The Federal Strategic Plan To End Homelessness: Turning the Plan into Action

On Tuesday, June 22, the federal government officially joined the rest of America as a partner in the housing- and outcome-focused movement to end homelessness in our nation. In Opening Doors: the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH -- made up of all the agencies whose work touches on the problem, and chaired by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan) presented the first-ever, comprehensive federal plan to reduce the number of homeless people to zero. According to President Obama, "...ending homelessness in America must be a national priority."

The plan sets ambitious measurable goals that will be the key to driving progress. They include: ending veterans homelessness in five years, ending chronic homelessness in five years, and ending family and youth homelessness in 10 years. Unambiguous goals coupled with an ambitious, but do-able, time frame are critical to success.

Local communities have known this for years. In 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness launched A Plan, Not a Dream: A Plan to End Homelessness in the United States. Drawing upon existing research and best practices, the campaign outlined the key strategies necessary to end homelessness and offered communities a step-by-step way to do so at the local level -- including clear goals and measurable outcomes.

And such plans proved successful -- communities from Quincy, MA to Denver, Colo. to Alameda County, Calif. have reduced chronic and family homelessness based on their plans and using the very strategies the Alliance recommended. To date, over 266 communities have developed community plans to end homelessness based on Alliance's framework.

Though the task ahead seems formidable, progress has already been made. In the recently released 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress -- the HUD-authored evaluation of homelessness in the country -- findings suggested a 10 percent reduction in the levels of chronic homelessness, despite an increase in the number of families seeking shelter.

The latter finding is largely attributed to the recession, but the former indicates a triumph of what we've managed to learn and implement. Chronic homelessness has long been the focus of both the federal government's efforts around homelessness and many of the initial community plans. The local-federal partnership on the problem yielded measurable results from 2005 to 2008, stalling momentarily as the recession set in. This year's numbers suggest that progress has resumed.

This shows that when the federal government sets a clear goal and reorganizes its resources to achieve it, progress can be made. Opening Doors expands this approach to include the other major segments of the homeless population. There is every reason to believe that the results will be similarly successful.

Of course, plans are wonderful, but it is the implementation that will really make a difference. The Obama administration has already given some indication that it can and will make the necessary changes. The plan proposes an unprecedented level of collaboration among agencies -- a major barrier to progress at the local level -- and this collaboration has already begun. The administration has asked for significant additional funds in 2011 to end veteran homelessness, and to launch a new collaborative housing and services program that will end homelessness for thousands of families and disabled individuals. It is hoped that Congress, where homelessness has long been a bipartisan issue, will concur and give the Administration and communities the tools they need to make progress.

We welcome the federal government's plan and their commitment to ending homelessness using the guidelines set forth by Opening Doors. Indeed, with the renewed commitment of our federal partner, we are confident that we can make step-by-step progress until, at last, we are able to provide all people a place to call home.