Homelessness in 2014 - A Look at the Year Ahead

written by Steve Berg
January 2, 2014

It looks like 2014 may be a year of recovery. The economy, which for people at the top has already recovered very well, appears to be creating more accessible jobs for people at the bottom. Localities that were battered by sequestration will not, it appears, have to suffer through further cuts in federal support. While big problems that cry out for nation-wide policy solutions will go from the “might-do” list to the “campaign issue” list, many smaller, consensus-based solutions that require some action by the federal government may follow the example of the “small deal” budget agreement reached last month. And there seems, just maybe, to be some emerging consensus that we need to do more about the level of poverty and economic inequality in America, of which homelessness is one of the most shameful results.

This all means that the amazing community of people working to end homelessness in the United States has a decent chance of substantially reducing the number of people living in shelters and on the streets, as was occurring before the Great Recession started. This will require making use of the assets we have – increased knowhow, bipartisan political support, and funding opportunities in some key areas. Those are:

  • Veterans – This will be the first full year in which all the money necessary to end homelessness for veterans is on the table. The expanded SSVF (rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention) funding that communities received late in 2013, along with continued expansions in the HUD-VASH permanent supportive housing program and strong support for other veterans homelessness programs, means that in this area, anyway, money is not the main barrier. The know-how is definitely on the table, as the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Alliance and others have training and technical assistance resources on how to do rapid re-housing and other interventions. If communities do the work necessary to get these resources targeted in the right way, organize a “collective impact” system that sets goals, gets clear about who does what and how people will hold each other accountable, then by the end of the year we’ll see very large reductions in veterans homelessness, and an end to veterans homelessness in those communities by the end of 2015.
  • Health Care – The expansion of Medicaid was the single biggest commitment of help to low-income people on the part of the people of the United States since the original adoption of Medicaid almost 50 years ago. It’s received little attention compared to the “Obamacare” insurance exchanges. Of course, the Supreme Court made expansion optional for states, and many states have not (yet) expanded Medicaid. (“Yet” – Medicaid itself passed Congress in 1965, but it took 17 years for all states to adopt it. New states will continue to choose expansion each year.) A substantial majority of homeless people, however, live in states that have already expanded. Combined with other changes like simplification in the Health Homes option, the results are that more homeless people will get health care in 2014, and Medicaid will be the solution to providing the care and services that are needed for effective permanent supportive housing programs.
  • Back to housing – Sequestration had a grim impact on housing for the lowest-income Americans, with downsizing in the Section 8 program, more underfunding of public housing, and, finally, reductions for communities in their 2013 Continuum of Care funding. With the partial rollback of sequestration that was part of the recent budget deal, downsizing in these programs may well be over, depending on what Congress does with the FY 2014 appropriations bills over the next two weeks. One important impact is that we can expect a return of “turnover vouchers” – Section 8 vouchers that are turned back in to the PHA and can be used to house new people. Before sequestration hit in early 2013, many PHAs were discussing or even implementing plans to use a percentage of turnover vouchers to house homeless people, particular those with the most severe barriers to housing. HUD will be encouraging PHAs to reinstitute those discussions.
  • Rapid re-housing – In an increasing number of states, local and state-controlled funds (such as TANF) are being used for rapid re-housing. The most recent Continuum of Care makes it easier for communities that would be able to house more homeless families by shifting some resources to rapid re-housing to do so. Just as with veterans, for all homeless people, the more rapid re-housing is available and implemented in a skillful manner, the fewer people will be homeless.

Taking advantage of those opportunities will be a lot of work, but can have a huge payoff. At the Alliance, we’re committed to doing everything we can to make these changes happen. If there are other ways we can help, please let us know!