As part of the National Coalition for the Homeless Board meeting, we had the privilege of meeting Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. He attended the meeting on Sunday afternoon before flying out of Washington. Attending with the Secretary was
long time HUD staff member Mark Johnston who is responsible for special populations for HUD. We have posted a summary of the meeting with the HUD Secretary in our latest newsletter (available on our website to our members on our website).
Donovan was complimentary of the work of the advocates and social service providers from around the country. He firmly believes that with a renewed commitment to prevention and moving people quickly into housing, we can end homelessness in America. We thanked him for the lengthy discussion with Jon Stewart on homelessness on the Daily Show. We do not hear much about homelessness on a national television show so this was a treat for advocates to see in early March. Donovan indicated that unlike most HUD programs there is bi-partician support for homeless programs. While homeless programs have faced level funding for the past two years, every other program has seen cuts. The President has proposed an increase in homeless funds for the 2013 budget in order to implement the HEARTH changes.
Shaun Donovan touted a HUD plan to address the mortgage crisis and provide resources for the National Housing Trust Fund. All of this was spelled out in testimony before Congress on March 21. He acknowledged the tough environment in Congress, which is making it difficult to serve all parts of the United States with housing assistance. Donovan agreed that HUD was a long way from implementing the goals contained in HEARTH especially those goals for rural housing. He said that HUD was doing all it could to get every subsidy fully utilized, and was urging the local communities to focus on providing those in need of the deepest subsidy. Donovan also had sent out a memo to the field asking the Public Housing groups to re-evaluate their policies around those re-entering. It seemed that there was a myth that HUD was pushing a policy to erect strict barriers to those with previous experience in the criminal justice system. This was not the case and the HUD Secretary's letter has resulted in many jurisdictions changing their plans to allow those re-entering after serving their time to find housing in the local community.
Donovan is looking at avenues for collaboration especially with the Department of Health and Human Services. He was hopeful that the new health care law would withstand challenge, because he indicated that it would go a long way to reducing homelessness. If those struggling with behavioral health can find a home to receive treatment, they are many steps closer to finding a residential home.
NCH members asked for a similar letter to the field from the Secretary about the importance of shelter. In a time of huge increases in need, some communities seem confused by the focus on prevention. Many are withdrawing funding for shelter to redirect resources to housing first initiatives. No matter how many times, Mark Johnston and other HUD officials say that shelter is still critical, cities are not hearing the message. We believe that a letter from the HUD Secretary clarifying that we need shelters as part of the strategy to end homelessness would go along way toward providing support for the shelters. In addition, we asked that homeless people be more involved in how funds are distributed. We want to see local officials meet with those living in the shelters to talk about funding priorities and strict oversight of the resources provided by HUD. Finally, we asked that the HUD Secretary put in a word with the President for a White House conference on homelessness.
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