A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years

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National Alliance to End Homelessness

Solutions Brief | July 28, 2006

Files: PDF | 178 KB | 24 pages

Thirty years ago there was not wide-spread homelessness in America. Tonight nearly a million people will be homeless, despite a two billion dollar a year infrastructure designed to deal with the problem. Can homelessness be ended?

The National Alliance to End Homelessness believes that, in fact, ending homelessness is well within the nation's grasp. We can reverse the incentives in mainstream systems so that rather than causing homelessness, they are preventing it. And we can make the homeless assistance system more outcome-driven by tailoring solution-oriented approaches more directly to the needs of the various sub-populations of the homeless population. In this way, homelessness can be ended within ten years.

This document summarizes the Alliance’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness – a revolutionary campaign launched in 2000 outlining the step-by-step plan communities can adopt to end homelessness in ten years.

The outline includes the following steps:

Plan for Outcomes
A first step in accomplishing this is to collect much better data at the local level.
A second step is to create a planning process that focuses on the outcome of ending homelessness – and then brings to the table not just the homeless assistance providers, but the mainstream state and local agencies and organizations whose clients are homeless.

Close the Front Door
People who become homeless are almost always clients of public systems of care and assistance, including the mental health system, the public health system, the welfare system, and the veterans system, as well as the criminal justice and the child protective service systems. The more effective the homeless assistance system is in caring for people, the less incentive these other systems have to deal with the most troubled people – and the more incentive they have to shift the cost of serving them to the homeless assistance system.
This situation must be reversed. The flow of incentives can favor helping the people with the most complex problems. As in many other social areas, investment in prevention holds the promise of saving money on expensive systems of remedial care.

Open the Back Door
Most people who become homeless enter and exit homelessness relatively quickly. There is a much smaller group of people which spends more time in the system. The latter group are often the chronically homeless and chronically ill.
People can be helped to exit homelessness as quickly as possible through a housing first approach. For the chronically homeless, this means permanent supportive housing (housing with services) – a solution that will save money as it reduces the use of other public systems.

Build the Infrastructure
While the systems can be changed to prevent homelessness and shorten the experience of homelessness, ultimately people will continue to be threatened with instability until the supply of affordable housing is increased; incomes of the poor are adequate to pay for necessities such as food, shelter and health care; and disadvantaged people can receive the services they need. Attempts to change the homeless assistance system must take place with the context of larger efforts to help very poor people.