This morning, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness announced the release of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. The plan, which will be the Obama Administration’s official policy position on homelessness, will give direction to the federal agencies and guidance to state and local governments.
The plan does a great job of outlining the issues. It’s comprehensive, covers all populations, and acknowledges different federal definitions of homelessness and their importance — as opposed to the Council’s past tendency to recognize only the HUD definition of homelessness. The goals are also good; this is the first federal government document to explicitly call for preventing and ending family homelessness in ten years.
But throughout the plan the strategies are vague. There is lots of talk about dissemination of best practices to states and localities, about more research, about reviewing federal programs to identify barriers that prevent homeless people from accessing housing or services. All very important things. But beyond items already in the President’s current (FY 2011) budget proposal, and lots of references to how most homeless people will have Medicaid in 2014 thanks to health reform, there are no specifics as to how the plan will be funded. After all, if the federal government wants to provide leadership on the issue of homelessness, it must bring a meaningful commitment of new dollars to the table.
For example, how will the Obama Administration put us on a path towards ending family homelessness in 10 years? Only development of affordable housing can really get this job done. And sure enough, the plan indicates that the federal government will work towards this goal by funding the National Housing Trust Fund, but it offers no details about how much funding will be requested of Congress. The plan also commits the federal government to work with states and localities to push them to build more affordable housing, but does not say how that would be accomplished. And the plan cites a need for new housing subsidies, but fails to describe how many are needed and how we will get them.
Along with housing, the plan addresses a range of other issues important to the Law Center’s work. But once again, specific commitments are lacking. The introduction includes a comprehensive discussion of education, but no goal or strategy focuses on keeping children enrolled in school and receiving critical services. The plan includes a short, forceful statement opposing criminalization of homelessness and promoting constructive alternatives, but fails to offer a list of such alternatives. And it references criminalization as violating human rights norms, through a quote from Law Center Executive Director Maria Foscarinis – but it says nothing further about a right to housing.
We’re glad that the Interagency Council took the time to put this plan together. It’s going to help us in our work. But if we really want to end homelessness it’s going to take more than just a plan – we’ll need specific strategies and the promise of enough money to accomplish them. We look forward to working with the Interagency Council in a long-term effort to make this happen.
-Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director