In 2023, the United States experienced an all-time high in homelessness. Experts believe there were a variety of contributing factors, including the winding down of critical government resources, the ongoing housing shortage, zoning laws, and inflation. Regardless of the cause, there is a clear need for action to cut down the number of Americans facing homelessness.  

This swell in unhoused Americans is leading policymakers and activists alike to find solutions to make affordable housing accessible to more people. While there is not one clear answer, research and real-world examples have pointed to a few key strategies for how to solve homelessness.  

Strategic Public-Private Partnerships 

Homelessness is a broad issue that can’t be solved by a single sector. So, efforts need to extend outside of just public programs and take a more collaborative approach to make a significant impact. When government programs, individuals, and businesses come together, they’re able to create stronger change than they can alone. 

One example where this has had positive results so far is the Funders Together to End Homelessness program in San Diego. A mix of individual, public, and private funders joined forces to take on homelessness from all angles, including education, advocacy, strategic resource planning, and more. 

This group was able to turn $240,000 of funding into $10 million of public funding that’s been employed to combat homelessness in the greater San Diego area. 

We need more housing 

Since the shortage of housing is one of the main contributors to the housing crisis, employing tactics to create more housing, especially affordable, multi-family housing, is one of the most critical tactics for how to solve homelessness. 

According to experts, this begins with zoning reform. On both sides of the aisle, legislators are looking to fight laws that override local control over certain land-use decisions. These reforms are typically pushing for the removal of single-family-only zoning to allow for more diverse housing options like Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), duplexes, and triplexes.  

Some states have already begun to enact some of these changes and are getting more creative with housing locations, for example, by turning vacant stores into homes.  

One critical consideration noted here is how to incentivize the building of this affordable housing. Offering things like tax credits and preferential financing for developers who are building affordable housing gets more developers to hop on board since it creates long-term advantages for them. 

Current programs, like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) have been successful in getting several million affordable homes built, as well as creating jobs and boosting the economy. The expansion of these programs and the addition of new programs can help to accelerate this and further reduce the housing shortage.  

Address racial inequities 

One of the root causes of homelessness throughout the United States history may go far deeper than financial means. A lot of research points to a clear and consistent racial gap in homelessness, with people of color experiencing much higher rates nationally.  

Cornell conducted a study, the first to report national race and ethnicity disparities among the homeless population, and they found that Black and indigenous Americans were far more likely to experience homelessness. In a 10-year period, the lowest rate of homelessness among the Black population was still four times greater than their white and Asian counterparts. Similar findings were uncovered for the indigenous population, with their lowest rates of homelessness being 2 times greater than white and Asian populations.  

Another 2021 study was conducted to try to get to the root cause of this disparity. What they found was that the staggering racial differences in homelessness are a result of failed social and economic systems. Rather than poverty alone, populations are made more vulnerable by decreased access to safe and affordable housing, difficulty securing employment that pays a living wage, criminal justice involvement, behavioral health challenges, and family stabilization.  

Other factors like the systemic lack of access to high-quality education and affordable healthcare also seem to impact the likelihood of people of color to face housing instability.  

This points to an apparent need to employ an equity-based – rather than equality-based – approach to solve homelessness to directly address the societal disadvantages that people of color face.  

For a strong example of how an effective, equitable approach would look, Santa Clara County, California put together a Community Plan to End Homelessness. This plan included actionable steps to decrease the contribution of systemic racism as one of the root causes of homelessness.  

Some of these steps included: 

  • Centering the voices of people of color who have experienced homelessness in the policy and program design decisions. 
  • Increasing access to supportive housing programs for people of color by addressing racial bias in existing systems. 
  • Providing trauma-informed care and anti-racism training to all staff working with people experiencing homelessness.  
  • Aligning racial work in the homelessness sector with other racial equity initiatives.  

Public program – housing choice vouchers 

While all the actions mentioned up to this point are best positioned to address the root cause of homelessness and are more likely to lead to lasting change, many of those strategies may take more time to become fully fleshed out. Because of this, public programs like Housing Choice Vouchers are needed to provide relief in the meantime.  

In addition to expanding the funding of these programs in order to reduce the lengthy wait times (which is an average of 4 years) and get people into affordable housing more quickly, there’s also a need to build awareness around these programs.  

In a study conducted by UC San Francisco – the largest study on homelessness in over 2 decades – they found that many people experiencing homelessness were unaware of programs like Housing Choice Vouchers, with only 36% seeking out help from government agencies. Meanwhile, 90% believe that receiving Housing Choice Vouchers would have prevented their homelessness.  

There’s a clear need to boost community outreach and education around these programs, increase housing navigation services, and create/enforce anti-discrimination laws that can give more people access to these programs.  

In the wildly popular book Evicted, based on a year of on-the-ground ethnographic research, researcher Matthew Desmond suggested that a universal housing voucher program is perhaps the best solution to combat homelessness, so long as it’s paired with stricter limits on the prices that landlords can impose. He offers this as not only an effective solution, but also one that is highly probable and can actually help to save federal dollars.  

There’s Also Room for Improvement Within Housing Authorities 

The employees that work in the housing authorities that oversee managing, distributing, and tracking these public funds are increasingly bogged down with inefficiencies. Government agencies in general are handicapped by an abundance of time-consuming, manual tasks. Many organizations are still using physical pieces of paper in filing cabinets to manage processes, and others are using clunky, dated technology that’s not much more of a step up.  

These inefficiencies are costly, leading to decreased performance by employees that leads to more hours needed to get work done and more mistakes.  

Investing in more streamlined, purpose-built software like Neighborly Software for Housing Choice Vouchers can eliminate the most time-consuming pain points in this process, allowing housing authorities to free up time to focus on the work that matters. It also provides a seamless platform for applicants, potentially eliminating some of the pain points that may have prevented them from applying before.  

There is not just one clear answer to how to solve homelessness 

Preventing a continual rise in the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States likely requires a multi-faceted approach. The best chance at creating real change involves a well-rounded approach, incorporating social reform, public programs, and technology. 

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