Dispatches from the National Conference on Ending Homelessness - Day 1

written by naehblog
July 12, 2010

So it’s important to note: I’m not an expert.

I tinker on the Alliance social networksblog, and website – and I’ve learned a ton during my year here – but when it comes to homelessness, housing, policy, and practice – I’m the greenest girl you’ll meet at the Alliance.

Which is why coming to the National Conference on Ending Homelessness – this is my second! – is such a moving experience. For three days out of the year, I’m surrounded by nearly 1300 people from across the country who devote their time, energy, and passion to ending homelessness in the United States.

From the perspective of an outsider, it seems outlandish. It seems impractical and impossible. My own skeptical eyebrows shoot up to my hairline.

But, as I’ve learned – day by day at the Alliance – ending homelessness is no dream.

This year, the Alliance is hosting almost 80 workshops and three plenary sessions over the course of three days featuring experts and practitioners who have learned what ending homelessness looks like. Direct service providers, researchers, elected officials, and community activists from across the country are here in D.C. to tell us exactly how to do it.

Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind of a first day.

After a morning of usability testing (our own small contribution to the movement!), Alliance president Nan Roman kicked off the opening plenary. She went over the state of the national movement to end homelessness. She covered our triumphs, our accomplishments, and the incredible work of all those assembled who have fundamentally changed the conversation about homelessness.

But what was heaviest on Nan’s mind, it seemed, was the anniversary of the Alliance’s own Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Almost ten years ago – to the day – Nan stood on a very similar podium at the Washington Hilton and unveiled A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years . She stressed what we all know today: we can end homelessness – one community at a time. With a concerted effort to implement best practices, utilize data effectively, and build an infrastructure focused on endinghomelessness and not just managing it, we can all strive to reach a time when all people in the United States have a place to call home.

The bottom line, she said: homelessness still exists – that’s clear. But the upside is that we’ve made critical, systematic, and deliberate progress. The application of policy, proven strategies, and persistent, hard work [by you all] has reduced homelessness significantly over the past few years and paved the way to end homelessness.

“Ten years ago, the focus was on building a bigger homeless system to accommodate the problem. Today, the focus is on solving a growing problem – on being better and smarter rather than just bigger. It’s a solution, not a band-aid. It’s housing, not shelter. While there is still plenty of skepticism about ending homelessness, I think that today the idea of planning to end homelessness is well accepted, and indeed that we are all pulling together in that direction.”

After Nan, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty dropped by to welcome participants to the nation’s capitol. There’s no question that homelessness is of critical concern in the District – a territory that has a surprisinglyhigh rate of homelessness. It was fitting that Mayor Fenty come to by to address a community of people intent on helping so many of the Mayor’s own vulnerable residents. Here’s hoping that – next time around – he shares a little more about the city’s plan to address the problem.

Then after two workshops (I sat in on “Rapid Re-Housing for Survivors of Domestic Violence” and “Permanent Supportive Housing for Families”), we took a little time to mingle.

Maybe the most exciting highlight of conferences like this one is the opportunity to put a face to the name (or handle!). As the social network girl at the Alliance, I get to interact with so many people online. I hear stories and requests and comments and critiques and every once in a while, I get to answer a question. But sometimes I feel like the contacts I make online flit through cyberspace and never manifest into real connections (a common fear, I think, of social media aficionados – we talked about in another post.

So it’s always a delight when I get to see and meet the names and pictures I see on our Facebook fan page and dancing across the twittersphere. Which is what I got to do during our post-workshop reception on Monday night.

In case we haven’t already connected, come by and see me sometime!