Homelessness: A State of Emergency

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Report | February 6, 2016

Files: Homelessness: A State of Emergency (PDF|438 KB| 5 pages_

In 2015, largely due to increases in their unsheltered homeless population, three communities, Seattle/King County, WA, Portland, OR, and the State of Hawaii officially declared a homelessness state of emergency (SOE); Los Angeles has also stated its intent to declare.1 Three other communities have declared either a housing or shelter crisis, including San Jose, CA, Eugene, OR, and Oakland, CA. Declaring an SOE with respect to homelessness has not been a common strategy in the past.

A State or local SOE refers to a crisis or disaster in which a government suspends normal procedures to take urgent action. In the current homelessness SOEs, this has meant using funds more flexibly, reducing regulatory barriers, and/or devoting additional funds to the problem. SOEs can also have the effect of generating a sense of urgency and creating public and political will to move quickly within the jurisdiction. Declaring an SOE does not compel the Federal government to take any action or provide any resources.

Although homelessness has always been crisis, the jurisdictions that have recently declared homelessness SOEs have done so noting that the situation has become more urgent in their jurisdictions. However, there are skeptics who are concerned that such declarations will not lead to significant investments and hence will just amount to open-ended political statements.

This brief will describe the homelessness SOEs that have been declared since October 2015, note the national implications, and reflect on how other communities should view SOEs.