States Can Help End Homelessness

written by Lisa Stand
August 19, 2013

One of the Alliance’s most popular blog items last year was a guest post by Paul GionFriddo. He shared how our mental health system failed his son, who struggles with mental illness and chronic homelessness. He wrote eloquently about his family’s experience, with the added insights of a former state legislator who voted, in the past, on policies that he would later see were missing the mark.

“Many years ago, we emptied our state psychiatric institutions for good reasons. They were monuments to neglect or abuse. But when we emptied them, we failed to put in place the community-based service delivery system we needed.”

Appropriate housing options, a critical part of the service system, are often lacking. This and other flaws in the system persist, holding communities back from ending homelessness -- with dire consequences for the most vulnerable people who face the greatest risks.

At the Alliance, we focus a lot on improvements in federal policies that can help communities deal with these problems successfully. Key policy solutions involve, for instance:

  • The McKinney-Vento Act, which specifically funds homeless assistance in communities;
  • Mainstream safety net programs that can help more if their administrators make ending  homelessness as a priority; and
  • Of course, the deep obligation to guarantee the health and economic security of the nation’s veterans.

Yet Paul GionFriddo reminds us that it matters what states do, even beyond their vital role in shaping and funding mental health programs. For the goal of ending homelessness, there is great potential in numerous state policies and initiatives, such as:

  • Implementing the Affordable Care Act to strengthen supportive housing strategies;
  • Administering aid to homeless families more flexibly, to help them stabilize in housing; and
  • Promoting investment in affordable housing so that low-to-moderate-income residents never face the prospect of homelessness for any length of time.

These are just a few areas where state policy can effectively address homelessness. Fortunately, people in communities who care about ending homelessness are skilled at advocating in all venues – in their state capitals as well as the U.S. Congress and in public spaces.

The Alliance supports state efforts with research, tools and materials, but we rely on experienced advocates to tell us what’s they need. Last year, when we fielded a state issues survey we learned more about the issues of most importance, and the areas where we could be more supportive. Survey responses led us to develop resources like webinars, workshops, and advocacy tools.

This year, we’re again inviting homeless advocates to take the brief State Issues Survey, so we can be up to date in our plans to support state advocacy.