The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched the House America initiative on September 20 to address the nation’s homelessness crisis using funds from the American Rescue Plan.
House America calls on local leaders to use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to meet specific housing and homelessness reduction goals. Those goals broadly include increasing the number of people experiencing homelessness that are placed in stable housing and increasing the number of affordable homes nationwide.
The initiative asks local authorities to set and achieve their own numeric goals within the national framework, according to a press release.
“The health and well-being of individuals and families and the economic security of our communities is at stake,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement. “It’s going to take government working at all levels and local collaboration to address homelessness and to guarantee housing as a right for every American. Together, let’s house America.”
Back in March, Secretary Fudge released HUD’s 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. The report painted a stark picture of homelessness, with more than 580,000 people sleeping rough on a given night before the pandemic began.
Similarly, researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago published a study that found that poverty in the U.S. increased by more than 2% last year. That is the single greatest annual since the 1960s.
In response, President Joe Biden’s administration made more than 70,000 housing vouchers, more than $5 billion in affordable housing grants, and $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund grants available under ARP for local governments to address homelessness.
Communities also have resources available through the CARES Act, including additional Emergency Services Grants and Community Development Block Grants.
“Homelessness has been a challenge for many communities for quite some time,” USICH Interim Director Anthony Love said. “The pandemic, and the recent increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, has intensified the urgent need to get people into housing…The good news is that we know the solutions. We know what works.”
Why House America?
Why House America? Because homelessness is growing across the country, and the growth rate is expected to accelerate as federal economic benefits are reduced.
Between 2010 and 2016, homelessness in America was steadily decreasing. According to HUD data, the total number of people experiencing homelessness dropped from more than 637,000 to just over 549,000. However, that total has slowly crept up over the past four years, with the two most significant single-year increases coming in 2019 and 2020, the data shows.
Meanwhile, revised estimates by the Urban Institute found that federal aid caused a record drop in poverty last year. The two most significant drivers of the drop were unemployment insurance payments and increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“These benefits have kept many families above the poverty threshold, including families with workers who lost jobs in the recession as well as families with no pandemic job loss but whose resources would fall below the poverty threshold without the pandemic-related benefits,” the study concludes.
Love said these factors have increased the urgency to get people housed and put permanent support systems in place to prevent future homelessness.
“People experiencing homelessness are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They are us. We are collectively the United States, and it’s our duty to make every effort to ensure that every person has access to a safe and affordable home,” he said.
Other Solutions to Homelessness
Outside of the relief programs promulgated under ARP and the CARES Act, HUD has taken several steps to address homelessness on its own accord.
Some efforts include:
- Renewing thousands of local homelessness programs that were scheduled to sunset in 2021
- Awarding more than $5.5 billion in affordable housing grants
- Providing more than $145 million in grants to address youth homelessness, and
- Allocating more than $143 million to support the construction of homes for low-to-extremely-low income seniors
How You Can Help
Initiatives like House America only work when there is significant support from the public. As Director Love said, the initiative “demonstrates the commitment of not only the federal government but leaders across the country to live up to that duty.”
However, the elected leaders in charge of implementing the House America goals are not the only ones who can make change happen.
That’s why we need you to get involved with local organizations that provide services for people experiencing homelessness.
There are several ways to get involved. Those who are physically capable can provide volunteer work. If physical work isn’t possible, organizations constantly need friendly folks to help perform outreach and fundraise.
No matter how you get involved, it’s essential that you ARE involved. Now is not the time to be silent about homelessness.