Veterans and Families Focus of April 2015 Council Meeting

On April 14, U.S. Department of Labor and USICH Chair Secretary Thomas Perez convened the members of the Council for a special quarterly meeting at the White House. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, along with other senior Administration officials, joined the meeting to discuss the Council’s efforts to achieve an end to homelessness in America. Mr. McDonough reflected on his participation in the San Francisco Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, “There are a lot of things I’ll remember from serving in this Administration, but participating in the count is one I’ll always attach a great amount of importance to; we should not tolerate homelessness in this country.” His participation on the PIT Count earlier this year, and his participation at the meeting demonstrates the Administration’s full commitment to ending homelessness among Veterans and for all Americans. “This is a hard, but not impossible, problem we can solve, proof point in the work you’re doing,” Mr. McDonough later said to the Council.

Following this conversation with Mr. McDonough, Secretary Perez announced the selection of Matthew Doherty as the permanent Executive Director of USICH, noting USICH’s critical role “giving us the platform to break down silos, put our resources together to provide vulnerable people with the help they need to exit homelessness and hold ourselves accountable to keeping this issue on the front burner.” 

In his first act as Executive Director, Matthew presented to the Council current progress on the implementation of Opening Doors. “Council agencies have made steady progress with implementation,” Matthew observed, “But as we approach the timelines for achieving our goals, we must accelerate efforts and achieve greater progress on all of the plan’s objectives.” Matthew called on agencies to redouble efforts to end youth homelessness in particular, and noted that accelerating efforts to end youth homelessness will be at the top of the Council’s priorities over the next several months.

Matthew then presented on the proposed actions identified by Council agencies to support communities in their implementation of coordinated entry systems that can streamline access to housing and services, as well as ensure that people are provided with models and assistance tailored to their needs and strengths.

Noting the role that coordinated entry systems can also play in facilitating connections between mainstream resources and homeless assistance programs, Matthew then turned to Richard Cho, USICH’s Senior Policy Director, to present to the Council on ways that Federal agencies can leverage mainstream resources to end homelessness, for all populations, but particularly for families with children.

Mainstream Resources

One of the most important ways to meet the goals of Opening Doors is to fully leverage mainstream resources to contribute to the efforts to end homelessness.

“While we are working to secure the requested investments in the President’s FY 2016 Budget for targeted homelessness programs, we know we can make even bigger impacts on our goals by ensuring that all of the Federal mainstream programs that can serve people experiencing homelessness are serving people experiencing homelessness,” Richard stated.

Richard shared the progress made by the Council thus far in leveraging mainstream programs and resources like Housing Choice Vouchers, Medicaid, workforce systems, and Supplemental Security Income and Disability Benefits for people experiencing homelessness. “We’ve seen a 64% increase in the last two years on the number of households experiencing homelessness who receive Housing Choice Vouchers. And last fall, HHS released guidance clarifying how states can use Medicaid to cover services for people in permanent supportive housing.” He also mentioned the summit convened by the Department of Labor that highlighted best examples of collaborations between workforce systems and homeless services and housing providers, and the forthcoming guidance from the Social Security Administration, HHS, VA, and USICH on key strategies for connecting people experiencing homelessness to SSI/SSDI benefits.

Richard discussed opportunities to leverage mainstream systems to address the multi-faceted service needs of families experiencing homelessness. “We have identified at least 18 Federal mainstream programs that families experiencing homelessness are eligible for. The challenge before us is how to not only leverage these programs to better meet the needs of families experiencing homelessness, but also how we can package these resources and services together and with housing,” he concluded.

Mark Greenberg, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children & Families, Department of Health and Human Services, then shared current efforts by HHS to encourage TANF and early childhood programs to prioritize assistance to children and families experiencing homelessness. He remarked, “Last year, for example, HHS released the Early Childhood Self-Assessment Tool for Family Shelters to help staff create shelter environments that are safe for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. We also released a resource paper to highlight efforts by Head Start and Early Head Start programs to work with public housing associations, emergency shelter providers, local education agencies, and other community service providers.”

He echoed Richard’s call for better coordination between services for families. “Connecting families with benefits and services can be an important part of a strategy to help them enter stable employment, raise earnings or income, and receive needed services,” Mr. Greenberg stated.

At his first meeting as Executive Director, Matthew Doherty commented on the work being done, “I firmly believe that we’ll one day be able to read the history of how the United States ended homelessness, and I firmly believe that we have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to achieve that right now. I look forward to continuing to work with you all as we make, and write, that history together.”

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