Take Five! Q & A with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

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Expert Q & A | August 3, 2009

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Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services

What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
The issue of homelessness among children has become particularly visible as the recent collapse of the housing industry coupled with the current recession has swelled the number of families with children seeking homelessness assistance. I believe that it is possible to increase our efforts to help the growing population of homeless children and families, while also maintaining our efforts to address chronic homelessness. There are sizable opportunities for real collaboration using funding that has been made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as well as with the recent passage of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act. In addition, the President’s budget for fiscal year 2010 includes over $400 million in HHS programs targeted to individuals, youth, and families experiencing homelessness, and a total of $338 billion for fourteen non-targeted, or mainstream, HHS programs that can serve persons experiencing homelessness. It will be critical to coordinate these resources flowing into communities to ensure that we are reaching the broadest populations possible, including in our efforts to prevent homelessness. HHS programs provide critical supportive services to homeless individuals, families, and children, and these services help these populations achieve or maintain economic and housing stability. By partnering HHS resources with resources available through other Federal agencies we can ensure a broader reach.

What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
Homelessness, as you know, is a broad and complex issue. It affects all age groups in all regions of the country. Homelessness exists in rural areas as well as urban ones. Spells of homelessness can last from a few days to several years. The effectiveness of strategies to prevent or end homelessness will always depend on the different subpopulations and their specific circumstances. Homelessness cannot be solved by a single agency or organization, by a single level of government, or by a single sector. Everyone should be reminded of the intricacies of homelessness as a policy area, and remember that preventing and ending homelessness will take real coordination, collaboration, and a constant exchange of ideas.

How did you start working about the field of homelessness (or housing)?
As Governor of Kansas I saw the adverse effects of homelessness on individuals and families, and the harm it does to safety, health, education and a full productive participation in the community. In 2005, I created the Kansas Interagency Council on Homelessness in order to develop a comprehensive and coordinated effort to implement strategies to alleviate and end homelessness in my state. During my tenure as Governor I also oversaw the Medicaid program in Kansas. As you know, Medicaid is the largest mainstream program that can serve persons experiencing homelessness. Improving access to Medicaid and other important mainstream resources such as TANF and Head Start can help prevent many vulnerable individuals, families and children from becoming homeless.

Where do you draw your inspiration?
I draw my inspiration from the American people. We live in unprecedented times, and there are many challenges confronting us right now. But I know that we are a country of problem solvers, and we do not give up. I have seen that spirit and resiliency while serving the people of Kansas, and as Secretary of Health and Human Services and I know that we are capable of tackling this incredible challenge.

Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
Ending homelessness is not a simple task, but it is not impossible. Ending homelessness permanently requires housing combined with additional services and resources, such as those provided under many of the programs funded by HHS. It is important that HHS resources be combined with other important resources available, and that will take coordination.. As I have said, ending homelessness requires not one solution and not one person or organization. Rather, it requires real and deep collaboration among many players and stakeholders. I want to ensure that my Department will play a key role in this challenging, yet possible, endeavor.

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