Despite local successes in moving unhoused people into permanent housing, the state of emergency remains due to the increasing rates of people falling into homelessness. The challenge of addressing such complex and wide-ranging issues as homelessness is that the root causes are many, and varied, and often are complex and interconnected. Addressing the root causes of homelessness is, for many individuals and organizations, a constant and ever-evolving task.
Below are excerpts from the 2022 report to the President from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) identifying the needs and challenges to addressing the issues of homelessness. 1
Communities face many challenges in the work to prevent and end homelessness, including:
• Lack of Housing Supply:
Housing ultimately ends homelessness, but prior to the pandemic, the U.S. lacked an estimated 7 million affordable and available homes for renters with the lowest incomes, disproportionately impacting people of color—especially Black/African Americans.
• Rise of Rent Amid Slow Wage Growth:
Wages continue to fail to keep up with rising rents. According to a 2021 report, in no state can a person working full-time at the federal minimum wage afford a two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent. As a result, 70% of the lowest-wage households routinely spend more than half of their income on rent, placing them at risk of homelessness if any unexpected expenses or emergencies arise.
• Inadequate Access to Quality Health Care, Education, and Supportive Services:
Low-barrier, culturally and linguistically competent, and accessible supportive services—including mental and substance use disorder treatment—often are not available or funded at a level to meet the need, especially in rural areas. People seeking these services may face long waits or may not receive them at all, and service providers may only be reimbursed for a fraction of the cost of care.
• Limited Alternatives to Unsheltered Homelessness:
The number of people living in tents and vehicles continues to rise. In many communities, a rise in encampments has resulted in the criminalization of homelessness through encampment clearings, public camping bans, and other policies. These “out of sight, out of mind” policies can lead to lost belongings and identification; trauma and distrust; breakdowns in connection with outreach teams, health care facilities, and housing providers; and overall disruption to the work of ending homelessness.
• Fatigue Among Providers:
The pandemic has strained the capacity of service providers—many of whom earn wages low enough to qualify them for the programs they help administer. Many are overwhelmed and exhausted from the pressure and trauma associated with supporting not only the people they serve but also themselves and their families during a sustained global pandemic. As a result, many programs experience high rates of staff turnover, which can disrupt continuity of care and limit positive outcomes.
Finally, the City of Ashland’s funding for its emergency homeless shelter is being provided under two State of Oregon grants that total over $2.1 million. The current City budget only includes $100,000 in FY 2023-2024 ($200,000 for the 23-25 BN) of City funding programmed for the operation of the annual extreme weather shelter/clear-air center. The City cannot begin to address the root causes of homelessness on its own. Its new shelter effort is aligned with the state’s plan to stabilize unsheltered homeless individuals so that they can seek and receive the support services they need to gain permanent housing despite the above listed challenges.