USICH CONVENES FIRST FULL COUNCIL MEETING OF OBAMA ADMINISTRATION
June 19, 2009
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) yesterday convened for the first Full Council meeting of the Obama Administration, under the leadership of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary and Council Chairperson Eric Shinseki. U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan was elected Chairperson for the upcoming year, and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was elected Vice Chairperson. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Melody Barnes, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, also participated in the meeting.
In a statement released for the meeting, President Obama said: "It is simply unacceptable for individuals, children, families, and our nation's Veterans to be faced with homelessness in this country. I am confident that the Interagency Council on Homelessness, under Secretary Donovan's leadership, will have a renewed focus on coordinating efforts across federal agencies and working closely with our state, local, community-based, and faith-based partners to address these serious issues."
Secretary Shinseki welcomed Council members and noted the importance of continuing efforts to end chronic homelessness, continuing to reduce veterans' homelessness, and addressing the homelessness of families during the economic downturn. The Secretary indicated that the Council's record showed the importance of collaboration in making progress in preventing and ending homelessness. On behalf of the White House, Ms. Barnes greeted Council members and noted that the meeting came a "critical moment" which both recognizes past efforts and renews focus on the problem of homelessness with the promise of Administration leaders to partner both policy and budget in the effort to prevent and end homelessness.
HUD Secretary Donovan reported that progress has been made during the first 150 days of the Administration, pointing to the successful collaboration of HUD and VA through the HUD-VASH housing program, as well as through the new $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program under the Administration's Recovery initiative. Secretary Donovan noted the recent reauthorization of the Department's homeless programs under the HEARTH legislation (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009, enacted as Division B of PL 111-22) signed by the President last month, including the creation of a new rural homelessness initiative.
"Ending the continuing tragedy of homelessness demands thoughtful and focused leadership," said Secretary Donovan. "President Obama and I are committed to working through the USICH, the agencies it represents and our state, local and non-profit partners to build a thoughtful and compassionate response to this crisis. The bottom line is that through our combined efforts every man, woman and child in this nation should have access to a safe, affordable place to lay their head at night."
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said her agency "stands ready" to be a partner in making services accessible for people experiencing homelessness and in promoting best practices. Secretary Sebelius described increases proposed in the President’s 2010 budget for targeted mental health and treatment services.
U.S. Department of Labor Secretary and new Council Vice Chairperson Hilda Solis reported to the Council on Labor's initiatives for homeless veterans, youth, and women, including women veterans. She noted the potential for increasing the impact of Job Corps for youth aging out of foster care, and the proposed 2010 budget increase of over 30% for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. Secretary Solis pointed out the proposed $4 million funding level for the Department's initiative for incarcerated veterans employment services.
Secretary Shinseki asked all Council members to report on agency initiatives ranging from the Department of Commerce's preparation for the 2010 census to the Department of Energy's job creation goals using Recovery Act resources, and including results from a multi-year Social Security Administration initiative to enroll homeless persons into SSA benefits. Council partners heard about the Department of Homeland Security's continuing post-Katrina housing and case management activities, the Department of Agriculture's accessibility opportunities for food and nutrition programs, the Department of Justice's reentry and special courts efforts, and the Department of Education's resources for education of homeless children during the economic downturn. Xavier de Souza Briggs, Office of Management and Budget Associate Director for General Government Programs, and Mark Weatherly, Deputy Associate Director, Housing, Treasury and Commerce Division, affirmed recent federal increases in targeted spending on homelessness.
Interagency Council Acting Executive Director Pete Dougherty reported on the Council's commitment to federal collaboration, and the past success of Council initiatives to encourage creation of State Interagency Councils on Homelessness and jurisdictional Ten Year Plans.