Homeward Bound: Jennifer Ho Reflects on Her Service

Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor, HUDFor just shy of seven years, I have had the honor of working in Washington, DC, first as a deputy director at USICH, and then as a senior advisor to the Secretary of HUD. On January 23, I pack up the car and drive home to Minnesota. I have been commuting back and forth this whole time. Staying with friends in DC, house sitting for generous strangers, checking out the cheap hotels, and ultimately renting two apartments. But as much as I have loved this work, the places I have stayed in Washington have never felt like home.

I grew up in Minnesota. My family is there. While I worked in DC, my partner stayed in our home in Saint Paul.

Whenever I go home, I am constantly struck by what it feels like to be back home. In my own home. In our home. At home, difficult things become a little easier to bear. It is safe to feel sad or uncertain there.  Home is also the place where I can be silly, a very different me than the DC me. Home is the place where I can remember the past and dream of the future. It is the place where I can feel safe alone, with my partner, with my family, and with friends. Home is where I tend to my health and my soul.

So I want to write this, a farewell message, to all the people who have committed their careers to finding homes for people who have lost theirs. I want to send a thank you note to everyone who has given their time, energy, and passion to helping others come home. I have met thousands of you as I have traveled the nation. Your work to help people come home in your communities across the country is what drove the creation of Opening Doors and reshaped federal policy. It has shown us the idea that homelessness is a problem that we can end.

When I left my job at Hearth Connection in Minnesota to work in Washington, I told my friends and colleagues that the work we had done in Minnesota had convinced me that ending homelessness was possible, and that I was going to Washington to make it more probable. And I think, together, we have done that. We have shown that we can end homelessness in this country. But that doesn’t make ending homelessness inevitable. Far from it.

Ask any community that has effectively ended Veteran homelessness if it was hard, and they will tell you not only was it hard, but that holding onto the goal once achieved is just as hard as getting there in the first place. Ask any community that is on the verge of ending chronic homelessness if it happened naturally, and they will tell you about all the new collaborations, difficult prioritization debates, and increases in funding, followed by dramatic changes in practice. They will tell you of their new appreciation for data as part of the solution.

I leave uncertain what I will do next, but I go home knowing that together we wrote and implemented a plan based on the best policies and practices taking place across the country. We were not afraid of big, ambitious goals, even as some said they could not be achieved. We committed to improving how we measure, count, and track success. And then, it started happening. Where the investments were sufficient and most consistent for Veterans experiencing homelessness, one community, then another, and another, began to demonstrate that ending homelessness was, in fact, an achievable goal.

The work for Veterans has carried an audacious hope and ambition forward to leave its mark on what we believe can be done to help families with children, youth and young adults, and individuals with disabilities who have been homeless the longest come home.

In coming to DC, I have had the privilege to serve under a President who has never lost hope in us and in what America can do. I have had the gift of working with the smartest, most committed, and marvelous individuals. Most of them will stay on in their jobs, continuing to make the journey home happen, one person at a time. And we will be able to measure whether there is progress going forward.

I am going back home, confident that we can never go back on what we have learned or on what we have demonstrated together. Knowing that makes me confident that progress will continue in the years ahead, and that we will keep moving forward until everyone has the chance to go home.