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Executive Director Poppe at the National Center on Family Homelessness’ Federal Policy Briefing - Ending Family Homelessness


Washington, DC - Department of Housing and Urban Development

Thank you, Ellen for your generous introduction. And more importantly, thank you for your leadership and the great work that you and the National Center on Family Homelessness do for children and families across the nation. I’ve admired your work for years and wish you all the best as the Center transitions to new leadership – you’ll be a very tough act to follow.

It is wonderful to be here with all of you today to kick off the National Homeless Awareness Month. Let me also thank our friends at HUD for hosting this important briefing, as well as for the tremendous year round leadership in this work.

As Labor Secretary and Council Chair Solis has pointed out at the last Council meeting, we have accomplished a lot together, but as you all know too well there is so much more we need to do. With the support and input of many you, we launched Opening Doors, the first ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness last year.

Could I see a show of hands of those who have had a chance to read and use this Plan? Thank you! You join over 300,000 others who have downloaded the plan.

Opening Doors has four bold goals:

  • First, we will finish the job of ending chronic homelessness by 2015.
  • Second, we will prevent and end homelessness for America’s Veterans and their families by 2015.
  • Third, we will prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children by 2020.
  • Fourth and finally, Opening Doors sets a path of ending all types of homelessness.

Opening Doors is a very comprehensive plan that outlines 10 objectives and 52 strategies.

The bold and measurable goals in Opening Doors are meant to prompt strategic efforts at the federal, state, and local levels to work collaboratively to prevent and end homelessness. There is widespread agreement that only by prioritizing and aligning resources – both mainstream and targeted - can we make progress on our goals. We can’t afford “business as usual” in today’s tight economy.  Only the most effective and cost-efficient policies and practices must be utilized.

Over the last 17 months, there has been unprecedented collaboration among federal agencies—with one another, and with state and local governments and nonprofits. We are laying the groundwork for future successes through better collaboration, better data collection, better use of mainstream resources, and engaging states and local communities in the plan’s goals and strategies. Increased investment in federal programs that target homeless persons and are successful at reducing homelessness, has been a priority as well.

In the 2009-10 school year, public schools reported nearly 940,000 homeless students were enrolled. What a national disgrace to have children and youth counted among those who experience homelessness. That’s one reason for the bold decision the Council made last year to tackle family homelessness head on.

The goal to prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children by 2020 commits our Administration to do all we can to reverse the growing trend of family and child homelessness in partnership with Congress, States, tribes, counties, cities, philanthropy, the business sector and non-profits.

So you may be wondering how we plan to tackle this. We think there are four keys:

  1. Housing
  2. Jobs
  3. Mainstream services – health, human services, income supports, and education
  4. Coordinated local response and better collaboration

As I noted earlier, we can’t afford “business as usual” in today’s tight economy, we must ensure that only the most effective and cost-efficient policies and practices are utilized.

Access to affordable housing is especially vital for families.  Unfortunately the trend lines are going in all the wrong directions. Too many Americans cannot afford a safe place to call home.

  • More than 8 million renters pay more than half of their income yet are extremely low income.
  • There has been a 13% increase in extremely low income renter households over the last decade, while the number of units affordable to this population decreased by 14%.

Fortunately, public housing agencies have stepped up their efforts to prioritize and target public housing and all types of housing vouchers to homeless families. Secretary Donovan and Assistant Secretary Sandra Henriquez have been clear that these partnerships will be important today and over the next decade as we work to end homelessness among families.

As Assistant Secretary Marquez highlighted, both mainstream CPD programs, like HOME and targeted resources through HOPWA and the Continuum of Care, can be leveraged to ensure housing solutions.  HPRP made an enormous impact around the country and helped many communities make the important shift to more cost-effective programs focusing on prevention and rapid re-housing.

We know the best defense against homelessness for a family, is a job that pays enough to cover the basics – including the cost of housing. With continuing high levels of unemployment, a good job remains elusive for too many Americans. President Obama’s push for Congressional passage of the American Jobs Act would prevent 6 million Americans looking for work from losing their benefits. The American Jobs Act would also support programs that build real skills, connect to real jobs, and help the long-term unemployed.

Specific to our work, the proposed legislation would create a new Pathways Back to Work Fund that would, among other things, build on the success of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund (TANF/ECF) by supporting subsidized employment opportunities for unemployed low-income individuals. But as President Obama has said, families and children don’t have the luxury of waiting for Congress to act. Your voices matter in this debate and we need Congress to move on this immediately.

To further family stability, mainstream programs will need to be aligned at the local level to support families through better collaboration and greater accountability for housing stability.  What we can’t have is an ever-expanding homeless system that becomes responsible for everything a family needs from early childhood education, education generally, employment, to all types of health and human services.

Secretary Sebelius and her team at HHS have been working to expand access to health insurance and health care through the Affordable Care Act. Already, provisions are in places that allow young adults to stay on their families’ health insurance and prevent screening out of children with high medical needs. Future provisions that create more affordable health insurance options for families will decrease the chances that an unexpected health event will lead to job loss or foreclosure, driving a family into homelessness. There will be new tools available to help families with the most complex health problems and related challenges get access to more holistic care and support through Health Homes and Accountable Care Organizations. We need the experts in working with families most vulnerable to homelessness to partner with local health care policy makers and systems to ensure that the needs of families experiencing homelessness are taken into account in local implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

We are also very excited about Secretary Arne Duncan’s team at the Department of Education. They are working to bring all programs within the agency around the table to identify ways in which all the programs within Education might contribute to accomplishing the goals in the plan. More work will be needed over the next year to get more local school systems on board and working with local Continuum of Care and local plans to end homelessness. We also expect that these local plans will consider ways to keep children in their same school without requiring long bus rides. One emerging solution is to re-purpose emergency shelter and transitional housing to prevention, rapid re-housing, and transition in place models.

As Secretary Donovan has highlighted in speeches across the country, for the past two years, HPRP made an enormous impact and helped many communities make the important shift to more cost-effective programs focusing on prevention and rapid re-housing.

As HEARTH Act implementation begins with the new Emergency Solutions Grant, communities will be able to adapt the lessons learned about prevention and rapid re-housing as they work to re-tool their Continuum of Care system. One promising practice is to shift transitional housing to target those most in need. Another is re-purposing scattered site transitional housing to transition-in-place models that provide greater stability for children and their parents and can reduce school mobility. Helping kids stay stable in school can lead to improved academic achievements – a long term return on investment.

As has been demonstrated in Massachusetts, in the Midwest in Columbus and Minneapolis and the West Coast in Seattle – by bringing all mainstream programs to the table with the homeless system, the sum of collaborative work is far greater than the parts.

There’s a growing movement for communities to decide that they have the capacity to use available resources to actually solve their own local problems – some in this movement have said “we realized no one was going to come save us so we decided to act together”. 

Over the next year, USICH will continue to work with our key partners at Education, HHS, HUD, and Labor to develop greater details about the strategies – both policy and practice – combined with a focused use of resources that will be required to reach our bold goal of ending family homelessness by 2020. We expect housing, jobs, services, and improved collaboration to be the framework.

I know we are on the right collective path. But each of us in this room is absolutely vital to ensuring we can achieve this.  In the end, it comes down to commitment – not just by the President, the Administration, Congress, Governors, local elected officials – it is up to each of us.  Thank you.