Remarks by Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness
Remarks of Nan Roman at the
2010 Annual National Conference on Ending Homelessness
Welcome to the National Alliance to End Homelessness annual conference. Given the difficult
economic times, we are honored and delighted that you have joined us this year. We also
recognize that you are probably here BECAUSE these difficult times make it all the more
important that you are on top of everything that is happening, both in Washington and in the field.
And I can assure you that the staff of the Alliance has labored hard to make sure that the
conference is brimming with content. I know you find the information you’re looking for.
2010 is a momentous year for so many reasons.
First, it is momentous because of the terrible economy. We know that the recession is technically
over. But we also know that for poor people, the worst may be yet to come. Unemployment
hovers around 10%, and for poor people and in poor communities, it is much higher.
Unemployment and homelessness are inextricably linked, so the fact that unemployment
stubbornly refuses to go down is extremely worrisome.
We also know that homelessness is a lagging indicator, and therefore it is quite possible that the
worst of the economy’s impact on homelessness has yet to be seen.
Further, state and local governments are now really beginning to cut their budgets, so the
resources to help people will diminish just as the demand goes up.
On the plus side, we have certainly had some new resources to combat these problems, largely
through the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP), the TANF
Emergency Contingency Fund, and the softening of the housing market. So far, these have been
tremendously helpful and overall, while the number of homeless people is up in some places, it is
not up as much as it probably would have been – and in many places it is flat or going down. But
serious concerns remain about the future.
2010 has also been momentous because of HPRP.
All of us are so grateful for HPRP because it lets us help a lot of people and we hope to stem the
threatened tide of increased homelessness. But at the Alliance, we see more -- a growing
systems change impact from HPRP, just as we had hoped. HPRP allows communities to
experiment with how to prevent homelessness. It also allows you to try out diversion and rapid re-
housing. Prevention, diversion, and rapid re-housing will be extremely important when the new
Continuum of Care program – HEARTH -- kicks in in 2011.
So it’s critical for us to learn from HPRP – how are we doing?
The outcome is mixed.
On the one hand, there has been a lot of creaming, hesitancy to really take a chance on people,
and failure to connect the dots.
On the plus side, HPRP has helped a lot of people. It has let a lot of places experiment with
prevention and re-housing, and, most importantly, built our capacity to assess need, help people
with housing, and deliver important new strategies. And it has helped us get ready for HEARTH.
So, HPRP is a program with an impact that exceeds its size.
Finally, 2010 is momentous because it is the tenth anniversary of the Ten Year Plan to End
On July 13, in the year 2000, here in Washington, DC, the National Alliance to End
Homelessness challenged the nation and its communities to end homelessness in ten years.
You may be familiar with the framework we first proposed at that time. There were four parts:
• Create plans to END homelessness in ten years based on data.
• Close the front door into homelessness through prevention.
• Open the back door out of homelessness by focusing on housing and connections to
services and employment.
• Build the infrastructure of housing, income and services that protect poor people from
So today, on the tenth anniversary of the Ten Year Plan, it is only appropriate that we take stock
of where we stand ten years later.
Ten years ago, the focus was on building a bigger homeless system to accommodate the growing
problem. Today, the focus is on solving the problem – on being better and smarter rather than
just bigger. It’s a solution, not a band-aid. It’s housing, not shelter. I think that today the idea of
PLANNING to END homelessness is well accepted, and indeed that we are all moving in that
Where are we on the four parts of the original Ten Year Plan?
In terms of creating plans based on data, we’re doing good! Virtually every community has a plan
to end homelessness or chronic homelessness. And virtually every community has data from PIT
counts and HMIS. Obviously, we need to improve, but we have turned the ship. We’re not
building a multi-billion dollar system based on anecdotes and intuitiveness any more – we’re
building a problem-solving machine based on evidence and data.
In terms of closing the front door –prevention – we’re starting to get there. There are two types of
Emergency prevention – resolving an immediate crisis (eviction, violence) that is
the direct cause of the homeless episode.
Systems prevention – ensuring people have a safety net of housing, income and
services that shields them from those crises and from homelessness.
In terms of emergency prevention, we are getting a lot of experience because of HPRP. And
HEARTH will also give us more prevention resources. However, we have not been doing a great
job of really learning about prevention. Directing emergency prevention to people who are
unlikely to become homelessness is a misallocation of resources. So we should be using the
HPRP and HEARTH experiences to continue to learn how to target prevention in our
And on the systems side, we have not done so well. The weak link of much of the ten years
planning implementation has been meaningful partnership with the mainstream systems that
really must do most of the prevention. We need to improve.
The third part of the plan was the back door – getting people back into housing faster and linking
them with services and employment. Here you are doing gangbusters. HPRP, Housing First,
rapid re-housing, tens of thousands of units of permanent supportive housing, the efforts to end
chronic homelessness, housing locators, housing placement services, HUD-VASH, FUP,
transitioning in place, the new demonstration vouchers – all of these are new resources and new
strategies that have emerged in the past ten years to house people. These back door opening
approaches have been created by YOU and adopted by Congress, the Administration, and other
communities across the nation. Congratulations!! The real cauldron of innovation has been in
ways to get people into housing – just as it should be.
In terms of the fourth step of building the infrastructure of housing, services and incomes that will
ultimately sustain people, we all know that there is a LONG way to go.
TANF is still missing the most vulnerable families.
Child welfare is still a feeder system into homelessness and so is corrections.
People’s incomes are down
Unemployment is up
Poverty is up
Housing crisis remains
There IS a little bit of good news in the past year.
Health care reform will provide health care to many of the people we care about, which
will help stabilize their lives and fund services in your programs.
And of course the National Housing Trust Fund was passed, and we still have faith –
backed up by a willingness to ADVOCATE – that it will get funded this year!!
So that’s a progress report on the existing Ten Year Plan -- what is the overall result of all this ten
A movement to end homelessness is now underway.There are lots of new partners to join the
nonprofits that once carried all the water.
Mayors and Governors are on board
The Administration in on board with the Federal Strategy to End Homelessness
Congress is on board – both Republicans & Democrat
We have a boatload of national organization partners from the fields of housing, health,
mental health, law, real estate, politics, corrections etc.
The idea is even catching on internationally – We have quite a few people here from
Australia, which actually completed its plan to end homelessness before we did! And
from Canada, which is also on board.
The bottom line, though, has to be, has our ten year plan effort ended homelessness? And the
answer to that question, sadly, is no. However, we have made progress. Before the plan,
homelessness was going up.
There were two national counts prior to the plan – 1987 and 1997. In 1987 there were around
550,000 homeless people (remember, the crisis only emerged in the 1980s). By 1997 it had
climbed to over 800,000
In 2000 we announced the plan.
The next national data was in 2005, and from that point on for the next few years, the trajectory
was downward. This does not mean that there were fewer homeless people in every community,
and we all know the limitations of the national data. But still we turned the corner. Today, the
economy is causing and will cause tremendous upward pressure on the numbers. Really, just
holding the number steady would be a great victory in this environment. And that is exactly what
you have done in the past year. We basically held even between 2008 and 2009. Within that,
chronic homelessness continues to go down, but it is of great concern that the number of
homeless families is going up.
Now this is overall national data, but it’s also important to point out that those communities that
were really serious about implementing their plan, or key strategies, have seen even more
exciting results. For example:
Alameda County./Oakland CA – Family homelessness down 37%
Wichita, KS and Quincy MA cut chronic homelessness by over half.
Chicago, Denver and Fort Worth reduced homelessness overall by over 10 percent in
just a few years.
So it is clear to me that the movement to end homelessness in ten years HAS made a difference
and continues to do so.
Specifically, what have we learned that really works? What are the really key strategies that help
communities achieve these reductions?
There are some very critical things that make a difference within the homeless system. Where
the numbers go down….
There is shelter, but shelter has the proper role – not as a place to live, but as a decent,
respectful, resourceful place to stay where people in a crisis can get help moving along.
Places that see homelessness as a crisis that has to be resolved do better than those
that see it as a condition.
Assessment and Targeting are key and very difficult at the systems level. It is in some
ways intuitive to focus resources on people who we think can succeed. However, the
more we cream, the less progress we make. The more deeply we target, the more
progress we make. But then again, it is difficult to target. You can’t predict who is going
to become homeless. You can’t predict who is going to become chronically homeless.
For this reason, we have to use data and research in a constant feedback loop to
improve our knowledge of how to assess risk and target resources.
Rapid Re-housing. There remain a lot of concerns about rapid re-housing, primarily
around whether people can sustain their housing. A few observations. One, more than
half of low income people pay more than half of their income for rent. It’s not a good
thing, but it’s reality. Yet many communities feel that giving households less than a
Section 8 type subsidy is WORSE than giving them nothing because they won’t be able
to sustain their housing. Yet the evidence is that millions of poor households do just that.
And, since transitional housing and shelter are not increasing people’s incomes enough
to pay for housing either, and yet they constantly exit homelessness and don’t return, I’m
not sure why that alternative is better. So the evidence is that any rent subsidy is better
than no rent subsidy.
Services. Of course, our folks do need services. They need crisis resolution. And they
need hands on assistance to link them to community-based services. And they need
someplace to come back to if the community services don’t take. We need to train
ourselves to do that because we shouldn’t be keeping people homeless so that we can
give them services. They can get the services while they’re in housing.
Permanent Supportive Housing. It works. But it is too expensive to give to people who
don’t need it and it has to be flexible. It is the solution to housing people with serious
chronic disabilities – it isNOT the solution to every problem – child welfare, domestic
violence, prison reentry. Again, targeting.
There are also some key things that make a difference in the mainstream system. Where there’s
• Mainstream systems like welfare, child welfare, corrections routinely assess and address
housing needs of their consumers.
• Mainstream systems like corrections and mental health plan for discharge and reentry
from institutional settings.
• There is a focus on creating more affordable housing and housing the lowest income
• There is a focus on helping people increase their income through benefits and
employment. TANF is altered so that the most vulnerable families are helped instead of
sanctioned. The Workforce Investment System is incentivized to help homeless people
find work – not disincentivized from doing so.
In summary, we have learned a lot about how to end homelessness since 2000. The
fundamentals were correct. We have turned the ship. We have changed the trajectory of
homelessness, but we have not ended homelessness
So we’re on the right track, but we’re not there yet.
The really exciting news is that although you have achieved all that you have done in the past ten
years to end homelessness really without a federal partner – that is changing. And that is really
good news, because in the one area where we did have something of a strong federal partner –
on chronic homelessness – we have made MUCH more progress. So we know that having a
strong federal partner will really make a difference.
I am not going to talk about the Federal Strategic Plan, because Secretary Donovan, chairman of
the US Interagency Council, and Secretary Shinseki will speak about it over the next few days, as
will Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness and her
staff. But the Federal Plan is great. It has clear goals and a clear timetable and they are
completely consistent with the goals and approach of the Alliance Ten Year Plan and with the
work that many of you have done on your ten year plans.
These goals are ambitious. Ending chronic homelessness in 5 years means we will need at least
20,000 units of permanent supportive housing each year – we are adding more like 6-8,000 a
year now. Ending veterans homelessness will mean reducing the number of homeless veterans
by 20,000 plus per year – not to Grant and Per Diem programs, but to housing. Ending family
homelessness in ten years means not only will we have to massively step up the pace of housing
families, but that we will have to figure out how to massively reduce the number of families
BECOMING homeless. And as for youth, we don’t even have a baseline number, but it’s pretty
clear that there is a long way to go.
The plan really opens the door for links to the mainstream programs.
These ambitious goals are a fantastic development and a genuine opportunity.
But while the plan lays out some of what the Federal government is going to do, it certainly
doesn’t mean that everyone should just sit back and wait for them to end homelessness. All of
the partners have to be in play to move forward.
So what are our next action items on the route to ending homelessness?
Well, to end homelessness, we have to make the homeless system as effective as humanly
possible, and we have to get our mainstream systems to stop making people homeless and start
addressing vulnerable people’s housing needs.
Of course, your ten year plans approach these problems, and one thing you should do is update
your Ten Year Plans to make sure they are on target and comprehensive. Further, there are 3
things that will make an immediate difference in ending homelessness. They are hard things to
First, house the most vulnerable people. In a few minutes, Common Ground is going to
announce a national campaign to house the 100,000 most vulnerable people. I will let them tell
you about it, but this Campaign is entirely consistent with the proven strategies to end
homelessness that I talked about before -- with ending chronic homelessness, with ten year
plans, and with the federal plan. We MUST target the most vulnerable people, we MUST ensure
that they get into permanent supportive housing. What can you do in your community? You can
join the Campaign. You can find out, or create a registry of, the most vulnerable people – those
vulnerable to death, those who have been homeless the longest, those who have been homeless
for three years or longer, those who live outside, those who are over 50 -- use whatever criteria
you want, but set the goal of housing them this year. In city after city, this strategy brings down
the numbers. We urge all of you to adopt it.
Second, a weak link in the plans has been the role of mainstream systems. In that regard, there
is a TREMENDOUS opportunity coming down the pike with the implementation of health care
reform and the expansion of Medicaid. If you haven’t already done so, an immediate objective
should be to create a practical health care collaboration with your state and set some clear goals
for this partnership with respect to homelessness. Get everyone in your catchment signed up for
insurance within six months of eligibility. Streamline the process so that 50% more nonprofits can
bill Medicaid for services within a year. Or set whatever goals are appropriate locally. This is a
must-do, once in a life-time opportunity.
Third, the HEARTH Act lays out our goal – no one should be homeless for longer than 20 days.
The recidivism rate should be less than 5% per year. This does not mean that people are kicked
out of shelter after 20 days. It means that our homeless system is organized to help someone
exit shelter for housing within twenty days – the burden is on us.
One other quick thing. In terms of youth – we MUST have a baseline number of homeless youth
as a first step to getting a handle on this problem. A to-do – 2011 is a point in time count year.
Start preparing NOW for those special strategies that will be needed to create a full count of
homeless youth in the 2011 count
So, identify and house the most vulnerable, get Medicaid on board; and make sure no one is
homeless more than 20 days. The strategies you are going to learn about over the next days, the
work you have all been doing, lead us to these immediate next steps.
In 2000, when we set the goal of ending homelessness in ten years, it wasn’t an aspiration. We
meant it. We weren’t describing a dream – we were looking for a plan.
In July 2000, I had hoped that in July 2010 I could say this to you. “I stand before you today to
say that, to all extents and purposes homelessness has been ended. People still have housing
crises and loads of problems. There are still poor people and not all of their needs are met. But
while people do lose their housing, there is a system in place to quickly get them a new place to
live. No one stays homeless long – no one lives in shelter. Homelessness is a brief, isolated
incident for a small number of people who are quickly re-housed and never become homeless
Sadly, I can’t say that. We haven’t ended homelessness. But we are beginning to see what
ending homelessness looks like.
Ending homelessness is still our goal and our mission and I know it is one we share with you.
Maybe we didn’t quite make it in 10 years, but we’ll get there. So let’s get to work.