In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the issue of homelessness, in part because the economic downturn has placed more individuals and households at risk of homelessness. Federal homelessness programs are fragmented across multiple agencies and some show evidence of overlap.
Federal programs for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness generally are designed to provide housing assistance and other services such as health care, job training, or substance abuse treatment. The Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Affairs (VA)are responsible for the majority of programs. For example:
- HUD is the primary agency providing funding for housing, such as emergency shelters, permanent housing, and transitional housing. In addition, HUD collects data on homelessness in part to assist with service planning on the federal level.
- HHS and VA typically operate programs or provide funding for supportive services such as health care, substance abuse treatment, and employment assistance, though most VA programs are available only to men and women who have served in the military and been discharged under honorable or general circumstances.
These agencies and the Department of Labor have multiple programs that offer similar services to similar beneficiaries. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is required to coordinate the federal response to homelessness and has taken several steps to coordinate efforts and promote initiatives across federal agencies, including developing a strategic plan.