TO: Mayor and Town Council
FROM: Sally Greene, Council Member
SUBJECT: Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness
DATE: May 22, 2006
In late 2004, Triangle-area elected officials were briefed on the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness initiative sponsored by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. The Council subsequently added public dialogue on homelessness to its list of goals.
In March 2005, the governing bodies of the Towns of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough, as well as Orange County, formed the Partnership to End Homelessness in Orange County. The Partnership developed a Steering Committee of more than 80 local government officials, community leaders, homelessness advocates and other stakeholders, and a smaller Work Group. The Partnership is currently in the process of designing the County’s 10-Year Plan.
This evening, we are grateful to have Martha Are with us. Ms. Are is the homelessness policy coordinator for the state Department of Health and Human Services. As such, she works closely with the North Carolina Interagency Council for Coordinating Homelessness Programs, an advisory group charged with recommending ways to meet the needs of the homeless and with working with local entities on strategies to address homelessness.
In the development of our ten-year plan, the partnership’s steering committee will soon be asked to make a policy recommendation on which aspects of the homelessness problem the plan should emphasize. The federal initiative, directed through the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, encourages cities and counties to develop ten-year plans to end chronic homelessness, using the federal definition of the chronically homeless as “an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.” The attached essay from the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, which I encourage you to read, offers further insight about dealing with the chronically homeless.
To many, understandably, the focus on the single chronically homeless individual seems too restrictive. The National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness (NPACH) is one of a number of advocacy groups seeking to expand the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition (see letter to HUD Sec. Alphonso Jackson, attached; see also the Q&A from the NPACH), calling it “overly narrow and often improperly exclud[ing] families and children, as well as homeless people located in rural areas.” But it’s not clear that these efforts will succeed any time soon.
The ten-year plans as they are being promoted by HUD and the federal Council on Homelessness strongly emphasize chronic homelessness (see attachments from HUD and the Interagency Council). While a logical response is to resist and reject that narrow focus, I want us, with Ms. Are’s help, to ask a hard and pragmatic question: given political realities at the federal level, would we be better off if we did emphasize chronic homelessness, shaping our plan so as to maximize the availability of HUD funding, at least at first?
The Mayor and I seek the Council’s guidance as we look to the steering committee’s next meeting on May 31.