Annual Update 2013

Three years have passed since the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) launched Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. This update provides the latest data on the number of people experiencing homelessness, an overview of the progress USICH and its partner agencies have made toward the goals set forth in Opening Doors, and information on USICH and member agencies’ activities and accomplishments in the third year of implementation since the release of Opening Doors in June 2010.

Opening Doors has served as a catalyst for significant progress in preventing and ending homelessness in the United States. Opening Doors’ implementation throughout the country continues to grow. The 2013 Point-in-Time (PIT) count reflected a steady and significant decrease in national rates of homelessness since the launch of Opening Doors in 2010. This trend is evidence that, in partnership with communities across the country, the Obama Administration has had a significant impact on the trajectory of homelessness. The progress is particularly remarkable given the economic downturn our country faced and the reality of an economy that has slowly, but steadily been improving. According to HUD’s national PIT estimate, the total number of people identified as experiencing homelessness on a single night decreased by six percent between 2010 and 2013 and four percent between 2012 and 2013. The decrease in persons who are unsheltered was even greater, dropping by 13 percent since 2010 and over 11 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Progress was made across all sub-populations. Perhaps most notably, the country has seen homelessness among Veterans decline by 24 percent since 2010. In addition, the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness declined by 15.7 percent between 2010 and 2013. For the first time in the last five years, the number of families on the street or in homeless programs at a point in time decreased in 2013, as did the number of families experiencing homelessness over the course of a year. Data from HUD’s 2013 PIT indicated that 71,000 families were homeless at a point-in-time in 2013. Longitudinal data from HUD’s AHAR indicate that a larger number—167,000 families—were homeless and sheltered at some point in 2012. Department of Education data, which includes doubled-up households, indicate that more than one million school-age children and their families were homeless at some point during the 2012-2013 school year.

Ending homelessness is possible. However, the country must make adequate investments in effective interventions in order to achieve that goal. Using the tools available (e.g. broad dissemination of information, Federal guidance, technical assistance, and competitive awards) USICH and Council agencies have supported communities’ efforts to implement evidence-based practices and maximize efficiencies wherever possible.

In Phoenix/Maricopa County, Arizona, for example, USICH, HUD, and the VA worked closely with State and local partners to increase focus on collaboration and data-driven decision-making. As a result of a close partnership between VA staff, the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, public housing agencies, and local non-profit and public partners, the community announced that it has ended chronic homelessness among Veterans. The accomplishment will be verified through the 2014 Point-in-Time count.

Understanding that permanent supportive housing is the key solution for chronic homelessness, in Houston, Texas, Federal and local partners designed an initiative to use Federal housing and health care resources to create at least another 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing. Supported by analytic tools provided by USICH and HUD, Federal and local partners in Houston are confident that the additional housing units will contribute towards the goal of ending chronic homelessness in their city.

Opening Doors recognizes that homelessness cannot be solved with targeted homeless programs alone. In the last year, the Council developed toolkits and provided technical assistance and guidance to help communities better leverage the mainstream housing and supports necessary to advance efforts on ending homelessness.

For example, HUD provided public housing agencies (PHAs), as well as owners and operators of HUD-funded multi-family housing programs, with guidance on how to improve access to affordable housing for people experiencing homelessness in their communities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance on how communities can use funds from the Temporary Assistance or Needy Families (TANF) program to provide rapid re-housing to families who are experiencing homelessness. USICH created a database of solutions to further assist communities in their efforts to improve their approaches to ending homelessness. The database includes examples of best practices from around the country, a Housing First Checklist, and a guidebook PHAs can use to increase their efforts to coordinate with local homelessness service providers.

USICH, Council agencies, and communities have been doing everything possible within existing resources to accelerate progress. With sustained support and investment in solutions that work, achieving the goals of Opening Doors is within reach. Failure to invest in solutions is the more costly route. Not only is homelessness destructive and demoralizing for individuals and families, it is also expensive for taxpayers. Too often, people experiencing homelessness become caught in a revolving door between emergency departments, hospitals, and the criminal justice system, resulting in high costs to the public and poor outcomes for the individuals. Research continues to show that this revolving door pattern contributes to the rising cost of Medicaid as well as other costs associated with this system of care. Providing affordable housing and supportive services creates a platform for health and stability for individuals as well as for the community at-large.

Opening Doors has demonstrated that the right strategies are in place to succeed. By relentlessly pursuing the goals in Opening Doors and fully investing in solutions that work, the United States can achieve the vision that no one should be without a safe and stable place to call home.

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The Appendix to the Annual Update includes information on federal programs that provide assistance to those experiencing or at risk of homelessness, along with information on USICH and member agencies' activities and accomplishments in the last year.

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