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Affordable Housing , Homelessness

Homelessness Prevention Needs a Racial Equity Framework

1 July 2019
Alicia Woodsby, Partnership for Strong Communities

Alicia Woodsby
Senior Policy Advisor
Partnership for Strong Communities

As an active participant in the Reaching Home Campaign since 2005, I’ve seen the evolution of the Campaign through multiple phases of progress. Starting with the goal of ending chronic homelessness, we only imagined a time when we could more aggressively target solutions to families with children, youth and other populations of people experiencing homelessness in the state. In seven years, the Campaign built strong public/private partnerships, greatly elevated the political and civic will, and advocated for the creation of over 5,000 units of permanent supportive housing.

Then, after a year of extensive planning, the Campaign launched Opening Doors in CT in 2012 with a statewide road map and set timeframes for how to make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring for those experiencing chronic homelessness, as well as for all Veterans, families with children, and youth. We aspired to reach these milestones while setting a path to end all forms of homelessness -- and finally be able to focus more heavily on preventing it from happening in the first place.

That’s the year I came to work for the Partnership for Strong Communities, or PSC, the backbone organization for Reaching Home. And while I was fully aware of the organization’s powerful policy and advocacy work to create housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness -- I did not understand that it already had a vision for and had been tackling the problem from both ends.

PSC understood that we’d never be able to solve this complex social problem if we didn’t address the structural issues that cause it, like increased demand for and decline in affordable housing options, housing and employment discrimination, residential segregation, and lack of access to mental health and substance services, to name a few. In 2006, PSC’s HOMECT Campaign started the long game of working to reduce the misconceptions surrounding affordable housing and to expand affordable housing options through targeted municipal outreach and education. A core strategy being to reduce exclusionary and increase inclusionary zoning practices.

By 2019, both statewide Campaigns had made significant progress and reached some major milestones, like an end to Veteran homelessness, near end to chronic homelessness, historically low rates of homelessness, creation of the Incentive Housing Zone Program to expand housing options, and affordable housing planning grants to more than 70 municipalities, among others. HOMECT has embarked on a strategic plan to reduce the number of low-income families that spend more than half their income on housing costs, and Reaching Home is amid its third phase of evolution.

This third phase includes the launch of a new statewide goal to make all homelessness in Connecticut rare, brief, and non-recurring by 2023, along with work to implement a new streamlined structure with a core area of focus on preventing individuals and families from becoming homeless by partnering with and helping to drive change in other systems.

The Campaigns are coming closer and closer together as we work with our partners to confront the remaining poverty and housing choice related issues that perpetuate extreme housing instability.

Front of mind for both Campaigns - housing cost burdened families are at risk of homelessness and eviction and are disproportionately people of color. Eviction disproportionally impacts marginalized communities and has lasting impacts on families. Creating prevention approaches to effectively target those at risk of becoming homeless will help to ensure families avoid homelessness and remain stably housed.

We cannot reach our joint goals unless they’re focused on the root causes and racial inequities found among those who experience homelessness and serious housing instability. We must increase partnerships with community-based organizations that serve and represent people of color and have participation by people of color at all levels, and we must create more meaningful partnerships with people with lived experience.

Only together, can we develop and advocate for long-term solutions that address the systemic issues rooted in racial inequity that place people at high risk of homelessness.