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National Alliance to End Homelessness

Remarks prepared for delivery
by Secretary Mel Martinez

Washington, DC
Friday, July 19, 2002

Thank you for having me back. I appreciate your welcome, and I am especially pleased to be introduced by Philip Mangano. I am so happy that Philip has joined this Administration and that the entire country will benefit from his lifetime of expertise and his passion for the issue of homelessness.

A year ago, I talked to you about the Bush Administration's commitment to seriously tackle the challenge of homelessness. I made several promises and commitments.

I pledged more cooperation between the many federal departments serving homeless men, women, and families.

I told you we would reach out to the providers of homeless services on the grassroots level and encourage more of you to partner with us.

And I embraced the goal put forward by the Alliance of working toward ending chronic homelessness within the next ten years.

You greeted me warmly and I appreciated your support. I knew you were eager to help us succeed, but I also understood that we were going to have to follow through on our promises.

Well, that is exactly what we are doing, and I am here today with a progress report.

We are seeing many signs of progress in the fight against homelessness. The signs are not yet found in the numbers, because too many Americans remain homeless. But I find tremendous encouragement in our shared commitment and focus, the enthusiastic response to our efforts, and the momentum our work is generating across the country.

This Administration is committed to combating homelessness. President Bush took the first, and most critical, step by reactivating the Interagency Council on Homelessness and naming Philip Mangano as its Executive Director. I can think of no clearer message that we are serious about taking on the homeless challenge.

The full Council and its 18 member agencies met yesterday for the first time in six years. I think all of us who were there came away feeling that we have been given a remarkable opportunity to fundamentally change the way this nation perceives - and deals with - the issue of homelessness. And we have been empowered to get the job done.

The Millennial Housing Commission - the bi-partisan commission set up by Congress to study the federal role in housing - has endorsed our call to end chronic homelessness.

Many of the major newspapers across the country have written editorials supporting the Administration. We even received some praise from the New York Times. Referring to our goal to end chronic homelessness, the Times wrote, "This may seem a surprising goal for a Republican administration… The good news is that it is not rhetoric."

Major cities such as New York and Philadelphia are working toward ending chronic homelessness in ten years. In Chicago, Mayor Daley is teaming up with advocates and providers. In Los Angeles, leaders are developing a ten-year plan.

By committing this Administration and this nation to meeting the challenge of homelessness, we are generating the kind of momentum that has not been felt since July 22, 1987 - almost fifteen years ago to the day. That was the date the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act became law and pledged a federal commitment to those who are homeless.

A decade and a half later, despite the substantial investment of resources called for by McKinney-Vento, homelessness remains. The dollars Washington has devoted to solutions have made us more effective in managing homelessness, but no more effective in preventing individuals from becoming homeless.

The Bush Administration offered more than $1 billion in grants this year through HUD alone to providers of homeless services. This represents the largest amount of homeless assistance in our nation's history. We are funding more than 2,500 individual projects.

The researchers tell us that 40,000 assistance programs on the local, state, and federal levels serve homeless people in this country. Many of these programs are run by agencies and organizations represented here today - members of the Alliance working in partnership with us and doing wonderful work in their communities.

Still, this massive commitment has not managed to reduce the level of homelessness.

The data tells us that as many as two and a half million people experience homelessness in this country every year. And researchers say that about 10 percent are experiencing chronic homelessness.

Most of the chronically homeless have an addiction or suffer from a disabling physical or mental condition. They have been continuously homeless for a year or more. They may get help for a short time, but they soon fall back to the streets and shelters.

Then there is the other 90 percent. These are typically people who are propelled into homelessness for a brief time when they hit a rough spot in life - maybe a family illness or the loss of a job. Among this group, we are seeing a disturbing increase in the number of homeless families, young people, and ex-prisoners.

I share your deep concern for every segment of the homeless population. But I cannot ignore the research, which tells us that the 10 percent of individuals who experience chronic homelessness consume more than half of all homeless services. Because they use so many resources, they need to be a priority in our strategy.

For many years, Washington focused on intervention when it came to homelessness. The assumption was that intervention was more important than prevention. So even as federal programs ended homelessness for thousands of men, women, and families, thousands refilled the empty beds.

Until now, government was misdiagnosing the condition and prescribing inadequate medicine.

Today's research tells us that prevention is just as important. And we have also learned that we need to partner with the states to ensure that our systems of care, treatment, and incarceration include exit strategies that prevent individuals from being discharged into homelessness.

By following the research and focusing on ending chronic homelessness, we will have more resources available to meet the needs of other homeless people.

Dr. Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania has studied this issue in great depth. You heard from him yesterday, and he also spoke to us at the Interagency Council meeting.

Dr. Culhane told us that the costs associated with placing a homeless person in permanent supportive housing are essentially the same as maintaining and managing that person in a state of homelessness. When they have access to basic services like housing and treatment, homeless people have fewer acute episodes, and are less likely to need expensive emergency interventions.

The research makes it clear that our best hope for ending homelessness of every sort depends on addressing chronic homelessness. We are setting policy based on that research. We are taking action based on that policy. Our intent is to free up homeless resources and ensure access to mainstream programs. In other words, to be smarter and more compassionate about our investment.

This Administration is taking a holistic approach to homelessness. We are looking at the entire picture - prevention and intervention - not just the individual pieces. That means coordinating the efforts of every federal agency that touches homeless Americans, and doing a better job of communicating among ourselves.

As I mentioned, the Interagency Council on Homelessness met yesterday.

I serve as Council chairperson. But I was also very pleased that Veterans' Administration Secretary Principi and Agriculture Secretary Veneman joined us, along with Deputy Secretaries and administrators from numerous federal agencies: HHS, Labor, Education, Energy, FEMA, GSA, Interior, Justice, the Domestic Policy Council, Social Security, and the White House Office of Management and Budget.

During the meeting, we reaffirmed that this Administration is serious about helping people climb out of homelessness, and empowering them to lead the lives they want to be living.

It was a tremendous meeting, and I was energized by the cooperation I saw.

The people who came together around that table share a desire to do something meaningful about the problem of homelessness. They also share a commitment to change the outcome - to see that by the time we conclude our service in this Administration, we will have truly made a difference in the numbers of people who are homeless in America.

Clearly, we are entering an era of unprecedented federal collaboration in fighting homelessness.

Reactivating the Interagency Council was just the first step in breaking down the walls between federal agencies. HUD, HHS, and VA formed a joint task force last year to study - and improve - the way in which we cooperate to help homeless individuals. We have made great progress over the past year in building on our strengths and better defining our roles.

Our goal is to expand our coordination. And so I am announcing today the first-ever coordinated federal funding between HUD, HHS, and VA focused specifically on creating and coordinating housing and services for those who are homeless.

This joint "Notice of Funding Availability" - or NOFA - will outline the timelines, rules, application requirements, and criteria that we will use to evaluate grant applications.

The grant funding will total $35 million in the coming fiscal year - $20 million from HUD, $10 million from HHS, and $5 million from VA. All funds come from other programs that will now be devoted to this effort. The funds will be invested in a variety of programs for families, individuals, and veterans focused on the President's chronic homelessness initiative.

We anticipate that the formal NOFA announcement will be made sometime toward the end of this year. So please do not call today!

This joint collaboration on homelessness has never been tried before. Yet, it makes perfect sense. By consolidating our funding, we are hoping to create a better way of delivering funds to providers at the local level, and ultimately, a better way to help move more families and individuals out of homelessness.

The federal government must also make mainstream assistance programs more accessible. "Mainstream" programs include Medicaid, food stamps, and mental health and substance abuse programs that are available to homeless individuals, but are not necessarily being used by them.

The Administration reached out to the people who administer state assistance programs by conducting two special training sessions in the past year. Through these "policy academies," we offer guidance and technical help on how states can more effectively fight homelessness with mainstream resources.

In the coming year, we plan to offer every state the opportunity to attend a policy academy focused on ending chronic homelessness. By working together, we will make mainstream programs accessible to more people.

At the same time we focus on chronic homelessness, we cannot ignore the growing numbers of families who are homeless. Anyone could guess that homelessness is extremely hard on children, but the research tells us that the children of homeless individuals are more likely to become homeless themselves.

We can offer a child a way out of despair and hopelessness by providing educational opportunities. As part of the President's "No Child Left Behind" initiative, the Department of Education is creating a liaison for homeless children in every school district. We will ensure that these children have equal access to education and the opportunities that a good education provides. In doing so, we offer them a path out of homelessness. And this is just one initiative that will be part of a larger planning process to respond to growing family homelessness.

Too many people released from prison find themselves without homes. Our commitment to prevention includes a new collaborative effort headed up by the Department of Justice that will help those reentering society after incarceration.

Attorney General Ashcroft announced just this week that 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands will share $100 million in grant funds through the new Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative. The Initiative will help states create reentry strategies that reduce homelessness among former prisoners.

The nation's faith-based organizations are on the frontline in combating homelessness. Through his Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the President is reaching out to organizations rooted in faith that serve homeless people at the grassroots level. We are encouraging more of them to join us. Above all, we are working to ensure that faith-based providers have the same access to federal funding as their secular counterparts.

The Department of Labor is also reexamining its resources to make them more accessible to homeless people. Labor is introducing initiatives targeted to assisting homeless ex-offenders, veterans, disabled individuals, and young people leaving the foster care system.

Along with reawakening the Council, we have brought together key policy and research staff from the agencies that comprise the Council. This senior policy group, which met last week for the first time, will help guide our strategic planning. Next, we will activate a group of program directors from each of our agencies to support the work of the senior policy group. This has never been done before.

The Council will be launching a central homelessness website by the end of this year. We know that we can do a better job getting information like funding announcements into the hands of people who need it, whether they are state and local officials, advocates and providers, or homeless people themselves.

We also plan to revitalize HUD's regional efforts. In other words, we are going to ensure that we have at least one person in every regional office who concentrates on the issue of homelessness.

And we will be holding a series of focus groups, bringing together folks from the field, faith-based agencies, housing strategists, advocates, and homeless people to talk with us about homelessness. We need to listen to the experts and learn from their experiences and research.

Without the new federal commitment to cooperation, it is unlikely that these ideas would have seen the light of day.

These new initiatives join a host of well-established federal programs that support homeless individuals and families.

Overall, 14 targeted homeless programs are scattered among seven federal agencies. These are programs like Healthcare for the Homeless; PATH, which has been so helpful for people who are homeless and mentally ill; programs to support homeless veterans; and substance abuse and mental health programs.

During a year in which the costs of fighting a war abroad and ensuring security at home are consuming substantial federal resources, nearly all of these programs received budget increases for the coming year. The Administration proposed a total of $2.2 billion for funding these targeted programs. This is a 3 percent increase.

In addition, the President's budget proposal increases mainstream resources that can assist homeless people. This includes housing funds, substance abuse treatment slots, and independent living programs for those aging out of foster care. $500 billion worth of mainstream resources are available to help homeless people. All of us - on the federal level and in the states - need to do a better job of making these resources accessible.

We know from our own research at HUD that the most acute housing shortage is for those earning 30 percent of median income and less. So we need to work to make our own mainstream resources more available to the poorest.

All of you have great passion for the issue that you have made your life's work. I commend you for that commitment, and I applaud you for your dedication.

I want you to know that your dedication and your commitment are equally shared by me, as I look at my responsibilities at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. You can count on me to be a willing partner and a steady ally as we move forward to achieve these shared goals.

We certainly have much more work ahead of us, but the Bush Administration's commitment to America's homeless men, women, and families has new breadth and new depth - and this gives me new hope that we will succeed.

The President and I appreciate the support of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in meeting this challenge. We will continue to seek out your suggestions and input. We will continue to deliver solutions in a way that we believe best addresses the problem.

We are going to work with you. In our regional offices. Here in Washington. With other federal agencies. Our combined activism, experience, and enthusiasm will move us closer to accomplishing our goals. Every month, closer to ending chronic homelessness, Every year, closer to ensuring a home for every American.

Thank you.

Content Archived: March 16, 2010

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