Agency explains pivot taken to address pandemic and racism
By Sydney Gold
The Housing and Homeless Coalition of Central New York presented its annual report Wednesday, Nov. 18. The presentation explored the state of homelessness in Onondaga, Cayuga and Oswego counties, as well as panels on the topics of “Racial Equity in Homelessness” and “Trends in Homelessness Before and After COVID-19.”
Led by director Megan Stuart, the presentation began with an explanation of HHC CYN’s core beliefs: that housing is a human right, addressing housing insecurity is the first step in addressing other barriers and that it is in fact possible to end homelessness.
HHC utilizes a data-driven approach and a strong emphasis on the lived experiences of homeless and housing insecure citizens in crafting its programs and initiatives. Stuart explained that while in previous years this would have been the point in the presentation where she enumerated “all of our accomplishments from the past year” but this presentation “was going to be a little different.” HHC has dedicated much of its efforts in 2020 to “respond[ing] to both the pandemic and housing injustice,” crucial work in the wake of COVID-19 and this summer’s wave of Black Lives Matter protests.
A panel led by Deputy Director Sherrain Clark discussing racial inequities among homeless populations began next. “There is racial disparity nationwide in our homelessness system. Nationally, Pacific Islanders are nine times more likely to experience homelessness than white people. Native Americans are four times more, and African Americans are three times more likely,” Clark said.
Effectively eliminating homelessness requires that organizations understand why certain groups are at higher risk for homelessness and recognize that “different groups have different barriers to overcome.” One way HHC CNY tackles this reality is by utilizing a “targeted universalism” approach, a method by which organizations implement “targeted strategies” to “reach universal goals,” according to Clark. By tailoring its resources to the needs of specific groups, HHC is able to implement more effective efforts for their clients.
“When our system works for the most marginalized groups in our community, it works for everyone,” Stuart added.
Next, homeless management information system administrator Sarah Shultz explained how the novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted homelessness. While HHC “did see some positive outcomes” in October of 2019 where the number of first-time homeless citizens was on the decline, as well as total numbers for homelessness were down, 32% of those who entered the homeless service system returned to homelessness within two years. This “is pretty high,” according to Shultz.
This mixed data becomes less clear when the pandemic is factored in.
Since the implementation of the eviction moratorium, raw numbers for homelessness have been decreasing. But experts like those at HCC expect the backlog of unpaid rent to hit at-risk families hard come the moratorium’s expiration on Jan. 1. Data and systems analyst Fred Hintz noted that HHC “expect[s] that… there will be an increase in people applying for emergency shelter assistance across the continuum of care when those eviction moratoria end.”
Hintz noted that the expiration of the moratorium will “especially affect some who are already housing vulnerable,” particularly renters who spend upwards of 50 percent of their income on housing, extremely low-income households and residents in high-risk census tracks. Efforts to combat this anticipated surge include, albeit limited, federal funding and increased efforts to reach housing insecure residents at their last residence before the shelter, usually the home of a friend or family member, and general preparations for a surge in need.
As the presentation drew to a close, the panel opened the floor to question and answer. Panelists discussed the Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions grant funding, federal programs through Housing and Urban development that will serve as financial resources after the eviction moratorium ends, though “by no means is it going to bridge the gap,” according to Stuart.
Panelists also celebrated the efficacy of the newer supportive housing resources established in all three counties before COVID-19, which Stuart explains “helped our community decrease homelessness over the past five years.” While the pandemic has complicated every facet of life, HHC remains dedicated to pursuing a world without homelessness.
Sydney Gold is a Newspaper & Online Journalism student at the Newhouse School