The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Thomas
We often hear this saying in connection with national security
issues, particularly external threats. Within the last decade, the
United States has experienced the attacks of September 11, 2001; a
variety of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and
floods; a major recession; and a crisis of confidence in
government. These events challenge each of us as individuals and as
These events also have taught us that eternal vigilance applies not
just to the traditional notions of national security as physical
defense of our country; we also must consider related issues such
as economic security, and the education, health, and well-being of
all of our citizensincluding the homeless. The Obama
administrations focus on the elimination of homelessness presents
another aspect of vigilance. A great nation understands that every
citizen represents a valued potential for contributing to the
nations growth, development, and continued well-being. When
citizens face conditions, such as homelessness, that reduce their
potential to use their talents to contribute to their own
well-being and to that of the nation, we are all the poorer for
Every night in America, approximately 650,000 people are homeless.
The reasons for this condition are many and varied, including a
lack of adequate retirement funds among the elderly; economic loss;
lack of education; and physical, mental, and emotional illnesses
that render individuals unable to care for themselves and their
families. The financial and human toll on these individuals, their
children, the community, and the nation are calculated in the
multiple billions of dollars each year.
The three articles in this series on ending homeless-ness examine
causes of and solutions to homelessness. The first article, by
Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development, argues that smart government holds the solutions
to the issues of homelessness and requires appropriate involvement
at the local, state, and federal levels. Smart government also
involves setting goals and metrics to measure progress.
Secretary Donovan writes, More than 300 communities committed to
ending chronic homelessness, partnering with local and state
agencies and the private and nonprofit sectors. By combining
housing and supportive services, they led a remarkable fight that
has reduced the number of chronically homeless by more than a third
in five years.
One of the lessons learned from the 9/11 experience and from
Hurricane Katrina is that collaboration among levels of government
and government organizations is essential to solving the complex
problems of todays world.
Barbara Poppe, executive director of the United States Interagency
Council on Homelessness, writes, In May 2009, President Barack
Obama and Congress charged the United States Interagency Council on
Homelessness (USICH) to develop a national strategic plan to end
homelessness with enactment of the Homeless Emergency Assistance
and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act. USICH, an independent
federal agency composed of 19 Cabinet secretaries and agency heads,
coordinates the federal response to homelessness through
partnerships at every level of government and with the private and
Poppes article discusses how the USICP responded to that challenge
and the initial results of that effort.
Professor Frances L. Edwardss article provides a series of
vignettes that summarizes the immediate and long-term consequences
of homelessness on individuals and families, many of whom live at
the economic and social margins of society. She posits a series of
risk-mitigation solutions that can help prevent, or at least
decrease, the causes of homelessness.
Edwards writes, There is no government or private program that will
make a family whole after a communi-ty-wide disaster.
Risk-based zoning and strict building codes are important
mitigation measures. Communities should forbid construction of
multi-unit residential properties in flood plains, on active fault
lines, or in other unstable or dangerous areas. Single-family homes
should have risk-related mitigation requirements in geologically
unstable areas, flood plains, wild land urban interface fire zones,
and in areas with significant weather threats. Such steps will
lessen the likelihood that a community will have to care for large
numbers of residents made permanently homeless by disasters.
Strategies and programs that help the homeless obtain sustainable
housing, improved healthcare, and access to community-based jobs
bring stability and dignity to these individuals and their
families, and allow them to become contributing members of American
About the Forum
This forum on homeless-ness describes the federal governments
collaborative efforts to tackle a problem that drains the united
States of vast resources, and, the authors argue, threatens
Americas national security.