The current pandemic has shined a spotlight on pre-existing structural problems that lie beneath the massive inflow of people into homelessness and how federal policies perpetuate them. In a brief slide deck, I recently highlighted for Congressman Derek Kilmer how federal labor and housing policies seed homelessness, particularly for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), making it virtually impossible for many communities, even those with robust homeless services systems, to keep up with the inflow of new people losing their housing and needing shelter and other assistance.
The Sisyphean task facing local governments and their homeless services partners has been front-of-mind every day over the past few months as I’ve supported local homeless services systems across the country in responding to the pandemic. An example that highlights the scale of the problem:
Seattle and King County in 2019 saw its homeless services system exit 19,600 people, but had a net increase in homelessness as 21,200 new people entered the system. The King County homeless services system’s data show that Black residents are 5 times more likely than Whites to become homeless and American Indian-Alaska Natives 7 times more likely.
Until federal policy squarely takes on the intertwined and mutually compounding inequities created by systemic racism, stagnant wages for low-income workers, and the dramatic growth (pre-pandemic) in the number of renter households teetering on the verge of eviction, communities will continue to struggle to focus sufficient resources and services on the people who need the most assistance in exiting homelessness–those with acute and chronic medical and behavioral health conditions, histories of trauma, and other stubborn barriers to personal stability.