A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Hope for the Holidays: HUD Reports Decrease in Homelessness

We can, and will, end homelessness in the United States.

Pardon the cliché, but it’s true that those of us with roofs over our heads and the support of family and friends have much to be thankful for this holiday season. And, despite the Great Recession-which has left impact craters of vast proportions) on both low and middle income Americans and created unprecedented levels) of doubled-up and inadequately housed children and families across our nation-there also may be a glimmer of good news for the most vulnerable among us.

In economic hard times, we might expect the numbers of homeless Americans to increase fairly steadily. But in 2010, the federal government’s “point-in-time” estimate found a decrease in the number of people counted as homeless on a single night. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness decreased 2.1% between January 2010 and January 2011, and 5.3% since 2007. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is the 12% decrease in homelessness among veterans in 2010.

Don’t get me wrong: the fact that 636,000 people were counted as homeless is still a national disgrace. But the fact that the number has declined since last year, despite the continuing economic crisis, is a rather important statistic. That these numbers have gone down steadily since the onset of the recession in 2008 is even more significant. Even though the basic methodology of a point-in-time count is considered flawed and thought to result in a significant under-representation of the problem, the fact remains that, when measured consistently across multiple years, the approach provides important trend line information about homelessness.

I take this year’s numbers as good news. More importantly, I interpret the data as an indication that we are on the right track with our overall approaches to the problem. Ending homelessness starts with creating more affordable housing, but our efforts cannot end there. Ending homelessness also means pairing housing with the right services, at the right time, for the right duration. Ending homelessness also means reaching across all of the mainstream systems that touch the lives of at-risk and homeless individuals and families and coordinating our responses in ways that make the most sense to people who are homeless, while at the same time promoting levels of efficiency and effectiveness that are particularly essential in lean economic times.

So, as we move into 2012, I want to commend those partners in government as well as providers of housing and services and within our own philanthropic sector who are shifting toward more systemic, strategic, and effective approaches to the work of ending homelessness. The problem of homelessness may continue to seem daunting, but if we can make progress during a severe recession, we must be doing something right. And, as the economy recovers, the lessons we are learning right now will help to magnify the impact of our efforts in the years that lie ahead.

We can, and will, end homelessness in the United States.

Best wishes to all of you for the holidays, and for our continued work and progress in the New Year towards our goal of enhomelessness in the United States. Best wishes to all of you for the holidays, and for our continued work and progress in the New Year towards our goal of ending homelessness.

David_Wertheimer_2012a.jpgDavid Wertheimer is the Deputy Director of the Pacific Northwest Initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, as well as the Board Chair of Funders Together to End Homelessness.



We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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