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Executive Director Poppe: Oral Testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity

12/15/11                         

Hearing on "H.R.32, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2011: Proposals to Promote Economic Independence for Homeless Children and Youth."

Washington, DC

Good morning. Chairman Biggert, Ranking Member Gutierrez, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify about the impact of homelessness on children and youth.

I want to thank Chairman Biggert for her leadership on the passage of the HEARTH Act. Today we are here to discuss three requirements in that Act: a change in HUD’s homeless definition, a GAO study of federal definitions, and the development of a federal plan. I am pleased to report that we have made progress on all three. HUD’s new definition reflects the agreement that was reached in the HEARTH Act. And we have followed up on the GAO study to advance federal work on a common vocabulary. And as you know, we have the first ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.

It is horrifying in a nation as wealthy as ours that nearly one million school children experience homelessness. The testimony we have just heard underscores this tragedy.

As Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Johnston has noted, the latest HUD data shows that nearly 240,000 family members experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2011.
While the 2011 Point-in-Time count was less than the 2010 count, other trends are not positive.  There is a significant mismatch between income and housing. More families are experiencing foreclosure. The shrinking affordable housing stock, falling household incomes, and increased competition from higher-income renters have widened the gap between the number of low-income renters and the number of affordable units.

The needs of families, youth, and children vary, and often require not only housing and employment, but also attention to education, health care and other needs. These operate out of different silos at a local level, often managed by different jurisdictions. Instead of a tailored and holistic response, families and youth confront a highly fragmented, uncoordinated set of services that they are usually left to navigate on their own.

Not only is this tragic for homeless families, there is a growing body of evidence that repeated housing instability is costly to public systems.

The good news is there are solutions. Investing in more housing assistance now can save money over the long term for schools, child welfare, the health care system, and other public institutions.

In June 2010, the Obama administration acted. For the first time, the federal government set a goal to end family, youth, and child homelessness by 2020. Opening Doors is based on a growing body of evidence that shows how targeted comprehensive solutions are more cost effective than temporary fixes. 

Affordable housing is the cornerstone of any effort to reduce and ultimately end homelessness. The preservation and expansion of affordable housing through rehabilitation, new construction, and rental assistance is critical to ending family homelessness.

Unfortunately, the trend lines for affordable housing are going in the wrong direction. Too many Americans cannot afford a safe place to call home. Despite the growing need, housing assistance programs are threatened at all levels of government in the current budget environment.

Next to more affordable housing, prevention is also critical.  Targeted interventions that keep families from losing a home in the first place spare children the trauma of homelessness, absences from class or changes in schools. The key drivers are access to affordable housing, financial assistance and support during a crisis.

Another proven solution is rapid re-housing. Short-term assistance helps families quickly move out of homelessness and into permanent housing. HPRP made an enormous impact around the country and helped many communities shift to cost-effective programs focusing on prevention and rapid re-housing.     

Housing stability over the long term requires the right types of supports provided in a highly coordinated way. These include good health care, education, transportation, childcare, and a job that pays enough to meet household needs.

Federal collaboration is moving from silos to solutions that connect these systems to prevent homelessness whenever possible and when it does happen, to resolve it as quickly as possible. That is work we are doing across federal agencies. So too this needs to occur in every state and community across the nation.

What gets measured gets done. This Administration has improved data collection, analysis, and reporting. Agencies within HHS and the VA are coordinating with HUD on these efforts.

Our nation has faced economic uncertainties during the first 18 months of Opening Doors’ implementation, but one thing remains clear: homelessness is an urgent problem – not only is it devastating to families and individuals who experience it, but it is very costly to society as a whole.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress and across the country have collaborated for decades to fight homelessness. Family, youth, and child homelessness is an outrage that should know no partisan boundaries and is an area where we can make a real difference - together. We need to invest in what works. We need to invest in our future our children.

Let us work together to ensure that by 2020 not a single American child or youth experiences homelessness. Thank you again for this opportunity to testify. I look forward to your questions.

Read Barbara Poppe's written testimony

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