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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, April 1, 2004

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

HHS Cites Progress in Fighting Chronic Homelessness

Secretary Thompson Completes Tenure As Chair Of U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today vowed to continue to push for an end to chronic homelessness by increasing the coordination among government programs to better serve those who have disabling conditions as well as no permanent place to live.

"In the past year, we've made significant strides in providing chronically homeless people with the comprehensive services needed to give them a real chance at recovery and stability," Secretary Thompson said. "We must build on this success and continue the momentum to better coordinate services and resources for the tens of thousands of Americans who are chronically homeless."

Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi today will succeed Secretary Thompson as chair of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates the activities of 20 federal agencies that are involved in addressing homelessness and develops strategies to reduce and end homelessness. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao will serve as vice chair.

During his one-year tenure as chair, Secretary Thompson focused on helping people who are chronically homeless to find permanent housing and become self-sufficient. These individuals often face special challenges arising from serious and disabling health conditions, such as psychiatric disorders and substance abuse, that greatly complicates their recovery.

On the day he assumed the chairmanship in March 2003, Secretary Thompson launched an HHS-wide strategy to address chronic homelessness. Since then, substantial progress has been made to coordinate government programs and resources to help this population:

  • HHS emphasizes the importance of providing services to people who are homeless as part of mainstream health and social service programs. For example, HHS' Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services today will issue a report highlighting what states are doing to improve Medicaid coverage and services for people who are chronically homeless. The report will be posted at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/medicaid/homeless/. In addition, HHS continues to expand health care services to homeless individuals through President Bush's Health Centers Initiatives. HHS this year is devoting $112 million to support new and expanded health centers. Last year, about 20 percent of the new center awards included services to homeless individuals.


  • In October, HHS and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) unveiled FirstStep, a compact disk that helps case managers link people who are homeless with federal benefit programs and resources for which they are eligible. To date, more than 10,000 service providers and policy makers have received copies of the disk. The resource is also available online at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/medicaid/homeless/firststep/index.html.


  • In October, HHS, HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) jointly awarded 11 grants totaling $35 million under a new Collaborative Initiative on Chronic Homelessness. The grantees are providing a range of services and supports needed to promote and maintain self-sufficiency, including access to housing services, substance abuse and mental health services and primary health care services. HHS will soon make available new technical assistance resources to these grantees to support their projects. In addition, HHS will commit $10 million in both fiscal years 2004 and 2005 to extend these projects, bringing HHS' total commitment to the joint initiative to $30 million.


  • At least 45 states now run statewide interagency councils to address homelessness. That approximately doubles the number of states known to have such councils a year ago, when Secretary Thompson wrote more than 30 governors and urged them to take such action to better coordinate resources and services.


  • HHS also co-sponsored a series of policy academies with HUD, VA and the Department of Labor on chronic homelessness to share expertise, ideas and solutions with leaders at the state and local level. Since 2002, HHS has held five such academies, reaching participants in 45 states. To date, 33 of those states have issued action plans that originated in these academies. HHS intends to host a national session in the fall to highlight solutions that emerged from these academies.

"With Secretary Principi's leadership, this council will continue to find new opportunities to pool our resources and skills to promote coordinated services to reach those in need," Secretary Thompson said. "By working across the federal government, and with state and local leaders, we can help more people find a permanent place to call home and provide the care and services necessary for them to return to community life."

"Secretary Thompson's leadership has made tangible this Administration's commitment to new resources and partnerships to end chronic homelessness," said Philip Mangano, the council's executive director. "Building on the accomplishments of the past year, we are now looking forward to the leadership of Secretary Principi and Secretary Chao." President Bush activated the Interagency Council on Homelessness in 2002. More information on the council is available at www.ich.gov.

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Last Revised: April 1, 2004