02/02/2011 07:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the Face of Spending Cuts, How to Protect Our Most Vulnerable?

This week I joined colleagues from CSH and fellow New Yorkers for our city's Point in Time Count. As I walked the streets of downtown Manhattan in the snow, I kept hearing echoes of President Obama's State of the Union Address -- specifically of his call to freeze spending on domestic discretionary programs for the next five years. How would this direction affect the most vulnerable people in our country? How do we protect those men, women and families without adding to the cost of doing so?

It's a difficult question -- and a challenge to all of us who work in the social sector.

Like all Americans, we are concerned about the budget, and support the government's efforts to get our fiscal house in order. But, as President Obama said in his address, we cannot do it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.

The unfortunate truth is that, when it comes to homelessness, costs rise when access to housing and services is reduced. Persistent homelessness leads to poor health, low employment, insufficient education--the very conditions that cause people to cycle in and out of our country's expensive hospitals and other emergency systems.

But permanent supportive housing offers an alternative. It is one of the smartest investments we can make because it's proven to yield incredible social return on a focused financial investment.

Programs that combine affordable housing and supportive services lead to excellent outcomes for vulnerable families and individuals. Many communities around the country already have used supportive housing to make real progress in reducing chronic homelessness -- even through the current recession.

Arbitrary spending cuts or freezes could stifle that momentum and will have real consequences in the lives of so many vulnerable people. We cannot allow that to happen. Not when we have a solution in supportive housing that so effectively serves both our fiscal and human needs.

That's why I'm calling on the leaders in my field of supportive housing and anyone who wants to improve the lives of the men and women who need it most, to get involved. Let's work hard to remind our government of the vital importance of homelessness programs. HUD's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program and other federal programs that assist the homeless are a safety net for the poorest of the poor.

And let's encourage them to invest in innovative solutions like supportive housing. Both government and the private sector must look for new ways to fund social innovation in our country.