President Obama is set to embark on an ambitious social initiative: Ending the blight of homelessness by the start of the next decade.
Instead of cutting social programs, the administration is determined to make them work more efficiently. The plan, known formally as Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, takes best practices established when President George W. Bush made homelessness a priority in 2003.
“Investing in the status quo is no longer acceptable,” explains Obama in the plan’s introduction. “Given the fiscal realities … our response has to be guided by what works. Investments can only be made in the most promising strategies.”
Obama made it clear that ending the “national disgrace” of homelessness was a priority when he first took office. The HEARTH Act of 2009 spurred a mandated investigation into the lives of the 640,000 men, women and children who find themselves homeless any day in the U.S., along with the 37% lacking shelter of any kind.
The result, a multi-level and multi-agency effort, is a first for the federal government, which traditionally left the issue to the states. Thankfully, some of those states successfully remedied the problem, developing best practices the plan will adopt as national standards.
Among these best practices is a collaboration between state and local governments and the private sector. The plan identifies partnerships with local businesses, nonprofits, faith groups and volunteers, using every possible resource at the community level to emphasize local governments’ roles in bringing housing providers together. Medical and psychological caregivers also help coordinate efforts.
The strategy addresses four goals. While the Obama’s administration praised Bush for reducing chronic homelessness (persons who have been homeless for more than a year, a group that saw an 11% decrease in 2009)—it will prioritize ending chronic homelessness by 2015.
Chicago, which reduced chronic homelessness by 12% from 2005-2007, is an example of the Housing First model of supported housing, which minimizes barriers to accessing housing (instead of requiring a certain period of sobriety to be eligible, for example), along with improved medical attention. Obama’s health care reform bill, which expands Medicaid programs, will give many more who lost their homes access to better medical care, a crucial factor in maintaining stable housing.
The plan also targets homeless veterans, which the report says tops 100,000. While veterans have always had access to services, the new approach will integrate monitoring and assistance from Veterans Affairs bureaus across the country along with health care and psychological treatment to address post-traumatic stress disorder among recently returned veterans. Lawmakers hope affordable housing will help eliminate the issue by 2020.
The third goal of Opening Doors focuses on homeless families, a population that has increased 30% since 2007, according to the report. Working with the Department of Education to identify homeless families with children, the administration included provisions for more Section 8 housing vouchers in its 2011 budget, which will be allocated to areas with the highest concentrations of homeless families.
Finally, the plan seeks to help homeless youth, or those who fell through the cracks of social services. The plan says “every year, 30,000 youth age out of foster care, and 20,000–25,000 age out of the juvenile justice system.” Collaboration with youth groups at the community level will direct more resources to people in these transitional stages.
While the plan includes myriad goals, focusing on four clear objectives creates a framework that will bring together 19 different government agencies to address the same social issue.
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