Trump’s Budget Would Eliminate Agency Tasked with Ending Homelessness

Trump’s Budget Would Eliminate Agency Tasked with Ending Homelessness

Included in President Donald Trump’s proposed $6 billion cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development is the elimination of a small but vital program that has been a crucial force in driving down the U.S. homeless population.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) has a scheduled sunset date of October 2017 and, for the first time since the Clinton administration, it may not be reauthorized.

First created in 1987, USICH’s 19 government member agencies coordinate 23 federal programs to combat homelessness. With an operating budget of $3.5 million a year, the program collaborates with both federal and local government and the private sector to help provide the nation’s homeless with food, shelter, health care, and jobs.

In 2010, the program launched “Opening Doors,” a comprehensive plan that focuses on leadership, collaboration, and civic engagement; access to stable and affordable housing; economic security; health and stability; and the homelessness crisis response system.

Five years after the plan was launched, nationwide homelessness had decreased by 14 percent, or 87,000 individuals (some 550,000 people in the United States do not have a home as of 2016). Homelessness among veterans decreased by 47 percent, chronic homelessness by 27 percent, and family homelessness by 23 percent.

The Urban Institute interviewed more than 50 national and local homelessness advocates, most of whom attributed the progress to USICH. Urban Institute research associate Sarah Gillespie told the Prospect that advocates referred to USICH’s Opening Doors plan as a “leader” in the fight to end homelessness.

“It can be hard coordinating with 19 federal agencies,” Gillespie says. “USICH helps the federal government speak as one voice, navigate as a bureaucracy, ... marshall resources together, and make sure that everyone is on the same page.”

Before Opening Doors, there was little understanding of how many veterans were homeless because the Department of Veteran Affairs only counted veterans who used VA services. Opening Doors worked with the VA and HUD to create a more accurate count, and worked with federal partners to develop a set of benchmark criteria for ending veteran homelessness. Today, 47 cities and counties and three states have announced they have met those criteria. 

Advocates also credit USICH with changing federal homelessness policy to a focus on housing first, Gillespie says. Previously, the federal government provided sobering services, and required similar preconditions before providing housing.

“Even though people will try to keep working to end homelessness,” Gillespie says,” no one could fill the role that USICH plays.”