WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious plan that aspires to end homelessness among some of society’s most vulnerable groups within the next decade.
“Opening Doors,” a “Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” calls for ending child and family homelessness in 10 years while wiping out chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans in five years.
According to the 74-page plan, “Stable housing is the foundation upon which people build their lives — absent a safe, decent, affordable place to live, it is next to impossible to achieve good health, positive educational outcomes or reach one’s economic potential.”
The plan is a significant breakthrough because there’s never been a comprehensive federal effort to end homelessness with a timeline and measureable goals, said Nan Roman, the president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
“To me that’s really important, because we know that when the Bush administration made a commitment to end chronic homelessness, it really made a huge difference,” she said. “It changed how resources were allocated. It caused better coordination, and the result has been that the chronic numbers have gone down. Now they’re taking that same approach and they’re expanding it to the other homeless populations. I think that’s significant.”
Other advocates also lauded the plan’s goals, but they questioned the lack of details about how some of the proposals would be paid for.
“The big question is whether preventing children and families in the U.S. from becoming homeless is important enough for Congress” to increase homeless-program funding, “and I don’t think they’ll do that without enough pressure and leadership from the White House,” said Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “In order to achieve these goals, the funding has to be there, and that means the administration has to really be firm and advocate.”
“Opening Doors” comes a week after a government report showed that nearly 1.6 million people, including more than 170,000 U.S. families, spent time in homeless shelters last year as the recession, mounting foreclosures and record unemployment sent people scrambling for shelter.
The number of families in homeless shelters jumped 7 percent by nearly 11,000 families from 2008 to 2009. Overall, family homelessness was up 30 percent in 2009 from 2007.
The economic stimulus bill has helped 357,000 people by moving some from homeless shelters into their own apartments and by providing rent payments to prevent others from becoming homeless. Many agencies that distribute the money already have exhausted or committed their two- and three-year allocations, however, and some are turning away needy people as their funding dwindles.
With most homeless shelters at capacity, many homeless families are moving in, or “doubling up,” with friends and relatives in overcrowded households.
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