Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Recovery Act Press Conference

Catholic Charities Homelessness Prevention Call Center
Chicago, Illinois
Monday, July 27th, 2009

Thank you, Congressman Davis - for that introduction and for your leadership on behalf of Chicago families.

It's good to be here in Chicago to discuss how President Obama's Recovery Act is offering families and communities tools to recover from our country's housing and economic crisis.

I especially want to thank Catholic Charities for making that possible with the range of critical services it provides to children, families, seniors, veterans and so many citizens in Illinois every day.

To Father Michael Boland, Cardinal George and all of the dedicated staff of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, I would simply say that at a time when organizations have to stretch scarce dollars further to meet the growing demand for services, we cannot thank you enough for your leadership, your commitment and your compassion.

I've been here several times in my time as HUD Secretary where we've discussed how the $6.1 billion Illinois received through the Recovery Act - including $539 million directly from HUD - will create or save 148,000 jobs statewide, including 7,200 right here in Congressman Davis' district.

And I want to give some context to those numbers. When President Obama took office, we were facing the greatest economic crisis in a generation and the economy was on the precipice of a second depression or great recession.

The economy that was losing, on average, 700,000 jobs a month. Our economic growth rate was the worst in a quarter-century.

Foreclosures were at record levels and residential investment had fallen by more than 40 percent in just eighteen months.

Banks were in crisis and credit was frozen solid.

In a little over 150 days, the Recovery Act - along with our other economic initiatives - has worked to stabilize economic conditions and help those harmed by the economic crisis.

By June, we had cut the number of jobs the economy was losing by a third.

Today, 95 percent of working families are seeing the benefits of the Making Work Pay tax credit in their paychecks.

More than 38,000 Recovery Act projects - from community health center expansions to transportation construction jobs to where we stand today - have been approved.

When it comes to putting Recovery Act funds to work creating jobs, aiding states and jump-starting shovel-ready projects, we're right on-schedule.

And in many cases, we're ahead of schedule.

We are not in recovery yet - but we have created the stability necessary to get us there.

Today, I'm proud to have the opportunity to award Chicago Recovery Act funds that will help keep those struggling the most during this housing and economic crisis.

We all know these are tough times for everyone - but no one is feeling the force of this economic crisis more powerfully than those who are homeless.

Of all the things we've learned about homelessness over the last number of decades, perhaps the most important are the reasons people become homeless in the first place.

Some are single adults struggling with substance addiction and mental illness.

Others are veterans scarred by war, women with children fleeing domestic violence or youth aging out of foster care.

And increasingly, we are seeing families whose incomes have plummeted as a result of the recession and fallen into homelessness as a result - through foreclosures, evictions, layoffs, or other financial problems.

The one thing everyone who is homeless shares in common is a lack of housing they can afford. Ensuring they do is our challenge at HUD.

And is it ever needed.

Two weeks ago, HUD released its Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which details the state of homelessness in America.

It found that on a single night in January 2008, 664,000 people are homeless. Throughout the course of the year, 1.6 million people found themselves without a place to call home and sought shelter.

The good news is that these figures held steady from 2007 to 2008. But the report did find a 9 percent increase in the number of homeless families.

That was before the brunt of the economic crisis hit - and you don't have to be answering the phone at Catholic Charities' Homeless Prevention Call Center, where I just toured, to know that the need is growing.

At HUD, we're committed to getting the most accurate picture possible of the homelessness problem in America - where it's growing, why and who is most affected.

But as we do that, we have an obligation to be helping those who've fallen into homelessness - and to prevent others from doing the same.

The last time we had a serious recession - twenty-five years ago - we responded by building shelters that HUD still supports today.

Our challenge now is to ensure people need to spend less time in those shelters.

That's what the $1.5 billion Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program funded through the Recovery Act is all about.

Today, I'm proud to announce that Chicago is one of over 400 communities across the country that can now start helping our homeless population with these funds - of which Catholic Charities will be receiving almost $1 million as part of Chicago's overall $34.3 million allocation.

These funds are particularly critical at a time when homeless prevention dollars are being zeroed out in state budgets across the country - including here in Illinois.

By providing temporary financial assistance and services to Americans struggling to gain housing stability - paying for utilities or helping them move into and stay in their new housing - this program is playing a critical role in helping us serve the 9,000 people experiencing homelessness in Illinois - seniors, victims of domestic violence, veterans, and vulnerable families.

But it's also helping us shift our focus at HUD toward homeless prevention - saving lives, providing new avenues for communities to structure their response, and helping the taxpayer save money in the long run by reducing the need for costly emergency services.

From the tour I just took of Catholic Charities' Homeless Prevention Call Center, which serves as the gateway point for families facing homelessness to receive assistance, I saw for myself that, even during this difficult time, this transformation is already underway in our communities.

Indeed, as the Chair of the Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness, ensuring that we bring as many partners to the table at the local, state and federal levels to prevent and end homelessness is my top priority.

We have so many people who want to help - who already are. The challenge now, whether we work at a community-based health non-profit or a state agency that administers food stamps, is to get everyone to recognize that housing is a critical platform for advancing the one outcome we all want to see:

Helping the people who need it most.

On all these issues, we all know that we have a lot more to do - and I look forward to working with Congressman Davis and Catholic Charities in the coming months.

But with the local innovations that the Recovery Act is supporting, I believe we are not only helping Chicago families weather this storm - we are helping prevent another one entirely.

With that, I'd be happy to take any questions that you may have.


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