I remember sitting in a large meeting room in downtown Los Angeles with about 60 other community and political leaders who were all connected in some way to working toward addressing homelessness in Los Angeles, what many still call the “Homeless Capitol” of America.
The year was 2003, and most of us on this Blue Ribbon panel thought at the time that the buzz of excitement in the room signified a new era in solving L.A.’s dismal struggle to address homelessness. Our task was to create a “ten year plan to end homelessness” in Los Angeles.
With little political support, however, by 2005 the proposed plan to end homelessness in Los Angeles, titled “Bring L.A. Home”, was dead.
But other cities throughout the country were more successful in navigating their “ten year plan” through the waters of local politics. Hundreds of cities and jurisdictions adopted plans to eradicate homelessness.
This national campaign started back in 2000, when the National Alliance to End Homelessness put out a call for this country to end homelessness in ten years. The challenge was audacious, but it caught the attention of then-Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Mel Martinez, who endorsed the idea of ending homelessness in ten years.
When former President George W. Bush appointed Philip Mangano to head the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness in 2002, the federal campaign to end chronic homelessness within ten years officially began in earnest. Hundreds of cities signed on to the pact.
This year marks the chronological end to the 2002 federal ten year plan effort. Did it work? Certainly, most Americans just have to walk down the street of their urban neighborhood or drive out to the edge of town to see that chronic homelessness is still a tragic human element of this country’s landscape.
Ten years ago, the signs of homelessness were men bundled in donated blankets or disheveled panhandlers on the off-ramps of freeways. Today, the markers are old recreational vehicles inter-dispersed among parked cars or encampments of homeless veterans hidden away from urban centers.
Those who doubted the ambitious effort to eradicate homelessness are probably still rolling their eyes at any mention of a plan to fight America’s extreme poverty. But advocates of the plan would say that the effort successfully focused this country’s limited resources on the most chronic segment of the homeless population. Besides, they say, it took most cities several years to adopt a ten year plan. So the ten-year clock is still ticking.
In 2010, at the eighth year of the plan and before anyone could begin to examine the results of the effort, the federal government performed a tactical reboot on this country’s plan to end chronic homelessness.
Two years ago, the Obama Administration created Plan 2.0, “Opening Doors”, a call to end chronic and veterans homelessness in five years (2015), and family homelessness in ten years (2020).
A year later in 2011, leaders in Los Angeles, California performed their own reboot of a plan that could not get started back in 2003. They called it “Home For Good”, and proposed to end chronic and veterans homelessness in five years (2016).
So many plans and so many end-dates, both past and future. Did chronic homelessness in America end in 2012? No. Was the ten year plan to end homelessness a failure? No.
Are the new Plans 2.0, projected to end chronic and veterans homelessness in the next handful of years, going to succeed? It depends on what our definition of “success” is.
Creating a plan to end homelessness is a roadmap on how to literally end this sad human American tragedy by showing this country that we have the capacity to actually accomplish it. Whether our leaders, both locally and nationally, have the political courage to fund and implement such a plan is another issue.
Have these plans successfully created a path toward ending homelessness in this country? A resounding yes.
Perhaps this decade-long initiative to end homelessness has taught us a lesson. Perhaps we should not be counting years. Ten years. Five years.
Instead, maybe we should be counting homes. Like the latest, most innovative national initiative, the 100,000 Homes Campaign, that is counting the number of chronic homeless neighbors who are being permanently housed.
Photo credit: Lichfield District Council