Opening Doors: A Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness

According to recent estimates over 1.6 million people spent time in a homeless shelter last year. In June of 2010 the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness unveiled Opening Doors: A federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness with four goals: 1) end chronic homelessness in five years. 2) end homelessness among veterans in five years. 3) end homelessness for families, youth and children in ten years. 4) create a path towards the end of homelessness. This initiative will incorporate a variety of stakeholders from the community, local, state and federal level in partnerships to provide housing, health care, and education towards the mentioned goals.

According to Opening Doors, providing affordable housing is the key to ending homelessness. The logic stems from the inability to achieve good health, education, or potential without a proper home. Therefore, the initiative will provide 4,000 Section 8 vouchers to chronically homeless individuals in need of assistance with substance abuse or mental health issues. The new plan will also provide housing to youth, especially foster care children phasing out of the system, and veterans. Sadly I am not surprised veterans comprised over 13% of homeless individuals in shelters last year.

As someone who has experienced homelessness I am excited the issue is finally becoming a top priority for the U.S. government. I agree with the philosophy of the plan yet I am not overly optimistic nor sold on the timeline of the plan. Given all of the bureaucratic red tape and the number of stakeholders, including 19 government agencies, it is highly unlikely partnerships will occur with ease. Additionally, nearly all of the articles I have read on the strategic plan are quick to point Opening Doors as a roadmap not a plan of immediate action. Herein lies part of the problem.  Immediate action is absolutely necessary if the United States is to achieve the goal outlined in the plan. Allowing only 5 years to eradicate chronic homelessness, with only a roadmap as a guide, does not appear feasible given the current economic situation. The ambitious deadlines most likely will result in a loss of morale and momentum as the deadline nears, leading to cries of failure towards the Obama administration. The UN experienced similar backlash when the Millennium Development Goals failed to eradicate gender disparity in primary and secondary schools by 2005. My concerns are further exacerbated by the lack of specificity on funding and implementation. The National Housing Trust is the only new mention of funding yet it still awaits appropriations from Congress. It is fine and dandy to lay out a plan of action, but unless given the proper tools the plan will remain a plan instead of a reality.

The new plan is a significant step in the right direction towards ending homelessness. It will only succeed if both parties and key actors recognize the need to address the issue. All too often homelessness is hailed as an individual problem not requiring a collective solution. However, this is simply not the case. Therefore, a paradigm shift is crucial to the success of eliminating homelessness, a human wrong that must be righted.

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