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07/02/2015 - USICH Announces Two Changes to Team

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness is pleased to announce two changes to our team that further strengthen our work to prevent and end homelessness.

  • Beverley Ebersold has been promoted to Director of National Initiatives
  • Jennifer Rich has joined the team as Director of Communications

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06/24/2015 - A Closer Look: Opening Doors, as Amended in 2015 - Spotlight on Medicaid

To accompany the release of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015, we will be taking a closer look at each of the four key updates to the document this week. We’ll be sharing comments from partners, community members, and the USICH staff on how the updates are impacting their daily work, helping to prevent and end homelessness across America, as well as highlight the key changes around the updated topic.

Spotlight on Medicaid

"When launched in 2010, Opening Doors was more than a blueprint for effective Federal, state and local partnerships to end homelessness, it motivated all of us - inside and outside of government - to work harder, together, to address the needs of our most vulnerable people. Five years later, it is just as impactful; a platform on which proven solutions such as supportive housing can expand, and an affirmation that services through Medicaid, coordinated assessment and access, and cooperation among systems must grow too if we are to succeed and tackle homelessness once and for all."  –Deb DeSantis, President/CEO, Corporation for Supportive Housing

The Affordable Care Act creates new opportunities to leverage Medicaid to end homelessness, specifically by financing services that can help people obtain and maintain housing as well as achieve health and well-being. All states now have the opportunity to expand Medicaid eligibility to nearly all individuals under the age of 65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the Federal poverty level. As of May 2015, 30 states including the District of Columbia have acted to expand Medicaid programs, and provide health coverage to millions of adults without dependent children for the first time.  More than 16 million Americans have gained health coverage, bringing the number of people without insurance down to historic lows. Included in the newly insured are approximately six million of the lowest income Americans, who have gained access to public health insurance through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). And while the data is limited on the specific number of people experiencing homelessness who have gained coverage, we have numerous reports that enrollment in Medicaid and other types of health insurance among people experiencing homelessness has grown significantly.

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06/23/2015 - A Closer Look: Opening Doors, As Amended in 2015 - Spotlight on Crisis Response Systems

To accompany the release of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015, we will be taking a closer look at each of the four key updates to the document this week. We’ll be sharing comments from partners, community members, and the USICH staff on how the updates are impacting their daily work, helping to prevent and end homelessness across America, as well as highlight the key changes around the updated topic.

Spotlight on Crisis Response Systems

“Over the last few years, we’ve learned a great deal about how to transform the way we respond to homelessness, moving from a set of uncoordinated programs towards systems that help families and individuals rapidly reconnect to permanent housing.  This updated version of Opening Doors captures those lessons and outlines the critical steps communities can take to retool homeless services into effective crisis response systems.”
– Nan Roman, Executive Director, National Alliance to End Homelessness

Since the launch of Opening Doors five years ago, communities across the country are transforming their responses to homelessness from what was once a set of uncoordinated programs and services to crisis response systems that help people rapidly resolve their homelessness through connections to stable housing. In order to further guide communities through this transition, the 2015 amendment to Opening Doors includes clearer guidance around how to retool homeless services into a coordinated crisis response system.

This crisis response system involves the re-orientation of programs and services to a Housing First approach that emphasizes rapid connection to permanent housing, while mitigating the negative and traumatic effects of homelessness. An effective crisis response system:

 

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06/22/2015 - Opening Doors, as amended in 2015

Opening Doors, as Amended in 2015

A message from Matthew Doherty, USICH Executive Director

On behalf of the entire team at USICH, the teams at our Federal member agencies, and our many dedicated state and local partners working tirelessly to prevent and end homelessness, I am thrilled to share with you this updated version of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015.  

This document is the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by countless individuals who contributed ideas and information through online forums, in meetings, and by analyzing their agencies’ programs and policies, helping to identify best practices and lessons learned from their years of experience. That collective wisdom has shaped and strengthened this amendment and its focus on objectives and strategies informed by data, research, and results.

The release of this amendment could not be more timely. We have made great strides toward the goals established in Opening Doors, but there remains a large amount of work to be done. Today, on the anniversary of the original publication, we reaffirm our commitment to achieving an end to homelessness in America, with even greater confidence in our collective ability to solve this problem. 

Together, we are proving that homelessness does not have to appear in the pages of American history as a permanent fixture, but as a problem the American people overcame. It is my hope that the release of this amendment to Opening Doors will help move us closer to the lasting solutions that we can and must implement.

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06/09/2015 - Housing is Healthcare

This blog was originally published on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation blog, Impatient Optimists.

By David Wertheimer

Twenty-five years ago, in the earlier years of the AIDS epidemic, health care and housing providers figured out that without housing, the health of people living with AIDS deteriorated far more rapidly than for those who had stable homes.  AIDS Housing of Washington, now Building Changes, helped coin a critically important phrase that became a game changer in the fight against AIDS: “Housing is healthcare.”

A quarter century later the phrase still rings true, and has expanded meaning in the challenging work of ending homelessness for all people, including families, single adults, youth, and veterans.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently hosted more than 100 state and local leaders in ending family homelessness together with health care leaders responsible for implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion here in Washington State. As the health care system changes, the opportunities to integrate and improve the delivery of both housing and health services to families recovering from homelessness have the potential to be transformational.

What might this look like in practice? We can now envision and realize the possibilities, thanks to a 5-year, $65 million competitive federal grant for State Innovations in Medicaid secured by the Washington State Health Care Authority. In part, this grant offers the opportunity to think in new and innovative ways about “social determinants of health,” the broad set of conditions in which we live and work, at home and with our families, including the air we breathe and the water we drink, that play a more important role in promoting long-term health than medical interventions.

Health starts where we live, learn, work and play.

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05/11/2015 - Ending Youth Homelessness

By Luke Tate

No young person should lack a stable and safe home, or be without a caring adult they can count on. Too many of America’s youth have been robbed of that essential foundation — and thanks to the extraordinary work of practitioners and volunteers across the country, we are learning what it takes to reestablish that footing and end youth homelessness nationwide.

In 2012, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) issued the Framework to End Youth Homelessness detailing the steps necessary to achieve the goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020, and strategies to improve outcomes for children and youth experiencing homelessness. This framework articulates the need for government, non-profit, civic, and faith community partners to focus together on the overall well-being of youth experiencing homelessness — addressing not just their need for stable housing, but also their educational and employment goals, and the importance of permanent adult connections in their lives.

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05/08/2015 - Harnessing Medicaid to Help Solve Homelessness

By Richard Cho

Five years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, many of the major objectives of the law are being met; more than 16 million Americans have gained health coverage, bringing the number of people without insurance down to historic lows. Included in the newly insured are approximately six million of the lowest income Americans, who have gained access to public health insurance through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). And while the data is limited on the specific number of people experiencing homelessness who have gained coverage, we have numerous reports that enrollment in Medicaid and other types of health insurance among people experiencing homelessness has grown significantly. With so many people now able to access health care coverage, the results are in: the Affordable Care Act is working. 

Of course, increasing access to health coverage is only one objective of the law. The other major objective is to shift the focus of health care away from procedures and treatments and towards the overall quality of care and people’s health outcomes. For people who experience homelessness, we know that having stable housing is essential to health. Stable housing not only has direct benefits on health—reducing exposure to high-risk behaviors and the negative effects of life on the streets—but it also creates a platform for better care. Thus, for people experiencing homelessness, the ultimate measure of whether or not the Affordable Care Act is working may be the degree to which it can incentivize the health care system to address housing needs as a foundation for better health.

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05/07/2015 - Medicaid is a Game-Changer for Ending Chronic Homelessness, But to Win, We Have to Play

By Richard Cho

It has been proven time and time again that for people experiencing chronic homelessness and suffering from chronic health conditions, the path to improved health begins with stable housing, namely through supportive housing. Supportive housing (also known as ‘permanent supportive housing’) has been shown to improve physical and behavioral health outcomes for people experiencing chronic homelessness, while simultaneously lowering health care costs by decreasing emergency room visits and hospitalizations. In most communities today however, the services that make supportive housing so effective are still funded by a patchwork of public and private sources, or in some cases, are severely under-funded. Fortunately, thanks to the Affordable Care Act we now have the potential to create a more systematic and sustainable way to finance services in supportive housing -- through Medicaid.

The truth is, this isn’t all new. Medicaid has covered these types of supportive housing services for a long time. After all, one of Medicaid’s first authorities allowed states to cover primary care case management. What is new is the Affordable Care Act, which by increasing the coverage of people experiencing homelessness under Medicaid and by shifting the focus of health care on value rather than volume, creates new opportunities to increase the role of Medicaid in covering services in supportive housing. At the same time, Medicaid is a Federal and state program and the decision to cover these services under Medicaid rests with the states. Whether states do so will depend on the degree to which they are made aware of the cost-benefit of helping people access and obtain housing as opposed to cycle in and out of emergency rooms, inpatient hospital beds, shelters, and the streets.

We all have the responsibility of educating states about the cost-effectiveness of supportive housing and the opportunity to cover services in supportive housing under Medicaid. Here are four things you can do to ensure your state includes these services:

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04/23/2015 - The Supportive Housing Opportunities Planner (SHOP) Tool: Setting a Path to End Chronic Homelessness Locally

Permanent Supportive Housing Row HousesBy Lindsay Knotts

Much of my passion for ending homelessness comes from my time on the front-lines where I worked to connect very vulnerable people – adults with disabling conditions who had often spent years without a safe and stable place to call home – to permanent supportive housing. Even in my small city, there were times when units were not available for people who needed them the most. We simply didn’t have enough permanent supportive housing units, and even the units that we had were not always being targeted to people experiencing chronic homelessness. We know that this is too often the case in many communities across the country.

The Obama Administration is committed to ending chronic homelessness nationally in 2017. Achieving this goal nationally is only possible if we achieve it locally. To do so, communities across the country must have enough available permanent supportive housing units to serve people currently experiencing chronic homelessness and to prevent people with disabling conditions from becoming chronically homeless in the future.

A critical first step to achieving our shared goal is to determine the specific combination of strategies needed to increase the availability of permanent supportive housing locally, which really depends on each community’s supply and availability. Some communities with a large supply of permanent supportive housing can make significant progress towards the goal just by improving the targeting of existing units. Most communities will also need to create new supportive housing through both targeted grants and mainstream resources.

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04/16/2015 - The Time to Seize Historic Opportunities is Now - A Message from Matthew Doherty, USICH Executive Director

By Matthew Doherty, Executive Director

It is truly an honor to have this opportunity to serve as Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and to help carry forward the great work of this agency and of my predecessors. It is also a distinct privilege to work with the fantastic team of staff we have at USICH, both the team working here in DC and our Regional Coordinators working out in the field. Finally, I am humbled by the many sacrifices that my husband, Dean Thorp, is making so that I can step into this role.

USICH’s work is successful because of our strong partnerships with other Federal agencies and their incredibly committed leaders and staff, and because of the collaborative efforts of dedicated people working in states and local communities. Together, we are at a critical point in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness in the United States; we’ve made unprecedented progress and can point to substantial accomplishments under all of the objectives within Opening Doors, but clearly there remains much more work to be done. While we have seen significant reductions in the numbers of people experiencing homelessness documented through the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count, the fact that the 2014 PIT count identified 578,424 people experiencing the crisis of homelessness, and other data such as from HUD’s Worst Case Housing Needs report, serve as a staunch reminder that housing affordability, housing instability, and homelessness continue to be national challenges—challenges that we must and can successfully address. 

As described in Opening Doors, our focus is on ending homelessness for all populations, and we must seize this historic opportunity to expand housing for every child, youth, family, and individual struggling to achieve stability within our communities.

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