The Alliance’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2013

written by Steve Berg
January 10, 2013

For us in the Alliance, and for our partners and advocates and the policymakers we work with, the coming year is sure to be a significant one. Big things will be happening that will affect our efforts to end homelessness, both good and bad. 2013 is the year to be resolute. So, with that in mind, here are four of our New Year’s resolutions.

We will be a little less patient.
For a long time now, we’ve been talking about a 10-year time frame for ending homelessness, at the state and local levels as well as at the national level. And over the past 10 years, our approaches have improved; we have secured more resources; and the numbers of people experiencing homelessness has declined, substantially in some places. So we think we’ve earned the right to be a little impatient.

Now, more than ever, we know the harm that homelessness does to individuals, families, and communities as a whole. And we know we should do about the problem, and what measures are most efficient and most cost-effective. What’s wrong with doing it now? Let’s get homeless people back into housing faster. Let’s bring the numbers down more. Let’s see which city will be the first to have no one – not veterans, not families, not children – experiencing homelessness for an entire year.

We will keep saying, and saying it louder, “Homeless people, and programs that end homelessness, are worth the money.”
With all the wrangling over spending and revenue at the federal level, it’s clear that the federal government will be spending and doing less in 2013. But it does not follow that everyone must be affected by cuts. With less money, we will have to make hard decisions about priorities, and getting people off the streets, out of shelters, and into stable housing should always be priorities.

Federally funded homelessness programs target the most vulnerable people, and they do so in an effective manner. Republicans and Democrats agree that problem of homelessness is both worth solving and solvable. Evidence has already shown that taxpayers will not save money by leaving homeless people on the streets. Indeed, the amount of funding it will take to address homelessness is miniscule compared to the big federal budget issues currently being debated.

We will identify who’s likely to be left behind and refuse to let it happen.
As an end to homelessness becomes more of a concrete prospect, we’re beginning to see that some people are in danger of being left behind: people with severe disabilities, difficult behavioral or health issues, people who are literally the hardest to serve. Yet experience shows that serving those with the greatest barriers is the best way to ensure cost effectiveness. Every program model and intervention needs to be stretched, to see how far it can go in helping people who are the least likely to be housed without our help.

We will find and house every homeless veteran.
When it comes to the population of veterans experiencing homelessness, 2013 will be the year we will have to stop saying, “If they’d only give us the money we could end homelessness” – because the money to do the job is now on the table. That’s the impact of the expansion of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, along with more HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) and Homeless Grants and Per Diem funding in recent years.

We have the program models, and we certainly have the public support. Can we make it work? Ending veteran homelessness will require one additional big step: a concerted, systematic implementation effort in every community. We will need to find every homeless individual who has served this country on active duty, link him or her with the right intervention, and refuse to rest until he or she has a place to live.

VA will be working hard at this, but it will only succeed if every community embraces ending veteran homelessness as an objective. We’ll be looking for and shouting out Continuums of Care (CoCs) that have cut the number of homeless veterans by one-third between the 2011 and 2013 point-in-time counts; and by two-thirds between 2011 and 2014. Will yours be on that list?

Thanks for reading, and a belated happy New Year!