Norm Suchar: "It's a Great Time to be Working on Federal Policy"

written by naehblog
April 27, 2010

In the homelessness world, we have a keen awareness of the need to link services with housing for homeless people with a lot of barriers to maintaining their housing. But at the federal level, getting the agencies that operate housing and services programs to coordinate their efforts has been a real challenge.

We also know that trying to end homelessness using only the resources provided by homeless specific programs won't work. We need to find better ways to tap into "mainstream programs:" those programs that serve low-income people generally, and have much higher levels of funding.

The Housing and Services for Homeless Persons Demonstration Program was proposed by the Obama Administration, and it combines Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers funded by HUD with services provided by a combination of HHS programs, including a special grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and Medicaid.

Last week, the Alliance helped pull together a roundtable discussion between officials from HUD, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the White House, some key Congressional staff, and a Leadership Council, which consists of officials from several cities across the country who are working to end homelessness. The topic of conversation was a new proposal to combine housing subsidies with services to help end homelessness for 10,000 families and individuals.

The great thing about this demonstration program is that it tackles both the need to link services to housing and the need to tap into additional resources. It uses mainstream programs, including Section 8, TANF, and Medicaid, and it tries to bridge the HUD and HHS bureaucracies.

At the roundtable discussion and in various other meetings with Congressional and Administration officials, I've noticed that the people developing this program are deeply engaged in making it work and work well. They are asking the right questions, and they are going farther than the collaboration efforts of the past. It leaves me optimistic that even in this time of tight budgets and ridiculously high unemployment, we can do something that brings us a giant step closer to ending homelessness once and for all.