National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference

TUESDAY, JULY 29, 2008

Thank you, Tim (Marks). I would also like to thank Nan Roman for her earlier remarks and gracious welcome. Thanks also to Phil Mangano for your leadership as Executive Director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I am pleased to join you. We gather today in this beautiful hotel ballroom. But, yesterday (Monday), I was a few miles from here, in a different setting, at the N Street Village homeless shelter. It is less spacious, less luxurious, but a very special place to the people who find the welcoming arms of N Street's staff. The shelter is part of the Community Partnership in the District of Columbia.

It was another important opportunity to hear from the people we serve, the homeless, and our partners in service. When someone has been through a lot in life, there is no veneer. I heard it like it is. Stories about the long path to getting healthy after years of addiction. How the death of a husband was the trigger point to landing on the street. The need for a reliable, affordable housing. How sometimes just getting shower and a phone can make all the difference.

Our service to people who are homeless is a measure of our nation's compassion. The depth of our response is a statement of our individual and collective humanity. Each homeless person deserves respect, regard, dignity, and understanding.

Sadly, homeless people are part of life, especially in our urban centers. We have watched people react to the homeless...ignore them or overlook them or step around them. The humanity of the person is often lost. Many people want a tidy world, and, for them, the homeless present an uncomfortable reality.

Thankfully, you see this differently. People who are homeless have names and personalities, faces and individual stories. For you, they are people, a part of the community. And you know the harsh realities. You've witnessed the prison of addiction or mental illness. You know the difficulties of disabilities or health problems. And in many cases you've contemplated the inner essence - the soul -- that seeks triumph over tragedy.

In my own mind, I can still see, as plainly as I see you now, the faces of homeless people I met 10 and 15 years ago. I know in your case that number is multiplied by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. And I think about their faces, remember the stories, every day.

We know that homeless people are among our most vulnerable citizens. It's true that about 70 percent of the sheltered homeless are single individuals. But we also know that 30 percent of the sheltered homeless are families with children, and more than half of homeless children are under the age of six. Forty percent of the sheltered homeless are people with disabilities. Almost 60 percent are from America's minority communities.

These people need us, you and me. You are the face of our nation's compassion. You are passionate, committed. You provide food, shelter, a bed, and safety. You are a lifeline when someone is confronting fear or addiction or despair or trauma. And beyond the immediate, you are the path to the future.

You do so much:

  • recognize the need for intervention,
  • search for grant money and other funds,
  • set up the shelters,
  • help the homeless get off the streets,
  • work with restaurants and grocery stores to provide food,
  • arrange for medical and psychological assistance,
  • assist drug abusers to find treatment,
  • enable homeless adults to use computers to get online to look for work or communicate with family members, and
  • place homeless children into a classroom to receive an education.

You are our nation's "Continuum of Care."

I want to thank you for all you do, your willingness to serve those in need, often at extreme personal sacrifice.

The President has committed this nation to the goal of ending chronic homelessness. Chronically homeless individuals are people living on the streets for more than a few days, many of them are mentally ill, addicted, or physically disabled with HIV/AIDS or other chronic health conditions. 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.

At HUD, we are proud to be your part of the important work you do. "Continuums of Care" address the entire spectrum of homelessness needs, from those who find themselves on the streets for the first time and need immediate those who need assistance with problems of addiction or dependence... to those who need help in finding more permanent housing.

And, over time, we have constructed a social infrastructure and safety net for homeless people that is in virtually every city and county. Many of these partnerships are with the people and organizations right here in this room. This has been an extremely involved cooperative venture.

The President has delivered increased funding, record levels, to enable our partnership to reach more homeless people, especially with more permanent housing. 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 over $1.6 billion for HUD's continuum of care homeless assistance grant programs.

Together, we have been able to devote more resources to help persons who are 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.

I have mentioned the work of my department. As you know, we merely assist your good work, efforts by local and state governments, and by non-profits organizations. Non-profits were the first providers, and government followed your lead. You have been helping homeless people long before government involvement. For decades, the non-profit sector opened up their church basements, and provided food and other services to those who had nowhere to lay their heads. And non-profits are still a major force today, valuable partners with HUD. This year over 600,000 homeless persons will be assisted with HUD homeless funds operated by local non-profit organizations. Of that number over 130,000 persons will be assisted by faith-based groups this year.

We know this public-private partnership is working.

Earlier this year, we released our Second Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, which is in essence a report card on our common efforts to confront homelessness. This report had data collected from 2005 and 2006. Based on this data, which was collected at a point in time each year, we announced that chronic homelessness dropped in the United States. According to data collected in 2006 from about 3,800 cities and counties across the country, there were fewer chronic homeless on the street and in emergency shelters, an 11.5 percent drop in chronic homelessness, which means that there were about 20,000 fewer chronically homeless Americans.

Today I am releasing the Third Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. This report on homelessness compares 2006 to 2007 and is a landmark effort.

Continuums, once again, reported a decline in chronic homelessness for 2007-even greater than the decline reported by Continuums in 2006 cited in the previous AHAR.

On average, over the last two years studied, 2005-2007, the reduction is about 15 percent per year.

Overall, if you add up the number of all sheltered homeless persons, there are approximately 673,000 homeless persons, a reduction from the previous year of over 6 percent.

The report also includes, for the first time, a yearly number for the people who were homeless at any given time, using the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS). That number in 2007 was 1.6 million. This is important because the report's findings this year will be a statistical baseline for measuring future years, something we have not done before. Now we have a year-long perspective of those who come in contact with services for the homeless.

We can be encouraged by the data. We are making progress. But we also remain cautious with these estimates. Collection techniques are getting better each year.

We also look forward to next year's report for a more complete picture of trends relating to people who were homeless at any given time during the year. We really won't have full confirmation until next year's report.

And I don't want to over claim our collective success. I just want to present you with the facts as you and I know them.

We all need to be watchful about the impact of our housing crisis on homelessness. We have seen a spike in foreclosures, which is likely to continue into 2009. The fallout hits homeowners and renters who need to vacate due to foreclosure on the owner. In many cities, depending on the state and the lender, renters receive ample time and sometimes resources to make a move. But, in other cases, renters may have to move more abruptly, straining their ability to find affordable housing.

I know many of you have a particular concern for 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 program with the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) to provide assistance for our nation's homeless veterans. This program, called HUD-VASH, or the "Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing" program, will provide new vouchers for homeless veterans and their families this year.

In the early 1990s, 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 Senators Patty Murray and Kit Bond for this current fiscal year (2008). The program was given $75 million, and allows us to reach about 10,000 veterans.

The President has requested another $75 million in his new budget for Fiscal Year 2009, which means an additional 10,000 veterans would be served. If approved, this would allow us to reach up to 20,000 homeless veterans.

Clearly, this would be an important addition to our current efforts to end chronic homelessness. In the coming months, hundreds and hundreds of veterans will get the permanent support they so desperately need.

One thing I've learned over the years is that people who are dedicating themselves to serving the needs of others, like the homeless, are often driven by tremendous passion and dedication. Each one of you brings energy, optimism, and compassion to your work every day. This nation owes you an enormous debt of gratitude for your outstanding service to those in need.

But I also know that it is easy to become worn out and worn down. I know you get tired and frustrated. But, you keep going on.

I hope this conference will allow you to take the time to become re-energized and rejuvenated. To revive your own sense of mission as you spend time with so many others who share your commitment. We all have a common mission. We can help each other deepen our commitment. The problems we confront are large, epic. But we are making progress; our hard work is paying off. And as you all know, while the trends and the numbers, the progress we make is measured one individual at a time.

What we do is a reflection of ourselves, of our compassion, of our concern for others.

I know that we can continue to open our hearts. Thank you for your good work.


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