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National Coalition for the Homeless
Response to
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness

On June 22, 2010, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) delivered Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness 2010, the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness to President Obama and Congress (available at www.usich.gov and www.hud.gov).

“It is simply unacceptable for individuals, children, families and our nation’s Veterans to be faced with homelessness in this country.” - President Barack Obama

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) was given a mandate by the United States Congress to create a plan to end America’s homelessness through the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEART Act). On June 22, 2010, the USICH released its highly anticipated plan: Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness. (Opening Doors)The report will serve as a guiding and strategic framework to the Obama administration as it confronts the issue of homelessness and related domestic policies. The stated vision of the plan is “…no one should experience homelessness – no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.” The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is encouraged by the plan’s production, by the agreement and collaboration that occurred among the nineteen (19) member agencies of USICH and by the level of active consultation from people who are or have experienced homelessness and consultation from homeless advocate which informed the direction, diction and narrative of this important plan.

The plan’s goals include: finishing the job of ending chronic homelessness in 5 years; preventing and ending homelessness among veterans in 5 years; preventing and ending homelessness for families, youth and children in 10 years and setting a path to ending all types of homelessness. The objectives of the plan are structured thematically, specifically by increasing leadership, collaboration and civic engagement, increasing access to stable and affordable housing, increasing economic security, improving health and stability and retooling the homeless crisis response system.

In accepting the plan, President Obama expressed the importance of tackling “national challenges like homelessness.”  The identification of the un-housed as a national challenge emphasizes the need for national solutions to homelessness. The report is groundbreaking, comprehensive in its scope and provides an outline for future policy related actions.  Many homeless advocates applaud the plan for it is description of the causes of homelessness and its explanation of the multiple concerns often faced by individuals experiencing homelessness.

As a planning document, Opening Doors supports the intuition and judgment that policymakers have brought to this strategic process. NCH is pleased that the report suggests a useful direction forward and enumerates methods that, if and when implemented, may indeed contribute to preventing and reducing homelessness. NCH supports the plan’s inclusive understanding of varied homeless living arrangements. USICH’s decision to use a fully inclusive understanding of homeless living arrangements in the planning efforts should be useful in designing and delivering responses appropriate for most homeless Americans.  NCH urges USICH and policy-makers to ensure future policy responses to homelessness are informed by a similarly inclusive understanding of homelessness. Building from a framework that utilizes an inclusive understanding of homeless living arrangements, the plan also mobilizes mainstream poverty programs in the homeless response system, including, but not limited to, “integrating primary and behavioral health care services with homeless assistance programs.” If successfully implemented, this may help to eliminate continued barriers to healthcare faced by so many individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Despite the many commendable elements in the plan, there are areas of concern which cannot be ignored. The plan’s strategies are general in nature and lack action steps. Further, points of responsibility remain nebulous. The lack of specific implementation steps and cost estimates are cause for concerns. Many of the methods outlined are vague and without firm commitment to allocate funds and implement strategies, there will certainly be continued need for further discussion and action to address this national priority.

In his acceptance letter of the plan, President Obama stated “The previous Administration began the work to end chronic homelessness. Now is the time to challenge our Nation to aspire to end homelessness across all populations—including families, youth, children, and veterans.” Despite Mr. Obama’s   statement, the plan continued disaggregation of people experiencing homelessness by demographic sub-groups and length of homelessness may further complicate an already complicated social concern and may further complicate efforts to develop and implemented effective responses. There is much talk of holding communities accountable. However, NCH strongly believes FSP must not create a double standard and must hold itself to the same strict standard that it holds for local communities: clear numeric goals, timetables, and identify funding and implementing bodies to ensure they move from planning to action.

NCH applauds the development of a plan and pledges to work with USICH to ensure that effective strategies are implemented, as its works towards the mutual mission of ending homelessness. We welcome the USICH and its members to embrace and fully support and fund the goal of the President Obama and NCH: Bring America Home.

About The National Coalition for the Homelessness

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is the oldest national homeless advocacy organization, founded in 1982 as a national network of un-housed people, together with activists, advocates, service providers, and others committed to the mission of ending America’s homelessness. NCH is committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness, while working to meet the immediate needs of those at-risk or experiencing homelessness. Further information about us is available at www.nationalhomeless.org.

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