Hope, enthusiasm, and camaraderie flooded Capitol Hill last month as more than 400 amazing homelessness and housing advocates walked through the halls of Capitol Hill to meet with 220 offices of Members of Congress. The National Alliance to End Homelessness’ 2023 Capitol Hill Day was a major success because of advocates’ devotion to truth, justice, and equity.
This year marked the first time since 2019 that advocates from all over the country convened with their members of Congress in person to bolster the Alliance’s policy priorities. Here are some of those priorities, and what advocates can continue to do to make them a reality.
Alliance Policy Priorities for 2023
The Alliance focused on five primary asks for Members of Congress:
Increasing Homeless Assistance Grants funds: The Alliance is very appreciative of the $116 million increase in Homeless Assistance Grants proposed by the Biden Administration in its Fiscal Year (FY) 24 budget. An additional increase of $84 million could be used to pay for a modest cost of living increase for staff who provide critical support services to chronically homeless people with behavioral health needs; additional Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) funding to help communities maintain shelter resources established with soon-to-expire, one-time COVID funding; and investments to address the significant increase in unsheltered homelessness.
Increased workforce compensation: It is imperative that compensation for front-line homelessness services workers be made more competitive. Homeless services consist of rents (rental assistance, leasing, and operating) and supportive services, and the biggest cost of supportive services are the employees who provide those supportive services. Rents are adjusted for increases in fair market rents, but supportive services (including coordinated entry costs and supportive service costs in other housing grants) are not.
Increasing Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program funds:
The HCV program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Vouchers work, but three out of four low-income renters at risk of homelessness do not receive assistance because of limited funds. The Alliance calls for a robust increase of $2.4 billion
for FY24 HCV program funding.
Implementing a two-year competition process for Continuum of Care (CoC) funds:
The Alliance supports the administration’s FY24 budget request to allow HUD to award CoC program funds every other year instead of every year
. As the Administration correctly noted: “Responding to an annual (competition) requires CoCs to spend many hours implementing a local competition process and additional time to complete the application. Many of our CoCs have limited capacity to fulfill the many requirements of addressing homelessness… A two-year (competition) process would allow CoCs to focus more on strategic planning and performance evaluation to better prevent and end homelessness in their communities.”
Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs), established in the American Rescue Plan Act, are an unqualified success with landlords, Public Housing Authorities, homeless services providers, and people experiencing homelessness, one which we need to build on with the other voucher programs—from Tenant-Based Rental Assistance to HUD-VASH. However, not all voucher programs have the authority and the funding to use all EHV incentives and flexibilities such as landlord incentives. The Alliance is asking Congress to grant these EHV flexibilities and incentives to all HUD voucher programs. This will open up more housing options for program participants and enhance services.
It’s All about the Workforce
The Alliance heard loud and clear from various listening sessions across the country over the past 12 months that the field is overwhelmed. This year, the Alliance made sure Congress prioritizes the homeless services field’s needs by explicitly asking for action on increasing workforce salaries. The Alliance realize that the field is struggling with high turnover and vacancy rates, higher caseloads, low wages, stressful/traumatic work environments – all while communities face higher demands and needs for services. The field cannot support persons experiencing homelessness with obtaining and maintaining housing without emergency staff, case managers, day shelter staff, housing navigators, program managers, outreach workers, intake specialists, HMIS coordinators, and many other essential members of the workforce.
More funding is fantastic.
An adequate amount of housing vouchers will significantly decrease the number of people unhoused.
A two-year Continuum of Care competition cycle eases the burden of administrative time for CoCs and allows new projects to thrive.
However, programs remain understaffed, and their essential staff remain underpaid. If there is not enough staff to provide critical services to people experiencing homelessness, help get them into housing, and ensure they can keep that housing, then additional housing resources alone and administrative flexibilities have much less of an impact. The workforce is the backbone of the field. We see you and appreciate you!
Advocacy is a Year-Round Process
Hundreds of advocates told Congress why these funding needs and program changes are so important, but Congress hasn’t finalized these bills yet. Advocacy is still important and needed, especially when Congress comes back from its August recess.
Capitol Hill Day occurs once a year but that is not the only opportunity to engage with members of Congress. At the Alliance, we are eager to shape and strengthen our field advocacy. As the Alliance’s National Field Organizer, I am here to support you throughout the year by connecting you to Capitol Hill, so your voices are heard year-round. I am happy to be that link for grassroots advocacy. I look forward to continuing to build long-term connections with you and I also hope to see everyone again next year!