07/20/2012 - What We Heard About Resort Communities and Homelessness at the NAEH Conference

USICH hosted a listening session on homelessness in resort communities at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference earlier this week. USICH Regional Coordinators Amy Sawyer and Matthew Doherty share their take away thoughts on this session.

With post card views, enviable temperatures, diverse recreation and entertainment options, resort and destination communities attract thousands of tourists and often feature housing for which people will pay a pretty penny – but such communities often also feature low-wage and seasonal employment opportunities and have significant populations of people experiencing homelessness.  Late on the second afternoon of the National Conference on Ending Homelessness , service providers, police officers, government agency representatives, and health care providers joined together  to talk about the less-than-sunny side of living in a resort community. During the session questions on what housing crisis looks like in resort communities, how people experience it, and how such communities respond to homelessness were explored.

Energized by the opportunity to share their distinct experiences, the participants in this discussion had a lively conversation, sharing that many residents in their communities end up experiencing chronic homelessness or housing instability, living in motels for months, or sleeping on the streets due to economic strain of intermittent or low-wage employment and limited resources or tools to respond to crisis when they experience it.  

One of the common challenges articulated was that while there may be thousands of visitors at the high point of the season, the total number of people residing in the community can diminish to slim numbers in the off-season. With such high fluctuations in populations, the scope of homelessness and the needs of people experiencing homelessness can look very different depending on when data is collected. These fluctuations can cause challenges for funders, program managers, and community members trying to get a handle on what resources are needed to truly meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness in resort communities. 

In addition, session participants articulated that it can be especially difficult to galvanize broad-based community involvement and investment in real solutions to homelessness when a significant portion of the community’s population has its primary residence in a different location. Nevertheless, there is a strong expectation that the community will have a handle on the issue. 

As political pressure builds, there may be a knee-jerk reaction to people sleeping in cars, on the street, or in over-crowded hotel rooms.  Businesses and community leaders feel pressure to “clear the streets” first and foremost rather than investing in longer-term and more sustainable solutions to unsheltered homelessness.

The group articulated some challenges, but also talked about solutions. This year USICH, in partnership with the Department of Justice and with the support of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, issued a new report based upon a summit for communities around the country to talk about what to do when the pressure builds. “Searching Out Solutions: Alternatives to Criminalization” report suggests:

  • Creation of comprehensive and seamless systems of care
  • Collaboration between law enforcement and behavioral health and social service providers
  • Alternative justice system solutions

While this is just the beginning of a dialogue with resort communities seeking to respond to the needs of their specific community, Searching out Solutions offers some guidance for communities seeking sustainable solutions to ending homelessness. Tuesday’s session revealed that communities are particularly vulnerable to the pressures of creating a safe, enjoyable, fruitful environment for all of their community members.  USICH looks forward to better understanding the unique challenges of addressing homelessness in resort communities and working with federal, state, and local partners so that housing crisis can be met with a thoughtful, successful response regardless of where it is experienced.

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