most of the jurisdiction over legislation affecting homelessness, but only the federal government has the resources to end homelessness, and there are some things that must be done on the national level.
-       We need to change the definitions of homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition must include people who are couch surfing, living in motels, living with a pimp and/or trading sex for shelter
-       Increase HUD’s ability to serve and house low-income individuals
-       Fund public housing at a level that meets the needs of people experiencing homelessness
-       Provide adequate Capital funds to renovate public housing and get the apartments available for rent
-       Someone must create an effective way to end homelessness on the state level, and prove that it can be replicated nationally to encourage federal funding
-       Eliminate the mortgage interest tax
-       Really enforce housing discrimination laws
-       Create a tax credit for renters to give them the kind of assistance mortgage holders get
-       Provide a base universal income floor to lift people out of extreme poverty
-       Structure program like reverse redlining and give incentives for development in those areas for supportive housing
-       The government could take money in federal subsidies for mortgage deductions that go to some of the wealthiest people and put it into housing assistance 
-       A Universal, single payer, Medicare for all types of healthcare would provide better out comes and save money
-       Fund programs for adequate mental health, addiction treatment and other basic and necessary services

We have made progress in the fight against homelessness, but we still have a long way to go. As one participant stated, “the world needs to have more forums like this policy forum so that agencies are on the same page and up to date with the latest developments and communities have a structured environment to discuss possible solutions”. At Care for the Homeless and LIU’s MPA program, we believe that if we all work together, we can end homelessness in a matter of years, not decades. It was a great pleasure bringing together people with different levels of expertise and experience. If this is indicative of the level of dedication towards the goal of preventing and ending homelessness in New York City, we are on the path to ending homelessness in years, not decades. 

Thank you to everyone to contributed to this list and please keep the dialogue going!

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