Today’s release in Washington, D.C., of a national plan to prevent and end homelessness in America envisions safe, affordable housing for all veterans and the chronically homeless in five years and the same for families, youth and children by 2020.
With nearly 2 million men, women and children experiencing homelessness sometime within the past year, it deserves attention.
Billed by the White House as the nation’s “first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness,” the blueprint is the work of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, an agency composed of 19 Cabinet secretaries and agency heads. Yet it draws heavily on the expertise and successes of individuals and programs around the nation.
“Homelessness is a preventable tragedy, a tragedy we can solve,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, chair of the USICH, said Tuesday morning, stressing the need for partnership between public and private sectors at all levels, from federal to regional to local.
Live-streamed from the White House, the announcement included comments and commitment from the heads of U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs.
Officials pledged new housing units for veterans and families, more housing vouchers, more jobs and expansion of health care, often citing federal stimulus funds from the Recovery Act.
Nine thousand persons from across the country participated in the development of the plan, as well, including Laura Kadwell, Minnesota’s director for Ending Long Term Homelessness.
Kadwell praised the not-one-size-fits-all nature of the plan [PDF], which praises localized approaches, though she like others has yet to study details.
“This is a really good way to do this. Ending homelessness in a rural state like Maine is very different than ending homelessness in San Francisco,” for example, Kadwell said.
She likes the “breadth and depth and level of commitment” the feds promised as demonstrated by the involvement of a wide spectrum of federal agencies and personnel and 52 strategies to prevent and end homelessness.
With collaboration among federal agencies, she envisions more mental-health assistance vouchers becoming available, increased focus on youth aging out of foster care to help them develop plans for supporting themselves and getting jobs, education or training. She was encouraged by mention of the need to help tribal populations as well, from which Minnesota could benefit.
Plus, the announcement drew mention of Hearth Connection, a Minnnesota-based program Kadwell described as bringing together supportive housing and health services to the chronically homeless — for instance paying for preventative care and medications rather than jail time or hospital admissions. The program piloted in Ramsey and Blue Earth counties.
Are the five and 10-year deadlines realistic?
“It’s important to have a deadline because it keeps people on task. At the same time, it’s important to understand those deadlines may need to be adjusted,” she said, though noting success of programs for the chronically homeless and homeless veterans.
Figures on homelessness
Still, the numbers are daunting. On any given night, 640,000 men, women or children sleep in emergency shelters, cars or on the streets, Donovan said, casualties of war, home foreclosures, the foster-care system or gender or sexual issues and other issues.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness provides this interactive map on state-by-state homelessness counts. Though there are various explanations for homelessness, a major reason is people can’t find housing they can afford.
In Minnesota on almost any night at least 9,000 persons are homeless with another 11,000 “precariously housed” according to Wilder Research.
As a precursor to today’s report, the council released “What We Learned,” [PDF] which lays out six “core values” intrinsic to the plan, including declarations that homelessness is unacceptable, expensive, solvable, preventable, that people who have lost their homes “deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” and that a strong plan requires a group effort.
Today’s report comes on the heels of last week’s release by the Department of Housing and Urban Development of the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which found a small reduction in the levels of chronic homelessness and the number of homeless families up nearly 30 percent since 2007.
In presenting the plan to Congress and the President, USICH executive director Barbara Poppe quoted President Obama as saying homelessness is “simply unacceptable for a country as wealthy as ours.”