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Strategies for Reducing Chronic Street Homelessness

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Document date: January 15, 2004
Released online: January 15, 2004

Prepared for: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF). (File Size: 2 MB)


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Why This Study Is Important

The goal of ending chronic homelessness has achieved national prominence in a very short time. It was first articulated in July 2000, when the National Alliance to End Homelessness included it as part of its ten-year plan to end homelessness altogether. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Mel Martinez announced his agency's acceptance of this goal in his keynote speech at the National Alliance's 2001 conference one year later. Then President Bush made "ending chronic homelessness in the next decade a top objective" in his FY 2003 Budget. Also by 2003, the Interagency Council on Homelessness had been reinvigorated to guide and coordinate the efforts of Federal agencies, two New York Times lead editorials argued forcefully for that goal, the U. S. Conference of Mayors adopted it, and more than 100 cities and some states have committed themselves to developing a plan by 2004 to end chronic homelessness in the next 10 years.1

HUD's goal, and the goal of many communities, is to end chronic homelessness. We have titled this report strategies for "reducing" chronic street homelessness because no community has yet succeeded in ending it, and we wanted the title to indicate that we are documenting progress, not complete success. This is an experimental time for programs to reduce chronic street homelessness. The many communities that have resolved to end chronic homelessness have to learn about successful approaches,2 construct their own strategies, and locate the necessary resources to fulfill their plans. These communities can benefit from the experiences of homeless service providers who have been willing and able to participate in developing and implementing new approaches. Given the scope of what needs to be done, integrated community-wide approaches hold the most promise of succeeding.

HUD sponsored this project to identify and describe community-wide approaches that are working in cities around the country.3 We selected seven communities that were reputed to have made progress in reducing their chronic street homeless population and would be able to document that progress. After conducting site visits, we found that only three of the seven have developed a true community-wide paradigm, but that each of the seven communities had noteworthy strategies to reduce chronic street homelessness. We also discovered common elements in the seven communities' approaches that appear to maximize progress. This report describes these common elements and their role in approaches to reducing chronic street homelessness. Communities just beginning to develop their own plans for reducing chronic homelessness should be able to find illustrative practices and programs that they can learn from and adapt to their own situations.

Purpose of the Research

This project's aim was to identify successful community-wide approaches to reducing homelessness and achieving stable housing for the difficult-to-serve people who routinely live on the streets. It was also to document these successful approaches in a way that will help other communities trying to address this problem. We included as "street homeless" single adults who spend significant time on the streets, although they may also use emergency shelters from time to time. Most of the people to be helped will also be "chronically" homeless, which we defined as being disabled and either being continuously homeless for a year or more or having had at least four homeless episodes during the last three years. This definition of "chronic" homelessness corresponds to the definition recently adopted by the Interagency Council on Homelessness. Disabilities or disabling conditions often include severe and persistent mental illness, severe and persistent alcohol and/or drug abuse problems, and HIV/AIDS. To the extent that community approaches address these, they can assist a greater proportion of chronic street homeless people to leave homelessness.

This study sought to answer several questions about strategies that communities use to reduce chronic street homelessness:

  • Does the community have a long-term plan for reducing/preventing chronic homelessness? What is its approach and what are the elements? What led to this approach and how was it identified? What needs of which homeless people does it address?
  • How was the approach implemented? What challenges were encountered? What opportunities were used?
  • How is the approach administered and coordinated? What is the role of each stakeholder?
  • How is the approach funded? Do requirements of the funding sources create any barriers or promote any successes?
  • Did implementation include efforts to reduce local resistance by including community members? How? How successful have these efforts been?
  • Can the community document its progress, either by showing that the numbers of street homeless people have decreased or by showing that programs are accepting this population and helping them leave homelessness?
  • How else do communities use data to bolster their case for making the investment to end chronic street homelessness?


Notes from this section

1 For examples, see State and Local Plans to End Homelessness at the National Alliance to End Homelessness webpage http://www.endhomelessness.org/localplans/.

2 Throughout this report we use the term "approach" to indicate the set of strategies and mechanisms of coordination being employed by a community to reduce chronic street homelessness.

3 HUD's Policy Development and Research Office funded the study, in consultation with the Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs/Community Planning and Development, which administers HUD's homeless-related programs and funding opportunities.


Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



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