Reducing Homelessness

Government and Homelessness

Although the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is the primary government agency addressing homelessness, the U. S. Department of Education and U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs also have homeless related services.    Changes in legislation, rules and regulations as well as changes in funding levels affect the extent of the government's role in serving the homeless.  While the federal government, sets the standards for programs and provides grants for easing the burden of homelessness, funds are often managed by states via a federally funded block grant.
The National Coalition for the Homeless has identified several categories of federal assistance such as Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities and for the Elderly, Housing Choice Voucher Program and 
Single Room Occupancy.  Other categories are:

  • Hope VI Program provides grants to public housing agencies to replace distressed housing units.
  • Public Housing for low income families and for elderly individuals (annual grant program to local public housing agencies under HUD)
  • Home Investment Partnerships Program (formula grants to states and localities)
  • Rural Home Ownership direct Loan Program (Section 502)
  • Rural Rental Housing Loans (Section 515)
  • Farm Labor Housing Loans and Grants (Section 514/516)
  • FHASecure allows refinancing into FHA's mortgage insurance program if payments had been on time before reset of interest rates.

For details as well as recommendations for further government interventions go to ( ) or ( )

For the Guidance Letter on homelessness and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 go to (

Homelessness occurs for many reasons ranging from natural disasters to wars and from de-institutionalization to foreclosures.  Wars, civil unrest, fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and avalanches destroy residences suddenly and unexpectedly. Unemployment and underemployment over time can lead to mortgage foreclosures and slowly rob people of the security of their homes.

During war times factories and businesses change to accommodate the government's needs for military supplies.  In doing so, they draw employees from other locations and create housing shortages.  For example, during World War II in Connecticut there were not enough rentals for the many workers coming to work.  Men had to rent a "hot bed" for 8 hours at a time for shelter. 

Deinstitutionalization  contributed to the numbers of homeless in a given area.  When community supports were not in place in time for the large numbers of patients released from confinement in mental hospitals in the 1960's, some of them wound up on the streets.  Individuals released from prison, the military, a rehabilitation center, or other form of distant confinement do not always have homes to return to. 

Adequate shelter protects individuals from the elements.  On the streets those who are homeless are more exposed to the extremes of weather hot/cold and wet/dry as well as animal, insect, and human predators. Shelter provides a place of rest, renewal, and restoration.  Having a primary residence invokes a sense of security from predators.Individuals that become homeless may attempt to sleep in vehicles, tents, empty buildings, under bridges, and other makeshift places to rest. 

Since the homeless no longer have a permanent address or telephone, they lose contact with neighbors, families and friends who might have offered some help.  Personal hygiene suffers.  The ability to launder clothing and look presentable for potential employers is more problematic.  Nutritious meals are a thing of the past much less health care and dental care. Access to banks is limited. Subjects of ridicule and victims of violence the homeless have a tough road to travel.  Homeless families with children have disrupted education facing them.

Non-Governmental Organizations

Temporary Shelters --Most shelters for the homeless are temporary night-time shelters. At times they are overcrowded and space is limited.  Those who enter shelters give up privacy, personal security, and quiet.  They bed down next to people from a wide range of life experiences.  Since most homeless individuals cannot afford storage costs, they bring all belongings with them in a bag, a cart, or other carrier.  Some individuals prefer sleeping on the streets to standing in line for entry, an evening meal, an indoor restroom, and a mattress/cot to sleep on.  While churches and synagogues have attempted to informally provide temporary shelter, city zoning laws and safety requirements must be met or these needed resources are closed down.      

Habitat for Humanity-- is partnership housing.  The future homeowner works side by side with volunteers to build a simple but adequate house. The mortgage consists of a no-interest loan that upon payback enables the next needy individual to begin participating in partnership housing. The founders Millard and Linda Fuller in 1976 launched this housing ministry as an avenue of Christian service.  Habitat for Humanity is now international with affiliates in all fifty states.  It has built more than 350,000 houses which shelter 1.75 million people in 3,000 communities worldwide.   

National Alliance to End Homelessness--collaborates with the public, private, and nonprofit sectors at the state and local levels to help end homelessness.  They provide data and research to policymakers and elected officials for policy debates as well as educate the public and opinion leaders nationwide.  It began with a group of concerned citizens who founded the National Citizens Committee for Food and Shelter in 1983.  In 1987 it became the National Alliance to End Homelessness and expanded to a federation of 2,000 providers and public agencies.  During 2003 to 2007 the organization increased its contributions to federal and local policy making, community capacity building, education and research.  

National Coalition for the Homeless--is a national network primarily of people who are, or have been, homeless.  The network also includes advocates, service providers, and others committed to the mission of ending homelessness.  They provide public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing, believing that the homeless have to be involved in solving the problems of homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) focuses on justice in housing, economics, and health care as well as civil rights.  Visit their website ( for historical information as well as current activities.  They also have links to many ongoing projects, news, fact sheets, publications, speakers' bureau, and directories.