Council Focuses on Support for Local Communities

Last week, members of the Cabinet and leaders from 19 Federal agencies, who together make up the Interagency Council on Homelessness, met to take action on Federal efforts to support and advance progress on ending homelessness in local communities.

From left: Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and USICH Executive Director Laura Zeilinger


“One of the areas where I really want to make sure we’re stepping up is to deepen our partnership with mayors around the country,” said HUD Secretary and USICH Council Chair Shaun Donovan. “We’ve seen that where mayors and local government are engaged we’re making remarkable progress.”


Community leaders from Houston and Phoenix were invited to discuss the impacts that Federal partnerships have had on local efforts to end homelessness. Houston and Phoenix represent two of the growing number of communities around the country that are making significant progress toward reaching the goals of Opening Doors. These communities are demonstrating that—by engaging in strong local and Federal partnerships and taking strategic actions to maximize Federal, State, and local resources, increase evidence-based housing and services models like permanent supportive housing, and focus on outcomes—solving homelessness is possible and within reach.

“We are really showing, through the course of our work, that homelessness is not an intractable problem,” said USICH Executive Director Laura Zeilinger. “It’s actually a problem we’re solving.”

Mandy Chapman Semple, Special Assistant for Homeless Initiatives to Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, told the Council that Houston is expecting to end homelessness among Veterans in 2014, one year ahead of the national goal. “We believe by the end of 2014, Houston will have achieved a steady state system, meaning that no Veteran has to be homeless,” said Chapman Semple. “We’ve built a system that can house those individuals within a 30-day period with a strong retention in their permanent housing.”

The City of Houston has also made significant progress to end chronic homelessness, connecting 1,402 individuals with permanent supportive housing since 2012. In the same time, Houston has reduced unsheltered homelessness by 50 percent in the downtown area. Houston has made stable housing the foundation of the response to homelessness and has aligned their efforts with the goals and objectives of Opening Doors.

In the expert brief she provided to the Council, Chapman Semple notes that “Health care, mental health treatment, substance abuse, employment, education and economic growth are rarely optimized without adequate housing. However, responses across these sectors often do not recognize their inter-dependence. Houston’s success is the result of understanding the connections between these systems and creating a framework to define when systems can operate in parallel and when they must intersect and interweave."



Amy Schwabenlender, Vice President, Community Impact of Valley of the Sun United Way in Phoenix/Maricopa County, Arizona shared similarly impressive results with the Council. Phoenix, where Mayor Greg Stanton recently announced an end to chronic homelessness among Veterans, is on track to end homelessness among all Veterans in 2015. 

“In Phoenix and Maricopa County, we are very excited by our progress,” said Schwabenlender. “We want to help achieve the goals of the Federal plan, Opening Doors.”

Schwabenlender examined ways in which increased Federal and community partnership could accelerate progress, highlighting the benefit of more guidance on best practices to connect individuals who have experienced homelessness with workforce opportunities.

“Many of [the individuals who have been connected to stable housing in Phoenix] are now ready to go back to work,” said Schwabenlender. “We’re looking for best practices that would teach our community how to work with those individuals and help them be matched with the employment that is best suited for them.”

Schwabenlender also examined the role of Public Housing Authorities and the education system in local efforts to end homelessness, as well as the opportunities created by the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion in Arizona.



Secretary Donovan, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Laura Zeilinger led discussions focused on increasing employment strategies, strengthening connections between local educational systems and homelessness crisis response systems, and ensuring the opportunities created by the Affordable Care Act can be realized in local communities.

Ending homelessness in communities requires both strategic local policy changes as well as new resources. At a time when difficult budget choices are being made, the Obama Administration continues to invest in what is working for communities: evidence-based solutions like Housing First, permanent supportive housing, and rapid re-housing.

“We put out a budget under this President that makes a very powerful statement that we’re going to put our money where our mouth is,” said Secretary Donovan, noting the proposed 12 percent increase to homelessness assistance funding over fiscal year 2014.

President Obama’s 2015 Budget proposal includes historic new investment to prevent and end homelessness, including the recourse necessary to end homelessness among Veterans in 2015 and chronic homelessness in 2016 and sustain the progress made on ending homelessness among families, youth, and children.