White House, Cabinet, and Local Leaders Discuss Documentation Barriers to Housing and Support
During the first council meeting since releasing All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) heard from community leaders about how the federal government can seek to lower or eliminate certain barriers to housing and services for people experiencing homelessness.
“Too often, local communities aren’t included in the policymaking process—but that stops today,” said Veteran Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough, the council chair, who led the meeting. “We will listen directly to local leaders about their challenges, their solutions, and their ideas for how we can work together to ensure that every veteran and every American has a good, stable home.”
The difficulty of getting and keeping critical documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, and the often extreme and complicated requirements for government programs keep many people from receiving the housing and support they need. Without a permanent address, money to pay fees, or transportation to visit government offices, people experiencing homelessness who are eligible for housing and support struggle to obtain the required documents and continue to live on the streets or in shelters.
All In includes several strategies that seek to lower or eliminate these barriers, and community input (received before, during, and after this meeting) will inform how the federal government will implement the following strategies:
- Identify and enact the full range of options to reduce documentation as a barrier to housing entry, including regulatory flexibility for federal housing programs; improving access to identification, medical, and benefits documentation needed to determine eligibility; and strengthening collaboration between federal, state, and local agencies.
- Eliminate federal requirements associated with having a permanent address and/or bank account to access federal assistance.
- Examine ways to ease eligibility and documentation requirements for specific subpopulations, such as people who are chronically homeless.
- Consider strategies that would streamline eligibility and access processes such as “categorical eligibility,” which would allow people to qualify for multiple programs at once without duplicative processes and “conditional eligibility,” which would allow immediate entry into housing with a grace period for required documentation.
In addition to community leaders and VA Secretary McDonough, the meeting included Ambassador Susan Rice, the president’s domestic policy advisor; Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, the vice chair; and several other Cabinet members: Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge, Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Representatives from all 19 federal agencies that make up USICH were present.
“The Biden-Harris administration knows that community leadership is critical to achieving our goal to reduce homelessness 25% by 2025 and ultimately end it,” said USICH Executive Director Jeff Olivet. “Homelessness is a cross-system, cross-jurisdiction, cross-sector crisis that requires an all-hands-on-deck response. We will continue working with communities across the country until we reach our vision of a country where no one experiences the tragedy and indignity of homelessness—and everyone has a safe and affordable home.”
The council also discussed a soon-to-be launched White House and USICH initiative to reduce unsheltered homelessness. Although overall homelessness remained flat during the pandemic, unsheltered homelessness—which includes people living in cars and tents—rose by 3% from January 2020 to January 2022, according to HUD’s Point-in-Time Count. As homelessness has become more visible, there has been a troubling rise in state and local laws that criminalize and exacerbate homelessness. All In serves as an alternative to criminalization, and the forthcoming federal initiative will help targeted cities and states use the humane and effective strategies in All In to move people off the streets and homes.
Want more news like this? Subscribe to the USICH newsletter.