Deputy Director Anthony Love Keynote at LA Faith Matters Conference
These are very exciting times for those of us who have worked long and hard to end homelessness. I arrive here today with a charge by the President and Congress to develop a Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End homelessness that is due to Congress this month. We have a President who is more committed to ending homelessness than any of his predecessors. We have an Administration that recognizes that the reduction in chronic homelessness over the last five years is just the beginning to ending homelessness across all populations. We plan on using this knowledge to address the remaining problem. We also know that the Federal Government can work together in new ways to show that we can prevent and end homelessness, which will inspire citizens of all faiths and stripes, nonprofits, philanthropy, and businesses to join in the effort. While the President and his Cabinet’s leadership on the issue is crucial, it is only one element to making this vision a reality.
As President Obama said last year, "No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone. There is a force for good greater than government. It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centers and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides."And that is where we see the faith-based community fitting in. Since the rise in homelessness in the 1980s, faith based groups have been on the front lines addressing the issue. Some of the best work to end homelessness has been led by faith-based groups/initiatives. For example, Wichita-based Inter-Faith Ministries is a key partner in the Wichita-Sedgwick County, Kansas ten year plan. They have partnered with the National Council of Churches USA and a technology company out of Philadelphia, Solutions for Progress to build a strong statewide network of free community-based sites - including permanent supported housing and homeless programs - where consumers, including persons who are homeless, can be screened for and submit applications for an expanded variety of mainstream resources that can prevent and end homelessness.
I arrived at USICH with more than 15 years of practical and leadership experience working on poverty and homelessness with Veterans and housing-related organizations. I’m responsible for coordinating the state and local work of the Council, which includes overseeing the work of our Regional Coordinators, and building partnerships across the country. I am also the lead on Veterans issues. I left my position as the President and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County almost 90 days ago to take on this exciting challenge. I also recently served on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, in the capacity of Board Secretary.
However, prior to doing all of this policy and strategy stuff, I was director of a program that provided long term housing and supportive services to homeless veterans. For eight years, my program housed, help to get employment, treatment, mainstream benefits, and other needs for veterans who were exiting homelessness. We worked with various organizations and people of faith who were interested in helping these veterans exit homelessness permanently. Even when I moved to my position as CEO of the Coalition, and Houston received an unexpected visit from 300,000 neighbors from Louisiana, I witnessed communities of faith step up and offer comfort, food, clothing and housing to these individuals and families fleeing Hurricane Katrina. Even before there was an official government response, people of faith knew what had to be done. Even when a plan was put in place, organizations like Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, Archdiocese of Galveston/Houston, Congregation Emanu El, and many others representing many faiths and beliefs stepped up and helped our City make sure that our fellow Americans from the Hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast would have a home.
So I have witnessed firsthand the power of organizations driven by faith and the impact they can have on issues that affect our citizenry. This experience with these faith organizations, and the men and women I’ve personally interacted with who were trying to exit homelessness, shaped my drive and my ideas about what it will take to end homelessness and why ending homelessness is necessary. Pontificating on what we may be able to do is not of interest to me. Historically, when people of faith have gotten involved in solving a social ill, paradigms have shifted and people were better for it. It is the same with homelessness. We need everyone, especially our faith leaders to fight to end homelessness. Because if we are not trying to end homelessness, then we need to ask ourselves, what are we really doing?
Connection to Homelessness
In my experience, I have met thousands of person’s veterans, non-veterans, families and youth who have directly experienced homelessness. For many of them, it’s a simple economic situation – they don’t earn enough to pay the rent. For others they have also experienced racism, sexism, classism, and prejudices related to their diseases of AIDS/HIV, mental illness, alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other addictions. For some, they have the further burden of a past criminal record. Even in these difficult economic times, this is still the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world. I think we can all agree that no child should be living on the streets. Each of them deserves a home. All humans should have a permanent place to call home.
It is their faces, their courage, and their struggles that inspire me to continue as their advocate. This work has brought me into contact with some of the bravest people I have ever met. And that is what brought me to my current role as deputy director that I assumed just three months ago. The mission of the Council is to coordinate the Federal response to homelessness and to create a national partnership at every level of government and with the private sector to reduce and end homelessness in the nation while maximizing the effectiveness of the Federal Government in contributing to the end of homelessness. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan is chairman of the Council, which includes 19 Federal agencies. Our Executive Director, Barbara Poppe, was appointed by the Council and she has been steering the Council towards consensus on the Federal Strategic Plan. She has over 25 years worth of non-profit experience working on homelessness with housing-related organizations. Before arriving at USICH, Barbara previously served as the Executive Director of the Community Shelter Board which is nationally recognized for its creative collaborations, innovative solutions and quality programs to end homelessness in the Columbus metropolitan area.
HEARTH ACT and USICH
Since the beginning of his Administration, President Obama has a made strong commitment to ending homelessness. As a down payment on that vision, President Obama included $1.5 billion in the stimulus bill for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program (HPRP). Then last May, the President signed into law the HEARTH Act, which re-authorized the McKinney-Vento Act – it was a day that I was beginning to think would never come. With the passage of HEARTH, communities can expect significant expansion of prevention activities and services, incentives that place more emphasis on rapid re-housing, especially for families that are homeless, continued emphasis on creating permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness, including families that are considered chronic and more flexibility and assistance with capacity building for rural communities trying to end homelessness..
Even during a tightening of not only the federal government’s budget but among all of us including families and individuals who have been hardest hit by the economic downturn, he has devoted significant resources toward that vision of one day, that no man, woman or child would be homeless.
Highlighting the importance of ending homelessness to the President and despite the non-security discretionary funding freeze, President Obama’s recent FY 2011 budget request for targeted homeless assistance programs is an 11.5 percent increase over FY 2010 and the LARGEST ever by a President.
While the budgetary commitment is just one part of this story - this Administration intends to forever change the way our country addresses homelessness. The Federal Strategic Plan will serve as a roadmap for joint action by Council agencies to guide the development of programs and budget proposals towards a set of measurable targets. The Federal Strategic Plan will reflect interagency agreement on a set of priorities and strategies the agencies will pursue over a five-year period.
Rather than simply satisfy the legislative requirement in the HEARTH Act to END homelessness, the Plan will highlight the Administration’s goals of fiscal responsibility, smarter government, honoring our Veterans, and building upon the landmark health care reform from last month.
The Council is centering its plan on the belief – the moral foundation – “no one should experience homelessness – no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.” The Council has charged the planning process to align federal resources effectively and appropriately toward four key goals: 1) finish the job of ending chronic homelessness; 2) prevent and end homelessness among Veterans; 3) prevent and end homelessness among families, youth, and children; and 4) set a path to ending all types of homelessness.
The process to create this Plan was designed to be transparent and provide multiple opportunities for input, feedback and collaboration. Regional stakeholders meetings were held in February and in early March to engage leaders of regional and state interagency councils, as well as stakeholders from throughout the multi-state regions, including meetings here in Los Angeles and in San Francisco. I’m excited to note that nearly 1,000 participants provided input in these meetings and nearly 8,000 people visited our online forum to share their ideas. These meetings and online input have been a great opportunity for us to hear directly from diverse stakeholders regarding challenges, priorities, and different perspectives on how to prevent and end homelessness in the United States.
We have heard the following recommendations and ideas about preventing and ending homelessness, which will be reflected in the Plan when it is released later this month.
First- leadership at all levels is needed to inspire and energize Americans to commit to the vision of preventing and ending homelessness. Federal interagency collaboration is vital as well as across federal, state, regional, and jurisdictional lines is needed. States and communities want incentives for collaborative work with private sector and non-profit partners. Capacity building is also needed at all levels – this should take the form of guidance, training, mentoring, tools, and other technical assistance.
Second - stable and affordable housing is the platform to end homelessness. Households living in poverty with worst case housing needs are at the greatest risk of homelessness. Addressing these needs would have the greatest impact on preventing and ending homelessness.
Third - economic security and self sufficiency through better use of mainstream federal programs that help people find and keep good jobs is critical.
Fourth - improved access to health and behavioral health care that reduces mortality and improves health and quality of life for people experiencing or most at-risk of homelessness is needed. Reducing the number of frequent users of crisis and institutional health care services should also be priority. Landmark health reform legislation passed this year will help us fulfill this critical need.
Finally, local crisis response systems of care should be developed that focus on housing stabilization. These community based systems must offer alternatives to shelter admission whenever possible, make shelter available to all who need it, and result in quick housing placement and housing retention.
Ending homelessness will require that people at risk of or experiencing homelessness are able to access MAINSTREAM resources effectively and sufficiently to meet their needs and that there is a solid and functioning safety net for those unforeseen incidents that can create trauma in one’s life. Today we are embarking on a “strategic plan” that will put at its center PREVENTION of homelessness and bring MAINSTREAM resources to bear to prevent and end homelessness.
So why am I so hopeful that this plan will be successful? I have 6 reasons:
1. We are building on a foundation of recent success in reducing chronic homelessness.
2. We are learning about effective strategies to prevent homelessness and rapidly re-house people at risk of and experiencing homelessness through HPRP.
3. HEARTH implementation combined with significantly increased targeted homeless assistance funding is a strategic opportunity to strengthen and strategically re-align community systems of care.
4. President Obama’s budget proposal includes new vouchers which are linked with services through HHS and Education that will not only provide critically needed housing with services – it will give us the chance to align three agency’s resources in a strategic manner and learn how to apply this more broadly.
5. VA Secretary Shinseki has established a bold mandate – end Veterans homelessness in 5 years.
6. We not only have the White House behind us, we have four Cabinet Secretaries who are strongly committed to the vision that no one should be homeless. I’ve experienced their passion for this issue first-hand and have seen how their staffs are working with the USICH and across “the traditional silos” to make this happen.
I’d like to spend a few moments to discuss a few ways faith communities and organization can further engage on this very important issues and ways that you can get involved once the Federal Strategic Plan is announced:
Contact and meet with local elected officials: Not only should you make contact with these officials, but you need to let them know that you are an advocate and you would like to see policies and resources dedicated to solutions that end homelessness. There are communities all over the U.S. that have successfully reduced the number of people who are homeless in their cities and towns, and these strategies are transferrable. Encourage and advocate for these successful solutions.
Support the development of Affordable and Permanent Supportive Housing: People often want to provide support to people who are homeless, and that is an amazing thing. However, no matter how much help is rendered, if that person does not have a permanent place to call home, they are still homeless. For all the programs that are out there, there has to be a better job of linking these services and programs to housing. In places like Los Angeles, we are keenly aware of how expensive housing can be, and that is why it is critical that there is housing that is developed that people can afford. As people of faith, you can influence the development of this housing, or if your organization is a Community Development Corporation and you have a history of developing affordable housing, try reaching a little lower in the AMI requirements to reach those folks who linger around 15% or lower of Average Median Income.
Educate Yourselves on What’s Working: As humans, we inherently think we know what works and doesn’t work. In this day and age, we don’t have to assume or guess anymore. There are hard facts out there demonstrating what’s working. You can use this information in your funding decisions, advocacy activity, service provision or educational strategies around how to end homelessness. Actions like collaboration, performance measurement, homeless planning and implementation and looking for a return on investment are not diametrically opposed to compassion, love and charity. If our focus is to end homelessness, then we have to work together, know where we are starting and what it looks like when we are successful, and hold each other accountable. We can do all of this in love.
This is not all you can do, but it is a start. As we at USICH put the finishing touches on the Federal Strategic Plan, we strongly urge that communities replicate the same interagency and public/private partnership approach that we have taken in developing this Plan. We strongly urge and also support your organizations to be at the table when communities across the country create, adapt, or strengthen their plans to end homelessness. Your work is vital to ending homelessness once and for all. By working together in new ways, we can – for the first time – set a path to end homelessness for the over 660,000 men, women and children who are without housing on any single night in our country. They cannot afford to wait.
To quote my new big boss and the President of these United States, “It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today, but we have just begun. Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.”
In all of my years working to end homelessness, I have never been more hopeful of the possibility to put an end to it. I’m excited to work with all of you in the weeks, months, and years ahead as we seek to make this dream a reality. On behalf of the Obama Administration, thank you for you and your organizations’ commitment to preventing and ending homelessness. I am also reminded by the quote that “No one can do everything, but if everyone does something, then everything can get done. “ Let’s do something. Let’s end homelessness.