Here’s What We Can Do to Help End Chronic Homelessness

written by Steve Berg
July 23, 2014

As many of you are already aware, the Obama administration’s plan to end homelessness, Opening Doors, calls for ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, ending chronic homelessness by 2016, and ending family and youth homelessness by 2020.

These are audacious goals, to be sure, but the Administration has already shown that it’s serious about reaching them. Since Opening Doors was enacted, the Administration’s budget has built up funding for housing for homeless veterans; the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have put campaigns in place to help communities implement effective practices; and the First Lady has assumed a prominent role as public advocate for ending homelessness.

Now, believe it or not, we have the funding we need to end veteran homelessness, and we may soon have a chance to secure the funding we need to end chronic homelessness. According to the Alliance’s analysis, in order to end chronical homelessness we will need new, dedicated funding for 35,000 to 40,000 rent subsidies, targeted to the chronically homeless population.

The Administration’s budget request asks for a $300 million increase in HUD’s homeless assistance for just that purpose. Congress’s initial response has not included it, but we believe they can be made to come around. And this is the year to do it – funding that is included for rent subsidies in the FY 2015 Continuum of Care is the last funding that will be on the streets in time to house people before the end of 2016.

Substantive work on the spending bill including HUD funding for FY 2015 will probably not resume until after the midterm elections this November. At that time, Congress will combine the FY 2015 spending bills into an “omnibus” appropriations measure, which they will try to complete during the “lame duck” session, beginning shortly after the election.

The work will involve negotiations between House appropriations leadership, Senate appropriations leadership, and the White House, particularly the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMP), now led by previous Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan.

The Administration’s recent statement regarding the Senate bill on HUD and other appropriations, in which the Administration “strongly opposed” the bill’s funding level for homeless assistance on the grounds that it did not include the requested increase, could signal that White House will push hard in these negotiations for its requested increase. (The relevant language is on Page 6 under “Homeless Assistance Grants.”)

Our job now is to maintain a steady drumbeat of advocacy, letting Congress know that when the Director of OMB sits down in negotiations and asks Congress to include this funding increase, Congress should say “yes.” The drumbeat starts with Capitol Hill Day at our upcoming conference, and must continue until the decision is final.

Already, the progress we have made toward ending veteran homelessness has had a tremendous impact on chronic homelessness. Veterans are overrepresented in the chronically homeless population, which means that making progress on ending veteran homelessness also means making progress on chronic homelessness (both populations have seen significant declines).

The goal of housing every chronically homeless person has taken on a new immediacy, as people see the impact of the HUD-VASH program on chronically homeless veterans. The recent success of the 100,000 Homes Campaign has shown us the goal of ending chronic homelessness is not only possible, it is well within our grasp.

Tens of thousands of vulnerable people, with the most severe disabilities, who have been homeless the longest, need this help. We have solutions that work, and that save taxpayers more money than not helping the chronically homeless would costs them. I hope there will be an unprecedented response from people around the country who care. Please be in touch with us to talk about how to have the biggest impact.