September 2012 Council Meeting on Family Homelessness

September 2012 Council Meeting on Family Homelessness

On September 12, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) hosted the third Council meeting of the year, which focused on work being done in Utah and Washington State to use mainstream programs to help prevent and end family homelessness. USICH Chair and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was joined by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Director of the Corporation for National and Community Service Wendy Spencer, Luke Tate from the White House Domestic Policy Council, and representatives from all 18 member agencies. This meeting was the second meeting of the Council to be webcast live, this time via HUD.

This meeting focused on how leaders at all levels can bring mainstream resources and programs to the table to give families the support they need to exit homelessness. These mainstream resources, which include public housing, schools, workforce centers, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), can be woven together with targeted homelessness resources to make progress. Michelle Flynn from The Road Home in Salt Lake City talked about how the State has invested TANF in rapid re-housing, and how they have collaborated with schools, workforce programs, and local housing providers to make progress. Michael Mirra from the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) also discussed how they are investing dollars once used for long-term rental assistance into rapid re-housing, specifically with the flexibility provided by the Moving to Work status of THA. He also presented how his housing authority is partnering with the local elementary school and child welfare department to keep children in school and get parents back to work, as well as pairing housing with services to preserve or reunify families with child welfare involvement. For the nearly 242,000 individuals in families experiencing homelessness on any given night, all resources must be brought to bear in innovative partnerships. The briefs linked to below describe how two communities were able to work across systems to reach and serve families experiencing or at risk of homelessness get connected to employment and stable housing, and to provide academic continuity for children and youth.

Go to Expert Briefs 

Within the last five years family homelessness has decreased by five percent overall, with a small increase in sheltered homelessness and a 29 percent decrease in the number of families experiencing unsheltered homelessness. The majority of the decrease in family homelessness was between 2008—2009 and the number has stayed relatively the same since then, although the number of doubled up families has increased significantly(as documented by the Department of Education). One of the reasons we believe the number of families in shelter has not spiked in the face of the recession is the impact of the HUD’s Recovery Act-funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program (HPRP), which has prevented or ended homelessness for 1.3 million Americans. One of the best lessons learned from HPRP is that rapid re-housing should continue to be supported in communities and in federal policy. 

While ending family homelessness will ultimately require the improved availability of decent-paying jobs and better access to affordable housing, there are things that can be done today to align targeted and mainstream systems to support the goal of ending homelessness for families by 2020 beyond expanding rapid re-housing. Communities should consider converting transitional housing into transition-in-place models and permanent supportive housing if that intervention is a best-fit for the family. Schools are also a key partner in our efforts to both identify children and families who are either experiencing homelessness or housing instability; improving coordination between schools’ homeless education liaisons and HUD-funded Continuums of Care can result in better access to needed supports, including educational supports for children. Leaders at all levels need to buildand promote collaborations that include mainstream systems and the child welfare system. Together, harnessing resources from all systems that promote health and stability for families and children and investing new resources wisely, we can reach the goal of ending family homelessness by 2020.