Ending Chronic Homelessness, Now in 2017

Over the years, chronic homelessness in America has dropped significantly. Thanks to the hard work of housing agencies, and advocates in communities around the country, working with the support of federal policies, the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness has declined by 21 percent since 2010.

Even so, on a given night, more than 80,000 individuals experience chronic homelessness, which means they are disabled and have experienced homelessness either for a year or longer or at least four times in the last three years. Chronically homeless people make up less than 15 percent of the overall population on a given night, but they are the most vulnerable, and therefore the most in need of our help.

(It’s also cheaper to house them than let them remain homelessness, when you weigh the cost in social services against the cost of providing them with housing services.)

That’s why, back in 2010, the Obama administration set a goal for ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2016 in “Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.” That’s a year later than the date the administration set for ending veteran homelessness, and while we’re optimistic about ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 (and we’re not alone), ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2016 seemed increasingly unlikely.

The reason for that, as is often the case for federal goals, was that the will was there, but the funding was not. Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced that it had pushed back the goal for ending chronic homelessness by one year to 2017, citing budget constraints as the reason.

While it’s certainly disheartening to acknowledge that we won't meet the original date set for the goal, the goal itself hasn't been abandoned. By moving the date back, the Obama administration is reaffirming its commitment to achieving it, just on a more realistic timeline.

The effort to end veteran homelessness has shown us what we can accomplish with political support and proper funding. We have reduced homelessness among veterans on a given night by 33 percent since 2010. If we can do that for homeless veterans, we can do the same for the chronically homeless, and homeless families and youth.

That's why it's so important that homeless advocates push Congress to provide the funding levels proposed in the President’s FY 2016 Budget. President Obama's budget would increase funding for homeless programs under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by $345 million, which would provide for 25,500 new permanent supportive housing beds for people experiencing chronic homelessness.

The Obama administration is being realistic. And so are we. Late last year, we posted recommendations on this blog for reaching the 2016 goal: 5 Things Communities Must Do to End Chronic Homelessness. They’re as true now as they were then (except for the 2016 part).

There is no reason why we should allow people to experience chronic homelessness. We are a wealthy country with resources to spare. To quote the new HUD Secretary Julián Castro, “We must never accept homelessness as a part of American life. If we all do our part, we won’t have to.”

Graphic from "2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.