Posted 3-10-17
By Caitlin Bayer, Balance of State Programs Coordinator


I jokingly refer to the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ (NAEH’s) conferences as “work-Christmas,” mostly because of my excitement level. The new information, the innovative solutions, the networking opportunities! This work is hard, and it’s even harder when you feel like you’re doing it alone. NAEH conferences re-energize me because it reminds me that the solution to homelessness is out there and there are people who are on fire to make it happen. For those of you who were unable to make it, here are my top 10 takeaways from the best and brightest minds I heard from during the conference:



  1. We should not aim to “fix” our participants’ lives through our services. “Fixing lives” is a job that’s much too complex for any one agency or program to take on, and is a task we will ultimately be ineffective in accomplishing due to the nature of change. The impetus for change comes from within, and participants will only begin to change when they are ready, willing, and able to do so. Our job is to provide a safe and stable platform (housing) for that change to take place.

  2. Meet participants where they’re at– literally! Most programs are used to participant interactions taking place in an office setting. However, office settings aren’t always easy to access and when they are, they aren’t typically a place where our participants feel the most comfortable. Meeting participants in their homes, at the library, in a park, 24-hour establishments (think coffee shops and fast food restaurants) or in an after-school space can make all the difference in creating service accessibility and a sense of ownership for families and youth.

  3. Programs serving families often unintentionally undermine the authority and role of parents in the lives of their kids. Empowering and supporting parents to care for their children should inform program practice as much as possible. For example: in a shelter setting, having more flexible rules that allow parents to maintain their bedtime and snack time routines with their children.

  4. How important is it to involve participants, especially youth participants, in program design? As it turns out, it’s extremely important. This year, NAEH invited members of HUD’s Youth Advisory Board and the National Youth Forum on Homelessness to attend the conference. Their presence was electric, and their message was clear: nothing about us without us. Youth greatly desire to use their experience and expertise to create programs to help other young people. Involving them in a meaningful, appropriate, and supported way will be pivotal in ending youth homelessness.

  5. On the same note, when reaching out to youth for their input on program design, program staff need to be intentional about how they pursue youth inclusion. Some things I heard members of the Youth Advisory Board say: “Giving youth pizza and a bus pass in exchange for filling out a survey is not good enough.” “Inviting youth to ‘share their stories’ at a fundraising event is not enough, and is not appropriate.” Instead, programs should treat youth as the experts they are and provide information, briefings, stipends, per diem, and travel reimbursements to facilitate participation in an advisory board. Elevate youth as they elevate your programs.

  6. It may not be new to NAEH conferences, but it was new to my awareness of what NAEH presented in the past: Racial equity was highlighted as a goal and value of the homeless services system. Especially when it comes to family and youth homelessness, people of color are overrepresented. It becomes extremely important, then, to be aware of our implicit biases and to do better than the people who came before us at elevating and empowering people of color. Racial equity and justice will not happen by accident. We must be assertive in our pursuit of equality. For those of you interested in learning more, I’d recommend looking into some of the trainings and materials offered by the Center for Social Innovation.

  7. To quote NAEH’s talented and knowledgeable Anna Blasco, “Something you need to know [about NAEH conferences] is that ‘data’ is basically every other word around here.” It’s true. From System Performance Measures to Coordinated Entry, data is the lifeblood of progress. Therefore, we must continue to strive for high quality data collection and utilization to inform decisions about our programs. Like it or not, at the end of the day, all HUD can see about our programs are the numbers, making it all the more important that our data is complete, accurate, and timely.

  8. It’s time we saw diversion as a stability accelerant. Folks atOrgCode (a Canadian homeless services consulting firm) noted on Twitter, “Diversion seems to accelerate stability compared to the same household coming into shelter.” Embracing diversion will not only help to conserve our service resources for the most vulnerable households, it actually increases household stability in the long term. It’s worth learning more about! Check out OrgCode's blog for more.

  9. Housing First? Yeah, it’s not going anywhere. It’s not a fad that HUD will eventually forget about: it’s here to stay and you can bet that we won’t stop talking about it. Not sure what Housing First is? Check out this beginner-friendly video overview from Rain City.

  10. The code has been cracked: We know how to end homelessness. We have “the cure”: Coordinated Entry, Master Lists, community planning that matches resources to need, and Case Conferencing. That’s it. Is your mind blown? Mine was. These are the 4 elements that communities across the country have used to end Veteran homelessness, so we have the data to know that it really, truly works. Now the challenge: can we be courageous enough re-orient our systems to administer it?


NAEH Conferences always serve as a powerful reminder of why I do this work, even in difficult and frustrating times. While the work ahead of us is likely going to be much harder than what is behind, I am encouraged by the fact that there’s never been more momentum.


Hungry for more insights from the conference? Jump onto Twitter and search the conference hashtag: #NAEH2017.