Thank you, Governor Baldacci — for that introduction and for the leadership that you provide, particularly to Maine’s most vulnerable families. This is a special day for this community — and I want to thank everyone in this room who made it possible.
We all recognize the remarkable strides our country has made in tackling homelessness in recent years. As Portland knows as well as anyone, by reducing chronic homelessness by a third inside of four years, we proved that we could house anyone.
Our challenge now is to house everyone — and Florence House is showing us how we can.
By providing three types of housing–from independent living to safe havens to emergency beds–to 60 women here in Portland–each of whom face unique challenges–Florence House recognizes that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to confronting homelessness in our communities.
I’m here in Portland today because it’s time the Federal government understood that as well.
That’s the goal of HUD’s new Quarterly Homeless Pulse Report, where, for the first time, we are tracking real-time changes in homelessness.
And it’s the goal of the $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which was created through the Recovery Act.
Today, I’m proud to announce the number of families this program has helped these last 16 months. In all, President Obama’s Recovery Act has served more than 357,000 people — at a moment in which communities need it most.
But that’s not all it’s done. For the Federal government, HPRP is helping shift our focus to actually preventing homelessness — and according to a US Conference of Mayors survey, it’s helping two thirds of cities fundamentally change the way they structure their response.
These funds complement the $1.4 billion of funding that HUD provides to more than 6,400 local programs serving our nation’s homeless men, women and children provide the foundation for facilities like Florence House.
These grants support a broad range of housing and services — from street outreach and safe havens…to transitional and especially permanent homes.
A significant portion of these dollars and grants help serve families with children — which is particularly important given the troubling increase in the number of homeless families, particularly from suburban and rural areas.
Given these challenges, President Obama increased HUD’s commitment to homelessness funding by another $188 million for 2010, in addition to the significant increases in Section 8 and other rental assistance efforts we know are crucial to tackling homelessness.
For next year, we have asked for a $200 million increase in homelessness assistance — a 10 percent increase overall and a significant commitment to confront a significant need in very a tight fiscal environment.
And in the HUD Strategic Plan which we recently unveiled, we have made ending homelessness and reducing the number of families with worst case housing needs an agency priority for the next six years.
Still, we all know that preventing homelessness is bigger than any one federal agency.
That’s why, as the current chair of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, we are on the verge of releasing the first-ever federal plan to prevent and end homelessness — the most far-reaching and ambitious in our history.
This plan will both strengthen existing partnerships–such as HUD’s efforts with the Veterans’ Affairs to help homeless veterans–and also to forge new partnerships between agencies like HHS and the Labor Department. And it will make ending homelessness a priority for every agency in our government.
And so, President Obama and I believe that this is a watershed moment for our country — and for how we tackle one of our society’s greatest problems.
It’s the culmination of all that we have learned about this problem from communities like Portland over the years.
By building on those remarkable local innovations and by providing those tools to every community in the country, I believe–and President Obama believes–that we can provide every American–from the most capable to the most vulnerable–the opportunity to reach their full potential.
That is what this effort is about — that is what Florence Young’s life is about. And it’s what we are all committed to realizing in the days and weeks to come.