The Federal Government’s Role in Ending Family Homelessness

At the federal level, there are a number of important initiatives under way to advance the cause:

  1. The fact that Opening Doors sets a goal for ending family homelessness is itself important. By adopting this goal, the Administration has committed to doing more than managing a problem—it has committed to figuring out a solution.
  2. The Recovery Act investment of $1.5 billion in Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing did many things. It was a strong policy statement with real dollars attached that said we need to focus on prevention and rapid re-housing. It also gave communities needed funding during the economic downturn to stem the rising tide of family homelessness. It created a learning opportunity to determine which strategies deployed locally are the most successful in reducing the number of families entering shelter and the length of time they spend there. Today, the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds can be used for deploying similar strategies.
  3. The federal government has an important role to play in expanding our knowledge of the nature of homelessness and what solutions work.  Four research projects have been commissioned by the federal government that are of note. Three were comissioned by HUD: 1) an evaluations of the Rapid Re-Housing Demonstration Project which preceded HPRP; 2) a review of models communities used for HPRP; and 3) a multi-site controlled comparison of various interventions for families; and one by HHS, looking at how local communities are linking human services to prevent and end homelessness for families. Additionally, HUD published three research studies last year that shed light on the cost of family homelessness, families’ access to mainstream benefits, and the relative cost of different interventions.
  4. There is active collaboration between and among key federal agencies with a role in familiy homelessness, including HHS, HUD, DOL, and ED. Agency staff are coordinating to make lasting inroads. Improved federal coordination can help outcomes for families experiencing homelessness. 
  5. HUD has been looking at the role its public housing and affordable housing portfolio plays to prevent family homelessness and house homeless families. These resources are administered locally with local decisions about policy and practice. HUD is looking for ways to guide and support local public housing authorities to adopt best practices to use these resources to prevent and end family homelessness.