Journey Home’s staff has been hard at work over the last few months.  When you’re moving as fast as we are in Connecticut it can be all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work and have trouble seeing the bigger picture.  While we are deeply involved in the daily systems work of ending homelessness, it’s important for us to always keep abreast of success that others are having and learn from our peers across the country.

To participate in some of that learning, I was recently able to volunteer at and attend a recent conference hosted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness in sunny Los Angeles. I’ve never been to the west coast, and was excited at the chance to learn about best practices somewhere so different from Connecticut. In my role as a volunteer I had the opportunity to greet and register guests as they arrived, and more excitingly, I got to speak with many of the panelists — folks who are leading the nation in good work.

I attended panels on data collection and management, how to improve partnerships with child welfare systems, racial equity in homeless service programs, and working with survivors of sex trafficking.  I learned about the kinds of questions we need to ask our system (we’re asking most of them).  I learned about the common issues that prevent family welfare providers and homeless service providers from collaborating, and how to overcome them to jointly support homeless families.

But what I learned outside of the panels and the formal presentations was the most impactful.  Every morning I had a two-block walk to get to the conference.  In the course of those two blocks, there were no less than a dozen individuals sleeping outside, on the streets of Los Angeles.  Skid Row, the infamous tent city of Los Angeles was nearby, too.  The scope of homelessness in this part of America, where the weather is more welcoming, was completely overwhelming to me.  The City of Los Angeles has declared homelessness an epidemic, and last year a referendum vote in Los Angeles showed that the constituents felt the same.  Housing is so unattainable for so many thousands of people, and the work that we are doing across the country is important, but it isn’t enough. Because of the strong collaborations that Journey Home supports, unsheltered homelessness in our community is rare, and as soon as someone is identified as living on the streets we quickly connect them with an outreach worker to support them.

Being in LA was certainly a daily painful reminder of the injustice of housing inequality, the need for affordable housing, and the absolute necessity of having a system that works effectively to immediately support people experiencing homelessness.  Housing is a human right, and we as a country can do better.  We must do better.

Here in Connecticut we have ended chronic homelessness among veterans, and we have very nearly ended chronic homelessness for all.  As we pivot our work at Journey Home towards ending homelessness for families and youth, ongoing teamwork is going to be essential.  Our progress has made a lasting impact on the community around us, but there’s still a lot of work to do.  One speaker I saw reminded us that it is impossible to end homelessness without collaborating with our partners, the child welfare system, behavioral health programs, hospitals, churches, schools, and friends in the community.  But ending homelessness is less expensive than letting it continue, and if we keep up our current work it is a goal that we believe is achievable.