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Statement of Fred Karnas, Jr.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs Programs
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
before the
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation
Committee on Veteran's Affairs
U.S. Housing of Representatives

June 24, 1999

Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear for the Subcommittee today. It is my honor to represent the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Andrew Cuomo and Assistant Secretary Cardell Cooper before you today. I serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs Programs at the Department, with responsibility for HUD's homelessness assistance programs, and housing programs for persons living with HIV/AIDS. I have also served as acting executive director of the Interagency Council on the Homeless (ICH) since 1995.

Addressing homelessness has been a high priority for the Department since the first day of President Clinton's administration. Soon after his inauguration, the President issued an executive order calling for the development of a plan for addressing homelessness in this nation. The effort to craft this plan was carried out by the Interagency Council on the Homeless which was chaired by HUD. The result of this effort was the publication of Priority Home: The Federal Plan to Break the Cycle of Homelessness.

HUD's efforts to address the needs of homeless veterans must be understood in the context of the programmatic and policy changes which took place as a result of implementing the Federal plan. At HUD, the plan called for increased resources and the implementation of a new approach to addressing homelessness called the Continuum of Care.

In terms of the resources, since 1992, thanks to the President's initiative and Congressional support, funding for HUD's homelessness assistance programs has more than doubled from $404 million to $975 billion in 1999. And, in 1993, HUD implemented the Continuum of Care policy. The Continuum of Care approach made clear that homelessness was more than simply a housing problem, and focused attention on long-term solutions which included housing, but also included job training, drug treatment, mental health services, and domestic violence counseling, among other things.

The Continuum of Care approach also restructured the relationship among Federal, state and local governments, nonprofits, and other community stakeholders by engaging citizens in a common planning process to craft a comprehensive system of housing and services to meet the complex needs of homeless persons. In so doing, HUD recognized that local communities were best positioned to know the needs of homeless persons at the local level, and the existing resource infrastructure. In order to obtain funding, communities were asked to submit a comprehensive plan to HUD, which included local priorities for funding.

In addition to calling for a new approach and additional funding, HUD sought to ensure that taxpayer funds directed to address homelessness were used effectively and efficiently by imposing performance as a criteria for continued funding. A successful Continuum of Care includes (1) outreach; (2) emergency shelter; (3) transitional housing; (4) permanent housing or permanent housing with supportive services. While not all homeless people need access to each component, all four must be present and coordinated within a Continuum. A winning application is one that focuses on a coordinated community-based strategy that emphasizes independence and self- sufficiency to the maximum extent possible.

As a result of the implementation of the Continuum of Care approach to addressing homelessness, several significant changes have occurred in the nation's response to homelessness. First, the number of persons served has increased at least 4 times and perhaps as many as 14 times depending on the number of persons receiving multiple services. This significant increase reflects both the additional resources and the efficiencies gained from a comprehensive and coordinated process. Second, leveraging of non-HUD funds by HUD funds increased from $38 million in 1992 to $1.8 billion in 1998 providing significantly more resources to address homelessness at the local level.

By 1999, over 80% of the U.S. population (646 cities and 1,860 counties) lived in areas covered by Continuums of Care, and a Barnard-Columbia University Center on Urban Policy study revealed that communities across the nation felt that the Continuum process has significantly improved their ability to address the needs of homeless people.

Reflecting the significance of the impact of HUD's policy changes, the Department received a Hammer Award from NPIL and was named one of 25 finalists (out of more than 1,200 nominees) for the prestigious Ford Foundation Harvard Innovations in Government Award in both 1998 and 1999.

Included among the thousands of homeless assistance programs funded by the Continuum of Care, many of which serve homeless veterans along with other sub-populations of homeless persons, are a number of exceptional programs specifically for veterans, such as the Los Angeles Veterans Initiative, Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, and the Vietnam Veterans Workshop in Boston. Despite the success of the Continuum of Care approach, the Department heard from a number of groups serving homeless veterans that additional changes were needed to better meet the needs of homeless Veterans.

In response to these concerns, on March 19, 1996, HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo created the HUD Veteran Resource Center (HUDVET). Established in consultation with national veteran service organizations, and other Federal agencies, specifically the Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, HUDVET's first and major goal was educational. HUD recognized the need to provide veterans, their families and their service organizations and advocates information on HUD's community based programs and services.

The Department believed that equipped with this knowledge, veterans and their service organizations could become more involved in local planning and decision-making around homelessness assistance. HUD also envisioned that by working together the various Federal agencies and working groups could increase veteran utilization of services and local resources, as well as related Federal programs.

In addition to a special focus on homelessness among military veterans, HUDVET has also become a recognized source of information on other HUD and related Federal programs available to serve veterans at the community and state levels. With the educational mission in mind, HUD worked together with VSO staff and other veteran advocates to develop the HUDVET brochure and the HUDVET Directory of Resources. The brochure provides point of contact numbers for all HUD's Federal homeless program colleagues, as well as providing a brief review of selected HUD programs.

In addition to providing an excellent overview of HUD programs and services, our 400 page HUDVET Directory contains a first of it's kind listing of all Federal, state and local human development planning and service programs available to veterans and their families.

Working with VSO's, HUD has mailed copies of the Directory to every single VSO National Service Officer in the United States. In fact, to date, HUD has distributed over 10,000 copies of the HUDVET Brochure and several thousand copies of the HUDVET Directory.

Working with VSO's, and in particular the Veterans Organization Homeless Council (VOHC) chaired by Bob Piero of the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Homeless Veteran Foundation (HVF) chaired by Harold Russell, HUD developed the HUDVET Web Site which contains information and links to federal, state and local veteran services, including the House Veterans' Committee website.

As part of HUDVET's efforts, the Department has also worked closely the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Labor's VETS program, sharing information, educating community groups regarding the range of services available to veterans and their families.

The success of HUDVET is due, in no small way, to the appointment of Bill Pittman to head the office. Mr. Pittman is a highly decorated combat disabled Vietnam veteran and career Federal employee. Bill served in the U.S. Navy from 1965-1971. He saw duty with the First Marine Division in Vietnam. His decorations include the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism, two Purple Hearts, the Navy Combat Action Ribbon, the US Army National Guard Distinguished Service Medal and the Republic of China Medal of Honor.

In addition to the establishment of HUDVET, the Department made a number of policy and operational changes to the Continuum of Care process to further encourage and make possible full participation by organizations serving homeless veterans. The need to include groups representing veterans in local Continuum of Care planning was first highlighted in the 1996 Continuum of Care Notice of funding Availability (NOFA) and continues to be an important factor in our review of project applications. The NOFA specifically states:

The community process used in developing a Continuum of Care system must include interested veterans service
organizations with specific experience in serving homeless veterans, in order to ensure that the Continuum of Care
system addresses the needs of homeless veterans.

In addition, the NOFA indicates that high scores result from having maximum participation by various nonprofit providers, among which veterans service organizations are included as an example. Thus, in scoring applications, communities which have not reached out and included groups representing veterans are scored lower than those who have brought them into the process. This point is underscored by a section of the Questions and Answers document which accompanies the Continuum of Care application and which includes basic information on including veterans and the organizations representing them in the Continuum of Care process.

The Department has also added language to the contracts of every provider that proposes to serve homeless veterans in their HUD funded housing and service programs which requires them to describe how outreach will be conducted to the veterans population. The grantee must also describe the methods that will be used to ensure veterans' participation including information on specific site locations and referral networks.

Finally, all Continuum of Care grantees are required to submit an Annual Progress Report (APR) containing program narrative, budget, client and accomplishments data on the past year's activities. In 1996, the Department included a new section in the APR focusing on service to homeless veterans. APRs are reviewed and program sites are monitored regularly by HUD's Field Offices.

With these changes in place, the Department has reached out to veterans' service organizations, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, and other groups concerned about the plight of homeless veterans to ensure that they are aware of HUD's programs, how they work, and our expectations of providers. Secretary Cuomo, Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development Cardell Cooper, Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs and Policy Jacquie Lawing, Mr. Pittman, myself, and other senior HUD staff have led sessions at conferences, attended special meetings, and held briefings with these veterans groups in recent years to highlight HUD's homelessness assistance programs. In addition to the program and policy changes, the Department makes available an array of technical assistance resources. Although the HUD Reform Act prohibits HUD staff or consultants from assisting with the development of a specific grant application, the Department can provide general information on programs and clarification of program requirements. National technical assistance providers can work with groups and communities to improve the Continuum of Care process, or to enhance the inclusion of homeless persons in the process. Local technical assistance providers can help with an array of programmatic questions, as can HUD's College of Experts, which includes individual consultants with knowledge of programs for homeless veterans.

The Department is currently in the process of enhancing our technical assistance efforts through a national assessment of technical assistance needs in our various Continuum of Care programs. When completed we will be able to better target technical assistance resources to projects and communities with special needs - including better serving homeless veterans.

We believe all of these efforts have resulted in positive changes. In 1997, 107 applications out of the total pool of 3,415 Continuum of Care project applications were submitted for veterans specific projects. Of those 107 applications submitted, 40 projects were funded. In the same year, 617 additional projects targeting homeless veterans, but not serving only veterans, were funded. Overall, for 1997 the success rate of funding for all awarded projects serving veterans was 42 percent compared to 41% for all projects.

In 1998, HUD received 93 veteran specific project applications, of which 36 were funded. When including all projects proposing to target veterans, the share of successful applications reached 52% (805 projects) compared to the success rate of all applications which was 56%.

We are pleased that the percentage of winning proposals from homelessness assistance organizations seeking to serve veterans is almost equal to that of other applicants overall. It is very important to understand that when statements are made that only 1% of HUD's funding goes to veterans specific programs, that even if HUD funded 100% of the 1998 veteran specific applications it would only total 3.5% of HUD's Continuum of Care funding. Thus, if the goal is to get more veteran specific programs funded, the real issue is how to get more veteran specific applications submitted.

But, application data only tells part of the story. The real issue is what happens when the projects are implemented. As mentioned previously, the Department requires the submission of Annual Progress Reports (APRs) which provide a snapshot of what is happening with funded projects. A recent sample of APRs shows that 28% of all adult males served in HUD's homeless assistance programs are veterans. This figure is proportionate to the rate of homeless males who are veterans (about 33%). Based on this sample, over 50,000 male veterans are served during the course of the year. We believe we have come a long way in addressing the needs of homeless veterans. We would not suggest, however, that we have done all that needs to be done. It seems that two significant issues remain. The first is capacity. Often grant applications received from groups proposing to serve veterans do not reflect the capacity needed to administer Federal funds. HUD is committed to improving our technical assistance resources to assist organizations in building capacity. I previously mentioned our efforts to assist existing grantees, and in few weeks we will be releasing additional resource materials on the Continuum of Care process. In addition, HUDVET provides an array of technical assistance resources that are readily available through the Internet and via our 1-800 number. And finally, we will be strengthening our College of Experts to ensure that sufficient qualified technical assistance consultants are available.

The other significant barrier to groups seeking funding to assist homeless veterans is at the local level. We have heard from a number of groups who claim that the interests of homeless veterans are not a priority in local planning processes. As mentioned previously, the Department has crafted the application in such a way that ignoring the needs of homeless veterans will cost communities points. However, having said that, there is one significant reality which cannot be ignored, that is the renewal of existing projects. In some communities, the reason that new groups proposing to serve homeless veterans axe not prioritized highly is that the renewal demand for existing projects is so high that to include a new program as a priority would require the closing of an existing project. HUD's response has been to seek new resources. The President is asking for $1.029 billion in FY2000 plus $100 million for vouchers to assist homeless persons in moving from transitional housing to permanent housing. The Department will also continue to make communities aware of the needs of homeless veterans and to encourage veterans service organizations to regularly participate in local planning efforts to educate the community on the special needs of homeless veterans.

In closing, let me briefly mention the role of the Interagency Council on the Homeless (ICH). We are aware that issues have been raised about the effectiveness of the ICH. First, it should be stated that the ICH can not and should not be measured against the standard developed before it was defunded by Congress in 1994. With funding from HUD, the ICH continues to serve a coordinating and information sharing role with a significantly smaller staff and limited resources. The Council no longer has a formal legislative mandate.

The ICH policy group of senior policy staff from the 18 agencies which make up the Council does, however, continue to meet on a bi-monthly basis to address problems, share information on new initiatives, and consider joint efforts. The Council also has a number of ad hoc working groups, including a Veterans Task Force convened by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which focus on specific issues or sub-populations of the homeless persons. These ad hoe work groups share information on projects, legislative proposals, and policies. In the coming months, ICH's major project for the past few years will come to fruition. The National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients will be released. This survey, funded by 11 Federal agencies and conducted by the U.S.

Census Bureau, is the first major national survey on homelessness since 1987. It addresses a number of questions regarding homeless veterans which will help us understand the current status of programs serving homeless veterans, provide a profile of homeless veteran clients, and help the Federal government shape future policy to better address the needs of homeless veterans.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about HUD's efforts to address homelessness. The Department is proud of the impact we have made in addressing this American tragedy, but we, like many Americans, are appalled that any of our nation's veterans, who have sacrificed so much to benefit us all, should find themselves homeless on the streets of our cities and towns. We at HUD, therefore, commit ourselves to continuing our work with this committee, veterans service organizations, and other concerned groups to improve our efforts to ensure that the needs of homeless veterans are met.


Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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