Policy and Legislation

18th December
2012
written by Steve Berg

On Monday, December 10, The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released national numbers from the January 2012 Point-In-Time (PIT) Counts, which give an estimate of the number of people sleeping in shelters and other housing for homeless people and also in places not meant for human habitation (aka “the streets”) at a single point in time. In this case, that point in time was mid-January, 2012.

Since a lot of people around the country are entering the final month of preparation for the 2013 PIT count, I want to start by saying that having these numbers every year has turned out to be extremely important. The enumeration is not perfect. But PIT Counts have become more rigorous over the years, and we believe they provide a reliable and worthwhile estimate. We have to thank everyone who works so hard to make these numbers as reliable as they are. The PIT numbers remind everyone that continued high unemployment leaves hundreds of thousands in shelters and on the streets every night, and that service providers and system managers around the country have worked heroically to keep the numbers from skyrocketing.

Looking at the overall PIT counts, here’s the trend in overall homelessness from 2005 to 2012:

As has been the case since the national unemployment rate skyrocketed above 7 percent in early 2009 (and over 10 percent by late 2009), the number of homeless people stayed about the same between early 2011 and early 2012. Given the continued problems with the job market and the fact that rents started to rise again in many communities that year, holding the line is a remarkable accomplishment.

Less reassuring is the fact that 2011 was the last full year when funding under the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) was available. When HPRP first passed as a three-year program, we all hoped that, by the time it expired, the economy would be in better shape. The first HPRP grants were released right around the time the national unemployment rate topped out over 10 percent, but it’s only in the last few months that it’s dropped below 8 percent. By contrast, during most of the period 2005 to early 2007 when the number of homeless people dropped so substantially, it was around 4.5 percent, “full employment” by most accounts.

Here are trends for some of the most discussed subpopulations from 2005 to 2012:

Veteran numbers only go back to 2009, the first year when HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) worked together to establish a solid methodology for including veterans in the PIT counts. The number of homeless veterans went down largely due to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, the beginning of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, and an increasingly intense focus by VA staff in headquarters and around the country.

With the full implementation of SSVF and continuing work on effective implementation of housing and prevention strategies, this curve could move sharply downward in the next couple years, as long as implementation is strong and employment numbers continue to improve.

Chronic homelessness also declined in 2011, at a somewhat faster rate than in the previous two years. Some of this is due to HUD-VASH, since the PIT numbers for chronic homelessness include veterans experiencing chronic homelessness. Some of it is due to coming online of Continuum of Care (CoC) program-funded permanent supportive housing that Congress funded before recent fiscal tightening.

Some of the progress on ending chronic homelessness is no doubt due to communities using other resources like Section 8 to get the most vulnerable people off the street, part of the work of the 100,000 Homes campaign, and displayed in a recent report from Los Angeles showing over 2,300 chronically homeless people housed there in the most recent three months.

To end chronic homelessness by the end of 2015, the goal of the federal strategic plan, “Opening Doors,” declines like these will need to accelerate over the next few years. If communities and Congress make ending homelessness enough of a priority, that’s a possibility. If one of the results of fiscal face-offs in Congress is continued reduction in HUD funding, efforts to end chronic homelessness will be severely hampered.

For families, as for homeless people overall, the story is still one of holding the line. We’ve always known that, compared to other subpopulations, families experiencing homelessness are affected most by widespread joblessness. This is an area of particular concern for the future as well, since families overwhelmingly benefited from HPRP. If the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH) of 2009 is funded at the level Congress said it intended in the Act, families would benefit from expanded Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding. So far, that hasn’t happened. It will be a high priority for the Alliance in 2013.

As a final note, this is the last annual point-in-time count that will lack an overall count of youth homelessness. HUD has already issued guidance to communities that they should note the number of young people aged 18-24, as well as unaccompanied minors. This is an important step that will increase both the political pressure and the capacity to make more serious progress on ending youth homelessness.

I hope all our readers have a happy holiday season and new year. I’ll have another blog right after the first of the year, talking about some of the things we at the Alliance are resolving to do in 2013.

5th December
2012
written by Lisa Stand

With elections nearly a month behind us, advocates are honing strategies to approach leaders and legislatures, new and old. With so much focus on federal budget and policy, it’s easy to overlook that all but half a dozen state legislatures will be in session by the time President Obama is inaugurated for a second term. At that time, state legislators will already be addressing budgetary issues and health care reform, two factors that will play huge roles in homelessness assistance next year.

A lot of the action on the issue of homelessness will be taking place in state capitals, and advocates can learn more about how to get involved on Tuesday, December 18, at 3 p.m. ET, when the Alliance hosts a live webinar, “Strategies to End Chronic Homelessness: Pursuing Innovative Policies at the State Level.” Field experts will show you and your community partners how to can make the most of new opportunities in your state. You can register for the webinar here.

The political landscape in the states has shifted a bit since the 2012 elections. So advocates in these 50 separate arenas must tailor their approaches in light of the election results in their states. Five new governors will assume office in 2013, but only in North Carolina did the gubernatorial seat change party hands. Party control shifted in just four states (Arkansas, Maine, Minnesota, and New Hampshire), and a handful of state legislatures are nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Homelessness advocates are going to have to involve themselves in what’s happening in their state legislatures, and that means keeping track of the activities of leaders, lobbyists and grassroots organizations, and answering questions like, “Is the issue of homelessness on the state agenda? Are the leaders even interested in addressing homelessness? Do we as state advocates have the kind of access to leaders and influence that we need to affect state policies?

Every state is different, but here are a few points worth noting, from a national vantage. First the bad news:

  • As in the federal arena, programs require funding, so a lot of the big state policy decisions will be made during the budget debate. Unlike the federal government, however, many states are required by their constitutions to balance their annual budgets, which means more pressure to get the bottom line right year to year. Legislators may be tempted to skimp on state funding for housing and assistance in the expectation that federal programs and local coffers will make up the difference.
  • Though the economy is improving, states continue to feel the effects of the recession. Many states last year had to contend with shortfalls in state revenues, and they made up for the shortfalls with spending cuts. Again, the openings for advocates to propose and enact new policies – even cost-effective ones – are few and far between.

Now, the good news:

  • For people working to end chronic homelessness, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will present real opportunities as it moves to the states. In the next two years, a number of states (hard to know how many) will expand their Medicaid programs to cover many homeless adults who have gone without health insurance, for years or perhaps their entire lives.
  • A number of states will choose still other options under the ACA – such as Medicaid health homes – that will add capacity to the systems of care for chronically homeless people.

The Alliance’s policy team has been thinking about new ways to help our advocates affect state policymaking, particularly with regard to identifying and making the most of ACA opportunities. This fall, we reached out with an online survey to learn what issues are most pressing in the coming year when combatting chronic homelessness. Respondents from 32 states answered the call, and identified four relevant policy topics:

  • Funding for state mental health programs that offer supportive housing;
  • Expansion of Medicaid to cover all adults up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level;
  • Policy decisions to increase Medicaid coverage for behavioral health care; and
  • Funding for state programs to help people exiting jails and prisons.

We also learned that there is a nearly unanimous need for state-level strategies and tactics for addressing these challenges, with state advocates citing “data” as the primary tool that they lack

The Alliance has already begun to respond to these needs, with Alliance tools and materials and by connecting people with outside experts and resources. Now is the time for homeless advocates and their partners to define their role for 2013 in their states.

Here are some basic steps to get started:

    • Know your key statewide coalitions and make sure they know you.
    • Stay current on state legislative affairs – through your state representatives, local news sources and opinion-leaders, and state think tanks. Understand the big picture.
    • Prep your champions and spokespersons– are their messages up-to-date and relevant?
    • Have an “ask” for your state legislators that will engage them in your most important issues – whether it’s funding for behavioral health, public investment in supportive housing, or reporting of data needed to advance state solutions.
    • Build relationships for the long-term. Keep up with your contacts working in state policy settings, and inform them about your issues and your goals

The Alliance’s Economic Development Policy Fellow, Edward J. SanFilippo, contributed to this blog post.

26th November
2012
written by Kate Seif

As soon as the elections were over (literally, the next day), the nation turned its attention to the impending “Fiscal Cliff.” The fiscal cliff is a complicated amalgam of the immediate fiscal issues our nation faces – including debt, revenue, spending, and a few other things. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities does a much better job explaining it here.

One truly important thing to know about the fiscal cliff, though, is that it includes sequestration. Sequestration, as we’ve discussed on this blog before, is a fancy term for automatic, across-the-board cuts to non-defense, discretionary spending. Which, for our purposes, is a longer way of saying the fiscal cliff includes cuts to nearly all federally-funded affordable housing and homelessness programs, 8.2 percent in cuts that will take place on January 2, to be exact. These cuts would immediately impact thousands of our nations’ most vulnerable people, and their impact would eventually affect hundreds of thousands over the coming months.

In essence, sequestration is a policy that would go a long way toward walking back a lot of the great work we’ve seen in the past few years, work that has held back the tide of rising homelessness, and in many cases reversed it. Fortunately, though, we now have an opportunity to impact the congressional decision-making process and educate our Members of Congress on the importance of HUD programs in our community in preventing and ending homelessness.

That’s why we’ve made this week “National Sequestration Call-in Week!” We need advocates like you to call your Senators and Representatives! It’s time to explain how important federal funding is for ending homelessness, and warn your members of congress about the negative consequences sequestration cuts would have on your community. We have talking points to help guide your conversation and we can help with anything else you might need!

If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that people experiencing homelessness aren’t lost in the budgetary shuffle, cuts under sequestration to affordable housing and other programs targeted at low-income families and individuals could potentially create huge increases in homelessness in the coming months and years.

Call your Members. Tell them that cuts to HUD and other homeless assistance programs are unacceptable! Let me know who you contacted!

19th November
2012
written by Julie Klein

Two weeks or so out from the excitement of the election, it may seem that not much has changed in the grand scheme of things. Not so! Due to redistricting, retirement, resignation, and competitive races, there will be many new faces around Capitol Hill this January. Already last Tuesday, eighty or so members of the freshman class of the 113th Congress arrived on Capitol Hill for their New Member Orientation. With all those new Members and with committee selections to be finalized around February, we can expect a lot of new people will be occupying significant decision-making positions.

New Members will likely begin considering a wide array of issues and forming relationships with advocates early on. So, for advocates who want to help Members-elect better understand the issue of homelessness in their districts, the next few months will be a crucial time to pick up or begin the conversation around homelessness. With federal budget issues looming large and the new Congress set to take up federal spending issues soon after their swearing-in, we need to engage and educate these new Members on solutions to homelessness and the importance of making ending homelessness a federal priority.

Here are some effective approaches for educating or connecting with your new Member before they arrive in DC in January for their swearing in:

  1. Request a meeting with the Member before they begin their term. Often, you can find contact information for your new Member on their campaign’s website. Contacting a member of campaign staff through a general campaign email address or campaign phone number could be a simple but effective way of reaching your new Member.
  2. Write an Op-Ed in your local paper directed at your new Member. Call on the new Member to make ending homelessness a federal priority and a focus of their work in Congress. Explain what homelessness looks like in your community and what the Member-elect should do to support your programs and efforts. An Op-Ed will have the added benefit of reaching a wider audience and educating others in your community about homelessness locally.
  3. Send your new Member information about homelessness in your district. Sending a letter is an equally great way of opening the lines of communication and creating a dialogue around homelessness. Members will have a lot on their plates as soon as they arrive on the Hill, so make sure your letter is concise and offers data and a clear ask of your Member to focus on the issue of homelessness. Follow up on your letter when the Member has an established office in January.
  4. Reach out to your Member in early January. If you are unable to reach your Member-elect while they are still at home, consider reaching out to them in January. If the member hasn’t established a full staff yet, work with the member’s Chief of Staff to pass your message along on making ending homelessness a federal priority.

If you have any questions about these advocacy actions, just let us know and we’ll be happy to help you strategize and reach out! Finally, if you have a reason to believe that your newly-elected Member of Congress might be supportive of efforts to prevent and end homelessness, or if you have a connection to a new member or their campaign, please share the name of that member with us!

Elections always provide opportunities for change. The impact the results of this election will have on the issue of homelessness will depend on how successful those of us who care deeply about this issue are in educating our representatives and ensuring that they make ending it a priority. With change in the air and tough budgetary decisions ahead, there is truly no time like the present to advocate on the behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society.

21st September
2012
written by Steve Berg

For some time now, we have been telling you about big federal budgetary issues, and how these issues could affect efforts to end homelessness. A recent report to Congress by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), requested by Congress in the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, is a reminder of the impact these issues can have.

We’ve already told you about “sequestration,” the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect in three and a half months under the Budget Control Act that Congress passed and the President signed into law in early 2011.

Now, a recent report to Congress by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has spelled out, for the first time, which programs in the federal budget will be exempt from sequestration, and how much funding each nonexempt program will lose in January.

According to the report, sequestration would cut the HUD Homeless Assistance line by $156 million, with HUD deciding how much of this cut would come from the Emergency Solutions Grants, and how much from the Continuum of Care.  Either way, existing programs would need to be scaled back or shut down.

Our funding analysis shows that these programs need approximately $2.1 billion in FY 2013 appropriations to remain funded at their current level. If homeless assistance is funded at the Continuing Resolution amount, which is already insufficient, and then cut by $156 million under sequestration, we would end up with funding at $1.757 billion, a shortfall of 16 percent.

The local impacts of that shortfall are not hard to calculate. Just take the amount necessary to renew your existing Continuum of Care project or ESG grant, and subtract 16 percent. The effect such a dramatic cut in spending would have on our efforts to address homelessness would be grim and profound.

Sequestration was never meant to be good policy; it was designed to be so bad that Congress and the Administration would have no choice but to work together to find a better way to reduce the deficit. So far that hasn’t happened.

If Congress is going to address the deficit now, it should use a balanced approach that takes account of the severe cuts in spending that have already taken place in the “domestic discretionary” category.  HUD programs and other programs like Health Care for the Homeless, SAMHSA programs that help homeless people with disabilities (and many others) have already been cut too much.

Congress created the sequestration rule, so it has the power to reverse it and replace it with something else. If it decides that the economy is too fragile for a big deficit reduction effort now, it doesn’t have to replace it with anything at all.

Members of congress already face a lot of pressure from critics of the policy, so odds are decent that congress may put some other plan in its place. The question is whether Congress will replace it with a policy that is better or worse for the most impoverished Americans.

What is needed is a realistic policy that properly funds the federal role in protecting the most vulnerable Americans, housing people who can’t afford even the most minimally decent housing, and helping people without jobs get employment.

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18th September
2012
written by Kay Moshier McDivitt

Today‘s blog was written by Alliance Capacity Building Associate Alliance Kay Moshier McDivitt, with assistance from Alliance Program and Policy Analyst Ian Lisman.

Last month the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued the announcement for letters of intent for the next round of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant funding with a focus of expanding the SSVF program to all communities.

The day following that announcement, I had the privilege of giving a presentation with Vince Kane and John Kuhn of the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, sponsored by the Lebanon PA VA Medical Center. As I listened to both Vince and John speak to the attendees about VA and the SSVF program, I was struck by the common thread in our presentations: to end homelessness, we need to rapidly re-house families that become homeless and target our prevention resources to those most at risk of homelessness.

VA is looking for SSVF applicants that can show that they have the experience and capacity to deliver targeted prevention and rapid re-housing for veteran families. Vince and John emphasized that in this competitive world, applicants need to do their research and adopt best practices/strategies in implementing the SSVF program.

At the Alliance, we have been working with communities to strengthen and expand rapid re-housing programs. This opportunity, provided by SSVF funding, is a great way that communities can expand rapid re-housing for veteran families experiencing homelessness.

We have learned a lot about what works in communities that have had successes in rapid re-housing with Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) funding.  As a result, the Alliance has developed a number of resources on rapid re-housing to help organizations and communities implement or expand their RRH programs. Most recent are three short modules that cover key components of rapid rehousing. These resources can help current SSVF programs build capacity in their program, and help new applicants strategically develop a strong proposal.

Rapid re-housing is key to helping end family homelessness, and now the opportunity is available to expand this strategy to veteran families. As Vince Kane said during his presentation, we need to do things “faster, smarter, better, together.”

Photo “Veterans Stand Down and Homeless Services Day Prince Georges County” courtesy of Maryland GovPics.

17th September
2012
written by Andre Wade

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recently released an amendment to Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. The amendment, which USICH officials developed with its federal partners, addresses the education needs of children experiencing homelessness and provides strategies to solve the problem of homelessness amongst youth.

The amendment, which calls for data, more research, more resources, systems-level thinking, and true collaborations across systems and disciplines, adds depth and context to the administration’s current thinking on what’s needed to address these issues.

This new perspective comes from two models included in the amendment, one that outlines a new strategy for obtaining more accurate data on youth, and another, which shows the administration’s framework for ending youth homelessness, which was released in conjunction with USICH’s June 2012 council meeting.

The new amendment:

  • Adds robust language on obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of the scope of youth homelessness;
  • Outlines new strategies for increasing access to education for unaccompanied youth and improving their educational outcomes;
  • Adds a new emphasis on increasing access for unaccompanied youth to early childhood education programs;
  • Adds a new focus on awareness among practitioners of the importance of child and youth development;
  • Outlines new strategies to support healthy child and youth development within housing programs;and
  • Adds a new focus on advancing the health and housing stability for youth experiencing homelessness and youth exiting the foster care and juvenile justice systems.

We still have a lot of work to do if we are to end youth homelessness by 2020. However, this amendment speaks to the administration’s overall commitment to children and youth experiencing homelessness.

Now it’s time for us to determine what housing models and support services are the most effective for youth who are unable to return home or be reconnected with their families through family intervention.

We need to improve the crisis response mechanism for getting youth off of the street and connected to services. And lastly, we need to size these resources and bring them to scale for universal implementation – before 2020.

13th September
2012
written by Sharon McDonald

Yesterday the U.S. Census released data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in 2011. By now you’ve seen the headlines:  the poverty rate has leveled off at 15 percent after three years of increasing and remains at the highest level since 1993, while median income has declined by 1.5 percent, which means that the middle class continues to feel the strain of the bad economy.  More people are covered by health insurance (1.4 million more than in 2010), which is certainly welcome news, since the number of people with health insurance has been going down for the last 10 years. But while poverty has leveled off, it remains at historically high levels, and children continue to be disproportionately impacted. We could be doing a lot more.

  • 16.1 million children in the U.S. lived in poverty in 2011—that’s more than one in five children.
  • Young children in families headed by a single mother were hardest hit: 57.6 percent of children under the age of 6 in families headed by a single mother live in poverty.
  • Over 7 million children live in deep poverty, subsisting on less than $1,000 a month for a family of four ($11,511 annually) – that’s 9.8 percent of all children in the U.S.
  • And deep poverty is much more prevalent among very young children, with 11.8 percent of all children under the age of 6 living in families with incomes below half the poverty level.

We know social benefits can help lift people out of poverty.  One example is Social Security benefits.  Social Security benefits have lifted 14.5 million adults age 65 and older out of poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduced poverty for 3 million children, even though they’re still included in the 16 million children living in poverty reported in the Census poverty data since it excludes income from the EITC. That’s a start (a good one).

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program could do more. The program provides states with resources to support low-income families so children can be cared for in their own homes and helps parents connect to employment.  How well is it working? Not as well as it could be. States choose how they use TANF resources and sets benefit levels, which are currently insufficient to lift most families without other sources of income out of deep poverty, never mind out of poverty altogether.

States could do more. States could increase TANF benefit levels and allow families on TANF who are employed to keep more of their earnings.  Many families living in poverty are not accessing TANF benefits at all, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. States could reduce the number of families without income from work or TANF benefits by helping families enroll quickly on TANF and meet program requirements.

States could also do more to help people on TANF connect to employment.  States predominately rely on a narrow set of tools to help people on TANF prepare for, and enter, the workforce.  For too many families, particularly in an economy with high unemployment, these tools simply aren’t enough.

But there’s been some progress on this front. In July, the Administration released an Information Memorandum inviting states to submit applications for waivers. Under these waivers, states can test new strategies to increase the number of families on TANF who transition to employment.  This is an opportunity for states to improve how they use welfare resources to help reduce the number of children living in deep poverty.

And that’s a big step in the right direction, because perhaps the most effective strategy to lift children out of poverty is to help their parents find employment.

12th September
2012
written by Kate Seif

As the Alliance’s Policy Outreach Coordinator, I spend a lot of time working with many of you to help you build and strengthen relationships with your Members of Congress in order to ensure preventing and ending homelessness is a federal priority. But there’s another aspect to this that goes beyond Capitol Hill – working with the Administration.

Of course, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) holds authority over many homeless assistance and housing programs. Now you have an opportunity to tell them what you think! In July, HUD released the interim rule for the Continuum of Care (CoC) program within the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. The interim rule went into effect on August 30, but the public has until Monday, October 1 to comment on the rule. HUD will process the comments and eventually release a final rule. Basically, although your comments won’t immediately affect the program, they’ll have a significant impact in the way the program is ultimately designed over the long run.

If your community has any concerns, or if you particularly like something and want to make sure it stays in the final rule – now is your chance to let HUD know!

To help get you started, we’ve released a draft of our own comments. You are welcome to use our comments to help craft your own, but we’re also releasing them to solicit your feedback! We want to hear from you what you think about our comments and the rule itself – concerns? Dislikes? Likes? Let us know!

The rule will have a significant long-term impact on the tools communities have at their disposal to prevent and end homelessness Please let me know what you think! We hope you’ll take the time to submit comments to HUD, and I look forward to hearing from you!

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11th September
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post is from Geoff Millard, director of special projects at the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place a service provider based in D.C. Millard spent 9 years in the U.S. military, including 13 months in Iraq.

September 11, 2001, is a day that will “live in infamy” for my generation, just as Pearl Harbor does for the generation who lived through World War II. This is especially true for those of us who were serving in the military at the time. As most Americans watched with shock and horror as the second plane hit the twin towers, I was driving towards my unit in the New York Army National Guard, already knowing that I was activated.

As the rest of the military readied itself for war in the days following 9/11, I helped secure what became known as “ground zero”. I would soon be readying myself for war too. And war…well, that’s exactly what we got for the next 11-plus years.

The wars Iraq and Afghanistan permanently changed an entire generation of veterans.  More than 2.5 million served in combat zones, and more have served at bases across the globe. This generation of service members is now being discharged and becoming veterans. An influx of 2.5 million people would stress any system, let alone one as severely underfunded as the Department of Veterans Affairs historically has been.

Still, the Obama Administration has, for the first time, taken on the task of ending veteran homelessness. It is such a powerful proposal that, in what is possibly the most gridlocked Congress in history, this idea has bipartisan support, true bipartisan support – not the two-votes-from-the-other-side-type bipartisan support often touted on The Hill.

While this effort must focus on the bulk of the problem, homelessness among the generation of veterans who served in the Vietnam era, we are planning new and innovative ways of meeting the needs of Afghanistan- and Iraq-era veterans.  Take, for example, the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which just passed at $300 million for FY13.

Because so few of my generation of veterans require permanent help, the program is designed to get veterans back into housing soon after they become homeless, and meet the needs of veterans who need short-term help to avoid homelessness. This program is a critical component in our strategy to end veteran homelessness. It really could be the safety net that prevents another generation of veterans from struggling with homelessness for the rest of their lives.

The SSVF program is modeled after the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP), which the National Alliance to End Homelessness credits for the 1 percent nationwide drop in overall homelessness during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

VA officials intend to use the prevention component of SSVF to ensure that another generation of veterans won’t face the prospect of living on the streets for any period of time, while they intend to use the rapid rehousing component to ensure that veterans who do experience homelessness have resources to return to permanent housing as quickly as possible.

The more time a person spends living on the street, the worse the problems that got that person there get. The effects of street living take a toll on one’s physical health as well as one’s mental health, and increases the likelihood of self-medication through drugs and alcohol. By getting people back into housing fast, we can preserve their health and humanity.

The SSVF program also includes a new component for VA: families. Traditionally, VA has offered homeless services only to the veterans themselves, turning away veteran families who were in need of services. At Friendship Place, one our top concerns for our program is reuniting participants with their families; this is true for veterans and non-veterans alike.

When our nation was in shock and fear, a new generation of service men and women answered the call to protect the nation. Their selflessness has earned them a great debt from this country that we must pay if we are to remain a light for the world in dark times. VA  officials have an actual plan to end veteran homelessness that has a real chance at success. The question that remains is whether we are prepared to see it through to the end, and fund it in full.

The photo above, which shows Geoff Millard with VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, is courtesy of the Friendship Place. For more information on Friendship Place please visit www.FriendshipPlaceDC.org.

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