May 10, 2023
Dear NLIHC members, partners, and allies,
Many of us have been doing this work a long time – for me, it’s been almost 25 years. Like so many of you who have called, emailed, or texted me in recent days and weeks, I’ve never been as concerned about the trajectory of our country’s response to homelessness as I am today.
We’ve reached a tipping point. Once few and hushed, the voices of fear and hostility toward unhoused people have become many and loud. A dominant public narrative vilifies people without homes, placing the blame on individuals rather than the obvious structural failings that have led to their homelessness. We are seemingly further away than ever from implementing evidence-based solutions at scale, and people experiencing homelessness are now increasingly being attacked, harmed, and even killed.
Last week, Jordan Neely, an unhoused Black man in New York City, was killed on a crowded subway for shouting about his hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. Several bystanders assisted in the killing, while others cheered or recorded the violence. Nobody intervened. On the same night, a man in Davis, California, stabbed a homeless woman through her tent after killing another unhoused person a few days before. And on Sunday of this week, a man drove his car into a group of people near the Ozanam Center in Brownsville, Texas, killing eight and wounding 10 others. The Center serves the migrant community and is a shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
Each of these killers must be held accountable, and the killing of people without homes must be treated with as much urgency as that of housed people. At the same time, we must recognize that these appalling killings were not random acts of violence. They occurred in an environment plagued by pervasive, ongoing, structural racism and marked by increasingly hateful rhetoric against the unhoused. They were enabled by policymakers who criminalize people for being without homes, by media that stoke fear to generate clicks, by those who manipulate data to advance an ideological agenda, and by our own communities, when they oppose homeless shelters or affordable housing in our neighborhoods.
Amidst the worsening rhetoric and intensifying affordable housing and homelessness crisis, too many of our political leaders shun evidence-based solutions and instead embrace approaches to homelessness that were proven decades ago to be ineffective. Rather than addressing the structural inequities causing homelessness, many politicians – from both parties and at all levels – provoke anger among their constituents by wrongly conflating homelessness with crime or blaming individual characteristics instead of systemic failings. They spend limited public resources on “sweeping” homeless encampments, leaving residents more isolated than before, rather than using these resources to ensure that unhoused people have access to what they most need: stable, accessible, affordable homes, robust health care, and livable incomes.
There is no doubt that the growing backlash against unhoused people – and against proven solutions to ending homelessness – has become increasingly dangerous. Like you, I am heartbroken and outraged by the horrific killings of unhoused people and deeply worried about the alarming direction of our country. Together, we must be resolute in our commitment to achieve housing justice. We must counter harmful narratives, amplify the leadership of impacted people, and mobilize to share data, evidence, and best practices to ensure that everyone in our country has a decent, safe, affordable home.
Homelessness is one of our country’s most urgent, tragic, and solvable crises. By demanding better of us all, and by advancing an aligned, concerted approach – one that values our shared humanity, leads with evidence, centers impacted people, works towards racial justice, and funds solutions at the scale needed – we can get our country back on track to ending homelessness, once and for all.
Until then, #JusticeForJordanNeely and for all the unhoused people killed by violence or neglect.