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Why Half a Million Americans Are Homeless

On Wednesday, the Committee on Financial Services held a hearing titled “Homeless in America: Examining the Crisis and Solutions to End Homelessness.” The hearing allowed members to hear from witnesses about the challenges of putting an end to homelessness as well as their and their recommendations for legislation to tackle the issue.

The Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides an estimate of the homeless population in the United States.

The 2018 AHAR revealed that there were 552,830 people experiencing homelessness in the nation on a single night—representing a 0.3 percent increase compared to the previous year. This is also the second year in a row of increases in homelessness despite an overall 13.2 percent decline in homelessness since 2010, according to HUD.

The AHAR, which also examines the demographics of the people experiencing homelessness found that nearly 160,000 children and youth experienced homelessness— which is nearly 30 percent of the total—and over 216,000 women and girls representing 40 percent of the total. Data also revealed that nearly 9 percent of veterans experienced homelessness in 2018.

African Americans comprised 40 percent of all people experiencing homelessness, despite making up only 13 percent of the nation’s general population, and Hispanic or Latino people comprised 25 percent, the report stated. The findings also show that more progress has been made in reducing homelessness among some subpopulations than others. The greatest progress in reducing homelessness has been among veterans due in large part to increased funding for this population.

Addressing the causes of homelessness, the memorandum cited the growing rental housing crisis in many parts of the country as a contributor in driving the lowest income families into homelessness. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the U.S. has a shortage of more than 7.2 million rental homes that are affordable and available to the lowest income renter households.

According to the memorandum, 71 percent of the lowest income renter households are severely cost burdened spending more than half of their incomes on rent and utilities. Only 22 counties in the country can afford a one-bedroom rental home.

Through the administration of three main homeless assistance programs—Emergency Solutions Grants, Continuum of Care program and HUD Veteran Affairs Supported Housing program—serve people experiencing homelessness. In addition to this, the report also pointed out that Congress created the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) to coordinate the federal response to homelessness across relevant federal agencies.

The hearing also focused on legislative proposals such as “The Ending Homelessness Act of 2019” introduced by Chairwoman Waters to provide $13.27 billion over five years to several critical federal housing programs and initiatives. The “Working Together to End Homelessness Act of 2019,” a discussion draft from Chairwoman Waters aims to permanently reauthorize USICH.

The “Homes for Our Heroes Act of 2019,” is another discussion draft from Representative Peters that would require HUD and the Department of Veteran Affairs to provide more detailed reporting on the HUD-VASH programs.

The “Veteran Housing Opportunities and Unemployment Support Extension Act of 2019”, align eligibility for the HUD-VASH Program with other homelessness services furnished by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The panel comprised of the following witnesses:

  • Ann Marie Oliva, Senior Policy Advisor, Corporation for Supportive Housing
  • Nan Roman, President and CEO, National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • Joshua Stewart, Director of Policy, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
  • Justin T. Rush, Public Policy Director, True Colors Fund
  • Carolyn Darley, Speaker Advocate, National Coalition for the Homelessness
  • David S. Lucas, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for an Entrepreneurial
  • Society, Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University

Read the full memorandum here.

About Author: Donna Joseph

Donna Joseph is a Dallas-based writer who covers technology, HR best practices, and a mix of lifestyle topics. She is a seasoned PR professional with an extensive background in content creation and corporate communications. Joseph holds a B.A. in Sociology and M.A. in Mass Communication, both from the University of Bangalore, India. She is currently working on two books, both dealing with women-centric issues prevalent in oppressive as well as progressive societies. She can be reached at donna.joseph@thefivestar.com.
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