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Outcome of Ten-Year Plans to End Chronic Homelessness: Case Studies of Implemented Plans

In the summer of 2015, this writer interviewed key informants involved in the implementation of ten-year plans to end chronic homelessness in five American cities: Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; Houston, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Washington, D.C. These cities were reported to have achieved some measure of success by either the National Alliance to End Homelessness or media reports. The ability of these cities to put their plans to work signaled an opportunity to explore how the plans were implemented, the critical elements associated with goal achievement, obstacles that had to be overcome, and the level of success in ending chronic homelessness. The point-in-time data from each city’s annual count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people was the source for determining progress in reducing chronic homelessness.

Portland, Oregon

"Home Again: A Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County” was released in December of 2004. Inspired by the national effort focused on chronic homelessness, Portland’s city government established a blue ribbon committee, composed of the mayor, the local representative of HUD, business leaders, and health care providers, charged with mobilizing stakeholders in housing, health, and mental health care to work collaboratively to address chronic homelessness at the city and county levels. Leadership responsible for implementing the plan included

Heather Lyons, a community organizer, and City Commissioner Eric Sten, who headed the housing authority. The expansion of permanent supportive housing was an early accomplishment of the ten-year plan initiative. Two federal grants were obtained to support existing apartments clustered throughout the community. In addition, the Corporation for Supportive Housing awarded a seed money grant to Portland to develop new construction for 1,600 units of supportive housing.

Before the ten-year plan reached the halfway point, changes in the political leadership of city and county government, with accompanying staff changes, interfered with its implementation. Moreover, the economic recession of 2007-2008 increased unemployment among low-wage workers and placed greater numbers of Portlanders at risk of homelessness. A revised plan for ending homelessness, "A Home for Everyone: A United Community Plan to End Homelessness in Multnomah County,” was developed in 2012, broadening the focus on ending homelessness to include families with children, unaccompanied youth, women, veterans, and adults with disabilities. Operational changes included the creation of a governance committee to oversee the work of the plan, and the development of an action plan that emphasizes goal achievement, outcome assessments, and cost effectiveness. Sally Erickson assumed a leadership role in implementing the new plan, succeeding Heather Lyons.

The 2015 point-in-time count, carried out on January 28, 2015, revealed that there were 3,801 homeless people in Multnomah County, 837 of whom were chronically homeless (Kristina Smock Consulting, 2015). Although there was a 54 percent increase in number of chronically homeless people between 2011 and 2013, by 2015, the number of chronically homeless people had decreased by 15 percent compared to the 2013 high. The report noted that the community’s continuing struggle with homelessness has occurred in the context of high housing costs, low vacancy rates, stagnant wages, and persistent unemployment among low-wage workers.

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