2014 Policy Guide

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Federal Policy Brief | August 28, 2014

Files: (2014 Policy Guide | 581 KB | 24 pages)

The National Alliance to End Homelessness publishes this Policy Guide each year to pull together in one document a description of issues with which Congress and the Administration are grappling that will have an impact on homelessness. People who work on ending homelessness in their communities have important information that is helpful to people making policy at the federal level. This Policy Guide is intended to make it easier to share that information. The Policy Guide gives a brief description of each issue or program, explains how it impacts homelessness, and describes what is at stake in current policy debates.

Federal policy has an important impact on homelessness in two ways. First, the federal government is a major source of funding, both for state and local programs working to end homelessness, and for benefits for Americans with the lowest incomes and the highest vulnerability. Second, federal policy can incentivize effective practices by rewarding results. The programs and issues described in the Policy Guide include those with both of these impacts.

Among other things, the Policy Guide is designed to be useful for advocates. Decision-makers in Washington, DC can only do their jobs effectively if they have good information about how policies play out in the field, what kinds of spending get good results, and what practices are the most important to incentivize. Since most people working in agencies and congressional offices cover a range of topics, they are unlikely to ever be real experts on a topic like how to end homelessness. They rely on people working in the field to give them helpful information. This Policy Guide makes it easier to know the important information.

This year there are some key issues that need to be addressed and messages that need to be communicated. The first issue is the importance of following the plan to end homelessness set out in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Action by Congress is needed this year to meet Opening Doors’ call for communities to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2016 (already pushed back a year to account for cuts to HUD programs). Thorough assessments by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have made it clear that accomplishing this will require about 37,000 additional rent subsidies targeted toward housing chronically homeless people. HUD included a request for this funding in its FY 2015 budget request, which Congress is considering now. The funding bills that have emerged so far in the House and Senate, however, do not include this. This proposal remains a high priority for the Administration, and will remain in play until final spending bills are passed for the year. The federal plan remains a crucial tool for making progress, and Congress needs to do its part. This message needs to be made forcefully, establishing that carrying out Opening Doors needs to be a national priority.

The other important message is that now, more than ever, we are proving that we are able to be successful. The large reductions in homelessness in some communities, among veterans, people with disabilities, and/or families, using proven models of permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, coordinated assessment, and a system-wide focus on outcomes, are proving that investments in the right kinds of programs will have a big positive impact for the most vulnerable people in our country. Most significantly, rapid reductions in homelessness among veterans demonstrate that when funded to scale, the approach to ending homelessness that communities have put into place is capable of achieving great results.