Homelessness Will End in the United States in Ten Years?

by Ivan Sheehan

        From Alaska to Maine homelessness will soon be a thing of the past in the United States if everything goes according to the plan.

      A formal 10-year plan was first introduced in 2000 by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonprofit organization “whose mission is to mobilize the nonprofit, public and private sectors of society in an alliance to end homelessness,” according to the NAEH’s Web site. Today the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, in accordance with the NAEH’s proposal, requires all communities to have a 10-year plan to end homelessness.

      The NAEH’s plan is a straightforward, and clearly outlined four-step process to end homelessness in the span of a decade. According to its directive, communities must, “plan for outcomes, close the front door, open the back door and build the infrastructure.”

     But support for this grand undertaking begins with the Administration and Congress.

     “Local 10-year plans are very effective at achieving the aims of the folks who put Bush in office,” says Chance Martin of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco. “They simply want Joe Panhandler displaced from his customary location on the sidewalk so he doesn’t discourage customers or negatively impact their property value.”

     Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are crucial to providing shelter for homeless people. As such, the Administration’s fiscal year budget proposal for 2005 cut funding for the Section 8 vouchers by nearly $1.6 billion – thereby eliminating vouchers for approximately 250,000 individuals. In addition, for the 2006 FY proposal, HUD has suggested measures that would lower the effectiveness of the program. The vouchers are currently afforded to those whose income levels fall 30% below the area median income. HUD plans to eliminate this “profiling,” and distribute the funds to those homeless that really need it, according to a February 2005 NAEH news release.

   Also in the works for next year’s budget to help end homelessness is reduced funding for Housing for People With Disabilities and Housing for People With AIDS; the proposed elimination of the Community Services Block Grant, which received $637 million last year, and reduced funding for public housing in the form of a $252 million cut to the Public Housing Capital Fund.

      However, the Administration has introduced the Samaritan Initiative, which will provide local 10-year plans efforts with only a fraction of the funding Bush’s budgets continue to cut from HUD’s Section 8, according to Martin.

      “As with other communities, the present state of the economy continues to most severely affect low-income families and individuals,” says Tom Albanese, Director of the Columbus Community Shelter Board.

     Despite low wages, lack of employee benefits, a dearth of affordable housing and discharges from treatment and correctional institutions into homeless shelters, optimism abounds in regional proposals and progress reports throughout the country.

    “Without a serious and concerted effort to create more affordable housing, it likely doesn’t matter whether a city has a 10-year plan or a 10-decade plan,” says Martin.

     Minnesota will be one of the first states to end homelessness. A proposal submitted to the Minnesota Legislature in March 2004 by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Minnesota Department of Corrections and Minnesota Housing Finance Agency notes the creation of a $540 million, “business plan to end long-term homelessness by 2010.” Further west, Clark County, Washington, also plans to end homelessness in its area the same year.

    In Ohio, the initial 10-year plan in Columbus was developed in 2002 to comply with HUD requirements. “The plan itself covers the period 2002-2011, however most action steps identified had timeframes that were short-term,” says Albanese. “We update the 10-year plan annually. However the plan is only a general framework that catalogues our efforts in a variety of areas.”

     Major metropolitan areas including Louisville and Indianapolis, which released its final 10-year plan with the support of Mayor Bart Peterson in April 2002, hope to complete plans near 2011. Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daly has endorsed plans to end all homelessness in the city by 2012, while the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s proposal explains that, “with full participation of all local, state and national stakeholders there are adequate resources to end homelessness in 10 years.”

      2014 promises to be a big year for the homeless community – if there still is one, of course. Washington D.C., San Antonio (chronic homelessness only), Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon; Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Evansville and Vanderburgh County, Indiana, all have plans to rid each respective region of homelessness by 2014. In addition, the state of Utah, South Carolina, Hawaii, North Carolina, Vermont and Georgia all have similar statewide plans to eliminate homelessness around those years.

       Homeless Organizations Providing Empowerment for the Homeless, a collaborative in Northwest Louisiana promises, “by the year 2014, all individuals and families facing homelessness in Northwest Louisiana will have alternatives and access to safe, decent and affordable housing and resources and supports needed to sustain it.”

      Cities such as New York and San Francisco with significant homeless problems are adhering to the 10-year plan. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg organized the Uniting for Solutions Beyond Shelter movement in New York City in 2003, and it features a 41-member committee of public, private and nonprofit leaders to address the issue of homelessness. “It reflects my strong belief that every individual and family deserves safe, affordable housing,” writes Bloomberg in a letter posted on the Uniting for Solutions Beyond Shelter web site.

       City planners in San Francisco, faced with the title of “homeless capital of the United States,” opted to end the problem of its estimated 3,000 chronically homeless people in 10 years, before attempting to secure housing for the nearly 15,000 homeless in the city and county of San Francisco. “We (Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco) have participated in crafting our local 10-year plan in good faith,” says Martin. “As a result of our involvement, we are proud to report that San Francisco’s 10-year plan includes planning for the needs of chronically homeless families and immigrants, which I believe is still the only local 10-year plan to address such needs.”

       The plan in Columbus and Franklin County, Ohio, addresses the concerns of the entire homeless community.

     “Our planning focuses on both the needs of chronic homeless persons and other persons experiencing short-term episodes of homelessness,” says Albanese. “We have multiple efforts occurring in both areas to meet the various housing and service needs of persons experiencing homelessness.

     “Our planning doesn’t include assumptions that Columbus/Franklin County will be ‘free of homelessness,’” adds Albanese. “ Our planning assumptions do, however, recognize that chronic homelessness can be ended for persons who have experienced long-term homelessness and struggles with a disability and that homelessness in general can be minimized.”

 Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #69, March 2005. All rights reserved.