Reggie Black at NAEH
Reginald Black

During the week of July 13, service providers and advocates converged on Washington to discuss homelessness at the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The conference itself is a place where hundreds of people with the same mission — ending homelessness in the United States — come together to guide each other through best practices in housing models and outreach efforts. They also try to influence legislation.

Nan Roman, who is the executive director of the alliance, said there was a tremendous amount of content this year. This year held lots of challenges for us on the issue on homelessness.

The gap between people that have and those that don’t have is growing, and many people who don’t have really don’t feel the opportunities to escape poverty are shrinking and not expanding.  There is a tremendous and persistent racial disparity we hear so much about and see so often. The cost of housing is increasing and incomes are not keeping pace with that, she said.

At the national level funding is getting hard to come by. The congress is a little ornery these days.  The work that you all are doing is more sophisticated, Roman said.

Houston has ended veteran homelessness, Roman said.  Virginia has also reduced homelessness.

Roman also praised many rapid rehousing efforts across the nation.

There is a lot of innovation around the country, and I hope you will take lessons from that. It feels to me that we are a bit in the moment about poverty and income inequality, she said.

We have a special moral call to action before us today. We cannot abandon a generation of youth because we don’t have the will to figure out how help them. We cannot be given the tools and resources to end homelessness among veterans and fail though our own lack of urgency and determination to achieve that goal. And we cannot fail to return children who are homeless tonight to housing as quickly as possible, because as imperfect that housing may be it is better than being homeless, Roman said. .

The conference also featured the Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser.

“Ending homelessness in the district of Columbia is one of my top priorities as mayor of the district of Columbia,” Bowser said.

The prosperity puts many pressures on many corners of our city. I would love to tell you that we don’t have homelessness in our town, but we know this isn’t true. Too many of our residents can’t afford to live in their own neighborhoods, far too many. That’s why we are on a mission.The solution is not simple, and one size does not fit all. The solution requires real collaboration.  We have to make an investment into affordable housing, Bowser said.

The event also featured Richard Gere, who debuted a film called Time out of Mind. In the film, Gere plays a homeless man in New York City.

If you keep your eyes open, you see it all the time, he said. It’s not about a movie about backstories, it’s about emotion. The closeness of losing who we are is always lurking. It’s not about numbers, the more numbers we get the number we become.

Gere challenged those at the conference to become engaged.

“This can be solved,” he said, “I want you all out of a job in the next ten years. We have to find a way to know each other in the building; we have to find a way to know each other on the streets.”

Also present during the three day conference was Robert A McDonald, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We have to care for him who was born to battle,” he said, “We also think we have the best values in the world. We’re not there yet but we are making progress.   We’re only at the beginning. We gotta house every American. We got to build a system today for veterans that might be coming 10 12, 20 years from now. We want to partner with you. Let’s work together we’re only at the beginning. I know your heart I know your mind and together we can get this done.”

For more on NAEH 2015, read National Alliance to End Homelessness Finds No “One Size Fits All” Solution.