Nan Roman, President
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Conference on Ending Homelessness
July 12, 2010
The year 2010 is a momentous one for many reasons. First, 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; therefore,
it is quite possible that the worst of the economy’s impact on homelessness has yet to
be seen. Furthermore, state and local governments are now beginning to cut their
budgets so the resources to help people will diminish just as the demand goes up.
On the other hand, 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 (ECF), and the softening of the rental
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. Despite these successes,
serious concerns remain about the future.
HPRP has been particularly helpful because it lets us help a lot of people and we hope to
stem the threatened tide of increased homelessness with it. We also see a growing
systems change impact from HPRP, just as we at the Alliance had hoped. HPRP allows
communities to experiment with how to prevent homelessness. It also allows you to try
out diversion and rapid re-housing. These three things will be extremely important
when the new Continuum of Care (CoC) program – HEARTH – kicks in in 2011.
It is critical for us to learn from HPRP, and the information is starting to come in. On the
one hand, there has been a lot of creaming, a hesitancy to really take a chance on
people, and failure to connect with mainstream resources. On the other hand, HPRP
has helped a lot of people by letting communities experiment with prevention and re-
housing, and, most importantly it has built our capacity to assess need, help people with
housing, and deliver important new strategies. Last but not least, it has helped us get
ready for HEARTH, making HPRP a program with an impact that exceeds its size.
This year is also the tenth anniversary of the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. 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
There were four parts to the framework we proposed at that time: (1) create plans to
end homelessness in ten years based on data; (2) close the front door into homelessness
through prevention; (3) open the back door out of homelessness with housing and
connections to services and employment; and (4) build the infrastructure of housing,
income and services that protects poor people from becoming homeless.
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 homelessness system to
accommodate the growing problem. Today, the focus is on solving the problem – on
being better and smarter rather than just bigger. We are focusing on housing rather
than shelter; on solutions rather than band-aids. I think that today the idea of planning
to end homelessness is well accepted and indeed we are all moving in that direction.
We have made progress on each of the four parts of the Ten Year Plan. In terms of
creating plans based on data, we have come a long way and are doing well. Virtually
every community has a plan to end homelessness or chronic homelessness.
Furthermore, almost every community has data from point-in-time (PIT) counts and
HMIS. Obviously, we need to improve but we have turned the ship. We are not building
a multi-billion dollar system based on anecdotes and intuitiveness any more; we are
building a problem-solving machine based on evidence and data.
With respect to the front door, there are two types of prevention. The first is
emergency prevention which consists of resolving an immediate crisis (eviction,
violence) that is the direct cause of the homeless episode. The second is systems
prevention, which consists of ensuring people have a safety net of housing, income and
services that shields them from those crises and from homelessness. We are getting a
lot of experience with emergency prevention because of HPRP. 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 homeless is a misallocation of resources. We should be using the HPRP and
HEARTH experiences to continue to learn how to target prevention in our communities.
On systems prevention, we had not done as 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. In this area, we need to improve.
The third part of the plan was to close the back door; that is, get people back into
housing faster and link them with services and employment. Here you are doing great
work! 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 and 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 all of you and adopted by Congress, the Administration, and other
communities across the nation. Congratulations! The real innovation has been in new
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, and child welfare and corrections are
still feeder systems into homelessness.
In the past year, people’s incomes have gone down, unemployment has gone up,
poverty has gone up, and the housing crisis remains. Despite these ongoing challenges,
there has been good news in the past year. Health care reform will make medical care
available to many of the people we are concerned about which will help stabilize their
lives and fund services in your programs. 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!
Based upon this Ten Year Plan progress report, what has been the overall result of all
this ten year planning? First, a movement to end homelessness is now underway.
Second, there are lots of new partners to join the nonprofits that once carried all the
water. For example, mayors and governors are on board and the Administration is on
board with the Federal Strategy to End Homelessness. Both Republicans and Democrats
in Congress are on board. We have many national organization partners from the fields
of housing, health, mental health, law, real estate, politics, and corrections. The idea of
preventing and ending homelessness is even catching on internationally – we have quite
a few people with us here from Australia, which completed its national plan before the
U.S. did, and Canada, which has considerable local and provincial planning going on.
The bottom line, though, has to be whether or not our Ten Year Plan effort ended
homelessness? And the answer to that question, sadly, is no. However, we have made
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. The numbers kept climbing.
In July 2000 we announced our Ten Year Plan.
The first national data we have after beginning our Plan is from 2005. From that point
on for the next few years, the numbers started going down. This does not mean that
there were fewer homeless people in every community, and we know the limitations of
the national data -- but still we had turned the corner.
Today, the economy is causing and will cause tremendous upward pressure on the
number of homeless people. Really, just holding the number steady would be a great
victory in this environment. That is exactly what you have done in the past year. We
basically held even between 2008 and 2009. Within those numbers, chronic
homelessness continues to go down but it is of great concern that the number of
homeless families is going up. It is 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 in Alameda County/Oakland, California, family
homelessness went down 37 percent, and Wichita, Kansas and Quincy, Massachusetts
cut chronic homelessness by over half. Chicago, Denver, and Fort Worth each reduced
homelessness by over 10 percent in just a few years. It is clear that the movement to
end homelessness in ten years has made a difference and continues to do so.
Have we learned more about what really works to bring the numbers down? What are
the real key strategies that help fuel these reductions?
There are some critical things that make a difference within the homeless system.
Where the numbers go down, shelter has the proper role – not as a place to live, but as
a decent, respectful, resourceful place to stay and provide people in a crisis with help to
move 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. Then again, it is difficult to target and difficult to predict who is
going to become homeless or 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 is another strategy that has been successful in ending homelessness.
Despite its demonstrated success, as it is more widely implemented through HPRP I hear
a lot of concern about whether people who receive rapid re-housing assistance will be
able to sustain their housing once the assistance ends. Are they being set up to fail?
We should of course be concerned about sustainability. But we must consider the
alternatives. The alternatives to rapid re-housing are staying in shelter/transitional
housing, or Section 8. Section 8 is the best solution, of course, but it is simply not
available in most cases. That leaves shelter/transitional housing: are they more
successful in helping households achieve sustainable housing? Most people exit shelter/
transitional housing with neither rent assistance nor significantly increased incomes, so I
do not believe that they do a better job. This leaves me a little perplexed as to why
communities that have not been concerned about housing sustainability for households
exiting shelter/transitional housing are so concerned that a little more help in the form
of rent assistance through rapid re-housing is somehow going to put these households
at risk. I think that providing some rent assistance through rapid re-housing is a really
Another key strategy is services. People experiencing homelessness do need services,
but most of those services will be more effective if they are delivered once the
household is stabilized in housing. While they are homeless, the households need crisis
resolution services to solve immediate problems. Then they need hands-on assistance
to link them to community-based services. Finally, they may need to be able to come
back to the homeless program for services if the community services become
unavailable. We have to be careful not to keep people homeless so that we can give
Another critical and successful strategy is permanent supportive housing. Increasing the
supply of permanent supportive housing reduces homelessness nearly everywhere it is
tried. It works, but only if it is targeted to people who really need it. It is the solution
to housing people with serious chronic disabilities – it is not the solution to problems
like child welfare, domestic violence, prison reentry. Again, targeting is critical.
There are also some key things that make a difference in the mainstream systems.
Where there is success, mainstream systems like welfare, child welfare, and corrections
routinely assess and address the housing needs of their consumers. Other mainstream
systems like corrections and mental health plan for discharge and reentry from
institutional settings. There is also a focus on creating more affordable housing and
housing the lowest income people while helping people increase their incomes 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 and we have changed the
trajectory of homelessness, but we have not ended homelessness. We are on the right
track, but we are not there yet.
The really exciting news is that while you have achieved all that you have done in the
past ten years to end homelessness really without a federal partner, that is now
changing. This is particularly 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. We know that having a strong federal partner will really make a
I am not going to talk about the Federal Strategic Plan because Secretary Donovan,
chairman of the U.S. Interagency Council and Secretary Shinseki will speak about it over
the next few days, as will Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the U.S. 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 own
ten year plans.
The federal goals are ambitious. Ending chronic homelessness in five years means we
will need at least 20,000 units of permanent supportive housing each year – we are only
adding 6-8,000 a year now. Ending veteran 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. As for youth,
we do not even have a baseline number, making it pretty clear that there is a long way
The Plan really opens the door for links to the mainstream programs. These ambitious
goals are a fantastic development and a genuine opportunity. However, while the Plan
lays out some of what the federal government is going to do, it certainly does not 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? To end
homelessness, we have to make the homeless system as effective as 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 them to make sure they are on target and comprehensive. Further, there are
three things that will make an immediate difference in ending homelessness. They are
hard things to do, but I challenge you to take them on.
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 and 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, the role of mainstream systems has thus far been a weak link in ten year plans.
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 have not
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 area signed up for insurance within
six months of eligibility. Streamline the process so that 50 percent 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 lifetime opportunity.
Third, the HEARTH Act lays out our goal: no one should be homeless for longer than 20
days and the recidivism rate should be less than 5 percent 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 20 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.
In closing: identify and house the most vulnerable and get Medicaid on board. Make
sure no one is homeless for more than twenty 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 was not an
aspiration. We meant it. We were not 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 again.”
Sadly, I cannot say that. We have not 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 did not quite make it in ten
years, but we will get there. So let’s get to work.