Examining the Federal Plan: Objective 6 – Mainstream Programs

written by naehblog
August 12, 2010

Today I have another installment of our series “Examining the Federal Plan”. In this series, we look at the ten objectives of the new federal plan to end homelessness Opening Doors.

We’re looking at Objective 6: Improve access to mainstream programs and services to reduce people’s financial vulnerability to homelessness.

To learn more about this objective, I turned to Sharon McDonald, Senior Policy Analyst at the Alliance (who will be writing about rapid re-housing as a way to relieve growing shelter populations tomorrow – stay tuned!) .

The first thing I wanted to know was what was meant by “mainstream programs”.

Mainstream programs are those not specifically designed to aid the homeless population or to tackle homelessness issues, but the bigger programs that can help people before they become homeless (and after, if need be), such as those that deal with jobs or income. We’re talking about things like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Unemployment Insurance (UI), and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which is currently in real danger (we did a whole WEEK of posts about saving TANF.)

These programs are meant to reach large portions of the population with lower incomes. These programs are the first lines of defense for preventing people from becoming homeless by providing cash assistance, job placement aid, and other critical services.

The federal plan aims to improve access to these programs. If these mainstream programs could serve more people, we could stop homelessness before it starts. And, the very specific programs that are tailored to tackle homelessness would be able to serve those people who truly require that aid.

This is a sound strategy. Mainstream are already designed to handle lots of people. So when looking for programs to help end and prevent homelessness, why start from scratch? We can improve existing programs that already serve the needs of low-income individuals and families and make sure that more people can access them before their housing situations fall apart.

It’s not an easy task. With these hard economic times, budget cuts at the state and federal level make it hard to improve and expand these programs. But now is not the time to turn our backs on the most vulnerable people in our communities. If current trends are any indication, those in situations that put them at risk of homelessness will only increase in the future.

Let’s curb the problem before it starts by investing in what works.

See our other Examining the Federal Plan posts:
Objective 8
Objective 10