April 24, 2014

Could the president’s 2015 budget end chronic homelessness?

April 24, 2014

Our current supportive housing inventory won’t end chronic homelessness, but the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget acknowledges that by calling for a significant new investment. If fully funded, HUD would receive an additional $301 million in its Homeless Assistance Grants account, financing an estimated 37,000 new supportive housing units. On its own, this investment will not end chronic homelessness by 2016, but it could if combined with improved resource allocation and targeting.

Is 37,000 units enough?

As of January 2013, an estimated 92,593 chronically homeless individuals could be found across the country on a single night. By definition, these individuals have one or more serious disabling conditions and a long-term history of homelessness. These conditions can prevent them from finding stable housing without a long-term housing subsidy and intensive supportive housing services.

Between October 2011 and September 2012, 32,347 new supportive housing opportunities were created through turnover, as estimated in the 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. Communities also reported approximately 8,000 new supportive housing units in their pipeline. Between the 92,593 chronically homeless individuals and the roughly 42,000 available units, there’s a 50,000-unit gap. That’s 13,000 more units needed than the 37,000 proposed in the president’s 2015 budget.

The budget’s new investment may narrow the supportive housing gap, but it won’t close it. But other policy changes, like repurposing transitional housing programs into supportive ones and dedicating more mainstream resources like Housing Choice Vouchers, may make 37,000 new units sufficient.

Can the units be effectively targeted?

Past investments in supportive housing have not always effectively targeted individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. From 2007 to 2011, the number of supportive housing units increased by 39 percent, yet the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness decreased by just 13 percent. This divide suggests that supportive housing did not go to the individuals who needed it the most.

Engaging the chronically homeless, especially those on the streets, and getting them into supportive housing requires collaboration between providers, outreach workers, and shelter staff. Commitment and planning can ensure agencies have the right incentives and resources to focus on chronically homeless individuals that are hardest to house.

Through coordinated effort, communities, and even entire federal agencies have successfully prioritized the chronically homeless for supportive housing. New York City has reduced chronic homelessness by 59 percent; New Orleans by more than 85 percent between 2009 and 2013. Both communities invested in supportive housing and created centralized systems to ensure that available units went to the chronically homeless individuals with the greatest need.

One of the main factors behind the recent 24 percent decrease in veterans homelessness in the United States, aside from increased funding for VA homeless programs, is a coordinated effort to train, assess, and monitor its staff on Housing First principles to make its programs accessible to chronically homeless veterans.

Can the administration really reach its goal?

Evidence is building that increased supportive housing investment accompanied by effective targeting can end chronic homelessness. The president’s proposed budget would be a major step toward meeting the demand for supportive housing nationwide. If we target the funding and other homeless and mainstream resources effectively, we can still end chronic homelessness by 2016.

Homelessness photo from Shutterstock.


As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.


Having developed 10 supportive housing communities, it is often not practical to serve 100% chronically homeless. The intensity of needs and demand for services in a larger 100% chronically homeless project, versus for instance 35% chronically homeless, amounts to a world of difference. If it took 35 years for the federal government to recognize this problem and begin to solve it, how would it matter if it takes 5 years to solve it in a long term sustainable way vs fooling ourselves that a solution could come in two years which would then fall apart.
Indianapolis homeless situation is hurting mothers, and their children. There are numerous apartment buildings being built around our city, but they're not for families, nor for the low income. What is really going on? Our city government, and state grant providers, rather provide grants to build luxury housing, than provide housing for women, and children!
Chronic homelessness will never be solved until funds are distributed to communities based on their actual need for homeless assistance funds. I live and work in San Luis Obispo County, California, a smaller metro area that has a higher incidence of homelessness (% of total population) than San Francisco, LA and NYC. The 2013 AHAR reported that we also had the third highest rate of unsheltered homeless in the country. HUD's CoC program provided us less than $1,500 per chronically homeless person in 2012. Sacramento, which has far fewer chronically homeless than we do received nearly $35,000 per chronically homeless person.
Forms of supportive housing do work but not with a one size fits all mentality. Rural Pennsylvania areas, and small cities, have a growing population of near homeless and working poor homeless because they can not afford the high cost of housing. These individuals and families need help and the programs and tools to become self-sufficient. Funding to help just the chronic homeless is not going to change the problem, only drive the numbers up. Funds need to allotted to address the needs of the all communities, and designed to help all homeless and near homeless.