With most of us preparing to travel home or host our families for the upcoming holidays, it’s an important time to pause and think about those Americans who have no place to call home.
On Monday, I concluded my one year chairwomanship of President Obama’s Interagency Council on Homelessness. The Council’s mission is to coordinate the federal response to homelessness in America and create a national partnership at every level of government—and with the private sector—to work toward a day when we’ve eradicated homelessness in the world’s most prosperous nation.
I feel fortunate to work for a President who has made record investments in initiatives to end homelessness across all populations: families, youth, veterans and those who’ve experienced chronic homelessness.
The Obama administration has set the ambitious goal of preventing and ending homelessness in America by 2020. It’s vital to set ambitious goals that match the size of the challenge before us. This is how we can chart our progress and hold ourselves accountable for results. And despite our nation’s economic challenges, I’m proud to report that we’re making tangible progress.
This week, we announced a 12-percent drop in the veterans’ homeless rate over a one-year period, a 3-percent drop in the family homeless rate and a 2-percent drop in the overall homeless rate nationwide. Earlier this fall, we announced that we’ve ended or prevented homelessness for one million Americans under President Obama as a result of Recovery Act investments made in HUD’s homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing program.
We still have a lot of work to do. On any given night in America, 636,017 people go to bed on the streets and in homeless shelters. Our data shows that families experiencing homelessness are usually headed by a single mother with young children. Many times, these mothers have made the brave decision to leave an abusive situation to protect themselves and their kids. Finding safe, affordable housing is one of the greatest obstacles they face after escaping domestic violence.
To put a human face on this intractable problem, I felt it was critical for leaders of the 19 federal agencies represented on our Interagency Council to go out into the community and meet the people we’re charged with serving. So this September, for the first time, I convened a Council meeting out in the community—instead of in a stuffy federal conference room. I’ve been involved in public service for more than 20 years; I know there’s no substitute for getting out in different neighborhoods and having an open and honest dialogue with the people we represent.
In the small basement of the Girard Street Shelter in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., we met a remarkable 22-year-old single mother. She was working two full-time jobs and going to school to pursue a degree in early childhood education while raising her 1-year-old daughter. She had escaped a bad situation at home and was operating on three hours of sleep a night to give her child opportunities that she never had. This young mother had fallen on hard times, but she never gave up. And the temporary shelter provided by “Community of Hope,” funded under the Recovery Act’s rapid re-housing program, was a lifeline to them. She inspired me and reinforced the importance of the work we do every day in this administration.
When I passed the gavel to our new Interagency Council Chair, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, I pledged to remain an active and engaged member of the body. Because the truth is, we can’t solve the homelessness problem without continuing to make progress on job training and job creation.
At our final meeting, we focused on finalizing a framework to solve the challenge of youth homelessness. I reported on the Department of Labor’s work to help at-risk and economically disadvantaged youth. Our agency provides job training to runaways, foster youth, homeless youth and those who face multiple barriers to employment. Our programs like Job Corps and YouthBuild have helped tens of thousands of youth earn academic and career technical credentials. We help them find jobs, continue their education and prepare for careers in the military. In doing so, we help keep so many at-risk youth on track and off the streets.
Successes like these are why I fight so hard as Labor Secretary to preserve critical program budgets that serve Americans most in need. By fighting the good fight and being our brother and sister’s keepers, I know we can help thousands more Americans go home for the holidays—their home.