White House Champions of Change

Honoring Champions for Homeless Youth

James H. Bray, PhD
2009 President, American Psychological Association

It was a pleasure to represent the APA at the Champions of Change meeting on Jul. 12, 2012. The meeting afforded the opportunity to hear about the last developments in the federal government’s plans for preventing and ending homeless. 

Barbara Poppe, executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, chaired the meeting. The meeting was to honor 13 people and their agencies that have made a difference in ending homelessness for children, youth and families. This recognition reflects recommendations from the 2010 federal strategic plan, “Opening Doors,” to prevent and end homelessness. 

The meeting was attended by Obama administration officials and three members of Congress (Judy Biggert (Ill.), Rep. Janice “Jan” Schakowsky (Ill.) and Spencer Baucus (Ala.-6th).   The Interagency Council consists of 19 federal agencies that are working together to prevent and end homelessness. The Council includes three department secretaries (HHS, HUD, VA) and is chaired by secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Secretaries Shaun Donovan (HUD) and Eric K. Shinseki (VA) are also very active participants in the Council.

Opening Remarks

Shaun Donovan, secretary of HUD, gave opening remarks and chaired the first panel. Secretary Donovan stated that the Obama administration is committed to ending homelessness for all veterans by 2015. They have seen a 12 percent reduction in chronic veteran homelessness in the past year and one in five veterans have been moved off of the streets in the past year. 

He further stated that their goal is to end homelessness for children and youth by 2020. President Obama has stated, “It is simply unacceptable for individuals, children, families, and our nation’s Veterans to be faced with homelessness in this country.”

Emphasis on Evidence-based Approaches

Over 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. The work of the agency emphasizes evidence-based approaches that can be implemented and replicated in multiple settings and states across the nation. The evidence-based work indicates that the best outcomes are achieved when youth are re-united with their families and there is a stable environment created for the youth. Many people talked about how the homeless youth today are suffering from more mental health and substance abuse problems than in the past. It is important to lower bureaucratic requirements and create low thresholds for youth to obtain services. 

Bryan Samuels, commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families Administration for Children and Families U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also spoke and chaired the second panel. 

Recent bi-partisan congressional action authorized the Harth Act and expanded services for youth to age 20. 

A big question is how the accountable care act and the implementation of health care reform will impact health care for homeless youth.

APA Points for Further Consideration and Follow-up
  1. Given the panel’s acknowledgement of the high incidence of mental health, substance abuse, violence, sexual abuse and sexual orientation issues with homelessness people and youth, the APA is in a prime position to provide leadership around addressing the needs of homeless persons and youth. The 2009 APA Presidential Task Force on Psychology’s Contribution to Ending Homelessness provides many recommendations for addressing these issues.

  2. The government officials repeatedly spoke about the importance of implementing and disseminating evidence-based practices in work with the homeless. The APA Task Force provides an excellent review of the psychological research and evidence-based practices.

  3. There are many APA members who have made major contributions to preventing and reducing homeless. I encourage the APA to nominate some of those members for future Champions of Change awards.