by Tessa Buttram

On Wednesday, February 13, 2019, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “Homeless in America: Examining the Crisis and Solutions to End Homelessness.” This was the first hearing of the Committee in the 116th Congress. Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) began the hearing by providing an overview on homelessness in the United States. She stated that “Today, there are over a half million people experiencing homelessness nationwide, and nearly 160,000 of them are children.”

The number of homeless individuals increased between the years of 2017 and 2018. Chairwoman Waters said that “in Los Angeles County, there are over 50,000 people experiencing homelessness, nearly 5,000 of whom are children.” Waters went on to discuss a bill she is introducing entitled, Ending Homelessness Act of 2019. The bill would provide over $13 billion to programs and initiatives that prevent homelessness over the next five years. The bill would provide funding for case management, new affordable housing units, new vouchers, and technical assistance.

The hearing witnesses included: Ann Marie Oliva, Corporation for Supportive Services, Nan Roman, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Joshua Stewart, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Justin T. Rush, True Colors Fund, Carolyn Darley, the National Coalition for the Homelessness, and David S. Lucas, Institute for an Entrepreneurial Society at Syracuse University.

Carolyn Darley discussed her story of homelessness. She told the Committee that “homelessness does not discriminate against anyone” and discussed the people that she met during her time residing in a homeless shelter. The testimony then went on to Dr. Lucas, who said there is no universal solution and better collection of data would help to improve future innovations. Nan Roman told the Committee that 35 percent of the homeless are unsheltered. He offered his view that homelessness is a complicated problem involving low wages, high living prices, and lack of a social support system. Ann Marie Olivia, testified that there was an average of 100,000 families experiencing homelessness on any given in day in the United States in 2018. She emphasized the importance of making housing a priority but not the only priority. Justin Rush said that LGBTQ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. He said that 1 in 30 LGBTQ youth would experience homelessness and 1 in 4 African American LGBTQ youth will experience homelessness. Finally, Joshua Stewart testified about the current status of veterans experiencing homelessness.

Congresswoman Waters opened questioning by emphasizing the role of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and raised its importance moving forward. Many witnesses spoke to the importance of USICH in coordinating efforts on a national level and collaborating with the alignment of funding and policy between various departments. The Ending Homelessness Act of 2019 would permanently reauthorize the USICH. Later in the hearing, Waters said that it is “unacceptable that we have people living in the streets,” in the richest country in the world. That sentiment resonated throughout the committee hearing. With more than 180,000 people in families with children who are experiencing homelessness and over 20 percent being children.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked the witnesses if they support the Ending Homelessness Act of 2019 and the majority stated yes with two passes. Dr. Lucas, who passed on supporting the bill, was asked by Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC), what the root cause of homelessness was, and he replied that he thought it involved many issues including housing affordability and individual reasons. He recommended an increase in funding to USICH to increase collaboration and data collection rather than a one size model such as Housing First.

Many members of the Committee discussed supporting vulnerable youth including those who are homeless and or transitioning from foster care. Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) wants to prioritize fighting sex trafficking and increase funding for runaway and homeless youth. Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) discussed foster care youth who experience homelessness and the need for better coordination of services. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) listed the many vacant units in New York and the rise of rent prices all over America specifically in New York and then emphasized the need to improve the child welfare system which is a feeder system like criminal justice into homelessness. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) stated that “jobs won’t solve homelessness, housing does.”

CWLA will be working with the 116th Congress members on sustainable housing for child welfare families and youth transitioning from foster care, to read our position statement, click here.