Over 500,000 people are homeless in the United States. The number of homeless individuals and families has increased in recently years, partly due to the economic instability of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development Insurance held a February 2nd hearing on “Housing America: Addressing Challenges in Serving People Experiencing Homelessness.”
In his opening statement, subcommittee Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said the lack of housing resources across the nation is a barrier to solving homelessness. He supports the $150 billion proposed in the Build Back Better Act that would go toward housing and community development programs. Ranking Member Rep. French Hill (R-AR) talked about several nonprofits that successfully serve homeless veterans and others in his district. In his comments, Rep. Hill said homeless service providers should not have to comply with the Housing First approach to receive HUD funding.
Five witnesses provided testimony on their areas of expertise regarding homelessness:
- Adrienne Bush, Executive Director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky
- Marc Dones, Chief Executive Officer of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority
- Ann Oliva, Vice President for Housing Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Nan Roman, Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance to End Homelessness
- Harriet McDonald, President of the Doe Fund
The witnesses explained that homelessness has increased steadily each year since 2016. Homelessness disproportionately impacts people of color. Bush said only 8% of Kentucky identifies as Black, but 25% of the state’s homeless population is Black. In many cases, homeless individuals have jobs but cannot afford housing because their wages are too low and rents are rising too quickly. All witnesses urged the committee to increase funding for affordable housing and homeless service providers.
Republican members of the subcommittee questioned McDonald about homeless services at the Doe Fund. She said their “three-legged stool” approach includes work, services (including drug treatment), and job training. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-WI) said he believes the Housing First approach ignores services, such as drug treatment, which are critical to addressing the homeless crisis. Both Oliva and Dones responded to Rep. Steil’s comments, explaining, “Housing First does not mean housing only.” The witnesses described the Housing First model as housing programs with voluntary wrap-around services.
Democrat subcommittee members spoke to the witnesses about several topics, including Housing Choice Vouchers, wages for homeless service providers, and affordable housing development. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) said, “The solution to homelessness is housing… homelessness is a policy choice.” Oliva agreed and advocated for affordable housing development through the National Housing Trust Fund and rental assistance through an expanded Housing Choice Voucher program.
Witness testimonies and the full recorded hearing is available on the House Financial Services Committee website.