On March 8, 2023, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee held a hearing to address the current homelessness crisis. Housing affordability has been a longstanding issue, and emergency efforts during the pandemic helped significantly reduce the number of homeless people. However, this funding has now expired, and the homelessness crisis is yet again at high risk. Efforts that focus on housing first have proven to be widely beneficial with a success rate of 85-90%. Yet, there is little that can be done to prevent and treat homelessness with insufficient federal funding.
The housing first model centers on the principal that once individuals have a home, they are then able to access wraparound services such as mental health and substance abuse resources. These resources are optional, and some concerns were raised over the effectiveness of not requiring individuals to seek help. Yet, witnesses claimed that forced treatment is likely less effective, and may turn away individuals who do not yet feel ready for these services. Furthermore, many rural and tribal communities have different experiences of homelessness. For these areas, shelters are rare, and homelessness evolves into overcrowding, as people are forced to live with others that likely do not have adequate space. To address these issues, witnesses stressed the importance of increasing supportive permanent housing.
The homelessness crisis cannot be resolved without efficient preventative measures. There is not enough affordable housing, and even if homeless people get a housing voucher, there is often nowhere for them to go. This is unsustainable, and it is impossible to make progress if there are as many people entering homelessness as there are people exiting. Bipartisan action has proven to be effective, as veteran homelessness has decreased by nearly 55% due to bipartisan legislative efforts. The current minimum wage is not enough to match the skyrocketing cost of housing, and the frontline staff working to help this crisis cannot last due to the poor wages. Additionally, witnesses recommended that the application process for program grants should be switched to a two-year cycle. This would increase the number of workers focused on the frontline- not the burden of administrative work. There is an overwhelming need, both for the workforce and the homeless population, to increase funding and promote innovative solutions for this crisis.
By Olivia LaMarco, Policy Intern