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Federal Plan Marks a New Day in the Fight Against Homelessness

The Obama Administration and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, consisting of 19 federal agencies, recently released the nation’s first-ever comprehensive strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness: Opening Doors.

Soon after entering the Oval Office, President Barack Obama said no one should go without housing because we fail to be bold and act. The federal government has followed up on those words with deeds and made the most far-reaching commitment in our history to helping the homeless.

The Obama Administration and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), consisting of 19 federal agencies and chaired by U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, recently released the nation’s first-ever comprehensive strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness: Opening Doors.

With this new plan, the federal government no longer plays a secondary role that relies on cash-strapped states and local governments to grapple with the challenging issues surrounding homelessness. Uncle Sam is now at the table as a full partner, not just a cheerleader.

The strategy sets ambitious but measurable goals: (1) end chronic homelessness in five years; (2) prevent and end homelessness among veterans in five years; (3) prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children within a decade; and (4) put us on a path to ending all types of homelessness.

It builds on existing interagency partnerships and evidence-based models that are working, such as permanent supportive housing, and it focuses resources on comprehensive solutions.

Over 634,000 people, including 107,000 U.S. military veterans, experience homelessness on any given night. A problem of this magnitude requires a strong national role and response. But states, local governments and nonprofits are not being cut out of the picture; far from it. Collaboration, cooperation and coordination are built into the plan and fundamental to realizing success.

In fact, it’s the collaborative spirit embodied in the plan that is most impressive. The numerous partners and systems needed to end homelessness are described in detail. Agencies and advocates involved in providing employment, health, mental health, substance use treatment, corrections, and veterans’ services were all part of the process for creating the plan.

Opening Doors makes clear that ending homelessness will only happen when we take collective responsibility for making it happen, and that we all have specific jobs to do.

The newly released federal blueprint highlights permanent supportive housing as a key strategy for ending homelessness. Supportive housing provides a stable home and the services – health care, counseling, and training – that people need to stay housed and off the streets.

We are hopeful that this strong emphasis on supportive housing, and the proof that it’s ending homelessness, will encourage providers to create new supportive housing opportunities and public and private funders to invest more.

The philanthropic community must also be a partner if we are to end homelessness. A key role for philanthropy will be supporting efforts to change the ways that systems, and the agencies and organizations operating within them, work together to address homelessness.

A CSH publication, Laying a New Foundation, describes ten “building blocks of systems change” and explains why they are important. We emphasize collaborative planning/consensus building, investment and leveraging of resources, expanding provider capacity, research and data, quality assurance, and the cultivation of champions and advocates. All these are things that philanthropy can help support.

The federal plan marks a new day in the fight against homelessness. But it will take tenacity on the local, state and federal levels to fully realize its goals.

Washington needs to remain engaged, local communities need to work together with other levels of government and nonprofits, and failing systems must be changed.

The objectives and strategies embraced in Opening Doors are solid, actionable, and, if fully implemented, will make a big difference in the landscape of our communities.

We are encouraged by the Obama Administration’s willingness to act in such a bold manner and look forward to working with our partners to end homelessness in our lifetime, once and for all.

Deborah De Santis is the President and CEO of the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

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Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

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