Can homeless assistance be dramatically improved in a time of crisis?
Nine years ago, the Alliance launched A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years which charted a course for ending homelessness in the United States. The central idea, grossly simplified, is this:
As a nation, we do a lot to address homelessness—build shelters, distribute food and blankets and the like. What we don’t do is prevent homelessness or help people exit homelessness.
Since then, the Alliance has been working on changing policies and programs to focus more on prevention and re-housing.
Right now, we spend a lot on shelters and other emergency homelessness programs. And any effort to shift to a more prevention and solution-based approach could divert resources away from these existing shelters and programs. It’s a great idea in theory, but one that will take time and patience and there are people that need shelter tonight, and it’s pretty cruel to take that away, even if there’s a long-term benefit.
So progress has been slow.
And there’s a big barrier to making this change – money.
In the spring, Congress passed an economic stimulus bill that included a $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). One and a half billion isn’t a lot compared to the size of the stimulus, but it’s a lot for homeless assistance. And what’s important is that HPRP will fund rental assistance, housing search assistance, and other activities that prevent homelessness or help homeless people quickly move into permanent housing.
Many communities are using HPRP to transform their homeless assistance programs.
For example, here’s an excerpt from Dayton, Ohio’s HPRP plan, “The City, working with Montgomery County, will use these funds to begin the transformation of our system from an emphasis on sheltering to an emphasis on prevention and rapid re-housing.” Michigan is distributing HPRP funds to local nonprofits who can demonstrate …”how these funds will be used to transform your current homeless delivery process to reflect your community’s commitment to end homelessness in 10 years.”
It’s too bad that it took a crisis of this magnitude, but the investment in prevention and re-housing is a very big deal. We will hopefully use this opportunity to transform homeless assistance, putting us on a path to ending homelessness for good.