The US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) today unveiled what is being called "the nation's first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness.

The Council, composed of secretaries and heads of 19 federal departments and agencies, is chaired by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.  USICH was charged by the President and Congress to develop a national strategic plan under the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act in May 2009.

The 19 agencies, with responsibility for the nation's housing, health, employment, education, and human services have set a goal of ending veterans and chronic homelessness by 2015 and homelessness among families, youth, and children by 2020.  Its report, Opening Doors:  Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, was presented to a representative of President Obama at White House ceremonies Tuesday morning.

The Council says that its report reflects agreement by the member agencies on a set of priorities and strategies including six core values:

  • Homelessness is unacceptable
  • There are no "homeless people" but rather people who have lost their homes
  • Homelessness is expensive; it is better to invest in solutions
  • Homelessness is solvable; we have learned a lot about what works
  • Homelessness can be prevented
  • There is strength in collaboration and USICH can make a difference

The Council formed four working groups to develop strategies for specific populations; families with children, youth, veterans, and individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.

The report, which we will cover in more detail down the road, paints a picture of homelessness and the systems that currently exist to address the problem and sets forth a vision "No one should experience homelessness - no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home" and says , that, without a safe, decent, affordable place to live, it is nearly impossible "to achieve good health, positive educational outcomes, or reach one's economic potential."  Further, the report says, "For many persons living in poverty, the lack of stable housing leads to costly recycling through crisis-driven systems like foster care, emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, emergency domestic violence shelters, detox centers, and jail. 

The report presents a roadmap to addressing homelessness, laying out 10 specific objectives within the following themes.

  • Increase leadership, collaboration, and civic engagement.
  • Increase access to stable and affordable housing
  • Increase economic security
  • Improve Health and Stability
  • Retool the Homeless Crisis Response System.

"As the most far-reaching and ambitious plan to end homelessness in our history, this plan will both strengthen existing programs and forge new partnerships," said Donovan.  "Working together with Congress, state and local officials, faith-based and community organizations, and business and philanthropic leaders across our country, we will harness public and private resources to build on the innovations that have been demonstrated at the local level nationwide. No one should be without a safe, stable place to call home and today we unveil a plan that will put our nation on the path toward ending all types of homelessness."

In recent years, over 300 communities have developed plans to end homelessness. "We know that the Federal government alone cannot address this challenge," said USICH Vice Chair and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. "Achieving the goals in Opening Doors will require strong partnerships with Congress, states, localities, philanthropy, and faith based and community organizations across the country. After all, the people of our nation are best served when we work as a team.

By combining permanent housing with support services, federal, state, and local efforts have reduced the number of people who are chronically homeless by one-third in the last five years.

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