Here’s what Homeless Advocates Accomplished in 2014 (Against the Odds)

The second session of the 113th Congress started out unusually, under a continuing resolution, or stopgap funding measure, to avert a government shutdown. This foreshadowed the rest of the year, during which congressional activity could be described as dysfunctional, unproductive, partisan, and chocked-full of manufactured crises.

In this context, 2014 was a challenging year in which advocates for homeless assistance programs fought an uphill battle. However, this did not keep homeless advocates across the country from drawing attention to the need for increased federal funding for vital homeless assistance programs in their communities. In light of the considerable challenges they faced, homeless advocates achieved some impressive gains in 2014.

In early March, the FY 2015 federal funding process commenced on an optimistic note with the release of President Obama’s Budget Proposal, which included various provisions favorable to people experiencing homelessness, among them a proposed $301 million increase for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. While some lawmakers expressed hope that appropriations bills would pass in a timely manner, partisan divides prevailed and gridlock soon set in.

Various new hurdles arose:

  • The Congressional Budget Office released an estimate of funding it expected the Federal Housing Administration receipts would provide in FY 2015 that was less than the estimate provided by the Obama administration. This meant that the overall budget picture was marginally worse than the administration expected, and resulted in a slight cut in funding available for appropriations for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • The House flat-funded the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program in their initial version of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) bill, while the Senate provided a $40 million increase to the program in their initial version of the bill (relative to the Administration’s proposed $301 million increase).
  • Tensions surrounding the 2014 midterm election impeded bipartisan collaboration and compromise.
  • The inability of both chambers of Congress to pass any of the FY 2015 appropriations bills, including the T-HUD bill, prior to the start of the fiscal year led to Congress having to fund the government temporarily through two continuing resolutions.

Advocates’ perseverance in the face of these obstacles was truly remarkable. In 2014, advocates engaged in more than 2,138 advocacy actions (that we know about) in support of increased funding for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. They sent letters and emails to Congress; they called congressional offices; and they arranged site-visits and organized meetings with members of Congress.

Momentum picked up in early March, with the launch of our FY 2015 McKinney-Vento and veterans funding campaigns in conjunction with the release of the President’s FY 2015 Budget Proposal. Here are a few highlights of the year’s advocacy successes:

  • Advocates convinced many members of Congress in the House and Senate to sign on to letters in support of increased FY 2015 funding for homeless assistance programs.
  • In just 22 days in March, advocates conducted a highly successful letter-writing campaign, during which they took more than 711 advocacy actions during the lead-up to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ T-HUD bill markups.
  • More than 235 advocates participated in Capitol Hill Day 2014, which we held in conjunction with our national conference in July. That day volunteers serving as State Captains organized more than 200 congressional meetings, and Hill Day participants visited the congressional offices of 33 different states. (It’s worthwhile to note that the 2,138 advocacy actions taken in 2014 don’t include actions taken during Hill Day 2014).
  • In just 28 days in mid-November through December, advocates conducted another successful letter-writing campaign, during which they took more than 1,089 advocacy actions (primarily sending letters to Congress) during the lead-up to the release of the FY 2015 appropriations bill.

    • As part of this effort, advocates sent an impressive number of letters to key members of Congress, and generated a letter from Kentucky’s Governor Beshear to Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers; letters from state mental health commissioners to key Members; and letters signed by clients of homeless assistance programs.
  • Advocates’ efforts throughout the year resulted in a $30 million increase for McKinney in finalized FY 2015 appropriations!

In stark contrast to Congress, homeless advocates have been quite productive this year! Reflecting back on all their hard work and the positive reception to their message, it’s clear that the instances in which we failed to achieved our desired outcomes—such failing to secure the $301 million increase for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program in FY 2015—were due to persisting budget difficulties that were ultimately beyond our control.

The increase for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program in FY 2015 would have put us on track to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2016. We at the Alliance—and no doubt, homeless advocates around the country—are disappointed that we were unable to secure it. However, we’re heartened that we at least secured the $30 million increase for this program, which should be considered an achievement in light of the current budgetary context.

Advocates, please give yourselves a pat on the back for all you achieved over the past year, and know that your efforts to end homelessness have in fact paid off! Thanks to all of your hard work, homeless assistance programs have repeatedly shined through the jumble of programs vying for congressional support – and have achieved bipartisan support.

Unfortunately it’s likely that the overall budget picture this year could be even harsher and that Congress could cut overall funding for HUD even more than last year. Nevertheless, homeless advocates sent strong message in 2014 about the need to make ending homelessness a priority and set a very sturdy foundation for advocating for HUD’s homeless programs in 2015.

We at the Alliance could not do this work without your help! On behalf of the Alliance’s mobilizing unit, I would like to say that we are incredibly grateful for all of the time and effort you poured into advocacy last year. We truly cannot thank you enough, and we look forward to continuing our work with you in this New Year.