Rare, Brief, and One-Time: Ending Homelessness in America

March 9, 2018

Matthew delivered these remarks at the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Los Angeles on March 3, 2018. His remarks were edited slightly for print.

Image Courtesy of @naehomelessness

It’s always an honor to be a part of this event. I am humbled by – and inspired by - the opportunity to keep working with all of you – and with the amazing team at USICH.

A big focus for the whole team right now is revising and strengthening the federal strategic plan. We’re committed to building upon the tremendous impact that Opening Doors has had on our shared work, as well as setting a course forward that’s right for 2018 and for the years ahead.

That should be a surprise to no one - we’ve been doing stakeholder input sessions across the country, including with people with lived experiences of homelessness. We’ve also received hundreds of comments through our website .

The Plan

As we consider all that input, we’re crafting a plan that is squarely focused on the goal that I know we all share: Ensuring that homelessness is a rare, brief, and one-time experience in our country. And that’s for everyone. For families with children. For youth and young adults. For Veterans. For single adults. For people with disabilities.

Rare, brief, and one time: That’s the vision that is driving our work – so we’re also making it the backbone of the revised plan.


The plan will focus on federal strategies to help make sure that homelessness does not happen nearly as often, including strategies for system-building, partnerships with mainstream systems, and a greater emphasis on diversion strategies and on better preventing housing crises and homelessness.


We’ll be emphasizing federal strategies to support comprehensive outreach, low barrier emergency shelter, strong coordinated entry systems, and swift connections to many different forms of permanent housing—with Housing First practices underpinning every element of our response.


The “one-time” section of the plan will focus on helping ensure that people exit to permanent housing stably and successfully. And that they can then use that housing as a platform for accessing other opportunities and for pursuing their goals and dreams for themselves and for their families.

But once homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time, we’ll need to sustain that success. So, the plan will also include strategies to help states and communities build lasting systems now that will be able to respond to housing instability and homelessness quickly and efficiently into the future.

We’re currently aiming to get the new version of the plan into your hands just in time for this summer’s NAEH conference – but we may have to adjust that timing to get it to final form.

Our Biggest Challenges

Clearly, for this plan to succeed, we’ll need to confront some major challenges together.

We’ll need to make sure that we can sustain and build upon the momentum that we’ve generated; and we’ll need to create that momentum on behalf of every population experiencing homelessness. And we’ll need to sustain that momentum throughout the long and hard job of taking what we know works to the scale that we need—including access to enough housing that people can truly afford.

We’ve got to do more to respond to the real and nightly crisis of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. But we must not repeat past mistakes of focusing only on where people will be tonight without also planning for where people will succeed in the long term.

And as we tackle these challenges, we’ve got to do the hard work—within ourselves, within our agencies, and within our communities—to confront and eliminate inequities in risks and experiences of homelessness. That is going to require the mobilization of many other partners and systems, like the justice system, that help create those disparities.

This conference has me feeling energized and motivated to tackle every one of the challenges that we must face together. I hope you all feel the same, because without your partnership, the new version of the federal plan will just be words—probably a lot of words—on paper.

Together, I know we can carry this work forward and take it to new heights—until we’ve ended homelessness, once and for all. Until it is truly a rare, brief, and one-time experience in our communities. Thank you for your partnership and for all that you do every single day.

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