New center from HUD and HHS helps people with disabilities find housing

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expanding a partnership with several Health and Human Services agencies.

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expanding a partnership with several Health and Human Services agencies. Now they’ve launched an entity called the Housing Services Resource Center. It’s all aimed at ensuring people with disabilities can get the type of housing they need. For details, HUD’s Senior Adviser for Housing and Services Richard Cho joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Mr. Cho, good to have you on.

Richard Cho: Thanks for having me. Tom.

Tom Temin: Well, tell us about this partnership, because when you are dealing with people with medical or other types of disabilities, then there are resources at HHS that HUD may not have?

Richard Cho:  That’s exactly right, Tom. This new resource center is kind of the latest example of what HUD and HHS are trying to do together to try to address the housing needs of people who have disabilities, but also older adults, as well as people experiencing homelessness. Those are populations where they need not only access to affordable housing, but also wraparound services in order to, in the case of older adults, to age in place and remain in their homes as long as possible, for people with disabilities to avoid institutional care, and for people experiencing homelessness obviously to be able to exit the streets or homeless shelters. And so this new resource center enables us to leverage the resources that HUD has and the resources that HHS has and help communities to use those together.

Tom Temin: I guess the sad fact is that many of the people who are on the streets may also have some pretty serious deficiencies or afflictions mentally, or maybe addiction and so forth, that accompanies that homelessness.

Richard Cho: That’s right. And also, frankly, physical disability as well. Our data shows that about half of the people who use homeless shelters across the country report having some form of either physical or psychiatric disability. That’s a pretty astonishing rate. We’re also seeing a trend of growing number of seniors and older adults who are experiencing homelessness, many for the first time. And so I think our opportunity to work together with HHS to solve these challenges together is really critical. And so we’re really excited about the launch of this resource center.

Tom Temin: And by the way, a few years ago, HUD had a program and I think HHS also participated. This goes back, golly, early in the Obama administration, where they would go to the streets and take a census of homeless people, really count the heads, so to speak. Does that still happen these days?

Richard Cho: That does still happen. That happens on an annual basis, and we report that data annually. In fact, we’ll be releasing the report from the 2021 point-in-time count on homelessness in a few weeks. What I did want to note is that last year, as happened with many things, COVID-19 also disrupted many communities’ ability to conduct their unsheltered counts. If you recall, that was before vaccines were widespread and available, and so many communities asked HUD for a waiver, and we granted that and not conduct on their own shelter count. So the data we’ll be providing regarding what homelessness look like at the beginning of last year will be somewhat incomplete, but there’ll be some, I think, interesting data points they’ll still be able to point to. We also are asking communities to conduct a full count this year, now that we do have additional COVID protections. And so at the end of this month, and some communities are pushing into February, we’ll be conducting another annual point-in-time count on homelessness.

Tom Temin: And has the pandemic itself had an effect on homelessness?

Richard Cho: It has. Without sharing too much of the report that we’ll be releasing soon, there’s both positives and negatives that pandemic has had. Obviously, the pandemic has put a lot more people into housing security. Our data shows that there are really high number of renters who are falling behind in rent, people who are not able to stay in their homes. Both the eviction moratorium as well as emergency rental systems has helped many people to keep their homes. But obviously many people are facing challenges. On the other hand, communities kind of sprang into action to protect people from COVID-19. And many communities kind of diversified the way that they provide emergency shelter. Many communities rented hotels and motels as a way to protect people and spread them apart. And we found that those hotels and motels have been really successful, not only in protecting people from COVID, but engaging people who would otherwise not come into shelter and help them to engage in services and ultimately seek help in finding housing.

Tom Temin: I was gonna say, when you say help in finding housing, that implication is that hotels motels are okay for temporary rescue. But that’s not really a long-term solution, ideally.

Richard Cho: That’s exactly right. And so one of the most exciting things that’s happened over the last year, through the American Rescue Plan, is that HUD has now provided communities with historic resources in a single year to address homelessness. That includes nearly 70,000 emergency housing vouchers. So these are similar to housing choice vouchers, except they’re focused specifically on homelessness. And we’ve awarded those to nearly 600 housing authorities across the country who are partnering with homeless service organizations. We also provided $5 billion in grants to help communities to expand permanent supportive housing, at least to pay for the capital resources to actually fund the creation of new supportive housing. And of course, supportive housing requires a partnership where coordinating housing with services. And so that’s where this resource center also comes into play, where we’re working closely with HHS to say, they provided additional resources to states and communities to fund wraparound services through the American Rescue Plan. We want to make sure that communities are aware of how to use HHS resources, in conjunction with HUD resources, to scale permanent supportive housing.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Richard Cho. He’s senior advisor for housing and services at Housing and Urban Development. And so you have this new center, I guess, the Housing Services Resource Center. I guess the implication there, then, is that because programs and resources tend to be siloed — you’ve got the health channel, you’ve got the housing channel, and all of this kind of offset once by state and local bureaucratic setups — that somehow you’re trying to integrate the services to the person being helped. It looks like one government.

Richard Cho: That is exactly what we’re trying to do. Now, the way that you can fund supportive services using HHS resources — specifically, Medicaid — Medicaid can fund case management, it can fund home based visiting services, it can fund services that kind of wrap around people who are either homeless or living with disabilities or providing services for older adults in their homes. But it gets fairly technical fairly quickly. So you need people who are experts on understanding Medicaid, SAMSA’s mental health and substance abuse programs and other resources, as well as to understand all the array of housing resources that you can leverage. And so we know it’s not easy to understand not only sort of all the technical requirements on both the HHS side as well as the HUD side. And so this resource center is an attempt to try to not only provide clear information on how those resources can be used to pair and coordinate housing and services, but also to help strengthen the cross-sector collaboration at the state and local level and break down the silos locally. We want to see more partnerships between housing agencies and the health care and services agencies at the state and local level. And what we want to do is help handhold them to help them understand how to take the federal resources, put them together, and, as you noted, create a kind of seamless intervention for many more older adults, people with disabilities and people who are experiencing homelessness.

Tom Temin: Now, there are many agencies we’ve talked about here. There’s CMS, there’s SAMSA, there’s the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. That’s from the HHS side, plus people from the HUD side. And of course, I won’t ask if you have a physical office location, because nobody has that these days. But are there people assigned full time to this particular partnership and the structures that’s engendered?

Richard Cho: Yeah, I think that you captured it well. What we’re trying to do is create a vehicle for coordinating not only across those four HHS agencies that you mentioned, but also the offices within HUD that administer resources. We’re trying to leverage the resources that are managed and administered by our Office of Public and Indian Housing, our Office of Housing and Multifamily Programs, and our Office of Community Planning and Development. So even breaking down the silos within HUD to sort of help them understand how to use different types of housing resources, as well as HHS. And so we are collaborating with HHS on a weekly basis. And I think one of the bright sides of the pandemic is our ability to use technology like Microsoft Teams or Zoom as a way to actually make it easier for us to collaborate. We don’t have to travel across from one federal building to another scheduling meetings. We can actually pull together meetings very quickly to help us coordinate in our plan or technical assistance activities. And I think that regularity of communication and our ability to kind of think about how to not only offer TA in our respective silos, but walk for TA — our technical assistance — in a coordinated way, that’s really key. So yes, there are some staff who are not specifically dedicated, but who are carving out a big portion of their time to coordinate our activities through this resource center.

Tom Temin: And what are your metrics for success? Because you can get fewer people on the street and into housing, but that won’t necessarily have solved all the problems they have to keep them off the street. So beyond the sheer population of homeless, do you have other metrics to know your program is working?

Richard Cho: Yeah, you know, sadly, I think the number of examples of states that I think are really comprehensively, and at scale, coordinating housing and services for older adults, or people with disabilities or people experiencing homelessness, is still fairly small. The kind of examples that we’ve seen where states and communities are really leveraging these resources together, you know, it’s still few and far between. I think the biggest metrics for success, Tom, is will we see many more states and communities taking full advantage of the federal resources that are available to create housing and services that help older adults to avoid nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, to transition more people with disabilities out of group homes and nursing homes, and to take more people off the streets and using housing and services. We want to see many more examples. We can point to a few, such as the state of Vermont that has really been a leader in coordinating housing and services for older adults through their services and support at home model known as SASH. The state of Louisiana has actually been a leader in coordinating Medicaid, finance wraparound services with vouchers, to address homelessness. But you know, those are a few examples. And we’d like to see many more states doing exactly what Vermont and Louisiana and many other states have done.

Tom Temin: Richard Cho is senior advisor for housing and services and Housing and Urban Development. Thanks so much for joining me.

Richard Cho: Thank you so much for having me, Tom.

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