Council Adopts Additional Strategies to Advance Progress on Preventing & Ending Family Homelessness

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and its 19 member agencies convened in December to review progress on ending family homelessness and to propose an additional set of strategies that would continue to drive action to achieve the goals of Opening Doors. Outgoing Chair, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, led the Council in adopting the strategies across federal agencies.

The strategies build upon the Council’s 2013 report, Family Connection, which lays out the federal vision for a system in which every family has access to shelter when needed, families are connected to services that address their needs and support their long-term stability, and the experience of homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring. The set of action areas particularly focus on strengthening the connection between the homelessness service system and mainstream programs, like early childhood, public schools, child welfare, and TANF, to address both housing and service needs of families experiencing homelessness.

As with housing assistance, the kinds of supportive services needed by families vary. Some families may simply need help accessing services to supplement time-limited housing assistance, while others may need a more robust and intensive set of wraparound services, including health and behavioral health supports. And, given the prevalence of domestic violence among families experiencing homelessness, many families will also need legal assistance, safe shelter, and support services to address violence/trauma.

Pam Kestner, representing Virginia, and Laura Zeilinger, representing Washington, DC, speak at December Council meeting
Pam Kestner, Commonwealth of Virginia, and
Laura Zeilinger, District of Columbia

The need to better coordinate homelessness assistance with mainstream programs was reinforced at the meeting by two community leaders:

Ms. Kestner and Ms. Zeilinger highlighted the critical need for increased investments in affordable housing, and asked agencies specifically to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the child welfare system, the workforce system, and others, in supporting families.

In order to drive increased progress toward the goal of ending family homelessness, USICH and our member agencies have committed to the following strategic objectives and actions:

1. Increase mainstream programs’ awareness and understanding of families experiencing homelessness, including

  • Developing guidance regarding homelessness and housing status assessments, so that mainstream programs and systems are asking families the same kinds of questions related to housing and homelessness.
  • Working with agencies at the federal level to encourage local mainstream programs to develop plans to address homelessness among the families they are serving.
  • Using population and service data to project the range and capacity of interventions and resources that are needed to prevent and end family homelessness.

2. Provide federal guidance and technical assistance to strengthen coordination between homelessness assistance and mainstream programs, including

  • Establishing and disseminating a national definition of an end to family homelessness and the metrics to measure progress.
  • Coordinating regional approaches to collaboration to strengthen state and local practice.
  • Promoting low-barrier entry to services and connecting families to tailored interventions, including the use of trauma-informed and culturally competent practices that are coordinated across programs.

3. Build the capacity of local communities to provide the appropriate level of services tailored to the varying needs of families, including

  • Building capacity to effectively address high-needs families, including those experiencing domestic violence and other forms of trauma.
  • Providing public systems like child welfare with guidance and examples of best practices to address housing instability and homelessness among the families they are serving.
  • Identifying where we can adapt practices that effectively target permanent supportive housing to people experiencing chronic homelessness to similarly target high-needs families for vouchers and subsidies.
  • Promoting increased collaboration across systems to address the housing and services needs of shared populations, taking the burden of coordination off the family and putting it on the systems.

Chaired by USICH, HUD, and HHS, the Federal Interagency Working Group to End Family Homelessness and its subgroups, are committed to advancing these strategies. Over the course of 2016, we will be releasing further guidance and tools in all of these action areas. As progress in Virginia and the District of Columbia shows, we are on the right path. Preventing and ending family homelessness is possible.

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