Homelessness in 2023: What Can Congress Do?

We’re far enough into the new Congress to be able to answer most of the remaining questions left open in my November 30 post.

So let’s talk about how Congress will be different in the coming two years, and how our awareness of those differences can help us get what we need for ending homelessness.

The Impact of Congressional Leadership Changes

First, let’s look at the overall numbers and leadership. In the Senate, the Democrats have a 51-49 advantage, compared to the last Congress where it was tied. Any piece of legislation in the last Congress that didn’t receive Republican votes would need every Democrat to vote for it, with Vice President Harris breaking the tie. So Democratic leaders, Sen. Schumer from New York and Sen. Durbin of Illinois, would be able to lose one Senator for their legislation to succeed.

But passing anything with only Democratic support will no longer be an option now due to the new Republican majority in the House. That new majority, as expected, chose Rep. Kevin McCarthy from Bakersfield, CA as the Speaker of the House. The conflict between various factions of House Republicans over whether to choose Rep. McCarthy has illustrated potential hurdles in passing big legislation.

Passing Legislation on Homelessness

Some Members of Congress who have shown an interest in homelessness, in both the House and Senate, have been elevated to positions where they can make important things happen. The Senate Appropriations Committee, which sets spending levels for many federal programs including almost all programs that focus on homelessness, will have Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) as Chair and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) as Ranking Republican. Both are long-time friends of the Alliance and have shown great concern about homelessness. The new Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, will be Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), another Representative who has good relationships with people working on homelessness in her community of Fort Worth, as does Rep. Rosa DeLauro from the New Haven region in Connecticut, who is moving from Chair to Ranking Member. The new Minority Leader in the House, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), has good relationships with people working on homelessness in New York City, as does Speaker McCarthy in Bakersfield. Other Members of Congress who will lead key committees and subcommittees have yet to be named.

Developing Relationships with Congress

Once again, control of policymaking at the federal level is shared by both major political parties. This has been the case for most of the past 25 years, and those of us who work with Congress on homelessness will need to use what we’ve learned to get good things to happen and prevent bad things from happening. We need everybody on board!

The most important thing is that people working on homelessness develop relationships with Members of the House and Senate, and their staff. Every one of them needs to know:

Homelessness exists in the communities they represent, and it’s harmful: both to the people experiencing it and to the entire community.

We know what to do about homelessness (Housing First!). We need Congress’s help to secure sufficient funding and to provide leadership to bring people together and implement solutions.

The bigger issue is housing: not only to give people who are now homeless a place to move to, but to prevent the constant flow of people into homelessness.

People who are experiencing homelessness, or who have recently left homelessness due to housing programs, often need a range of services to maintain housing stability. They are experts and should be listened to. The same is true of people who are at risk of future homelessness. Services they need are often available in the community but difficult to access.

We’ll soon see if conflict between the parties – or between the House and Senate, or between members of the same party – lead to disruption. For example, this could happen when the federal government approaches the statutory maximum allowable debt, probably late this summer. We’ll work with other national organizations to avoid results that could be disastrous for Americans with the lowest incomes. Meanwhile, I hope everyone signs up for the Alliance’s advocacy alerts, and begins to get to know the local staff people for all your Members of Congress.