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Clinton Orders Blueprint for Easing the Homeless Problem

May 19, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton directed a federal task force Wednesday to draw up plans within nine months for moving the homeless off the streets and into stable, permanent places to live.

Clinton’s action drew mixed reviews from advocates for the homeless. Some called it an important shift in policy while others said the president was actually putting off action on an urgent problem.

Clinton directed 17 federal agencies to come up with ways to use existing programs and funds to connect the nation’s homeless population with the aid they need to end their homelessness for good.

He assigned the task to the Federal Interagency Council on the Homeless, a body created by Congress in 1987.

The group was specifically charged with developing ″a single coordinated federal plan for breaking the cycle of existing homelessness and for preventing future homelessness.″

The administration made clear that any long-term plan developed by the group would have to envision moving the homeless from the streets and into homes in a gradual fashion and that no overnight solution could be expected.

The same council drafted a long-term plan last year for President Bush but it was never put into effect.

There are no firm estimates of the U.S. homeless population. The 1990 census counted 400,000, but advocacy groups have sued the Census Bureau, saying the actual number is between 700,000 and 3 million.

Joanne Selinske, director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services in Baltimore, said Clinton’s order marks ″an important change in policy direction″ go beyond short-term solutions.

City officials in Baltimore, she said, are working on a something resembling a local version.

″It sounds like a very positive step,″ Selinske said. ″What you are now hearing is a commitment to look more systematically at eliminating the problem. It’s very consistent with where I understood the president indicated he stood.″

″They’re just putting off solving the problem until later,″ said Laura Weir, federal monitor for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a privately funded legal advocacy group.

″There are people at the agencies, and there are advocates, who know what needs to be done, and they could develop a plan within a week. Nine months is an inordinately long period of time,″ she said. ″And there’s nothing in the order requiring them to carry out the plan.″

Henry Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will serve as chairman of the council. He called Clinton’s order ″an important step for our nation.″

Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and Jesse Brown, secretary of Veterans Affairs, will be vice-chairs.

Other agencies involved are the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the General Services Administration, ACTION and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Interior, Justice, Labor and Transportation.

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