July 21, 2009

The HEARTH Act evolves from 20 years of failed policy. Will it work?

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assitance Act was the first federal response to the growing homelessness crisis in the United States. Passed in 1987, it established that homelessness is an immediate and growing problem that the nation had an obligation to address. In May 2009, Congress passed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which reauthorized the McKinney-Vento programs. It was the first significant reauthorization in nearly 20 years.

Look at the problem today compared to 1987 and ask yourself how the originators of the act, Stuart McKinney and Bruce Vento would feel today if they were still alive.

The intent of the the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was a decent and honorable one but the execution of this Act has been an abysmal failure. The Act essentially led to the creation of HUD's Continuum of Care which has resulted in the mother of all containment systems and duped millions into believing that homelessness could be solved by using a plan based on managing homelessness.

We are reaping the consequences of two decades of battling the effects of homelessness on people and communities. McKinney-Vento led to the mobilization and deployment of thousands of programs and millions of people that went into battle against a very tough opponent (homelessness), with pitch forks and axes. No real battle plan, no exit strategy, no hope to win...just a bunch of pitchforks and axes flying around that made it look like we were fighting the good fight. The outcome? We got our butts handed to us. More homeless then ever. 1.2 million CHILDREN homeless. It's bad. real bad.

Its like if your local hospital used candy stripers to run around and give magazines and hugs to patients lying in beds on a morphine drip. The real problems never get addressed and people churn around in the system for a long time. Some get out but many just die. That's what happens today in America after spending billions and billions of dollars. Millions of people churn around the homeless system, some get out (about 20% MAYBE), some die but most just CHURN, stuck in it.

But here is the scary part...the new HEARTH Act evolved not from a new battle plan with sound strategies built on core values to defeat (solve) homelessness, but to put a giant dome over the battle and call it housed. It is a colossal REACTION to the failure of McKinney Vento. It is NOT, in my 19 years of being on the front lines of this thing, a real plan to defeat homelessness.

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