By some accounts individuals who reside in vehicles make up the fastest-growing subpopulation of homeless people in the U.S. They occupy an ambiguous public space, having a mobile shelter, sometimes of considerable value, but often no private place to park it. The U.S. government classifies someone whose primary residence is a vehicle parked in a public space as both “homeless” and “unsheltered,” a designation that ignores recreational vehicles, or RVs, which are made to shelter people.

For their residents, vehicles offer advantages that tents, doorways, and subway stations do not: privacy, a lockable door, storage space, a way to get to work or flee threats. People living in vehicles include the “rubber tramp” retirees-with-no-pension depicted in the 2020 film Nomadland but are usually distinct from social-media-savvy “digital nomads” cruising the continent in custom Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans.

Ethnoarchaeologist Graham Pruss is among the nation’s top experts on vehicle residency. Now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, Pruss was homeless for a time as a teenager. He slept at the Bay Area punk-rock club 924 Gilman and got a crash course in the social-services system after having a child at age eighteen. A former U.S. National Science Foundation graduate research fellow, Pruss has developed a vehicle-residency research program at Seattle University; helped launch a “safe lot” program in Seattle that provided places for people to park their vehicle homes; directed a tech startup that facilitated online donations to people experiencing homelessness; and worked as a city liaison to unhoused people, serving on the Seattle mayor’s Innovation Advisory Council.

His work is urgently needed. A study by the National Homelessness Law Center found that local laws restricting vehicle residency grew more than 200 percent between 2006 and 2019. In Seattle the number of people living in vehicles has more than tripled, from 791 in 2012 to 2,748 in 2020. In the Los Angeles area the most recent estimated count of vehicle residents — before the pandemic — was 18,904, which represents a 213 percent growth since the 2015 count. During the pandemic, Pruss says, communities across the West Coast reported increases in numbers of vehicle residents. The national total is unknown, since federal officials don’t report this subgroup of the homeless population.

Days after Pruss and I spoke, my hometown of Portland, Oregon, broke its all-time record high temperature three days in a row. The heat wave killed nearly a hundred Oregon residents and highlighted the growing risk unsheltered people face due to climate change. Then, on July 31, the federal pandemic rent moratorium expired, leaving millions facing possible eviction. After an outcry a new moratorium was instituted three days later, then overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on August 26. How many vulnerable tenants will next face eviction or homelessness is unknown. But it’s almost certain some will end up living in vehicles.

Graham Pruss wearing a black leather jacket. A handkerchief is around his neck and he’s wearing a dark denim ball cap.

GRAHAM PRUSS

© Benjamin Wyatt

Schmid: Is there an official definition of homelessness? Is it simply a person who lives in a public space?

Pruss: The federal definition of homelessness includes the habitation of spaces that are unfit for human habitation: a park bench, the outdoors, a doorway, condemned buildings, and other forms of informal shelter, such as a vehicle. But people in emergency shelters and transitional housing are counted as homeless, too.

Schmid: Is vehicle residency the fastest-growing subset of homelessness?

Pruss: Anecdotally, yes. Many communities that track vehicle residency report that it is among the largest — if not the largest — subset of people who live in public spaces. But I can’t fully answer your question because nobody knows how many people live in vehicles parked in public spaces across the country. There is no federal effort to calculate that number. There is the biannual “Point-in-Time” count conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — to document the number of people who are homeless at a particular time — but it does not delineate by shelter type, so it does not give numbers for vehicle residency.

Communities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland document vehicle residency, and every one of those communities has seen a significant increase in vehicle residency over the last decade.

Schmid: You’ve written of a “nomadic turn” in society, an adaptive response to challenges like gentrification, evictions, and growing income inequality. What does that mean, and how deep does it go?

Pruss: It’s important to recognize that the term “nomad” or “nomadic” is subjective. Many people who come from historically nomadic communities are settled. When I describe a “nomadic turn,” I mean systemic displacement that is forcing people to mobilize. We’re seeing more and more people turning to mobile, adaptive forms of housing in response to larger structural problems. The subprime-mortgage crisis in 2008, for example, really destabilized this country. What we are experiencing now is the result of these larger forces. For some people mobile shelters may be the best choice out of a very limited set of options.

Schmid: Last year was the first time in the history of the official U.S. homeless count that we found more unsheltered homeless individuals than sheltered.

Pruss: We have a growing displaced class in the U.S. Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities have experienced compounded inequity. People are being priced out of their neighborhoods due to gentrification. People who exit the criminal-justice system, the foster-care system, or medical institutions may not have a place to go when they get out. Many are turning toward vehicles as housing. Does this mean they’re nomads? Not necessarily. Many want to lead settled lives but are forced to use a mobile form of shelter. People who have a felony or sexual offense on their record are not allowed into many shelters or programs. Most of the emergency shelters in Seattle are adults only, so a family looking for emergency shelter faces the possibility of separation, with children and parents being placed in different locations. They may not want to be separated, so they choose to stay in a vehicle. People who are elderly or have a terminal illness, or both, often require care that’s not available in shelters. There are also a significant number of undocumented immigrants who fear going to shelters, not only because of possible arrest but also because any acceptance of social services might disqualify them and their children from citizenship.

Schmid: As you mentioned, some cities document vehicle residency in their homeless counts, but most don’t. Why should we count this group separately?

Pruss: They may need different services or have different barriers to accessing those services. If we do not know the number of people who have these needs, then we can’t allocate resources to them. Because there’s been little attention to vehicle residency, there really has been no effort to include this population in the total system of care. Half the people who are living on the streets in King County, Washington, are living in vehicles. That’s about three thousand people, and there are fewer than a hundred parking spaces for them to use that connect them to social services. This is exactly why it’s important to recognize these communities in the U.S. Census and in counts of homeless people. Without that, we simply don’t know how best we can help them participate in society and stabilize their lives.

Schmid: You lived in an RV community for a time while studying vehicle residency. What was that like?

Pruss: I have slept in an RV numerous times throughout my research. I wouldn’t say that I lived in one. As an adult I have always been a renter and now a homeowner. But I’ve stayed in tiny-house villages. I slept under a bridge for several months after I failed out of high school and became a teenage runaway. I reconnected with my parents when a volunteer at a community meal offered me a quarter to call home. More recently, unhoused friends have invited me to stay with them overnight. We salvaged cardboard and slept near a park.

I have also been staying in an intentional community of people who live in RVs and vans. It’s been a beautiful experience to see the connections people can create with very little. Some of the people I’ve met there have come through safe-parking programs, which provide a place for people to park long term while they access social services. They are waiting to get into subsidized housing, and their vehicle has been a form of affordable housing for them. When parked in a private space, vehicles are legitimate housing. This intentional community is on private land; they’re not squatters. It might be considered a low-rent RV park, except it also has people living in tents and yurts.

But if one of the people I know who sleeps in a van at that site were to move his van onto the street, he would be defined as homeless. It reminds me that the definition of homelessness includes a tremendous amount of bias. It puts a label on people that they may not place on themselves. Many of the vehicle residents in that intentional community do not see themselves as homeless in any sense, and it seems unfair to call them that just because they move their vehicle a hundred feet into a public space.

Many vehicle residents would settle down if they had a place to do so, but society keeps pushing them around. They might have deep roots in the local community, but people view them as Other.

Schmid: You’ve written that society tends to both stigmatize and fetishize the “nomad,” “tramp,” or, in the UK, “Traveller.” What do you mean?

Pruss: Theorists including sociologist Erving Goffman have described how stigma and fetishization have gone hand in hand to separate people as Others. People living in vehicles tend to be stigmatized for their unsettlement, their instability. I think of Romani groups in Europe, or the Travellers in the UK, or hoboes and tramps in the U.S. Some of these people are displaced and disconnected from society due to colonization or privatization. They are often seen as unfit, foreign Others who have come to your town to cause havoc and raise chaos. If they are displaced, they are “nomads” or “homeless.” Either way, the idea is that this person “isn’t from around here.”

But there’s also this fetishization of their lifestyle: they don’t have to pay bills, and they live a freewheeling existence. The belief is that they choose this life. There used to be a psychiatric diagnosis called “dromomania,” a kind of uncontrollable wanderlust. The idea was that certain people are driven toward mobility by genetics or psychological makeup; that they “need” to move.

The reality is that many vehicle residents would settle down if they had a place to do so, but society keeps pushing them around. They might have deep roots in the local community, but people view them as Other.

Schmid: You’ve said your choice to get a PhD was inspired by the death of a man named Michael who lived in an RV in Seattle. What happened to him?

Pruss: After I earned my bachelor’s at the age of thirty-five, I wasn’t sure if I should stay in school. While waiting to join the graduate program, I was working as an outreach worker for Seattle’s first safe-parking program. This was around 2013. I was the city’s only paid outreach provider for people living in vehicles — working with 1,500 in all.

As part of that work I often responded to referrals from law enforcement or local politicians. In advance of a planned mass displacement of vehicle residents, I would be sent in to encourage them to relocate before the police came through. That was very difficult work, and I had constant ethical struggles with it. I didn’t feel right about being part of any effort to force people to move, but I was providing probably the only advance notice of these displacements.

Once, I was asked to help relocate a group of vehicles in Ballard [a Seattle neighborhood]. I actually knew the inhabitants of all three vehicles, because I had been organizing a regular community meal under a bridge nearby for about seven years, and the people who lived in those vehicles — an RV, a van, and a truck — were frequent attendees at the meal. I was able to speak to two of them but not to the third, Michael. I came back every couple of days to knock on his window and leave flyers, trying to let him know that the police were planning to impound his vehicle. I asked law enforcement not to tow him, but the parking tickets kept piling up. I have this vivid memory of his windshield wiper sitting an inch off the glass from all the tickets wedged underneath it.

After two months or so the police said they had given him enough chances; they were sending a tow truck. A friend of mine, Jenn Adams, who had also lived in a van for quite some time, arrived at Michael’s RV to check on him. She was able to see inside — I’m not sure how — and spotted Michael’s body. He’d died of natural causes.

He had been deceased for maybe three months. The entire time I’d been knocking on the window, I’d been inches away from where his body lay. And that street is one of the busier industrial avenues in the Seattle area. Thousands of people drove past Michael while he lay dead in a public space. He was taken away rather unceremoniously, and there was no obituary for him in the paper. His death really troubled me, because I had known him for years. He deserved better, and things could have been done to help him live longer.

Ultimately it was the fact that his life and death were so unseen yet so public that led me to want to approach this work from a more structural perspective. I was feeling pretty disillusioned. A lot of the outreach I did felt like a Sisyphean task: one step forward, two steps back. Michael’s death led me to work for change on a much larger scale.

Schmid: Towing and ticketing are frequent government responses to vehicle residency. Is there a better way?

Pruss: I think so. I have never been convinced that taking vulnerable people’s property is an effective way to bring stability to their lives. One reason why cities ticket and tow is to remove these people from public spaces. Such relocations can be deeply traumatizing and often push vehicle residents further toward instability, making it even more difficult to connect with outreach, social services, and housing they may need. It creates fear and distrust. And ultimately, if there is no place for people to go, it doesn’t solve anything. In Martin v. City of Boise the U.S. Supreme Court said that if there is not a space off the street for someone to sleep, it is unconstitutional to criminalize their sleeping on the street. It’s the same for a vehicle. There simply are not enough private parking spaces for these people to use, so ticketing them for parking where they can is deeply harmful.

Schmid: The movie Nomadland won an Oscar in 2020 for its portrayal of Americans who live in vans and move around in search of seasonal jobs. Did it hit or miss the mark in its depiction of vehicle residency?

Pruss: When we see a vehicle home on TV, it’s generally sort of a tenement on wheels. It’s portrayed as substandard housing for the extremely poor. Nomadland, both the film and the book it’s based on, does an excellent job portraying RV residency. The people in that movie are a little different from the vehicle residents I often work with. Many of the people in Nomadland actually seem to fit a traditional definition of the term “nomad,” in that they move on a seasonal circuit between job sites. The people I worked with in Seattle were using their vehicles as a way to resist displacement and maintain a tenuous connection to their local community. But there is a lot of overlap between those groups.

Other pop-culture images of vehicle residency are less nuanced. I think of Chris Farley’s infamous Saturday Night Live character who lives in a “van down by the river”; or Ken Kesey and his followers living in a school bus, as made famous by Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test; or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with Randy Quaid as the cousin who lives in his RV and says, “Shitter was full.” [Laughs.] So of all the media representations, I think Nomadland is probably one of the most accurate — at least, in terms of that particular type of vehicle residency.

All human beings make homes. Our society views shelter from an economic and political vantage point, but the individual doesn’t necessarily see their home that way.

Schmid: Have you ever met anyone who chooses to live this way?

Pruss: Certainly. All people choose their housing and their form of settlement from among the options available to them. I have met many people who prefer to live a more mobile lifestyle, moving around and connecting with multiple communities. But I would argue that they may practice a different form of settlement, which is more about human connection and less about staying in one place.

Schmid: I’ve learned not to take it at face value when people tell me they “chose” homelessness. Typically there’s a deeper story about trauma, generational poverty, health challenges, abuse, and other barriers.

Pruss: Whenever I give a presentation, the first question someone asks is “What about people who choose to live in their vehicles?” There are many who do. Instead of dividing us, this should remind us of our mutual humanity. Like my unhoused neighbors, I choose my shelter from a limited set of alternatives. My options are very different from theirs, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s choice should be valued less. Imposing the term “homeless” on a person who says, “This is my home,” can actually be very damaging, because it dehumanizes them. All human beings make homes. Our society views shelter from an economic and political vantage point, but the individual doesn’t necessarily see their home that way. The idea of home exists outside of the form a shelter takes. Making a home is a human act that can be independent from economics or politics.

To insist that people who have a mobile shelter are “homeless” not only denies that their shelter can be a home; it also has the potential to deny their humanity, because it insists that they are incapable of making a home. That can have a significant psychological effect on someone who is already disconnected from society, already an “Other” pushed out on the periphery. A person I’ve known for years, who lived in an RV with her parents from the ages of seven to seventeen on the streets of Seattle, once told me, “It’s like you’re apart from society, not a part of society.”

Schmid: Does the label “unsheltered” make sense for vehicle residents?

Pruss: Technically vehicle residents are “unsheltered” in that they inhabit public spaces other than emergency shelters or transitional-housing systems. But vehicle residents do inhabit a shelter. Many of these RVs, in particular, were made for shelter. And people retrofit other vehicles to serve as shelter. I’ve known people who’ve lived in an RV for twenty years and just relocate once a week to avoid parking tickets. It’s hard to say that an RV isn’t a permanent shelter for such individuals. So linguistically I could contest the classification “unsheltered.” Vehicle residents may not self-identify as homeless and may not see themselves as belonging to the same community as people who live in tents.

At the same time, many of them may not have access to more-stable housing that fits their needs. They may not see the emergency-shelter system as being appropriate for them, sometimes for legitimate reasons, or they may lack a way into that system. It’s important to understand what the barriers to access are. The “three Ps” — partners, pets, and possessions — are not allowed at many emergency shelters. As we discussed, many vehicle residents have almost no way into systems of care that can improve their lives: because many shelters are adult only; because they have medical challenges; because of their immigration status; or because they have a felony or a sex offense on their record. So for all of these people, living in their vehicle may be the best way to maintain a connection to their communities, local economies, and systems of care.

Schmid: All motor vehicles are environmentally harmful and potentially dangerous, but this seems especially true of the ramshackle contraptions vehicle residents often live in.

Pruss: The majority of the dilapidation you’re describing is related to inhabiting a public space. In those conditions the owners often can’t do maintenance on the vehicle. They’re constantly in danger of being ticketed or towed. They have to worry about vandalism or the theft of their property, catalytic converter, tires, or gas. If the vehicle is towed, it can cause significant damage to the frame or the septic system. So their RVs are often more run-down than those in mobile home parks, because a mobile home park allows you to do maintenance, you don’t have to fear tickets or seizure, and you have legal recourse against vandalism.

We live in a society in which our political representation is made possible by our access to private property. People who inhabit public property do not have the same political representation or the same civil rights in our society — though they should. So not only the vehicle but the individual is at risk. Once that vehicle is in a private space, its inhabitant has that representation.

Schmid: Is there a connection between “tinkers” and vehicle residency?

Pruss: I’m not sure whether tinkering and metallurgic trades are connected to vehicle residency or just to unsettlement as a whole, but they are common among unhoused people. Scrapping is essentially metallurgy — the understanding of metal and the breakdown of metal products to their core components for recycling or reworking. Some sources say that the term “tinker” comes from the tink of hammer on tin. Metallurgy has been practiced by unsettled people almost as long as there have been settled societies. They reclaim the waste of a settled community and generate capital from it.

This is where we get closer to actual nomadism, which, according to theorist Anatoly Khazanov, may have less to do with displacement and more with the use of resources available in an environment. Nomadic communities often obtain resources by moving to a new place where that resource is available — such as taking their reindeer herd to a greener pasture. Or they salvage pieces of metal that have been cast off by a settled society, rework them, and sell them back.

Schmid: Tell us about your current projects, such as interviewing RV residents in Oakland, California.

Pruss: I have been able to work with an amazing group of doctors, anthropologists, and researchers doing COVID testing among unsheltered communities on the streets of the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco. We’re interviewing people about testing and care. We just received approval to research residents of oversized vehicles in Oakland. That includes RVs, school buses, and converted commercial vehicles.

During COVID Oakland has seen a roughly 50 percent increase in people living in oversized vehicles parked on the streets; the number went from about seven hundred to more than a thousand. They have a safe-parking program that allows for RVs, which is relatively rare among safe-parking programs in the U.S. We will be looking into the demographics, backgrounds, and experiences of people who live in these vehicles, assessing their needs and their barriers to accessing services. We will be asking them about COVID testing, vaccination, and medical care, as well as their preferences in off-street-parking programs. We’ll be discussing a new model I call “supportive parking” that is focused on larger vehicles and provides long-term residency, similar to a low-income or subsidized mobile home park.

Schmid: Why the focus on larger vehicles?

Pruss: Because more people are using them as affordable housing over the long term. Many people in smaller vehicles are simply trying to avoid literal homelessness, or they are homeless but recently became employed and earned enough to move out of a tent and into a van, on their way toward an apartment.

Increasingly, though, we’re seeing people who aren’t using the vehicle as a space between homelessness and housing but are actually using the vehicle as housing. This is why we need a variety of safe-parking programs. Currently, most aim to provide short-term parking for smaller vehicles in order to connect the inhabitant to systems of care. A supportive-parking model provides indefinite parking and accommodates larger vehicles. We need to bring that RV in off the street and recognize it as a form of housing. It’s a human-centered, harm-reduction approach.

In a sense these programs are similar to what’s called an “incremental housing model,” which says that rather than stripping away these people’s precious resources, we should be providing the infrastructure to allow them to use those resources safely. That ultimately increases social stability both for the unhoused individual and for the larger community.

Schmid: Vehicle residency seems to be disproportionately concentrated on the West Coast.

Pruss: I have read reports of increases on the East Coast as well, particularly in Florida. To be honest, I don’t know as many researchers on the East Coast who are focusing on this issue, so I don’t know to what degree this is a national phenomenon. When you get up into the Northeast or Midwest, it’s very difficult to sleep in an RV in winter. There are also differences in the availability of parking. It’s more difficult to park an RV on the street in Manhattan than it is in a more spread-out metropolis like Los Angeles. But the majority of studies I’ve seen have come out on the West Coast over the last several decades. There is very little federal or national research on vehicle residency. Without that, it’s hard to get national attention, which drives the funding for research.

That’s changing, though. There is currently a movement of people who want to hold a national safe-parking summit, to bring together the designers of safe-parking programs across the country for a conversation, as well as a group to advise lawyers who are working on these issues. I’ve been invited to cochair the legal forum and am assisting on both of those efforts.

Schmid: Is setting aside some public space for vehicle residents a step toward helping them find private spaces, or is it an end in itself?

Pruss: This is a challenging question. My research shows that setting aside public space tends to be a temporary fix and can ultimately distract from the larger issue of the lack of private spaces where an individual can inhabit a vehicle home. Because our society tends to connect our political representation with our acquisition of private property, providing public space sort of kicks the can down the road. The rule still exists that a person who lives in a public space in our society is “homeless.” So it seems that providing a public space allows the community to say, “We’ve done something,” and move on without finding that individual a private space to live.

Schmid: So-called NIMBYism — people crying, “Not in my backyard!” — can be a challenge for vehicle residency and other forms of adaptive shelter. How would you suggest someone approach a vehicle resident parked nearby?

Pruss: As a neighbor. There’s a saying I’ve heard from a group called Facing Homelessness: “Just say hello.” Go in without preconceived ideas of foreignness, of this person not being from around here. Many of the people who are living in vehicles are from the communities where they live. They’re often employed in the local economy. They don’t exist outside society.

These might be people who are firmly established within the neighborhood, having chosen it for many of the same reasons that you did: because it’s near public transportation or near the schools their kids attend or near the medical systems or the VA. These members of our communities don’t have access to private spaces, but they are otherwise a lot like us. They are us. Many of our neighbors are vehicle residents.

Schmid: The pandemic showed us how fragile our economy is. If we have another massive jolt, do you think we can expect the vehicle-resident population to increase?

Pruss: That is probably my deepest concern. My research suggests that systemic displacement is driving vehicle residency and unsettlement in the U.S. So if we experience more systemic displacement, it should bring an increase in people living in vehicles.

Schmid: How prepared are our local and state governments for that? Are there areas of the country that are more prepared than others?

Pruss: Local communities, for the most part, are not prepared for the current population of people who live in vehicles. In Seattle around half a percent of vehicle residents have parking spaces from social services. Should there be an increase without first bringing those systems up to an adequate state, it will overwhelm the system even more.

Where does it look good? Los Angeles is developing safe-parking programs that seek to meet the current need. Oakland is looking at some innovative solutions. We need to do more for people who are looking to move out of their vehicles and connect with housing.

“Just say hello.” Go in without preconceived ideas of foreignness, of this person not being from around here. Many of the people who are living in vehicles are from the communities where they live. They’re often employed in the local economy. They don’t exist outside society.

Schmid: You cofounded a tech startup that sought to connect people in need with others looking to donate items, but it never fully got off the ground. What are the strengths and limits of technology for assisting unhoused people?

Pruss: Far more unhoused people have access to smart-phones and the Internet than the housed community realizes. Particularly among younger unhoused people there’s a tremendous amount of digital literacy. Many people access the Internet through free Wi-Fi, so they don’t need a cellphone plan.

As important as the Internet is to all of us nowadays, it is even more important to people who are living on the streets, because access to information can mean life or death. It could determine whether you are going to eat or sleep indoors tonight. So smartphones are a critical tool for people trying to live in public spaces. And not everybody has a phone, or if they do have one, not everyone can pay for a monthly plan or keep it charged. And then there’s an even larger issue, which is: To what end? If the shelters are all full, or are full of problems they don’t want to be exposed to, then knowing where a shelter is won’t necessarily help them.

This is why we came up with the idea for WeCount. It was a website, not an app, specifically because we wanted people without cell phones to be able to access it on a library computer or at social-service sites. WeCount allowed users in need to create a personal profile that wasn’t visible to others, where they could list items or services they needed. The goal was to enable people to search Amazon Marketplace, find anything they wanted under fifty dollars, and make a request that would be visible to the public. If you or I were to purchase the item for that person, the website would tell the person it was available. So you could buy them a backpack they had chosen themselves, and then they could choose where to pick it up. The pickup locations also offered services that matched their needs. The point wasn’t just to let you donate to your neighbors but also to connect that person to social services that could meet their larger needs.

Unfortunately I had to step away from the project to finish my PhD. The website was only briefly available, and I think that’s a shame, because it really could have helped a lot of people during the pandemic.

Schmid: Do you see any promising new technologies that might help unhoused people — or vehicle residents specifically — in the coming years?

Pruss: None that I know of. But vehicle residents are members of our larger community, so any technologies that help with employment or housing in general would help them as well.

When it comes to the individual, it’s direct relationships with human beings that help the most. We should be wary of trying to automate our social-service systems. Deciding people are not deserving because they don’t have access to technology isn’t helpful. There’s a great book called Automating Inequality, by Virginia Eubanks. She describes how attempts to use data technology to automate social services like Medicaid and housing for poor people have only made matters worse. And when we let an algorithm distribute care, it relieves us of responsibility for those who are disconnected from our systems. These systems have failure points many of those applying for services cannot see or fix — like when a bureaucrat makes a typo in a phone or Social Security number or faxes a document upside down. If applicants fail, we can just say, “They didn’t jump through the right hoops.” We need to expand entry points and access to care so we can include as many people as possible. We need to better support and increase the number of people working in our systems of care.

Technology isn’t going to end homelessness in the U.S. We must dismantle the systems that displace people and create a new system that connects them to their larger community. That’s not something we can do with an app. That’s something we have to do with each other.