United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
Opening Doors Across America
September 22, 2011

Become an Opening Doors Community
This new federal initiative offers communities across the country support, guidance, and clear steps to prevent and end homelessness locally.

In the last few years, remarkable progress has been made in our commitment to prevent and end homelessness. Together, we made history in 2010 with the launch of Opening Doors, the first ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Over the past 15 months, there has been unprecedented collaboration from federal agencies with one another, and with state and local governments and nonprofits in our efforts to implement the Plan. We need to accelerate our progress to reach the goals in Opening Doors.

Over the last decade with the support of the federal government and national advocacy organizations, local communities have made substantial advancements by developing over 300 community plans to prevent and end homelessness. Many are being implemented, others have stalled, and some communities need to reassess their approach.

Today, USICH is excited to announce Opening Doors Across America, a call to action for states and local communities. We are inviting states and communities across the country to formally join this national effort by taking four steps:
Align your community plan with Opening Doors
Set targets and measure results
Act strategically
Partner in the national efforts to end homelessness
Taking these actions and becoming an Opening Doors Community will help your community achieve results and be recognized as a champion for your leadership in ending homelessness. This is something you can highlight as you seek to advance your goals by applying for local, state, and federal programs. It will also connect you to a support network through a feedback exchange with USICH and other signatory communities.

Now more than ever, we need a sense of urgency. In this tight budget environment, community-wide and cross-government strategic planning is a pivotal step in ending homelessness and can result in demonstrable decreases in homelessness and cost savings when the plans are well-crafted and implemented. Now is the time to collaborate and to invest in and act on strategies that are proven to make an impact.

Through collaboration at all levels of government, the nation can harness public resources and build on the innovations that have been demonstrated at the local level and in cities nationwide to employ cost effective, comprehensive solutions so that everyone from the most capable to the most vulnerable has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

The Four Steps of Opening Doors Across America and Examples from the Field
Building upon the success and best practices implemented by cities, counties, and states

As part of the launch of Opening Doors Across America, USICH is pleased to share that the call to action has been endorsed by recognized elected leaders in ending homelessness: Mayor Ashley Swearengin of Fresno, CA; Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, CA; Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, OH; and Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado. These leaders specifically indicated the importance of aligning state and local plans with the goals, objectives, and strategies of Opening Doors.

Many communities across the country have made great strides in their efforts to prevent and end homelessness locally. In this issue and future online communications USICH will call out cities, counties, and states that are leading the way so that their successful programs and partnerships can be used as models for other communities around the country. Below, we link successful state and local initiatives with the four steps of Opening Doors Across America. Later this year, USICH will roll out a solutions database capturing many of these initiatives.

Align with Opening Doors

The first action to become an Opening Doors Community is to align your community plan to end homelessness with the strategies and objectives of Opening Doors and to adopt its four goals:
Finish the job of ending chronic homelessness by 2015
Prevent and end Veterans homelessness by 2015
Prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children by 2020
Set a path toward ending all types of homelessness
If you have already aligned your plan, please let us know.

Norwalk, CT released a strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness earlier this year that aligns with Opening Doors.

– Read more about Norwalk’s plan

Set Targets and Measure Results

As a part of the second step, commit to incremental targets, measure your progress toward the goals, and implement strategies that will enable your community to achieve these goals. As has often been said, “what gets measured gets done.”
Set numeric goals for permanent housing units made available for target homeless populations
Measure progress using the annual point-in-time data for the four population goals
Measure how well homeless programs help their clients become employed and access mainstream programs
Over the last decade, communities in partnership with the federal government have been successful at using a targeted pipeline of resources to deliver permanent supportive housing to people who have experienced homelessness for the longest period of time and have the most difficulty attaining stability.

The State of Utah and the City of Worcester, MA have been leaders in ensuring that progress toward their goals is measured regularly and with the most reliable data available. They have had great success at reducing the numbers of people experiencing chronic homelessness even to the point of ending chronic homelessness in Worcester’s case.

– Read more about efforts in Utah and Worcester

Act Strategically

Acting strategically means evaluating local needs, using best practices, partnering with those who can help you streamline your efforts and achieve your goals and reevaluating your progress and adjusting your efforts to match the reality on the ground. USICH advises communities to take the following key strategic actions.

Key Priorities for Action
Transform homeless services to rapid response systems to focus on housing stabilization. Centralized and coordinated intake is key to making this work. Offer alternatives to shelter admission whenever possible, make shelter available, and ensure quick housing placement and housing retention.
Implement Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing practices broadly across all homeless programs.
Seize the opportunity created by health reform, both through expansion of Medicaid and expansion of community health centers by making sure eligible individuals and families are enrolled in Medicaid.
Coordinate with the VA Medical Centers as they implement the VA’s 5 Year Plan to End Veterans Homelessness. The Continuum of Care, 10 Year Planning Bodies, and State Interagency Councils on Homelessness should be working hand-in-glove with the VA and their partners.
Collaborate with Public Housing Agencies to identify how families and individuals who are homeless can be prioritized for housing.
Commit to using data as a management tool. Review your state/community’s data to identify system and program strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.
Work collaboratively and build relationships to streamline resources and efforts: involve health and human services, housing agencies, VA, education, corrections, law enforcement and the private sector, including business, philanthropy, faith-based and community organizations. Invest state, local, and philanthropic dollars toward strategies aligned with the strategic plan.
Memphis, TN; Denver, CO; King County, WA; Asheville, NC; Hennepin County, MN; and Clallam County, WA have each collaborated, invested, and acted on strategies that are proven to have an impact.

– Learn the details of what has worked in these communities


As communities implement strategic plans to end homelessness it is essential to keep the lines of communication open so that other communities can benefit from lessons learned. State Interagency Councils have an important role to play to ensure effective solutions are shared and that communities can build on the knowledge base already developed. Massachusetts and Missouri have used their Councils to spread the word about what works.

– Read about successful state interagency councils in Massachusetts and Missouri

What Does Opening Doors Across America Mean for Providers, Advocates, and Individuals?

Opening Doors Across America is a call to action for Ten Year Plan Leads, Continuum of Care Leads, and state and local governments; but USICH’s other stakeholders have a role to play as well. First and foremost, you can encourage your local officials to take action, join this initiative, and begin to move strategically toward preventing and ending homelessness on the local level. Service providers, advocates, and others who want to see an end to homelessness can also partner with their local governments to make sure the right players are at the table and that plans are developed and implemented that are based on proven strategies.

Opening Doors Across America provides a basic overview of these proven strategies to help guide the discussion and make sure we are all working toward the same goals and using the same effective tools.

– Use this one page fact sheet in your advocacy efforts

Roseanne Haggerty the President of Community Solutions has an Op-Ed in the Huffington Post about her endorsement of Opening Doors Across America and what it means to have a federal initiative in place that describes and offers guidance on the solutions and effective actions that communities need to take to prevent and end homelessness.

Webinar: Opening Doors Across America
Tuesday, September 27th 4:00-5:00pm EDT

Next week, we will be hosting a webinar on Opening Doors Across America. Leaders in Salt Lake City, Utah; Hennepin County, MN; and Massachusetts will share the importance of the principles laid out in the initiative and will share examples from their own communities. This will be an opportunity for you to learn more about this new initiative and to engage with USICH staff.

New Tools Available Online to Help Communities Take Action

As a part of the launch of Opening Doors Across America we developed a set of tools for local action that includes resources and guidance to help local communities begin or enhance their efforts to prevent and end homelessness.

Tools for Local Action include toolkits on the following topics:

A Guide to Developing a State Interagency Council

Specific information about how to establish a Council, tips on effective structure, and details on needed partnerships to ensure success.

Local and Community Strategic Planning

A step-by-step guide to develop and begin implementation of a strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.

Using Data to Get Measurable Results

A set of tools on best practices to use available data to track your progress and assess strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.

Retooling Crisis Response Systems

We have collected eleven resources from our partners to help communities transform their homeless services into rapid response systems that work quickly and effectively to prevent homelessness whenever possible and rapidly re-house those who do become homeless.

Building the Permanent Supportive Housing Pipeline

We have collected a set of resources from our partners that address everything about developing a permanent supportive housing pipeline from leadership and collaboration to financing ideas, build community support, and legal issues.

Using Medicaid to Fund Supportive Services

Securing funding through Medicaid can at times seem confusing, however Medicaid is a valuable source of funding for supportive services of various types. We have collected some great resources focused on using Medicaid to fund services for people experiencing homelessness.


About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
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