HUD Secretary Julián Castro’s Keynote Remarks, 2015 Family and Youth Homelessness Conference

These are the keynote remarks delivered by the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro on the second day of our 2015 National Conference on Ending Gamily and Youth Homelessness, Feb. 20, 2015. You can also find them on the HUD website.

Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
National Alliance to End Homelessness
2015 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness
Friday, February 20, 2015
San Diego, California

As prepared for delivery:

Thank you very much, Matthew (Doherty), for that generous introduction and for all the great work you're doing at USICH. I'd also like to thank Nan Roman, and everyone with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, for your extraordinary leadership over the years.

I'm very proud that my first speech as Secretary, just three days into the job, was at your last conference back in July. And when some suggested that it was too early to join you again I said no it's not – this is where it all began, this is family. And I'm so proud to be back with the Alliance today to talk about ending homelessness for families and youth.

Finally, I want to thank all of you in the audience for the life-changing work you do every day. You provide a very precious gift to folks facing hardship and adversity: hope for a better future. You do it without a lot of fanfare, and often while being overworked and underpaid. Yet your commitment to this cause remains unshakable, and all of us at HUD are proud to work with you.

A number of our team members have joined me at this Conference. We're eager to hear from you, our partners on the ground, to help shape our work moving forward and it's truly a pleasure to be with you this afternoon.

Exactly one month ago today I had the honor of attending my first State of the Union address as a member of the Cabinet. It was a memorable moment sitting there with all the Supreme Court Justices, Senators, and Congress Members – not to mention the President and Vice President in front.

But there was someone else there that night, and I hope you saw him too. His name is Anthony Mendez, a 19-year-old formerly homeless young man who was sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama. She had met him a few months earlier at a roundtable where Anthony spoke about growing up in the South Bronx in New York City, a journey full of obstacles.

His mother, Evelyn, always struggled to find a steady job to support Anthony and his three siblings. His best friend was murdered over a basketball game when Anthony was in 9th grade. A year later Anthony's family was evicted from their home and forced to live in a shelter for six months.

At first he was so embarrassed that he lied to all his friends and told them he was staying with his aunt. He battled depression. But then Anthony enrolled in a mentoring program that provided him with the support and encouragement he needed to find his footing and refocus on his goals.

Even though the shelter was two hours away from his school, he woke up every morning at 4:30AM to ensure he arrived before the opening bell. He went on to become the first member of his family to make that proud walk across a stage to receive a high school diploma – and eventually earned a scholarship to the University of Hartford.

When asked about his journey, Anthony said: "You will always be a product of your environment. But it takes a strong mindset to see and realize that you have control over your life. By surrounding ourselves with people who want us to do better, we can all be destined for greatness."

I believe that every person in this room believes the same at your very core. You believe that the folks we serve every day-no matter what point in life's journey they find themselves-have aspirations and dreams, and with support can make them become reality. They deserve a chance to do more than just survive. They deserve to thrive.

And I know you believe that Anthony's words apply to every family, every child, every young person- everyone deserves a chance to prosper and that begins with a safe place to call home. No child should ever have to do their homework without a home. No father or mother should ever experience the anxiety that comes with raising their kids on the streets or in a shelter.

And as long as that's happening in our nation, we all lose. We all lose when young people like Anthony, or families are forced to make dangerous decisions about where they'll spend the night. We all lose when folks can't reach their full potential and contribute.

That's why ending homelessness must be a top national priority, and I'm proud to serve a President that's made this a key part of his agenda. President Obama knows that homelessness can be more than just addressed – it can be ended. And that requires more than just platitudes and promises – it requires a plan.

I don't have to tell you all about the goals of Opening Doors, or the critical milestones, and markers of success. We're now in year five, so by now we're all becoming experts in the kinds of data-driven, barrier-busting, collaboration-building change that we need to fundamentally put an end to homelessness.

What I do want to tell you about are the kinds of things we're doing at HUD to both acknowledge these lessons learned, and become a better partner in the work you're doing locally each and every day.

First, we've made incredible strides in simply understanding the problem. There was a time not too long ago that HUD couldn't tell you how many young adults were living on the streets. We now have a number. We know it's not perfect, but it's getting better, and we appreciate all the work folks are doing to improve it.

These efforts are about more than spreadsheets and statistics: they're about people and we're going to keep at it till every one of those people gets counted.

Second, we're doubling down on strategies we know work. That's why we'll be increasing incentives for communities to use rapid re-housing so folks never get caught up in the vicious cycle that has trapped too many in the homelessness system without a clear path to permanent housing solutions.

It's why we're helping those transitional housing efforts falling short of their goals to rethink their approaches and use their resources in more effective ways. And it's why we continue to encourage "coordinated entry" at the local level to remove the headaches that prevent folks from getting the quick help they need because bureaucracy should never block someone from securing permanent housing.

All of these efforts are making an impact, and we're going to keep on investing in these proven approaches to help more Americans make the transition from struggle to security.

Third, we're linking HUD's work with the efforts of our federal partners because folks need more than just housing to succeed – they also need access to health, educational and job training services. There was a time when HUD's homeless assistance competition awarded more funds for supportive services than housing.

This was unsustainable, which is why we've been encouraging CoCs to explore other funding opportunities with agencies like the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services to make connections at the local level between Medicaid agencies and housing providers, to ensure that every possible resource is being leveraged to its full potential.

This will free up a lot of funding dollars for housing and ensure that Americans experiencing homelessness get the total support they deserve. People don't live their lives in silos, and government shouldn't operate that way either.

One final step I want to mention is our fight against intolerance. It's no secret that a major cause of homelessness among young people is the prejudice associated with being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. So many folks are being thrown out of their homes-or running away from them-because they are being rejected for who they are, and this simply isn't right. It's not who we are as Americans. That's why HUD is taking action.

We've partnered with the True Colors Fund, and other federal agencies, to launch a first-of-its-kind pilot in two communities -Cincinnati and Houston. It focuses on prevention and will go all-in by working with families to address and prevent the conflict that LGBT youth are often subjected to.

Daniella Carter is a 20-year-old advocate working with the Fund who, in her own words, "refuses to be another story of neglect, abuse and shame." She believes that this work will help turn this belief into a reality for her and her peers – and so do I, but we need to keep pushing forward.

HUD is committed to helping lead this fight. I believe it's our duty to ensure equal protection for the LGBT community, especially when someone is turning to a homeless shelter to get back on their feet. Unfortunately transgender Americans often encounter more obstacles when they seek help. In some cases they are turned away.

In others they'll be accepted but placed in a shelter for the wrong gender. And even when they are put in the right shelter, they'll sometimes be segregated and told to use separate facilities.

It's an injustice that any transgender person is mistreated when seeking help, which is why HUD is taking action. Today I'm proud to announce that we're publishing guidance so that providers treat these Americans with the dignity they deserve.

Our nation is at its best when we open our arms, our minds, and our hearts to our fellow Americans in need. And it's our hope that this measure will do its small part in shaping a future where every person is accepted, respected and housed.

In total, all of our efforts-coupled with your leadership on the frontlines-are making a big difference for communities. The number of families experiencing homelessness is down 11%, including a 53% drop in the number of families living on the streets.

And in the broader picture, chronic homelessness has declined 21% and homelessness among veterans has dropped 33%. Our responsibility now is to build on this momentum and finish the job of ending homelessness for all Americans.

To achieve this goal, our partnership must be based on collaboration and coordination, not misunderstanding and mistrust. That's why I must address an elephant in the room. There are some who suggest that HUD doesn't care about youth or families, and that our programs don't serve all those experiencing homelessness.

I want to set the record straight because if I don't, I'm afraid that folks who should absolutely receive assistance might be turned away based on bad information. While the rules about who can receive housing and services funded by HUD can sometimes seem tricky to navigate, there are circumstances that should always be clear.

Primarily that nobody, including youth and including families, should ever have to sleep in an unsheltered location or in a place where they're being abused or trafficked or fearful of abuse. Period. Anyone facing those circumstances should be able to access our emergency shelter services.

I'm talking about the 9-year-old and his mother who've been staying with a friend, but have to leave by the end of this week and can't afford their own housing – they should receive help because they are at imminent risk of homelessness.

I'm talking about the 14-year-old who's staying with a family friend that has started abusing her, and she has nowhere safe to go – she should receive help because she's fleeing domestic violence. I'm talking about the family staying at a hotel paid for by their church, but is unable to pay for their own housing – they qualify because they're homeless and only getting by because of the generosity of others.

HUD serves a wide-range of folks who're struggling, and anyone who tells you different is just inaccurate. Now of course there are limits to what HUD can do. There are only so many budget dollars to go around.

Our targeted programs cannot be the only solution for every household experiencing a crisis. Our definition of homelessness targets these limited resources to serve those that are in the most dire situations – including those who're being evicted, abused and in harm's way.

But I'm committed to ensuring that all HUD initiatives-not just our homelessness efforts-can be leveraged to address the needs of families and youth, including the work to expand access to all forms of HUD rental assistance.

I'm also committed to fighting for all the additional funding you need to continue to make progress toward the goals of Opening Doors, and the good news is that President Obama is as well. His Fiscal Year 2016 Budget calls for increased investment in initiatives designed to expand opportunity for Americans from all walks of life.

What exactly does this mean for the work y'all are doing every day? It means we're requesting nearly $2.5 billion in targeted homeless assistance funding which includes:

  • The addition of more than 25,000 new units of permanent supportive housing to end chronic homelessness in 2017;
  • Funding for 15,000 additional rapid re-housing interventions for households with children to end family homelessness by 2020; and
  • $250 million in ESG funds to support emergency shelter, homelessness prevention and rapid-re-housing efforts nationwide.

We're also requesting $235 million in rental assistance through our mainstream housing programs like Housing Choice Vouchers, to support the goals of ending homelessness, including:

  • More than $177 million for an initiative that would fund partnerships between CoCs and Public Housing Authorities to identify high need families and provide them with housing subsidies – as well as help Tribes address homelessness in Indian Country;
  • $20 million for new Family Unification Program vouchers for eligible families and youth interacting with the foster care system – including expanding the period in which young people can use the rental assistance to five years; and
  • Nearly $38 million for tenant protection vouchers for emergency transfers for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking.

In total, the President's budget is a win for families, and I assure you that all of us at HUD will continue to push for these efforts so we can create systems to help every family and young person back on the path to stability and greater prosperity.

During my 207 days as Secretary, I've had the pleasure of meeting Americans from all walks of life – from Skid Row in Los Angeles to the streets of New York City.

I've met a lot of folks who're struggling, who're fighting incredibly hard just to make it from one day to the next. However, despite the challenges they're facing, almost every person experiencing homelessness I've met still had faith that a better day was on the horizon.

They hadn't let their hardship extinguish their hope. They hadn't let their despair dash their dreams.

They just needed somebody to help them find their footing and believe in them. All of us have come together today because we believe.

We believe in these Americans. We believe that no child or family should be subjected to the hardship that comes with life in a shelter or on a street.

We believe that no youth should have to choose between a night on the street or night in a hotel room in exchange for sex. And we believe that every American deserves an opportunity to live with dignity and pride.

To quote Anthony Mendez again, "by surrounding ourselves with people who want us to do better, we can all be destined for greatness."

Since 2010, HUD has been proud to work with you to help folks turn the page on the past, begin a new chapter, and achieve greatness in their own unique ways.

For if homelessness is the problem, opportunity is the answer. And I look forward to working with all of you to expand opportunity for every American and build on the progress we've made together.

We must never accept homelessness as a part of American life. If we all do our part, we'll never have to.

Thank you.