We’d like to thank the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials and other stakeholders who took time out of their busy schedules to attend our 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For us in the Alliance, the level of enthusiasm and positivity on display in the plenary sessions and workshops was immensely gratifying. The homeless assistance community has come far, in terms of its overall level of sophistication and focus on implementation in order to get results, and the conference was a great opportunity for people to share what they have learned, as well as for those of us in the community to engage in a discussion about what we still must do to achieve our goals.
In her remarks at the conference’s closing plenary, Alliance CEO Nan Roman touched on a few of the themes that emerged over the course of the three days. I’ll expand on some of those here.
Targeting – The message came through loud and clear: there are a range of interventions to draw upon, but for an intervention to be successful it must be targeted at the right people. Specifically, supportive housing is our most intensive intervention, and it is designed for the most vulnerable population with the most severe disabilities. If such people are screened out in favor of people with fewer challenges, they will live and probably die on the streets.
Olmstead – The Olmstead case reminded us that large programs devoted solely to housing people with severe mental illness are seldom the best way to serve people, and often are not what people in such programs would choose for themselves if they had more reasonable options. In some cases, such programs actually violate civil rights laws. This challenges people who run housing programs for people with disabilities to consider when it might be appropriate to develop mixed-use projects.
Rapid Re-housing – Somebody once said that the only people who believe in rapid re-housing are everyone who’s ever tried it. Now that virtually every sizeable community around the country has tried it, thanks to HPRP, there is a consensus that it’s the right model for moving most people who are experiencing homelessness into housing. With HPRP winding down soon, much of the talk at the conference was about how to maintain funding for rapid re-housing programs. Fortunately, new HUD regulations make it easy for communities to use Continuum of Care and ESG funds for this purpose, and many communities have also identified other funding sources for rapid re-housing.
Youth and youth counts – The homeless assistance community has begun developing a range of ideas about a more systemic approach to ending youth homelessness. A double track of workshops about youth homelessness, as well as increasing collaboration with the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Families and organizations like the National Network for Youth, focused on advancing these ideas. When the January 2013 point-in-time counts roll around, expect a stronger push for a more accurate count of youth experiencing homelessness.
Veterans’ money and leadership – During the conference, VA announced the awards for about $100 million in grants for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which funds community-based organizations that run rapid re-housing and emergency homelessness prevention programs for veterans and their families. This announcement drew attention to the fact that VA now has a full array of programs to address homelessness, and that those programs are on their way to being funded at the scale necessary to end homelessness among veterans.
The struggle over other federal money – It’s clear that federal money for HUD programs has been harder to come by in the past two years, and that this will continue to be the case. Many communities are increasingly turning to the large antipoverty entitlement programs – TANF, SNAP, SSI, and Medicaid, for example – where federal funding has not been cut, while programs for veterans, which are less threatened by budget cuts, must serve as examples of what can be accomplished with the proper funding. Homeless assistance practitioners are also turning to more efficient models like rapid re-housing, which require less money per household. And they are making sure that their representatives in congress, who determine the funding levels, know about the good that their programs do.
Medicaid – The prospect of funding most services and treatment for chronically homeless people through Medicaid appears closer to reality that anyone would have thought possible only a few years ago. The Affordable Care Act will allow states to expand eligibility in 2014, and the majority of states will opt to do so. A lot of work behind the scenes has already gone into ensuring that the right kinds of services will be funded by Medicaid, but it will take new partnerships, particularly at the state level, to make the most of these new opportunities.
Progress – Perhaps the most rewarding part of the conference for us in the Alliance was seeing the resolve of advocates, in the face of enormous obstacles put up by the economy and the political system, to try new options, discard methods that are less effective, and work smarter and more efficiently to develop programs that, for thousands of people, mean the difference between housing and homelessness.