I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t expect social issues to be solved by government but that government should play a significant role in helping communities solve their problems. Homelessness is no exception.
Our federal, state, and local governments can, and should, assist us as we end homelessness in our community. So, allow me to play policy wonk for a minute and offer suggestions for how we can all encourage our government to continue partnering with us to solve the issue of homelessness.
At the federal level we need Congress to appropriately fund current initiatives that work – Homeless Assistance Grants through the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD); Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HUD); Supportive Housing Vouchers, Supportive Services for Veteran Families, and Per Diem grants through the Veterans Administration (VA); Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Programs through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HUD).
I can attest to the value of these federally funded programs. In 2008, Congress passed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, thereby establishing a National Housing Trust Fund. This fund could be a significant tool to ending homelessness, however Congress has yet to authorize funding. We need Congress to establish a permanent revenue source to make the National Housing Trust Fund a reality.
At the state level, the N.C. General Assembly has to completely address the fiasco that our statewide mental health system is in today. For too long, our state has dabbled with mental health reform, never fully choosing a path and then committing to it for the long run. We have to expand Medicaid (which, by the way, the federal government will fund) so that thousands of North Carolinians will have access not only to healthcare but also critically needed mental health services. We’re very fortunate in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County to have our City and County governments committed to ending homelessness. We need to continue to thank our local government officials and elected leaders, while also not letting them forget that their continued leadership and financial support will be critical to ending homelessness in our community.
What can you do? Well, becoming a policy wonk isn’t necessary. Letting your federal, state, and local elected officials know that you want them to continue supporting smart fiscal and regulatory policies to end homelessness would help a lot. It’s easy to contact them, just search Congress, NC General Assembly, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg to quickly find lists and contact information for your representatives.
If you want more information about federal policy, the National Alliance to End Homelessness produces an annual policy guide that you can find on their website www.endhomelessness.org. There are so many ways to get involved in ending homelessness. While influencing public policy often seems slow and tedious, it is absolutely necessary and one way you can make a difference.