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Executive Director Barbara Poppe: Speech at the National Forum on the Human Right to Housing

6/7/11 at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty                            

Thank you Maria and congratulations to you, your board, and staff for hosting this conference. Also to be commended on the publication of the report last week.  I read it over the weekend and found it to be very useful.

We gather today at a difficult time as the affordable housing crisis for both renters and homeowners is escalating. With the foreclosure crisis strangling the owner-occupied housing market, there has been an increase in the number of households competing for affordable rental units.  The shrinking affordable stock, falling incomes, and increased competition from higher-income renters have widened the gap between the number of very low-income renters and the number of affordable, adequate, and available units. This supply gap has also pushed many low-income households into “doubled-up” housing situations.

In the face of this, one year ago this month, the Obama administration released the first ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. The plan was agreed to by 19 federal agencies along with the support of the White House. It has received bipartisan praise across the nation and we immediately moved from drafting the plan to implementation with the 300,000 people who’ve downloaded the plan.

Within the federal government, we are laying the groundwork for future success through better collaboration, better data collection, and engaging states and local communities in the goals and strategies set forth in Opening Doors.

Our administration is working hard to spread the message that ending homelessness is not only the right thing to do, it’s also possible. The President, 5 Cabinet Secretaries, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen are all talking about ending homelessness. We have the First Lady and Second Lady on board in our efforts on this front as well.

While, we have accelerated the momentum in this Administration toward real solutions, we all know that the best ideas have a price tag attached to them. Targeted comprehensive solutions are far more effective and cost-efficient than temporary fixes; funding prevention and support to end homelessness today will save the economic and social costs we would all pay in the future
We’ve backed up our vision with action.

  • Nearly 900,000 people avoided or more quickly exited homelessness thanks to the Recovery Act’s $1.5 Billion dollar investment in HPRP.
  • The President’s FY12 budget proposed a 23.4% in funding for targeted homeless programs compared to the FY10 investment.
  • More homeless Veterans are moving from the streets and shelters into housing due to the HUD VASH program.
  • Better collaboration between HUD and Education is helping more children, youth and families get the services they need.
  • Passage of the Affordable Care Act and working to implement Medicaid expansion is helping prevent and end homelessness for all low income people. ACA includes implementation of parity which will ensure persons with all types of disabilities have access to treatment.
  • HUD’s implementation of the VAWA protections for the Section 8 and Public housing as well as protections for LGBTQ households is unprecedented.
  • USICH hosted a summit to discuss alternatives to criminalization of homelessness and will be releasing its report this summer.

Despite these accomplishments, we are concerned that the resources to fully implement Opening Doors are at risk. The President’s FY2011 budget proposal was not fully funded. This means that the landmark bi-partisan homelessness reform legislation – the HEARTH Act won’t be fully implemented this year. Opening Doors’ signature initiatives for family and chronic homelessness are deferred as well.  As we approach the full spend down of the Recovery Act’s HPRP program, communities are struggling to figure out how to maintain the progress. We agree that the funding debate is a question of priorities. We’ll need your support to push for full funding of the President’s FY2012 Budget proposal.

Budget negotiations not only matter here in Washington, but in state capitals across the nation. Your voices matter in this debate. We need to ensure all of the progress we made won’t be undone in the next few months.
Not only has our Administration taken our commitment to end homelessness to the American people, we’ve been active in the international community.

Earlier this year, in response to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, the Administration stated that they support the reinforcement of the “broad range of safeguards for the homeless people to allow them the full enjoyment of their rights and dignity.” This was tremendous news for many of us in the audience today. I view the work that we are doing at ICH as building upon the legacy and upholding the spirit of President Franklin Roosevelt commitment to a “second Bill of Rights” and the Federal Housing Act of 1949.

At USICH, we view the State Department’s position as an additional reinforcement of what we are trying to achieve in Opening Doors. At the same time, I urge that our focus should be on implementing the plan at the federal level, ensuring that all states and local communities adopt the goals as well, and advocate for the funding that these best practices need.

I would like to close by quoting FDR from his State of the Union address where he noted the right of every American to a decent home, “Each and every one of us has a solemn obligation under God to serve this Nation in its most critical hour—to keep this Nation great -- to make this Nation greater in a better world.”

Thank you for your time this morning and most importantly thank you for all that you do on behalf of people experiencing homelessness across our beloved nation.