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INVISIBLE PEOPLE: What Do America’s Mayors Think About Homelessness?

January 21, 2022

The latest annual survey of mayors across the U.S. by Boston University and Community Solutions revealed that most don’t believe they have any control over addressing homelessness in their cities.

The 2021 Menino Survey of Mayors is the first survey of its kind to delve into homelessness, including each mayor’s perspective on their role in addressing it. Its findings are based on the anonymous responses of 126 sitting mayors.

“Mayors have played a critical role in helping communities reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness,” said Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions, a housing advocacy nonprofit.

Haggerty added that mayors could positively impact homelessness in their cities by creating “measurable, community-wide goals, and comprehensive real-time data” that allows progress to be tracked in real-time.

According to the survey, more than 70% of mayors said they perceive themselves as being held accountable by voters for their actions concerning homelessness. But more than 81% of respondents also said that homelessness itself is out of their control. These views were consistent across cities with high and low costs of housing.

When broken down by geography, mayors in the northeast were the most pessimistic about their control over homelessness. Only seven percent of these mayors said they have “a lot” of control over homelessness, compared to the overall average of 19 percent.

Mayors often cited inadequate data, insufficient staffing, and opposition to building new homes and shelters as the most significant impediments to reducing homelessness.

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