Allison UlrichIt’s National Public Health Week! We’re spotlighting this year’s daily NPHW themes with a series of guest posts from APHA members. Today’s NPHW theme is healthy housing, and our guest post comes from Allison Ulrich, JD, senior grants manager at GCR Inc. and principal consultant at Ulrich Consulting, which focuses on housing policy. Ulrich currently serves as policy chair of APHA’s Caucus on Homelessness.

Ending homelessness is an important public health issue that urgently demands our attention. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to intensify, and as communities grapple with how best to protect their most vulnerable residents, finding effective solutions to homelessness is even more critical.

No doubt you’ve seen the national headlines or witnessed the growth of homelessness in your own community. Despite much progress on reducing homelessness nationally between 2007 and 2017, homelessness in the U.S. is on the rise.

Over half a million residents experienced homelessness on a single night in 2019 — a 3% increase over the prior year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. The rate of unsheltered homelessness rose even more sharply, increasing by 9% between 2018 and 2019. People experiencing homelessness often have high rates of chronic mental and physical health conditions, co-occurring disorders, face prohibitive barriers to care and medication adherence, and they are often at higher risk for exposure to communicable diseases.

While the causes and contributing factors of homelessness can be complex, the solution to the intractable and rising national challenge is, in many respects, simple: housing ends homelessness. Permanent supportive housing, which provides affordable housing and ongoing supportive services, offers a particularly effective approach to addressing homelessness for our most vulnerable residents with some of the greatest needs. In studies ranging up to two years, such housing has been shown effective in maintaining housing stability for most people experiencing chronic homelessness.

As a public health intervention, permanent supportive housing changes the lives of real people, positively impacts health conditions and outcomes, and benefits society in innumerable ways. However, current levels of unmet need and a shortfall in funding impede our ability to use this effective approach more widely and in times of urgent need like now. In addition, funding streams and policy regulations for permanent supportive housing are typically siloed, ultimately working against efforts to use the intervention most efficiently and effectively.

To help address such gaps, APHA’s Caucus on Homelessness authored a policy statement, later adopted by APHA’s Governing Council in 2017, on “Housing and Homelessness as a Public Health Issue.” The policy statement calls on federal, state and local policymakers and agencies to work collaboratively in funding evidence-based housing acquisition practices and supportive housing stability services. This call to action is perhaps more urgent now than ever

The policy statement also calls on agencies that fund housing and homelessness services to commit to providing more resources for permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, and homelessness prevention programs that meet levels of currently unmet need, including the unmet needs of families, youth, and other sub-populations experiencing homelessness. Read the Caucus’ full call to action and recommendations for ending and preventing homelessness.

To learn more about the work of APHA’s Caucus on Homelessness or to get involved, visit www.apha.org/apha-communities/caucuses/caucus-on-homelessness.

To learn more about National Public Health Week and get involved, visit www.nphw.org, follow @NPHW on Twitter and use the hashtag #NPHW all this week. For resources, news and advocacy on the coronavirus pandemic, visit APHA’s COVID-19 page. For more on how each day’s NPHW theme intersects with COVID-19, visit nphw.org/nphw-2020/covid-19.