Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Anchorage Homeless Roundtable

Anchorage, Alaska
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thank you. Many thanks to Carol Gore with the Cook Inlet Housing authority, Dan Fauske with AHFC, who I know from the Millennium Housing Commission, and all our partners here on the ground, whose work day-in and day-out to help Alaska's homeless is nothing less than the work of angels.

But most of all I want to thank Senator Begich - for his leadership, for hosting me this week and, above all, for the remarkable vision and foresight he has shown as Assemblyman, Mayor and Senator when it comes to homelessness.

It's great to be here in Alaska this week - and I'm really here for three fundamental reasons.

First and foremost, to listen - to the broad set of challenges and opportunities facing the small towns and rural communities that President Obama and I believe are so integral to our values as Americans - and to the fabric of American life.

But I'm also here to share some of the Administration's ideas about how we can work together to nurture strong, robust, and sustainable communities.

Lastly, I'm here to report back to the President about the state of Alaska's communities and what we in the Administration can do to strengthen them.

And for Alaska, there are few more pressing issues than that of homelessness in this state.

I think most people would be shocked to know that the most recent data shows that Alaska has twice the national average of per capita homelessness - that half of the 3,300 homeless Alaskans are families with children. And that doesn't even begin to take into account the hidden homeless - those living in overcrowded conditions.

While these are tough times for everyone - it's clear no one is feeling the force of this economic crisis more powerfully than those who are homeless.

And as Anchorage well knows, the 650,000 who are homeless on any given night in America and the more than 1.6 million people who experience homelessness at some point every year are as diverse as America itself.

With a 56 percent increase in rural and suburban family homelessness, we see that homelessness is not simply an urban problem, but one every kind of community struggles with.

But there is one thing that everyone who is homeless shares in common: a lack of housing they can afford.

Indeed, Alaska faces unique challenges when it comes to building and preserving affordable housing - from a lack of water and power infrastructure to the high cost of making construction loans in rural areas.

That's why I want to send a very clear message to all of you today that the Federal government intends to get back into the business of affordable rental housing.

And if you need any evidence of that, you only need look at the $14 billion HUD is investing in our communities through the Recovery Act, which included $4 billion for the public housing capital fund, to address the nation's 1.2 million units of public housing.

It included $2 billion to reestablish our bedrock commitment to full funding of Project-Based Section 8 developments.

And it included $2.25 billion in HOME funding to stabilize projects financed by the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit - the engine of affordable housing production for the past two decades.

Our FY 2010 budget builds on these investments - increasing funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program and capitalizing the National Housing Trust Fund.

One of the most important investments is the $1.5 billion we dedicated in the Recovery Act to the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, building on the strong collaboration shown by homeless providers, government entities and the private and philanthropic entities here in Anchorage and across the country.

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 homeless in Alaska.

But it's also helping us shift our focus at HUD toward homeless prevention - providing new avenues for communities to structure their response and reducing the need for costly emergency services.

The last time we had a serious recession-25 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 HPRP is about.

Alaska is ahead of the curve when it comes to homeless prevention, having created a State Homeless Council, the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, and banded together as communities here in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and elsewhere to create homeless task forces.

Just as you have galvanized localities around the state to create plans of their own to end homelessness, the time has come for the Federal government to do the same.

As the new chair of the Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness, I want you to know that we are committed to developing and implementing a federal strategy to prevent and end homelessness.

The time has come.

Job one at the Council is to build on and strengthen existing partnerships such as HUD-VASH, which addresses the housing and service needs of homeless veterans.

With veterans comprising 15 percent of America's homeless population and more homeless Vietnam-era veterans today than troops who died during the war itself, the need is crystal clear.

As HUD-VASH shows, new partnerships often require a new way of doing business that can be challenging at first. But we are making good progress, not only allocating an additional 10,000 Housing Choice vouchers for homeless veterans but also through creative use of Recovery funds to house these veterans more quickly.

And I'd be particularly interested in knowing how this federal partnership between HUD and the Veterans Administration can help Alaska better serve its homeless veterans.

Ending homelessness comes down to one thing: our commitment.

I'm aware that over the past six months, seven men who were chronically homeless have died on the streets of Anchorage.

Like you, I believe a civilized society does not allow someone to live like that.

Like you, I believe a civilized society doesn't allow someone to die like that - alone, on the streets, with no hope, no chance for a better life.

But it's not a fait accompli. In the last decade, in developing the "technology" of combining housing and supportive services, we've "moved the needle" on chronic homelessness, reducing the number of chronically ill, long-term homeless by nearly a third.

The fact is, we have now proven that we can house anyone.

Our job now is to house everyone - to prevent and end homelessness.

All homelessness.

President Obama and I recognize something I know all of you have for years:

That when we harness public resources and the enormous wellspring of human capital in this country, we can provide everyone-from the most capable to the most vulnerable-the opportunity to reach their full potential.

That is our goal today. And I look forward to our discussion about how we can make that possible. Thank you.


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