Effective Community-Based Solutions to Encampments

To end homelessness for everyone, we must link people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, including people sleeping and living in encampments, with permanent housing opportunities matched with the right level of services to ensure that those housing opportunities are stable and successful. It is only through the provision of such opportunities that we can provide lasting solutions for individuals and communities. Across the country, many communities are wrestling with how to create effective solutions and provide such housing opportunities for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

Policy-makers and practitioners seeking to provide lasting solutions for people living in encampments are encouraged to read USICH’s 2015 publication, Ending Homelessness for People Living in Encampments: Advancing the Dialogue. This document is designed to assist communities in developing an action plan that will link people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing opportunities.  The information and ideas contained within this document have been developed by USICH based upon conversations and problem-solving discussions with advocates, housing and services providers, and government officials across the country regarding what they have learned, and are still learning, about the most effective approaches and strategies. We want to thank all of the communities that have participated in conversations and written dialogue about this topic and the challenges they face.

USICH believes that there is still more to be learned and explored, and this document is not intended as a final statement on the best practices for addressing the housing and services needs of people living in encampments. Rather, the intended purpose of this document is to advance community-level discussions that will strengthen practices and strategies.

The perspectives USICH brings to the preparation of the document include:

  • The formation of encampments do not represent an end to homelessness; rather encampments are an indication of a critical need to create more effective local systems for responding to unsheltered homelessness.
  • Strategies that make encampments an official part of the homelessness response system can distract communities from focusing on connecting people to permanent housing solutions and create costs to ensure safety, security, and well-being.
  • People sleeping in encampments are diverse and interventions must address a range of needs, challenges, and goals.
  • The forced dispersal of encampments is not an appropriate solution and can make it more difficult to achieve lasting housing and service outcomes to its inhabitants.

Ending Homelessness for People Living in Encampments: Advancing the Dialogue provides communities with guidance for developing a local action plan that engages both residents of encampments and an array of community partners. We've identified four key elements for such action plans, summarized here and described in more detail within the publication:

  • Preparation and Adequate Time for Planning and Implementation: Plans for creating solutions to encampments should ensure that there is adequate time for effective collaboration, outreach, engagement, and the identification of meaningful housing options to occur. Adequate time is essential to achieve the primary objective of meeting the needs of each person and assisting them to end their homelessness.
  • Collaboration: Any plan should include collaboration between a cross-section of public and private agencies, neighbors, and business owners. Any plan should feature strong relationships with a broad range of community service providers and the permanent housing resources that are being targeted to the effort in order to maximize efficiency, align resources, and address any system gaps.
  • Intensive and Persistent Outreach and Engagement: The agencies responsible for collaboratively implementing the plan should have strong outreach experience and demonstrated skills in engaging vulnerable and unsheltered people.
  • Low-Barrier Pathways to Permanent Housing: The plan should include clear, low-barrier pathways to attaining and sustaining permanent housing opportunities and should not include a focus on relocating people to other encampment settings.

Please share your lessons learned with us; contact your USICH Regional Coordinator.