This symposium included the input of lawmakers and experts in the field of homelessness, as they attempted to address its causes, impacts, qualities, and solutions. While an obvious cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing, other factors played a role including poverty, income disparity, mental health, unemployment, lack of resources, and discrimination. Each of these factors can lead to temporary or even permanent homelessness.
Some lawmakers focused on youth struggling with the effects of homelessness. Representative Danny K Davis claimed that one issue was that, while resources are available, they are not properly targeted to youth. He cites a lack of educational programs and institutions as a significant issue. Representative Lowenthal’s district in California serves as an example that other issues, such as mental health, can sometimes play a larger role than poverty, as he approximates that 1 out of 4 high school students are in and out of homelessness in a relatively affluent community. Furthermore, Representative Davis acknowledged that operational issues can play a role, mentioning an example of a family who lost their home because they did not receive the social security benefits they were owed.
The topic of discrimination also must be taken into account considering homelessness disproportionately affects African Americans and other minorities. Marc Dones, the Executive Director of National Innovation Services explained that it is crucial to consider historical and structural racism as a driver of homelessness. Dones holds the belief that network impoverishment reduces the margin of error for minority families trying to stay afloat. Representative Joyce Beatty acknowledged this as an issue and called for the people at the top to promote diversity and inclusion. The lawmakers on the other side of the political spectrum focused most of their time speaking about veteran homelessness. They found mental health issues and addiction to be some of the main causes. Representative Zeldin explained that many veterans feel isolated and alone, so he has found success using a peer-to-peer support model.
Among lawmakers, there was a generally held belief that working together is the only way to solve the problem of homelessness. They argued that bipartisan cooperation and an effort to allocate more resources to solve the problem. Other more specific solutions were posed as well. When asked about legislation or initiatives that could be used to tackle the problem, Executive Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness Dr. Marbut contends that affordable housing stems from affordable construction. By removing red tape and making it easier and less costly to build housing, he believes that more affordable housing will be available. Dr. Marbut was also a strong proponent of services being merged with housing, as it had a higher success rate according to his data. This proved to be a point of dissention among the experts, as many championed a housing first model. Other research found this model to be effective.
A benefit of the housing first model is that it still offers the services, but housing is not conditional on the use of them. The other solutions proposed by experts included more creative and affordable housing, low-interest loans, more housing vouchers, and a flexible pod of funds.