The Arc of the United States was founded seventy years ago by families like mine who wanted their loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities included in every aspect of life in their homes and communities. Unfortunately, this promise has been unfulfilled due to the lack of availability of HCBS. The Arc along with various partners have been pushing to expand HCBS funding to the full $400 billion in the initial Build Back Better proposal so that this program can finally provide resources to the fullest extent needed.

Much of this under resourcing can be quantified: currently the waiting lists for these services across the country sit at over 850,000 individuals. However, it’s likely that there are scores of people with disabilities experiencing homelessness who are need of these benefits, but may not have been able to even get on the waiting list yet.

As those people wait for services they are too often placed into institutions (sometimes called state schools, state operated developmental centers, or training centers) where people with intellectual/developmental disabilities live away from their families and communities.

The HCBS program is a welcome resource to provide people with disabilities and aging adults with needed supports to avoid institutions and keep them connected to their homes. One of the key lessons of the pandemic, of course, is that there is a clear connection between health and housing, so we must take this opportunity bring people with high service needs home. And as we consider this opportunity, we must not overlook the needs of people experiencing homelessness.

How HCBS Would Impact People Experiencing Homelessness

HCBS is a tool in ending homelessness. The scope of need is dire among people experiencing homelessness with complex care requirements. We know from the most recent federal data that unsheltered and chronic homelessness are both on the rise, with a staggering increase in the most medically in-need populations. Expanding this Medicaid benefit would help ensure that people experiencing homelessness with the greatest disabilities are connected to the appropriate services that will make life in housing a reality.

Not only that, but it would help enhance yet another resource for people experiencing homelessness that is currently underutilized. This past May, HUD allocated 70,000 new Emergency Housing Vouchers (made available through the American Rescue Plan Act) to house people currently experiencing homelessness or at risk of it. Expanding HCBS could make it faster for people with high needs to get connected to the appropriate services, which would, in turn, speed the ability match them with the Emergency Housing Vouchers. This would be a game changer in putting these vouchers to use for the people who need them most desperately.

Read the full article about HCBS by Nicole Jorwic at National Alliance to End Homelessness.