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Takeaways from BPC’s Mayors and Experts Forum on Ending Homelessness

On February 28, the Bipartisan Policy Center convened a virtual gathering of mayors and policy experts to delve into the pressing issue of homelessness. Panelists engaged in a candid dialogue about the scale of the problem, shared insights into innovative policy approaches, and discussed best practices for cities working to prevent and end homelessness.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined policy experts Rosanne Haggerty and Phil Mangano as panelists. BPC President and CEO Margaret Spellings introduced the event, with former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros moderating the conversation.

This blog highlights key themes and takeaways from each of the panelists. The full recording of the event is available on BPC’s website.

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Provide Comprehensive Services and Interim Housing

Mayor Karen Bass underscored the equal importance of housing and support services in meeting the needs of unhoused people. Lamenting the lack of a formal definition for “comprehensive services,” the mayor emphasized the importance of robust health care interventions to address behavioral health issues such as substance use disorders. She advocated for clear accountability measures for health care interventions, stressing the importance of long-term individual outcomes rather than just the number of people served by a program.

Mayor Bass has wielded her executive authority to expedite housing construction in Los Angeles. During her first week in office, she issued Executive Directive No. 1 (ED 1), directing city departments to accelerate and streamline processes involved in affordable housing construction. Despite her focus on expanding the supply of permanent housing, she pointed out the growing need for interim housing solutions in Los Angeles—which provide shelter to unhoused people on a temporary basis—to prevent individuals from languishing on the streets while they wait for a permanent housing placement.

Ensure Committed Leadership and Coordination

Annise Parker, the former mayor of Houston who kickstarted the city’s celebrated approach to reducing homelessness, attributed the success to her administration’s efforts in uniting fragmented and siloed service networks into a centralized “command center.”

Parker emphasized the pivotal role of committed leadership who are willing to expend political capital and employ “brute force” coordination among disparate groups if necessary to drive systemic change. The former mayor also noted some of Houston’s advantages, including a flexible housing market, lack of zoning, and a streamlined permitting system, which allowed the city to significantly add housing supply even as her administration worked to coordinate essential services and shelter systems.

Measure Community Outcomes with Real-Time Data

Rosanne Haggerty, president and CEO of Community Solutions, discussed the indispensable role of data collection in addressing homelessness effectively. Community Solutions collaborates with 105 communities across the country, providing best practices in data-gathering and coordination. By optimizing community resources, their model seeks to achieve “functional zero”—a milestone that indicates that fewer people are experiencing homelessness than are routinely exiting homelessness at any given time.

Haggerty echoed Mayor Parker’s emphasis on a centralized approach to homelessness services. She

With support from Community Solutions, 14 communities have achieved functional zero for specific populations such as unhoused veterans, illustrating the tangible impact of data-driven interventions.

Advance Housing First Interventions to Tackle Root Causes

Phil Mangano, former executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, discussed the importance of the Housing First framework in achieving meaningful reductions in homelessness. Drawing upon his experience during the Bush administration, which first advanced the Housing First approach at the federal level, Mangano emphasized that different kinds of permanent supportive housing interventions—including recent innovations such as hotel conversions—can achieve the goals of Housing First by providing unhoused people with housing stability alongside intensive case management.

In their closing remarks, the speakers emphasized that homelessness is a solvable problem—one that requires coordination across multiple stakeholders, evidence-based action, and a willingness to make the issue a core priority at the local level to achieve success.

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