New Legislation Would Allow Tribes to Participate in Continuums of Care

American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) households are disproportionately affected by homelessness, and consistently have high rates of homelessness when compared to other racial groups. Although they comprise 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, in certain states, AI can make up to 10 percent of people experiencing homelessness. According to the Alliance’s Race installment of the Demographic Data Project, “In a recent survey of tribal housing officials, 88 percent said households in their areas experience homelessness—sleeping in emergency shelters, on the streets, or in other places not fit for human habitation (Biess, 2017).”

A new piece of proposed legislation, the Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act of 2019 (H.R. 4029/S. 2282), would enable AI/AN tribes and their tribally designated housing entities to apply for, receive, and administer grants and subgrants under the Continuum of Care (CoC) Program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Historically, American Indian Tribes have received homelessness funding through the Indian Community Development Block Grant Program.  However, that funding has not kept pace with inflation; broadening access to alternate funding options is needed to adequately serve AI/AN people experiencing homelessness.

In addition to the four categories of homelessness as defined by HUD (which can be addressed by the CoC and other HUD homelessness programs), AI/AN households also experience high levels of overcrowding and doubled up housing, problems which must instead be addressed by the HUD’s low-income housing programs — a different funding stream.  Allowing tribes to access CoC and homelessness funds could therefore help reduce homelessness in these communities, along with racial disparities among people who experience homelessness.

Legislative Progress

H.R. 4029 was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Denny Heck (D-WA) on July 25, approved by “voice vote” by the House Financial Services Committee on September 20, and passed by the House under suspension on November 18.  Approvals by “voice vote” and “under suspension” are used when measures enjoy bipartisan support and attract no opposition. 

S. 2282 was introduced in the Senate by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Although the bill enjoys bipartisan support, the committee has taken no action on the legislation.