House Committee on Financial Services Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) hosted a congressional briefing on the state of homelessness in America, where speakers, including actor and activist Richard Gere, spoke about the challenges, the path forward, and the affordable housing investments needed to end homelessness.
Ranking Member Waters called for the country to recognize how homelessness diminishes dignity and how difficult homelessness is to escape. She said that while our country has made significant progress in ending homelessness nationwide, “this progress [has been] uneven across the country and is at risk of stalling or backsliding without continued bipartisan support for funding of federal homelessness assistance and housing programs. Congress has a responsibility to the people of this country to provide everyone with a safe, decent, and affordable roof over their heads.” She noted that homelessness has increased 16% since 2013 in her district, which includes Los Angeles. Ranking Member Waters noted, “Everyone deserves safe, decent, affordable housing.”
Mr. Gere, who has worked on homelessness issues for many years, gave a powerful account of his own experience playing a homeless man panhandling on the streets of New York City, and how bystanders failed to recognize him. Mr. Gere focused on the alienation, displacement, and loneliness felt by those experiencing homelessness, and how they lose a “sense of belonging and community.”
U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Matthew Doherty discussed how Opening Doors, the nation’s first comprehensive federal strategy for ending homelessness published in 2010, fundamentally changed the conversation about homelessness in the U.S. from a problem we could talk about to a problem we could solve. He added that “we need to support communities’ capacity to create pathways out of homelessness for that full diversity of people experiencing homelessness in our country.” To get to that goal, agencies and organizations are working together and learning to be more efficient with resources, but more resources are needed at all levels of government to build more permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness.
HUD Senior Advisor Jennifer Ho stated that policymakers know what investment is needed and what best practices to use to finally end chronic homelessness in America. She stated, “The thing that has become the conventional wisdom is that if we don’t [make these investments], we’re spending the money anyway, but we’re spending the money to no good effect. We’re spending the money on people’s repeat use of jails, we’re spending money on people going to the emergency room over and over and over again. So it really has become conventional wisdom that it costs as much for somebody to remain on the street as it does for us to provide that person supportive housing.” She emphasize that HUD programs like the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher program have been successful. She said that with the establishment of new housing units through HUD, homelessness has decreased by 20%, showing how our country can successfully reduce and eventually eliminate homelessness.
Nan Roman, President and CEO of National Alliance to End Homelessness, stated that while homelessness is related to personal challenges like as mental illness, poverty, or drug addiction, these are not the cause of homelessness. “The fundamental cause of homelessness is that housing is just not affordable to many people who are poor, and keeping themselves housed is no longer a given,” she said.
Watch the archived webcast of the hearing here: http://democrats.financialservices.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=399291