Strengthening our Systems, Improving our Practices, Sharpening our Thinking

As I reflected when speaking at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Oakland last week, over the course of this last year — my first as Executive Director of USICH — I’ve often referred to the historic opportunity we have to make progress, all of us together, to end homelessness in this country once and for all. With the release of the President’s FY 2017 budget — and the investments it calls for in ending all homelessness — that historic opportunity has never been more true than this very moment.

In addition to $11 billion for ending family homelessness, the budget proposes $2 billion over 5 years for Emergency Aid and Service Connection Grants to provide emergency assistance to families facing financial crises. The budget also calls for bold investments into expanding permanent supportive housing to end chronic homelessness, additional funding to innovate and test models for ending youth homelessness, funding to sustain programs for ending Veteran homelessness, and other critical investments.

Such budget proposals are one of the key ways that any administration communicates its policy priorities, and there are two very important messages I want to make sure everyone is taking away from this year’s proposals.

First, that it is an expression of an unwavering commitment to achieving all of the goals in Opening Doors — and to act urgently, now, to achieve those goals. It is also a clear and striking expression of this administration’s confidence that communities across the country will use such resources wisely and employ the strongest practices to achieve our national goals.

Clearly, the investment of new resources — at the federal, state, and local levels — is essential. But by themselves, new resources are not the complete answer. We also need to continue to strengthen our systems, improve our practices, and sharpen our thinking. The NAEH conference always serves as an important touchstone for understanding changes that are underway and progress we are making. At the conference last week, I shared some expectations for how, together, we will have advanced our dialogue by this time next year:

  • First, we’ll be talking about how we secured the resources proposed in the President’s budget and how we are going to be mobilizing these resources as quickly and efficiently as we can.
  • We’ll be having more sophisticated and nuanced conversations about the different sources of data we have available about youth and family homelessness and housing instability. And we’ll be using that data to inform strategies that extend well beyond the targeted homelessness assistance programs to engage many other systems, such as schools and early childhood education, child welfare, criminal justice, employment, and health care systems.
  • We’ll also be talking about the strongest practices of rapid re-housing, and how we can ensure those interventions are successful in all housing markets and that they provide truly meaningful opportunities for economic mobility, and our progress in tailoring these housing models for youth and young adults.
  • We will have deepened our discussions around applying the principles and lessons of Housing First to our systems for serving youth — removing barriers and embracing service models that ensure that no young people are regarded as beyond our reach or outside our responsibility.
  • Our discussions will reflect that we have accepted the responsibility of every community, of every program, to be ready, to be equipped, and to be committed to providing fair and equitable access — and competent and empowering assistance — to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth and families — and that we’ll have avoided the easy trap of leaving the responsibility of ending LGBTQ homelessness to LGBTQ-focused organizations alone.
  • And we will have forever broken our collective and damaging silence regarding issues of racial disparities in the impact and experience of homelessness —  and we’ll be working to ensure that a commitment to racial equity is informing every element of our both our long-term strategies and our daily activities and staffing.

Clearly, we have a lot of important conversations ahead of us. Please engage with USICH and other federal agencies to help us move these conversations forward. We want to ensure we understand the issues and challenges that are most important to you.

But it is also clear that now is not a time for conversation alone. Our conversations must also drive the actions needed to seize the historic opportunities we have in front of us — this year and beyond.