A photo showing a group of advocates from the National Alliance to End Homelessness in front of Eleanor Holmes Norton's office.
A delegation of advocates from the National Alliance to oEnd Homelessness Conference visited the office of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton noon July 23 to discuss effective polices for ending homelessness // Photo by Jennifer McLaughlin

Housing authorities all across the country are doing new and innovative things to help end homelessness. The recent conference held by the National Alliance to End Homelessness featured a discussion on how housing authorities can be more effective in ending homelessness. 

The panel started with Kara Capobianco, who was on hand to describe efforts by Norwalk Housing Authority in Connecticut. “Be diligent,” she said, suggesting that housing authorities should not be in the business of creating homelessness.  

The panel also featured Tanya Torno who works with the Continuum of Care in Riverside County, California. She said that Riverside is the tenth largest county in the U.S. and the fourth most populous county in California. Torno said 56 percent of this population is living under the poverty level but that her housing authority’s mission is to “really promote healthy thriving communities that reignite hope.”  

She highlighted a family reunification program as well as a program funding housing authorities for persons living with HIV/AIDS. Riverside also has a moving on/special program preference.  

“We recognize that we’re not using this 15 percent that HUD set aside [for natural disasters],” Torno said. “We wanted to earmark these vouchers for individuals who would be waiting for at least the next 12 months. We have a dedicated homeless outreach team.”    

That team also includes realtors as housing navigators. “We do whatever it takes for families to have housing case management. In 2017 we were the first community to reach functional zero,” Torno said.  

She also took some time to describe Riverside County Housing Authority’s response to migrant families, including the provision of transportation and triage service to undocumented persons. “We took it on because nobody else did it,“ Torno said. “Your local public housing authority has access to thousands of landlords.” She emphasized public-private partnerships and recommended service providers find out when their public housing authority begins drafting its administrative plan. 

The panel also included Victoria Mallette from Miami Dade County. According to Mallette, the county has a dedicated food and drink tax that funds additional housing vouchers. “We were the 62nd county to end veteran homelessness,“ she said. 

Mallette shared that Miami Dade County’s Continuum of Care renovates public housing units in need of service repairs and has produced at least 45 new units. “Miami Dade County also used family reunification programs. We are able to refer children who are documented and their parents might not be,“ she said. “Miami Dade prioritizes homeless singles, youth and families.” Mallette recommends that people in other communities know their public housing authority, be proactive, not wait for their PHA to call them, and be responsive.  

All of the panelists agreed housing authorities will have to be an essential part of ending homelessness. Their sole mission and creation was to combat housing instability across the nation.  

The District of Columbia’s public housing stock needs $2.2 billion worth of repairs, according to a proposal released by the D.C. Housing Authority two months ago. Activists who attended the meeting hope that some of the suggestions from the National Alliance to End Homelessness will be the catalyst for the District of Columbia to also reach “functional zero” and in the Bowser administration’s phrase, make homelessness “rare, brief, and non-recurring.