The Time to Seize Historic Opportunities is Now
It is truly an honor to have this opportunity to serve as Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and to help carry forward the great work of this agency and of my predecessors. It is also a distinct privilege to work with the fantastic team of staff we have at USICH, both the team working here in DC and our Regional Coordinators working out in the field. Finally, I am humbled by the many sacrifices that my husband, Dean Thorp, is making so that I can step into this role.
USICH’s work is successful because of our strong partnerships with other Federal agencies and their incredibly committed leaders and staff, and because of the collaborative efforts of dedicated people working in states and local communities. Together, we are at a critical point in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness in the United States; we’ve made unprecedented progress and can point to substantial accomplishments under all of the objectives within Opening Doors, but clearly there remains much more work to be done. While we have seen significant reductions in the numbers of people experiencing homelessness documented through the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count, the fact that the 2014 PIT count identified 578,424 people experiencing the crisis of homelessness, and other data such as from HUD’s Worst Case Housing Needs report, serve as a staunch reminder that housing affordability, housing instability, and homelessness continue to be national challenges—challenges that we must and can successfully address.
As described in Opening Doors, our focus is on ending homelessness for all populations, and we must seize this historic opportunity to expand housing for every child, youth, family, and individual struggling to achieve stability within our communities. Seizing this opportunity will require a lot of continued hard work, and some of our highest priorities at USICH this year include:
- Releasing an Amendment to Opening Doors to continue to focus our Federal strategies, but also to guide efforts in states and communities, which will include an operational definition of an end to homelessness, update the timing of the goal of ending chronic homelessness from 2015 to 2017, clarify the role of Medicaid in financing services in permanent supportive housing, provide clearer guidance on retooling the crisis response system, and add emphasis on the use of data on decision-making and performance management to prevent and end homelessness.
- Supporting the efforts of HUD and VA to deploy HUD-VASH and SSVF resources quickly and with effective targeting, and the work of communities to make a final push toward achieving the goal of ending Veterans homelessness. We’ll also be encouraging communities to perform unsheltered PIT counts in 2016 so that we can accurately assess our progress.
- Preparing USICH’s Youth Report to Congress, which will outline how Federal programs can better coordinate to meet the needs of youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness. It will also identify best practices across agencies, opportunities for stronger cross-agency collaboration, and recommendations to further support efforts to impact each of the four core outcomes under the preliminary intervention model.
- Working with our Federal partners to more fully engage mainstream programs like TANF, Community Services Block Grants, schools, workforce systems, child welfare programs, and others to provide coordinated services linked to housing assistance for families experiencing homelessness.
- Supporting the President’s FY 2016 Budget requests for ending homelessness, which would provide the resources necessary to end chronic homelessness nationally in 2017, sustain an end to homelessness among Veterans, and make significant progress on ending homelessness for families, children, and youth.
- Providing guidance and technical assistance to states and communities on how to take full advantage of the opportunities in the Affordable Care Act to improve health care access for people experiencing homelessness and finance services in permanent supportive housing.
- Supporting the implementation of coordinated entry systems with the capacity to assess and connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to interventions and assistance tailored to their specific needs.
- Increasing access to affordable housing by encouraging and supporting public housing authorities, state housing finance agencies, and owners of multifamily housing to prioritize housing assistance to people experiencing homelessness and collaborate with Continuums of Care and supportive services providers.
- Providing guidance to communities on alternatives to criminalization, promoting housing solutions that can break the cycle of homelessness and incarceration, and also releasing a document outlining the strategies communities can implement to create effective solutions for people living in encampments.
- Strengthening connections between workforce systems and homelessness and housing systems to create meaningful employment and career opportunities for people who are experiencing or have exited homelessness and to coordinate employment services with housing.
- Continuing to expand the implementation of Housing First practices and approaches across all elements of our homelessness services and housing systems.
To be successful, we want and need to hear from you. How can these priorities best support progress in your community? How can USICH and our Federal partners better support the work in your state or community? What gaps need to be filled in resources and capacity locally? What regulations and policies need to be clarified or modified to help you be most successful? What lessons are you learning? What best practices and innovations are helping lead to greater success that other communities can replicate? What have you tried that has failed and how has that failure sharpened your approaches? Let us know by reaching out to me, to other staff at USICH, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Only by working together can we seize this historic opportunity.