National Alliance to End Homelessness' CEO Ann Olivia is speaking at a podium on a blue-lit stage to conference attendees during the opening plenary..

Our Experience at the 'Innovations & Solutions for Ending Unsheltered Homelessness' Conference

Last month, HealthSpark Foundation’s President and CEO, Emma Hertz and Program Officer, Akshara Vivekananthan attended the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ (NAEH) Conference on “Innovations & Solutions for Ending Unsheltered Homelessness” in San Francisco. 

The conference was held downtown, providing a stark contrast between the conference center environment and the reality outside. Seeing the unsheltered homeless present on every street, sparked contemplation and deeper evidence that this is a national crisis taking place needing urgent solutioning and was a common theme throughout the conference experience (San Francisco’s 2022 Point In Time (PIT) Count for the Unsheltered Homeless was 4,397). 

However, hopeful resolve was fostered in the form of learning and sharing with and from champions tackling the crisis with their unwavering determination and truly innovative solutions. 

Below is a recap of our time and key learnings:

Funders Forum

During the first day of the conference, HealthSpark Foundation attended a special session hosted by Funders Together to End Homelessness (FTEH). Themes of collective liberation and collaboration were heard from the FTEH team, peer funders, and speakers throughout the day.

A favorite moment for us: hearing Liberation Ventures speak on reparations and the importance of implementing them to address the historical harm caused by housing policy decisions, such as red-lining. 

Aria Florant, Co-Founder and CEO of Liberation Ventures, pushed forth the following questions for funders to think on: 

  1. What are you funding that is doing the work now, and what are you funding to build towards the future, or changing what is possible for the future?
  2. How are you funding the whole ecosystem that is doing the work?
  3. How are you using the power that you have outside of your dollars? How are you changing the culture of philanthropy? How are you talking about reparations?


In addition, the Funders Forum created a case consultation activity for a few selected funders to present their individual work and get ideas and advice from peers. Emma was invited to share what HealthSpark is fostering to advance housing justice in Montgomery County and the intersection of our Safety Net Initiative.

Other highlights and resources from the Funders Forum:

  • Our neighbors in New Jersey, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is leading reparations work
  • Check out The Weeds podcast by Vox for in-depth explanations and stories on how policies affect our communities. 
  • Visit The Tenant Power Toolkit, stemming from California. Their mission is to fight wrongful evictions. 
  • A Way Home America has outlined a roadmap to end youth homelessness, that includes pillars of different kinds of justice, including housing and economic. 


We attended plenaries featuring NAEH’s CEO Ann Olivia and Tomiquia Moss, Secretary of California State Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency: 

  • Ann reminded us of the Supreme Court case, Johnson vs. Grants Pass that will determine how people can legally be treated for being homeless, and how we must stand up for what’s right. 
    • Open Table Nashville, in partnership with the National Homelessness Law Center, is contributing to a friend of the court brief on behalf of direct service providers for the case of Grants Pass v. Johnson, which will be argued before the Supreme Court on April 22, 2024. This is the most significant Supreme Court case about homelessness in 40 years and will have long-standing implications for people who live outside. 
    • Montgomery County organizations can sign onto this friend of the court brief. 
    • Access the Grants Pass v Johnson Amicus Brief Direct Service Provider Sign-On form here.
  • She also shared how advocacy will be critical, to move forward accessible housing and services for the unsheltered. 
  • Tomiquia shared the five things she believes individuals across sectors should lean into to address the homelessness crisis:
    1. Believe it’s solvable
    2. We need more housing.
    3. Housing justice is racial justice – we must learn how to apply a racial equity framework. 
    4. We need concurrent investments to get out of our scarcity mentality. 
    5. This is going to take a lot of political will and public courage. 

One of the plenaries also had a panel discussion, featuring Mark Horvath, a documentary filmmaker, and Founder of Invisible People and Juha Kahlia Head of International Affairs, Y-Saatio in Finland. Did you know in Finland, you won’t see unsheltered homelessness? Watch this documentary, Finland Solved Homelessness: Here's How (Spoiler: It's More Than Housing First) to find out how. 

Session Topics

A variety of topics were presented throughout the conference. Below are key takeaways from a few that we attended.

From Unsheltered to Housed: Insights from Successful Community Approaches to Unsheltered Homelessness

  • The Coalition for the Homeless in Houston, Texas has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for their encampment decommissioning program that has demonstrated results in placing individuals living on the streets into housing. Read about their strategy here.
  • The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition in Tennessee created a universal housing assessment between 18 organizations for better coordinated assistance in service of the homeless population.
  • Oregon has the 2nd highest rate of unsheltered homelessness in the United States but has taken significant action to address need, including allowing the Medicaid 1115 waiver to be used for short-term rental housing assistance by the end of 2024, and developing and preserving over 4,700 affordable rental homes. 

Helping Service Providers Combat Housing Discrimination Against Their Clients

  • Panelists referenced The Policy Surveillance Program from Law Atlas, as a resource to provide policy surveillance and legal mapping as tools for improving the nation’s health around a variety of topics, including housing. 
  • Discrimination against individuals with previous records often hinders their access to stable housing opportunities. To address this issue, it is crucial to devise a strategy that involves offering mitigating information and educating landlords to promote better understanding.

Embedding Services Where People Find Respite: Libraries, Transit Hubs, and Day Programs

  • SEPTA’s Director of Outreach, Kenneth Drivers shared that the organization has invested in infrastructure and resources to address the needs of the unsheltered homelessness in their transit centers. They partner with Drexel University’s Medical School to have first year medical students address medical needs. They also partner with Savage Sisters and Covenant House to help individuals battling addiction and those facing youth homelessness and/or survivors of human trafficking, respectively.
  • Hennepin County Library in Minnesota created a Patrons Experiencing Homelessness Advisory Board facilitated by a social worker hired onto staff, to offer low-barrier help. Last year, they had 3,202 visits by unsheltered homeless individuals that received assistance. 111 housing assessments were completed and 90 people were housed.
  • Project Home is creating a newly trauma-informed designed drop-in center, The Hub of Hope in downtown Philadelphia. It is co-located within a Federally Qualified Health Clinic. The center will offer planned distractions such as games and televisions, device charging capabilities, wi-fi, and be a respite on Code Blue/Red days to increase desirability of visiting the center for services.

Attending the conference reinforced the idea that looking to communities nationwide and exploring their approaches can provide valuable insights into our efforts to promote improved policies and practices in Montgomery County. We trust that this summary can also offer a dose of inspiration. If any of the main points sparked an idea, question, or thought for you, we would love to chat.