Critique of Opening Doors Federal Homeless Plan

Here’s an excerpt from our latest post for Change.org:

In our previous post about Opening Doors (pdf), the federal government’s first official plan to prevent and end homelessness, we stated that the release of this plan could be a defining moment in the history of the ending homelessness movement. It certainly feels like it is to us. Our initial critique of the plan was that we would have preferred to have the government commit to ending family, youth and child homelessness in five years (instead of ten), as it sets out for chronic homelessness and veteran homelessness. We also cautioned against stakeholder egos and bureaucracies getting in the way of progress. Analyzing the plan in greater detail and taking some time to reflect on it brings us to the conclusion that it is long on generalities and short on specifics.

First, let’s look at what’s good about the plan. It’s heartening to see its emphasis on homelessness prevention measures like the Housing First model, rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment and cultural competency. Veterans, children, survivors of domestic violence and LGBTQ  populations also get top billing. The plan notes that the drive to end homelessness “should be locally driven, reflecting local conditions, since a one-size-fits-all plan does not exist. Interdisciplinary, interagency and intergovernmental action is required to effectively create comprehensive responses to the complex problem of homelessness.” It says we need to make “best practices standard operating procedure as we adopt an increasingly evidence-driven approach.” So far, so good.

Now on to what’s not so great about this plan. Despite the plan’s finite timelines, there are too many open-ended goals with no concrete specifics on how to achieve them. One of the words widely used in the plan is “encourage,” such as when it states we should “encourage partnerships between housing providers and health and behavioral health care providers,” “encourage existing temporary residential programs to transform or set aside beds that would support a safe haven model,” “encourage communities to transform transitional housing programs to permanent supportive housing or transition-in-place models where appropriate,” and “continue to increase use of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) by local communities and encourage its use by additional programs targeted at homelessness.” How about mandating instead of merely encouraging? “Encourage” sounds nice in theory, but can be nearly ignored in practice.

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