Looking back at 2014 brings images of two downed Malaysian Airlines planes, terrible acts by an Islamic group in a faraway land, brave men and women in space suits fighting a deadly disease in Africa, and angry protests in the heartland of America.
For those of us fighting to end homelessness in America, the year of 2014 gives us hope that strategic ideas and initiatives are actually working, albeit slowly. Here are our top highlights of 2014:
Ten -- Social Impact Bonds: With dwindling resources to address homelessness, creative financial models like SIBs are becoming more popular. With SIBs, private investors fund nonprofit programs. If outcomes are met, government pays back the investors with returns from the savings that government earns as a result of successful outcomes.
Nine -- Cities are Taking the Lead: Although homelessness is a national issue, local jurisdictions encounter the brunt of this human tragedy. Some city leaders blame the federal government's lack of resources. Others are using federal resources to address homelessness. Like Phoenix. They are the first city to end chronic veteran homelessness. And Salt Lake City has followed their example.
Eight -- Linking Services to Housing Is the Norm: For years, homeless service advocates fought the idea that supportive housing (also called Housing First) was the answer to homelessness. Now, when community and political leaders talk about ending homelessness, Housing First is always mentioned as the solution. The next challenge is how to provide effective services that keep people permanently housed for the long term.
Seven -- Cost of Homelessness Is a Bi-Partisan Answer: It is hard to argue against saving public dollars. With homelessness costing the public sector (for example: healthcare, law enforcement, incarceration) thousands of dollars per person, advocates for housing are successfully convincing leaders to invest in ending homelessness in order to save public dollars. In Los Angeles, a study showed that housing four chronically homeless persons saved the city $80,000 per year.
Six -- Matching People to Housing: Communities across the country are designing entry systems that coordinate how people living on the streets can access housing. It is called a coordinated entry system, and it's like a match.com program where people who are homeless are matched to appropriate services and housing.
Five -- A Better Economy: More people are landing jobs. Consumers are more confident about the economy. This also means the threat of homelessness for families and adults is less. An economy that thrives also, theoretically, increases funding to charity, including homelessness. Are happy days here again?
Four -- Less Boots on the Ground: After 13 years, America's participation in the
war in Afghanistan is being reduced significantly. A part of America's homeless population consists of returning veterans unable to stay housed. With less Americans fighting on foreign soil, this means less veterans sleeping on American soil when they return.
Three -- Housing Veterans Has Become a Success: During a year when the Veterans Administration has been demonized, from inefficient hospitals to struggling call centers, one hopeful VA outcome has emerged. In FY2014, the VA invested $1.4 billion to house homeless veterans, and the program worked. The number of homeless veterans around the country is falling dramatically.
Two -- Homelessness is Becoming a Health Issue: Despite the fact that Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is a politically debatable issue, this new health initiative is giving more and more people who are homeless access to healthcare. Housed people with unmet medical needs are more likely to face homelessness, and unhoused people are less likely to end their homelessness if they can't resolve their medical issues. The ACA might be what the doctor ordered for ending homelessness in America.
One -- 100,000 Reasons Why Ending Homelessness Could Be a Reality: They did it! Four years ago, Community Solutions embarked on a daring mission to house 100,000 of America's most chronically homeless persons. Despite some skeptics, they were able to mobilize 186 communities across the country to count, survey, and house the most vulnerable within their homeless populations. In July 2014, they, along with their community partners, collectively housed 105,580 people. Who says homelessness cannot be ended?