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My view: Helping communities end homelessness

By Rick M. Garcia

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Molly Hansen, Prestige Financial Services, mops the floor at the Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City Tuesday, April 26, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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During the early 1980s, many families lost their homes and jobs. State and local governments were forced to dramatically cut the assistance they could offer to local organizations and nonprofits. As a result, we saw a dramatic spike in the number of homeless men, women and families. Today we are emerging from an even more severe recession, and once again, local governments face hard fiscal times.

However, the Obama administration is determined to continue to fight against poverty and to address homelessness by prioritizing and adjusting programs to meet the needs of those with so little. Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan announced $5,260,696 in funding to help Utah fight homelessness, part of nearly $1.5 billion to help more than 7,000 homelessness programs across the country.

These grants support a broad range of housing and services — what we call the "Continuum of Care" — from street outreach to transitional and permanent housing that individuals and families need to start rebuilding their lives.

These funds along with the additional tools developed by the Obama administration are preventing and ending homelessness; we know they are making a difference.

With the Recovery Act's Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program — or HPRP — we have saved more than 1.2 million people from living on our nation's streets, fundamentally changing the way communities respond to homelessness, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

With innovative tools like HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) which combines HUD's Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance with Veteran Affairs' case management and clinical services, we've housed more than 25,000 veterans. This represents more than 20 times as many veterans in the last two years as we had before President Obama took office.

And when Obama signed the Homeless Emergency and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH) into law, he ensured that Utah's communities will have increased flexibility to determine how best to use HUD funding to respond to homelessness, incorporating the successes and lessons of the last two years into this fight.

Most important of all is that for the first time these funds aren't just helping fight homelessness, but are actually part of a larger strategy to prevent and end homelessness.

Last year, the Obama administration released Opening Doors — the first comprehensive federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness in our history. The culmination of a decade of bipartisan progress, the plan commits our country to ending chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans in five years; ending homelessness for families, youth and children within a decade; and setting us on a path to end all homelessness.

And in today's tight budget environment, that commitment is all the more critical. Over the last decade, we've seen the progress that can be made when localities combine housing with supportive services. Not only do we reduce the number of chronically homeless people living on the street, we also see fewer ambulance and police calls, fewer visits to the emergency room and — just as importantly — real savings for taxpayers.

With these funds, Obama's commitment and the partnership of local leaders we move further down the path to ending the tragedy of homelessness once and for all.

Rick Garcia is the regional administrator for HUD.

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