Unsheltered homelessness is the worst it’s been since 2007: How can Missouri do better?
Despite the common understanding that unsheltered homelessness is unbearable and unacceptable, the amount of single adults stranded on the streets in the United States has surpassed the number of single adults living in shelters for the first time since the Point in Time Count in its current form began in 2007. In Missouri, the numbers are a little better, but not by much. According to the most recent Point in Time Count, over 3,000 homeless individuals in Missouri have been left to fend for themselves without shelter of any kind. As Missourians, we have to see that we can do better. The question of most Missourians willing to help is: How?
Rehousing for the Unsheltered Homeless
The HUD Notice of Funding Opportunity’s (NOFO) Policy Priorities and Program Highlights section lists reducing unsheltered homelessness as a top priority. Another acknowledgement made in the NOFO is the important call out of disproportionate health vulnerabilities found among the homeless population. The NOFO provides another chance to double down on rehousing responses that bring people out of encampments and into safe, stabilizing housing options.
Looking to the state of Missouri, we must call our lawmakers to strategic action, not aimless fixes without looking to the future. Without a strategic plan, the state could only perpetuate the trends seen in a majority of communities across the country. Especially due to the fact that people living on the streets can be less likely to seek assistance and could have service needs that extend beyond what Continuum of Care (CoC) programs typically provide.
Prioritizing the Unsheltered Population
Focusing only on the unsheltered homeless population is not the only answer, but it is a place to start. If homeless activists start with action to end unsheltered homelessness, all other action to end homelessness as a whole will surely follow. Two successful ways that experts in the field of ending homelessness have seen this portrayed are through cooperation with local healthcare operations and focusing on Housing First.
Cooperation with Missouri Healthcare
The NOFO strongly encourages building cooperation with the healthcare sector, Public Housing Authorities and other cross sector partners. In Kansas City, we can support organizations like Care Beyond the Boulevard that focus on deploying mobile street medicine teams with homeless outreach teams, prioritize COVID-vulnerable persons into public housing programs via Coordinated Entry Systems and ask outside partners to achieve cross-cutting goals for unsheltered households.
The ultimate goal is not off the streets for tonight, but for good. There are plenty of claims stating that individuals on the streets are not “housing ready,” but we counter those notions with the ideology that any side can get behind: When something is hard, 99% of that, that means it’s worth the effort. Housing someone from the streets often means saving a life.