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HUD Secretary Donovan Affirms Administration’s Development of Strategic Plan to End Homelessness

July 30, 2009

"It's a question of whether we believe in our ability as Americans to do great and important things," said U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan as he addressed the National Alliance to End Homelessness Annual Conference in Washington DC on Thursday. Pointing to the success of reducing the number of chronically ill, long term homeless by nearly a third in three years through the delivery of permanent supportive housing via a targeted pipeline of resources, Secretary Donovan said, "We have proven we can house anyone. Our job now is to house everyone - to prevent and end homelessness. All homelessness."

The Secretary went on to note the central role housing and homeless policy have in the health care reform effort. "The epicenter of that debate is how we can reduce the soaring cost of health care at the same time we make sure that every American can get the health care they need. Well, the truth is, there are few platforms better suited to improving health outcomes and reducing costs than housing," said the Secretary citing several examples of major savings in health care systems from permanent supportive housing. He also noted family homelessness research that has shown that homeless parents and their children are significantly less healthy than their housed counterparts. "Simply put, if we want to tackle health care reform - if we want to lower costs - we must tackle homelessness," said the Secretary.

As the newly elected chair of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, Secretary Donovan reaffirmed the Obama Administration's commitment to develop and implement a federal strategy to prevent and end homelessness. "I believe the mission of the Interagency Council is simple," he said. " [It is] to bring as many partners as possible to the table - at the local, state and federal levels -- to prevent and end homelessness."

The Council will work to strengthen existing partnerships such as HUD-VASH which addresses the housing and service needs of homeless veterans who today comprise 15 percent of America's homeless population, he promised. It will also work to forge interagency partnerships across the Federal government. He said he believes no partnership will offer a bigger opportunity to prevent and end homelessness than that with the Department of Health and Human Services, where he and Secretary Sebelius are already in discussions "to link HUD's housing work with HHS programs to address a broad range of issues from homelessness and aging in place to unnecessary institutionalization and designing more livable, healthy communities. We want to connect homelessness, public and assisted housing programs with Medicaid and Medicare services and HHS's major block grant programs - and have each designated senior staff to recommend how we can do so."

"For a quarter century, we've known that ending homelessness is bigger than any one agency or level of government," said Secretary Donovan noting that the time has come to fully realize the inter-agency vision so many in the audience championed for McKinney-Vento more than twenty years ago.
Addressing the need for affordable rental housing as a key element in ending homelessness, Secretary Donovan said that President Obama's Recovery Act, along with HUD's Fiscal Year 2010 budget, make it clear that the Federal government intends "to get back into the business of building and preserving affordable rental housing." He reaffirmed the Administration's commitment to seeing that the final FY 2010 budget includes $1 billion to capitalize the National Housing Trust Fund. HUD's budget would also increase funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program by $1.8 billion. The Secretary announced that he has asked HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs Mark Johnston to lead a "comprehensive review of HUD's "mainstream" programs - public housing, Section 8 and major block grant programs like HOME and CDBG- to ensure they are working in an integrated way toward preventing and ending homelessness."

In his concluding remarks, Secretary Donovan noted that "Just as some say we can't afford to reform our health care system, so too do they claim we can't afford to end homelessness . . . Whether it's reforming our health care system or preventing and ending homelessness, the fundamental question is the same: It's not one of ability - rather, it's a question of will."