An End to Chronic Homelessness in 2016

An End to Chronic Homelessness in 2016

A Message from Laura Zeilinger, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness

As the new Executive Director of USICH, many people have asked me what I plan to do in this role. Leading an agency that builds collaboration across Federal, State, and community partners means that the opportunity is not about what I will do, but about what we will do together. The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Budget creates an unprecedented opportunity for what we can do together to end chronic homelessness in 2016.

Earlier this month, President Obama released his FY 2015 Budget, in which he calls for historic new resources to end homelessness. These resources support implementation of Opening Doors, positioning us to end homelessness among Veterans in 2015 and sustain and advance programs that serve our families and youth. These historic new resources also include $301 million to create 37,000 new units of permanent supportive housing, finally bringing the national inventory of permanent supportive housing to a scale that will end chronic homelessness and prevent its recurrence. 

While ending chronic homelessness in 2016 is a year later than we had originally planned in Opening Doors, this timeline reflects our ongoing commitment to act with urgency, while adjusting for the fact that the resources requested by the President to increase permanent supportive housing in previous years were not funded by Congress. 

Ending chronic homelessness requires both new resources and strategic local policy changes. We are more successful at securing needed resources when communities are demonstrating that the goal is achievable through strategic action. For example, using Opening Doors as a guide, New Orleans, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and others have maximized Federal, State, and local resources. They have leveraged commitments from public housing agencies to increase permanent supportive housing, and they are ending chronic homelessness.

We can end chronic homelessness throughout the nation, leveraging new and existing resources, if we can do these five things:

  • Prioritize the most vulnerable and highest need people experiencing chronic homelessness for assistance through permanent supportive housing. 
  • Adopt Housing First community-wide to ensure that people experiencing chronic homelessness can obtain housing without preconditions.

The President’s Budget gives us what we need to achieve our goal through an increase of 37,000 new units of permanent supportive housing, but only after we’ve also increased access to mainstream housing resources like Housing Choice Vouchers and improved targeting of existing permanent supportive housing units to people experiencing chronic homelessness. These are the very same policy priorities that HUD stated in their FY 2013-2014 Continuum of Care Program competition. Federal agencies are working together to provide the resources, guidance, and technical assistance to support communities to bring housing, health, and hope to our most vulnerable citizens. 

Communities have developed and used tools to identify and reach the most vulnerable people experiencing chronic homelessness. Through rigorous program evaluations, they’ve built a body of evidence that shows definitively that ending chronic homelessness is not only the right thing to do for people, but the fiscally smart thing to do for communities and the nation as well. 

Putting a timeline on the goals of Opening Doors allows us to track progress. It is part of what makes the vision that underlies the Plan concrete, not aspirational.

Opening Doors set the goal of ending chronic homelessness in 2015 based on three facts:

  • We already knew what works to end chronic homelessness—permanent supportive housing using a Housing First approach. 
  • We were not starting from scratch. The goal of ending chronic homelessness was one set by the prior Administration in 2002 and backed with bipartisan support. Many communities had already set local goals and plans to end chronic homelessness. 
  • A national inventory of permanent supportive housing already existed; we just needed to expand it. Specific requests were made to Congress to expand this inventory—requests that unfortunately were never appropriated. 

Since the launch of Opening Doors, our understanding of what works has further solidified, and we’ve seen tremendous progress in many parts of the country. With sufficient appropriations, the goal is within reach in 2016—and we are not relenting. 

Some communities are getting there faster—we are counting on these communities to maintain their resolve. Each extra day we take is another day too long for those who continue to suffer the physical and psychological effects of chronic homelessness.