Wickham: Homelessness vs. HUD chief

Not long after the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter opened — and years before he had an inkling that another Harvard student of his generation would become president of the United States and name him to his Cabinet — Shaun Donovan became one the shelter’s first volunteers. That was in 1983, when he was a college freshman who spent time in the shelter attending to the needs of some of the Boston area’s most troubled people.

One night last week, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Donovan walked the streets of a Washington, D.C., neighborhood searching for the homeless of the nation’s capital. “I’ve done it every year since I became secretary (in 2009),” Donovan told me. For 10 days each January, thousands of people in more than 3,000 communities across the nation troll their communities to get a count of the homeless and an up-close understanding of their problems as part of HUD’s annual “Point in Time” (PIT) assessment. Last year, that number totaled 610,042 people.

For many people, homelessness in this land of plenty puts the lie to the idea that our nation is “a more perfect union.” It is a mold on our democracy.

Donovan has promised to eradicate long-term homelessness and homelessness among veterans, not just in “our time” — that broad expanse of the continuum this generation inhabits — but before the end of 2015. Really, that’s what he told me. And I think he’s quite serious.

Read more about PBHA alum Shaun Donovan’s work in national homelessness policy below at USA Today. 

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  • Donovan receives Coles Award

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    U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, who volunteered with PBHA's Harvard Square Homeless Shelter as a student, received the 2013 Call of Service Award.