There is an awful lot of talk about homelessness in the United States. From one night counts to Ten Year Plans to Housing First versus shelter tonight, the conversation can quickly become hard to follow if you’re new to the issue. In today’s Summer School post, we try to help demystify the issue with a primer on homelessness initiatives.

There are a number of federally-funded programs that address the issues surrounding homelessness. The National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest incomes in the United States affordable and decent homes. We believe that the lack of access to affordable housing faced by extremely low income people is a central driver of homelessness. In this post, we take a look at some of the major programs and agencies that address issues of homelessness.

McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance ProgramsThe “McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs” refers to a set of federal programs that address homelessness. In 2009 HUD passed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which will improve these programs. HUD is currently drafting regulations to implement the HEARTH Act.

Emergency Solutions Grant ProgramFormerly know as the Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG), the Emergency Solutions Grant program is a part of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs that address the operation of emergency shelters and services for those in desperate need.

Continuum of Care Planning Process – The Continuum of Care (CoC) planning process was developed in 1994 as a uniform and comprehensive way for communities to apply for HUD’s homeless assistance funding and create plans for using it. CoCs can be local government agencies and community nonprofits working together to meet the needs of homeless persons. CoCs formulate annual plans to prevent homelessness based on each community’s respective needs and resources.

Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) – Established as a temporary program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program distributes funds to city, county and state governments in order to prevent homelessness and imminent housing instability. HPRP has been a first line of defense against an increase in homelessness caused by our nation’s economic recession. HPRP has enabled many communities to reduce homelessness and has helped many thousands of families and individuals avoid becoming homeless altogether.

Family Unification Program (FUP) – The Family Unification Program aims to keep families together by providing housing vouchers to parents who would otherwise become homeless and lose their children to foster care. FUP also grants vouchers to young people transitioning out of homelessness. Not only do vouchers through FUP keep families together and support young adults coming out of the foster care system, but the investment in the vouchers themselves is also more cost-effective than the alternatives. Foster care for children whose parents can’t afford housing and the cost of homelessness for unsupported youth aging out of foster care is significantly more expensive than vouchers. Investments in FUP save millions of federal dollars annually.

National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) – Established as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, the National Housing Trust Fund is intended to increase and preserve the supply of rental housing for extremely low income and very low income families, including homeless families, and to increase homeownership for extremely low and very low income families.  The NHTF has not yet been funded. NLIHC and the NHTF Campaign are working hard to advocate for short- and long-term funding for the NHTF, and to ensure the program regulations are suitable.

Housing Choice Vouchers The Section 8 voucher program, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher program, has long been a key tool in assisting low income households, the elderly, and people with disabilities to find affordable housing. Vouchers currently assist over 2 million low income households in this effort and allow households in need the opportunity to find a stable home and to stay off the streets. The Housing Choice Voucher program is currently HUD’s largest rental assistance program, and its guidelines ensure that it serves the lowest income people. By making housing affordable, Housing Choice Vouchers are akey tool for preventing and ending homelessness.

HUD-VASH VouchersThe HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program integrates Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance with case management and clinical services for homeless veterans through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). VA offers these services for veterans at VA medical centers (VAMCs) and outreach clinics in communities across the country.

Housing and Services Demonstration In its budget request, HUD requested funds for a new Housing and Services Demonstration for Homeless Persons that would serve both homeless families and individuals. HUD is requested $57 million for the demonstration to combine services for individuals and families through the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) – The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is an independent federal agency that coordinates homelessness policies for 19 federal departments. These departments include HUD, Health and Human Services, and the Veteran Affairs. ICH’s main task is the implementation of the federal ten year plan to end homelessness, as well as the coordination with and oversight of plans around the nation to do so at a local level. ICH also released Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in 2010. The plan aims to end chronic and veteran homelessness in five years, and ending homelessness for families, youth, and children in 10 years.

Housing Plus Services (HPS) – Housing Plus Services is a NLIHC-coined term for permanent affordable housing that integrates services such as job training, transportation assistance, and crisis intervention for those who need it. By combining the physical structure of a house with the intangible support that elderly, disabled, or recently homeless tenants need, HPS is an essential component of providing a solid foundation for Americans in need to establish their homes and themselves.

Supporting the creation, preservation, and growth of all of these programs are numerous national organization besides NLIHC. Learn more about them below!

National Alliance to End Homelessness
“The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a nonprofit, non-partisan, organization committed to preventing and ending homelessness in the United States. By improving policy, building capacity, and educating opinion leaders, the Alliance has become a leading voice on this issue.”

National Center for Housing & Child Welfare
“NCHCW works at the local, regional and national level to create cross-agency partnerships to enable communities to respond appropriately to families and youth who are caught at the intersection of housing and child welfare. NCHCW aims to create the conditions necessary for these partnerships to thrive…”

National Coalition for the Homeless
“The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness.”

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
“NCHV will end homelessness among veterans by shaping public policy, promoting collaboration, and building the capacity of service providers.”

National Housing Law Project
“For over 40 years, NHLP has been dedicated to advancing housing justice for the poor by using the power of the law to increase and preserve the supply of decent affordable housing, to improve existing housing conditions, including physical conditions and management practices, to expand and enforce low-income tenants’ and homeowners’ rights, and to increase opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities.”

United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
“HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.”