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OECD Workshop on Homelessness: Preventing Homelessness and Securing Long-Term Housing Solutions


Keywords: Homelessness, Point in Time Count, OECD, International

International & Philanthropic Spotlight
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OECD Workshop on Homelessness: Preventing Homelessness and Securing Long-Term Housing Solutions

B. Aaron Weaver, Program Analyst, International and Philanthropic Affairs Division

The Château de la Muette.
OECD – The Château de la Muette. Photo credit: B. Aaron Weaver

This past January, as a series of winter storms swept across the United States, volunteers participating in the 2024 Point-in-Time Count (PIT) fanned out through their communities to enumerate the sheltered and unsheltered population. Longtime participants in the PIT are no strangers to the sight of people huddling in their car, sitting at an all-night diner, nestled on a park bench, or tucked into the recessed doorway of a stone portico, just beyond the reach of the biting wind. Nor are they unfamiliar with the nagging question, "How could this happen?" As with so many seemingly intractable issues, the answer to this question is complicated.

In their efforts to end homelessness, researchers have long sought to identify effective policies and programs that can be replicated and scaled. Recent trends in homelessness add urgency to these efforts. According to HUD estimates released on December 15, 2023, the number of people identified as homeless during the 2023 PIT was 12 percent higher than in the previous year.

Yet, anyone who's ridden the Paris Metro or wandered the streets of Istanbul will tell you that homelessness is not just an American problem — it is a global issue. A 2022 report by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that "[a]lthough the homeless account for less than 1% of the population in all countries surveyed, they represent roughly 1.9 million people across the 35 countries for which data are available." However, data quality and definitional differences mean that "this figure is likely an underestimate," hindering efforts to both adequately assess the size of the problem and identify solutions.

Several domestic and international projects are attempting to cut this Gordian Knot. DePaul University's Institute of Global Homelessness, for example, has developed a common definition of homelessness for subnational governments to use, and established the Better Data Project to serve as a global compendium of methodologies for homelessness data collection. The aforementioned OECD report, Better Data and Policies To Fight Homelessness in the OECD, articulates data constraints and definitional variations while offering a blueprint for future work. Building on this effort, OECD has partnered with the European Commission in a multiyear effort to establish a Monitoring Framework and create a Toolkit to Combat Homelessness. HUD, through the International and Philanthropic Affairs Division, (IPAD), has been an active participant in this project, facilitating connections between OECD and HUD staff to refine both the framework and toolkit.

On November 29, 2023, OECD hosted Workshop on Homelessness: Preventing Homelessness and Securing Long-Term Housing Solutions. With academic-, public-, and private-sector experts from OECD member and nonmember countries as participants, the workshop was a unique opportunity for practitioners to leverage thought partners for solutions. Among the workshop participants was Richard Cho, HUD's senior advisor for housing and services. In a roundtable discussion on Identifying and Supporting People at Risk of Eviction, Cho described the role of pandemic-era initiatives such as the Emergency Rental Assistance program and eviction moratoria in reducing the incidence of homelessness. Cho cautioned, however, that recent data on eviction filings and rental arrears seemed to indicate a rise in housing precarity with the tapering of pandemic-era supports.

Several participants reflected similar challenges in their presentations, including the Republic of Austria, where the expiration of an eviction ban in June 2020 prompted the creation of Zuhause Ankommen or Housing First Austria. The program focuses on flexible funding to cover upfront costs along with developing strong connections between social service organizations and "the limited-profit housing sector."

Representatives from both France and Portugal outlined their work to combine housing-led (rapid rehousing) and Housing First strategies, recognizing the individual profiles and needs of people experiencing homelessness. In the case of France, a 5-year, housing-led implementation strategy from 2017 to 2022, increased "the share of sheltered and homeless households in…social housing" by 67 percent. The Portuguese model also demonstrated promising results in the face of a significant housing shortage. Central to this effort was a multilevel governance framework that established local teams "who know the context best" and focused on a "person-centered and integrated approach.…"

Although the setting differs with local culture and institutions, many aspects of homelessness clearly transcend these variations. OECD's multilateral approach offers an important forum to map out common challenges and identify effective strategies. Through IPAD, HUD will continue to engage in this important work as we strive to end homelessness.

Published Date: 5 March 2024

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.