White House Faith-Based Conference
REMARKS PREPARED FOR
STEVE PRESTON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2008
Thank you, Pearly (Hayslip). Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to join you. And I am very pleased to come to this conference.
A few days after taking my oath of office in June, I was honored to speak at the White House Faith-Based Conference in Washington. It was important to me to continue our strong partnership between HUD and faith-based programs. This has been a priority for me as Secretary, because your vital work -- your commitment, your courage, and your compassion, your sacrifice, your sense of mission -- helps my department better serve the American people.
Let me give you an example. After Hurricane Ike, faith-based groups joined governmental efforts in providing rapid relief. Just minutes after the "all clear," faith-based programs were rapidly channeling food, water, medical supplies, clothes, and other essentials to Houston and Galveston. It was as if life was flowing back into these cities. With Southeastern Texas underwater and millions of people displaced, you confronted a rising tide of refugees and nature's forces. And you came through for those in need. You didn't do this for praise or press; you acted simply because people needed help.
This is just one example of countless efforts underway every day across this country. You are part of a quiet army of Godsends - literally - that reaches out to the homeless and other people in need.
Of course people of faith have been doing this long before modern government programs. Even back to the days before this country won its freedom and independence, ministers like John Witherspoon preached to their congregations about the common goal of faith-based humanitarian efforts and the work of the new American government. Witherspoon, a Scottish Presbyterian Minister, came to the colonies to serve as president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton. He was a man with a profound calling, and that calling was to help America become a free nation, to live in freedom with the blessings of religious faith. Reverend Witherspoon said that religion worked to help people. So, many the churches and synagogues set up programs to help the poor. And clergy like John Witherspoon even ran for the Continental Congress...and won election...stepping forward for government service.
Then, at the birth of the nation, it was easy to see that government and faith-based efforts could work together, could compliment each other. But with the passage of time we forgot that fact, or we let others keep us apart. Now, thanks to President Bush, we have come back to our natural partnership.
Reverend Witherspoon and his colonial colleagues would have understood the point and purpose of this conference...understood it very well. They would have embraced our meeting. Our work...yours and mine...is stronger and more complete when we work together, combining our experience and resources to help Americans in need.
Witherspoon said that every American has a "duty" to serve and we see this in the faith-based community, tens of thousands of people who serve out of love, concern, even patriotism...duty-bound to care. In his view, through serving others, we walk with God. And on that walk I am pleased to have your partnership and company.
We see our duty very clearly in our joint efforts to assist the homeless. My department has the lead for the federal response to providing housing for the homeless. We provide targeted grants to states, local governments and nonprofits to develop and operate supportive housing assistance programs for homeless individuals and families. And you, working in partnership with my department, run many of those programs. I thank you for that. You are the face of our nation's compassion.
And, together, we are making a difference.
One example is our work to end chronic homelessness.
President Bush 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. They are people who need serious, sustained assistance to overcome their homelessness. They are our countrymen.
Faith-based efforts are a major part of our efforts to address homelessness. At HUD, we have encouraged local "Continuums of Care" to address the entire spectrum of homelessness needs, 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.
And, over time, with your help, we have constructed a social infrastructure and safety net for homeless people in virtually every city and county. Many of these partnerships are with the people and organizations right here in this room.
The President has sought and received increased funding, record levels, to enable our partnership to reach more homeless people, especially with more permanent housing. Last year, HUD announced grants of $1.3 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 $1.7 billion for HUD's continuum of care homeless assistance grant programs.
Together, we have been 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.
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.
We know this partnership is working. Last Monday, the Star Telegram had a compelling story about Ken Stephens and his son, Thomas, who confronts developmental disabilities and cerebral palsy. They needed to find shelter...and the care needed for Thomas had already forced Ken to lose his job and his marriage. So they were desperate. And, after many phone calls, and I'm sure a few prayers, the Cornerstone Comprehensive Care Program in Tarrant County (faith-based which gets federal money) was the answer to those prayers.
The program is providing them housing for two years. This will give Ken time to find a job, get back on his feet, and become self-sufficient. He is already enrolled in classes at a college, learning to repair computers. I hope he succeeds. He now has the support and the flexibility to take care of his son. Yes, that program is the answer to a prayer.
There are many people, like Ken, who have left the streets. Recently, I released our Third Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. This report documented a 30 percent reduction in chronic homelessness over the last two years! 30 percent! Here in Dallas, the rate of chronic homelessness has been cut by nearly 43 percent in the last two years!
But we still have a long way to go. Overall, if you add up the number of homeless, both chronic and short-term, there are approximately 673,000 people who are homeless on any given day. Here, in the Dallas area, the number of homeless counted in 2007 was almost 3,400 people.
Let me focus for a moment on one sub-group: homeless veterans. I know many of you are concerned about the number of homeless veterans. I'm very concerned, too. The Department of Veteran's Affairs estimates that there are approximately 154,000 homeless veterans. 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 a joint HUD/VA program to provide assistance for our nation's homeless veterans. This program, called HUD-VASH, or the HUD "Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing" program, will provide new vouchers and needs services for homeless veterans and their families this year.
The program was given $75 million, and allows us to reach about 10,000 veterans in 2008.
The President has requested another $75 million in his new budget for Fiscal Year 2009, which, if approved, would allow us to assist up to 20,000 homeless veterans.
Clearly, this funding would be an important addition to our current efforts to end chronic homelessness.
I am also concerned that, with mounting foreclosures, that many owners and renters may lose their homes. So, one way to help is to provide housing counseling. There are 2300 HUD-approved housing counselors in the United States. We know that approximately 97 percent of those in default who completed a housing counseling program with a HUD-approved housing counselor avoided foreclosure nationwide in 2007. That is powerful evidence about the difference that housing counseling can make. Housing counselors help avoid problems and help people with problems find affordable solutions.
That is why, today, I am pleased to announce new grants for housing counseling in Fiscal Year 2008. The grants, totaling over $47 million, will be awarded to 21 national and regional organizations and 376 state and local housing counseling agencies. The organizations that provide housing counseling services help people become or remain homeowners, or find rental housing, and assist homeless persons in finding the transitional housing they need to move toward a permanent place to live. Grant recipients also help homebuyers and homeowners realistically evaluate their readiness for a home purchase, understand their financing and downpayment options, and navigate a potentially confusing and difficult process.
Other grants will help housing counselors receive instruction and certification. These grants, totaling $3 million, will be awarded to two national organizations.
These grants will work in concert with our expanded efforts to refinance mortgages through HUD's Federal Housing Administration and the new efforts coming out of the recent housing legislation passed by Congress. And the grants will further emphasize financial literacy efforts that will help people better understand their mortgages. The President has requested $65 million in his Fiscal Year 2009 budget for housing counseling. That is an increase of more than 150 percent since he assumed office.
I know that there have been a number of successful faith-based financial literacy efforts here in Dallas and throughout Texas, courses through Catholic Charities, Central Dallas Ministries and a number of other faith-based organizations.
And I am following the success of the materials on personal finance education called "Building Wealth" and the way those materials have been used by the faith-based community in Texas. I also want to underline the importance of the legislative mandate from the state legislature that financial literacy must be taught in Texas schools.
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.
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.
Thank you for your life-changing, life-affirming work. As I said earlier, on our walk with God, we have a common destination: service to those in need. We share the vision articulated by Reverend Witherspoon more than 230 years ago...that government and faith-based efforts can, together, through their common work, make this country stronger, better, and more just. Freedom, protection of our citizens, and empowerment follow from our joint efforts. I am proud to walk with you, side-by-side, in partnership for the common good of our country.