Attendees of the 2023 Bringing It Home: Ending Homelessness in NC conference share two common goals. The first is to improve services for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. The second is in the conference’s name: to reduce and ultimately end homelessness in North Carolina. On May 2-3, these 500 attendees gathered virtually to learn, connect, and move one step closer to their shared goals. The NC Housing Coalition hosted the conference in partnership with the the NC Coalition to End Homelessness and the NCDHHS ESG Office.
Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), provided the keynote address. “This work is fundamentally about love,” Oliva said. “It’s about support, and it’s about healing.” Oliva discussed the rise in rates of unsheltered homelessness across the country, including the rise of families with children living unsheltered. She mentioned several underlying causes, including the lack of affordable housing. When highlighting NAEH’s policy priorities for 2023, affordable housing for those with extremely low incomes topped the list. Oliva said:
“That means increasing supply, increasing affordability through rental assistance, and preserving the affordable housing that we already have. We’re leaning in on the value of Housing First as an intervention that works, because it couples safe and affordable housing with the services that people want and need to heal and thrive. And because at its core, it ensures that people are treated with dignity.”
Oliva also stressed the importance of meaningfully engaging people with lived experience of homelessness in both programmatic and advocacy work. Following the keynote address, the NC Balance of State CoC Lived Expertise Advisory Committee (LEAC) led a panel discussion on their personal experiences of homelessness, the work of the LEAC, and the need for people with lived expertise in the planning, development, and oversight of homeless services. “We need to do this together,” said Rachelle Dugan, Housing Case Manager at Thrive and LEAC member. “People with lived expertise should be at all levels within your agencies, including the levels where decisions are made…You can’t end homelessness for us, you have to end homelessness with us.” Sessions throughout the conference focused on how to better center lived expertise and equity throughout homeless services.
NC Housing Coalition staff led two sessions during the conference. Housing Fellow Alex Rubenstein led a panel discussion on housing barriers for justice involved populations and those at risk of overdose, which included an update on the Coalition’s collaboration with the NCDHHS Department of Public Health to better understand the needs of and improve services for these populations. Director of Housing Policy Stephanie Watkins-Cruz closed the conference with a federal and state housing policy update that walked attendees through current housing-related bills in D.C. and Raleigh, data about the affordable housing need in North Carolina, and details about advocacy opportunities at the federal and state level and how to stay connected with NCHC.
The conference featured a total of 18 breakout sessions, including four intensive sessions that took a deep dive into organizational capacity building, racial equity, lowering barriers to shelter through a Right to Shelter lens, and rapid rehousing. More than 50 speakers contributed to the conference with premium training, resources, and expert panels. Attendees provided their own insights in the session chats, sparking candid, powerful conversations. At the end of two days, many attendees reported feeling informed, energized, and recommitted to the work of ending homelessness in NC.