White House Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Conference
PREPARED REMARKS FOR
STEVE PRESTON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
THURSDAY, JUNE 26, 2008
Thank you, Dorothy (Wiley). Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to join you.
Homelessness is a daunting problem as old as history and there are no easy answers. The difficulties must not stop us from developing an effective set of responses. My department has the lead for the federal response to providing shelter for the homeless. We provide targeted grants to states, local governments and nonprofits to develop and operate housing assistance programs for homeless individuals and families.
Many of you have stepped forward to provide shelter or services, working in partnership with my department and others. I thank you for that. We need your efforts because there are about 750,000 homeless people in America on any night.
That figure...any figure...used to be a guess. But we now have information that helps us better pin-point the number of homeless and their needs. Last year, HUD announced its first-ever Annual Homeless Assessment Report. Through the data collection for the report, and the subsequent analysis of that data, we are learning a great deal about the demographics of homelessness. Prior to the report, we didn't even know how many homeless persons there were in this country.
Now, with this report, we have "point-in-time" snapshots that give us greater insight into where the homeless are, which allows us to help them. And we are going further, developing the information necessary to see patterns of homelessness over time.
One of those patterns is chronic homelessness. These are people who are living on the streets for more than a few days, many of them are mentally ill, addicted, or physically disabled. These are the most vulnerable among us...the hardest-to-house and the hardest-to-serve. The chronically homeless are people who are homeless for more than a year or who continue to cycle back into homelessness. They are people who need serious, sustained assistance to overcome their homelessness.
As you know, in 2002, the Administration declared that we would work to end chronic homelessness. And we have built constructive and successful partnerships in virtually every city and county. Many of these partnerships were with faith-based organizations. This has been an extremely complex cooperative venture, one of the most complicated domestic ventures ever attempted by the federal government.
For example, we have trained more than 40,000 nonprofit leaders in grant writing and other skills. We have offered almost 300 training seminars. Many of these training seminars involved faith-based groups.
The training produced results. From 2003-2006, the number of direct nonprofit grantees of HUD's Continuum of Care program grew by nearly 500 organizations, a 30 percent increase. And, in 2006, more than 134,000 homeless Americans were helped by faith-based organizations working with my department.
Together, we are able to devote more resources to help the homeless. Since 2003, HUD has provided funding for more than 42,000 new, permanent, supportive housing beds, most of which were created through faith-based and community organizations, a more than 25 percent increase.
As a result, there is a vast, inter-related set of partnerships between HUD and states, localities, and nonprofits around the country. And this partnership has been effective. In November of last year, we announced that chronic homelessness dropped in the United States. According to data collected in 2006 from about 3,900 cities and counties across the country, there has been an 11.5 percent drop in chronic homelessness, which means that there are about 20,000 fewer chronically homeless Americans.
In other words, the hard work of thousands of people, many of whom are here in this room, is paying off. We see that our efforts can make a profound difference.
Why? Well, the data seem to indicate that the investment by HUD and local communities in the "Continuums of Care" is working. "Continuum of Care": that is an important term for us. It means that we provide assistance across the entire spectrum of homelessness, from those who find themselves on the streets for the first time and need immediate shelter...to those who need assistance with problems of addiction or dependence... to those who need help in finding more permanent housing. This continuum of care is vital because homelessness is a multi-dimensional problem, both for those who are homeless and for those who are working to meet the needs of the homeless.
Yes, there has been some success. And we should be thankful. Every person removed from chronic homelessness is a victory for that person and the community. But, we have a long way to go in addressing chronic homelessness. There are still about 155,000 chronically homeless people living on the streets. Homelessness remains a problem, often with frightening consequences, for hundreds of thousands of people.
Overall, this Administration has shown its commitment to the homeless with record levels of funding. Last year, HUD announced grants of $1.5 billion nationwide to address homelessness, the latest in a commitment that, since 2001, has totaled approximately $10 billion to support housing and services. In the President's new budget, we are seeking $1.6 billion for HUD's continuum of care homeless assistance grant programs.
I would like to turn to a related matter: the plight of homeless veterans. The Department of Veteran's Affairs estimates that there are approximately 154,000 veterans on the streets. By the way, that number is about half of what it was five years ago. But we need to do more for those who have served our country.
Recently, my department announced the renewal of a joint HUD/VA program to provide assistance for our nation's homeless veterans. This program, called HUD-VASH, or "HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing" program will provide approximately 10,000 new vouchers for homeless veterans and their families.
The HUD-VASH initiative dates back to 1990. It was started by former VA Secretary Ed Derwinski and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp. HUD provided the housing vouchers and the VA provided the case management services. The vouchers were discontinued after 1995 as we continued to serve veterans under other efforts. But, funding was restored by the Congress and the President for this current fiscal year (2008). The program was given $75 million, and allows us to reach about 10,000 veterans. Added to our other efforts, this is a major expansion of the funding available for homeless veterans.
The President has requested another $75 million in his new budget for Fiscal Year 2009, which means an additional 10,000 veterans. If approved, this would allow us to reach up to 20,000 homeless veterans.
The Faith-Based and Community Initiative is an innovative effort that unites the strengths of the public and private sector to make our social programs more effective. We are part of a new way of making a difference. Our work on homelessness would not be as comprehensive or successful without partnership with faith-based groups. President Bush clearly saw something in the power of that energy. If we could harness it, meld it with government programs to end homelessness, he knew we could do more, help more people.
And one thing I've learned through faith-based efforts is this: we have a lot of talent and resources out there, people of good will and enormous energy and big hearts. And these are results-oriented people, people who want to make a difference. I see people who change lives. I see compassion work miracles. And I know you make every dollar count, achieving amazing results on a tight, shoe-string budget. You turn that shoe-string into a lifeline for those in need.
And I have witnessed something else, something most remarkable: I see caregivers and providers themselves transformed by the act of service, people who came to give and also received much in return.
I spoke earlier about our own commitment, yours and mine. We realize that every person is a child of God. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Our nation has always...always...been led by its compassion and generosity.
I believe that when we help the homeless we are doing God's work and our own. And this nation owes each of you a debt of gratitude.
Thank you for your good work. Thank you all for coming.