By Richard Cho, Senior Advisor for Housing and Services, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Earlier this year, I returned to federal service, serving now at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Among my roles at HUD is to advise Secretary Marcia L. Fudge on how HUD can contribute to ending homelessness in America. And in this work, it is hard for me not to compare the current national situation on homelessness to what it was when I last served in the federal government between 2013 to 2016.
During those years, the Obama Administration’s first-ever strategic plan to end homelessness had inspired a national movement that resulted in a 47 percent decrease in Veteran homelessness, a 23 percent decline in family homelessness, and a 14 percent decrease in overall homelessness between 2010 and 2016. Amazingly, those decreases were achieved during a time of extreme resource scarcity, when Congress imposed strict caps in discretionary spending through budget sequestration, and when (except for programs for Veterans and later for youth) communities saw virtually no increases in federal funding to address homelessness.
Where Homelessness Stands Now
Fast forward to the present, the Biden-Harris Administration inherits a homelessness crisis that is getting worse with five straight years where it has increased. Veteran and family homelessness is no longer on the decline, and for the first time in history, there are more single adult individuals sleeping outside than in shelters. Racial disparities in homelessness—Black and brown Americans experience homelessness at three or more times their representation in the overall U.S. population—appear to be growing in many cities. And homeless services now have the added challenge of protecting people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19. The situation could not be more dire.
In response to this and other challenges, President Biden took swift action in his first 100 days in office to secure from Congress a historic package of emergency supports through the American Rescue Plan, which now provides significant resources—70,000 Emergency Housing Vouchers and $5 billion in HOME Investment Partnership grants—that enable communities to provide an unprecedented number of people experiencing homelessness with permanent homes. There have never been more federal housing resources to address homelessness at a single moment.
I can’t help but wonder what it might have been like if these resources were available back in 2013 or 2015 when homelessness was on a downward trend, when momentum on re-housing efforts was high due to initiatives like the 100,000 Homes Campaign and the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, and when Continuums of Care and homeless services providers were not also grappling with COVID-19 response efforts.
But now is not the time to look backwards. Now is the time to make a difference—and we have a President and Administration with the will to do it.
There is no better moment than now to put our national response to the national crisis of homelessness back on track towards our shared vision of ending it.
Let’s House America
Secretary Fudge, with support from other members of the Biden-Harris Administration, launched House America: an all hands on deck effort to address the nation’s homelessness crisis. House America calls upon state and local leaders to partner with HUD, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, and the federal government achieve two goals by the end of 2022:
- First, to rehouse as many people experiencing homelessness into stable, permanent homes as possible, and
- Second, to add as many new units of affordable and permanent supportive housing units into the pipeline.
And the good news is that the funding support is already available to cities and states through the American Rescue Plan.
We launched House America alongside more than two dozen mayors, county leaders, governors, and Tribal Nation leaders, who have each set ambitious re-housing and unit creation goals and we encourage others to join this effort. By enlisting these state and local leaders, we believe we can accelerate local cross-agency partnerships and alignment, create urgency and accountability, and break through the obstacles and challenges to housing connections and creation.
While Congress works toward passing the Build Back Better Agenda, which includes a historic investment in affordable housing and making housing safer and more accessible, House America is the Biden-Harris Administration’s effort seize the moment at hand, to set the national trajectory on homelessness back in the right direction, to bend the trendline on homelessness downward again, and to reignite the momentum that was once there to connect as many people experiencing homelessness into permanent homes using the proven Housing First approach. And once that momentum is reignited, to build upon it to end homelessness in America for good.
There are no shortage of challenges facing us in this work. But President Biden encourages us all to look forward not backwards, to build back better from the public health and economic crisis of the pandemic, and become the America we want to be: an America where homelessness does not exist.
Let’s seize this moment. Let’s end homelessness. Let’s House America.