Take Five!  Q & A with Senator Richard Burr

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Expert Q & A | October 22, 2007

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)
United States Senate

What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
Prevention of homelessness is key to ending homelessness in America. It is far easier, and more cost effective to prevent a person or family from becoming homeless than to assist someone out of a homeless situation, provide the rehabilitative services needed, and reestablish them in society.

Another important issue emerging in homelessness policy is a renewed focus on ending chronic homelessness by providing supportive services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment services, in permanent housing facilities. About 200,000 people experience long-term or chronic homelessness nationwide. Once chronically homeless individuals are in permanent supportive housing, success is achieved by providing supportive services that will help them stay off the streets and out of hospitals and jails. I believe we have the opportunity to help solve the issue of chronic homelessness in a cost-effective way by providing permanent supportive housing and supportive services.

What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
Most homeless people do not “choose” to be homeless – they want to be healthier, and they want to be productive members of their communities. We can achieve a “win-win” for taxpayers and homeless individuals by funding supportive services at permanent supportive housing facilities. This approach actually reduces emergency room visits, law enforcement encounters, and shelter stays. We should also remember that one out of every three homeless men (and many women) has put on our nation’s military uniform and has defended our freedom.

How did you start working in the field of homelessness (or housing)?
I first learned about the successes of permanent supportive housing programs while I was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As a result of that experience I have sponsored the Services for Ending Long-Term Homelessness Act (SELHA) for several years. SELHA provides grants for mental health services, substance abuse treatment, health education, and referrals for primary health care and dental services. Now as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I am working with my colleagues to include SELHA as part of the responsibilities of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Where do you draw your inspiration?
I am most inspired by the North Carolinians who continue to share their amazing life stories with me. There are over 1,100 chronically homeless people in North Carolina. Over half a million Americans do not have a place to call home each night. I have seen the results of hard work by individuals and organizations across North Carolina who help prevent homelessness and feed and shelter the homeless in their communities. Their work is an inspiration, and as their Senator I will continue to support their efforts.

Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
Ending homelessness is possible because I know people are commited to work within their communities, their states, and their country to advocate to end homelessness.

Affordable housing is a perfect example of an area where we have seen progress. We’ve moved past the policy of large, high rise housing “projects” and we’ve started building affordable homes which are part of our communities. This type of housing instills pride in residents. This pride in ownership encourages people to ultimately own their own homes. I am committed to working with our local public housing authorities to continue this effort to bring people off the streets and into the American dream - homeownership.

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