Looking Back, Looking Forward: How USICH and the Biden Administration Are Addressing Homelessness

January 12, 2023
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After several years of rising homelessness, through two years of unprecedented federal investment, we as a nation have begun to bend the curve. 

According to data collected in January 2022, homelessness remained relatively flat during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a testament to the amazing work that so many providers are doing at the local level. Furthermore, veteran homelessness declined by 11%, representing the biggest drop in more than five years and proving that we can make progress even under the most difficult circumstances. This reduction also shows that where we invest in housing and services, we make progress.

Now, we enter into 2023 with even more hope. 

In December, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. It is a roadmap—based on what we heard from more than 600 communities and more than 500 people who have experienced homelessness—for speeding up the progress we saw in 2022, for reducing homelessness 25% by 2025, and ultimately for ending homelessness once and for all. All In builds on the success of previous plans, recommits to scaling effective housing and wraparound supports, and will do more than any previous federal effort to systemically prevent homelessness and combat the systemic racism that has created racial and ethnic disparities in homelessness.

Also in December, USICH and the White House announced a new federal initiative to help select cities and states reduce unsheltered homelessness, which includes people living in cars and tents. More to come on this initiative soon.

There is much work to be done.

Although overall homelessness remained flat during the first two years of the pandemic, unsheltered homelessness rose by 3%—and significantly more in some cities. As homelessness has become more visible and public empathy has worn thin, we have witnessed a troubling increase in state and local laws that criminalize homelessness and have proven to be costly, inhumane, and ineffective in solving homelessness. All In serves as a solutions-focused alternative to criminalization. Last year, USICH also released 7 Principles for Addressing Encampments to help communities respond to unsheltered homelessness as a crisis of housing and health—not a crime.

It is important to remember that we are still facing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which intensifies the fact that homelessness is a life-and-death crisis. Last year, USICH updated federal COVID-19 guidance—with CDC, HHS, HUD, and VA—and we urge communities to continue to protect people experiencing homelessness from this and other deadly diseases.

Over the past year, the National Initiatives Team and I have traveled around the country—from Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington State to California, Colorado, and Hawaii—and worked directly with dozens of communities and most of the states to learn about their unique challenges and innovative solutions and to help them effectively, efficiently, and humanely respond to homelessness. Everywhere we went, we talked to the people our agency seeks to help, so their experience and wisdom can continue to guide our work. That included people experiencing homelessness, mayors, governors, providers, Continuums of Care, developers, faith and business leaders, regional and state interagency councils on homelessness, our federal partners in the field, and so many others involved in the solutions to homelessness.

Ending and preventing homelessness requires an all-hands-on-deck effort. In 2022, departments across the Biden administration—including the 19 federal agencies that make up USICH—worked to address the homelessness crisis in our country. Here are some highlights of the Biden-Harris administration’s work over the past year: 

  • The White House released a Housing Supply Action Plan to close America’s gap between housing and people in five years.
  • The White House and the Department of Treasury hosted a Summit on Building Lasting Eviction Prevention Reform that included Eviction Lab Founder Matthew Desmond, state Supreme Court justices, and national, state, and local leaders.
  • HUD created the Rapid Unsheltered Survivor Housing Program to help people in disaster-hit areas who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness and cannot access all FEMA services.
  • HUD approved HOME-ARP plans to build 10,000 affordable and supportive housing units and fund services or rental assistance for 13,000 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
  • HUD and USICH are on track to reach our House America goal to move at least 100,000 people into housing and to add at least 20,000 affordable housing units into the pipeline. This would not be possible without the 105 communities that joined House America. 
  • The VA was on track in December to meet its goal of housing 38,000 veterans by the end of 2022.
  • HUD announced a first-of-its-kind package of resources to specifically address unsheltered and rural homelessness. The funds—$322 million in grants and 4,000 stability vouchers—will be awarded in the coming weeks.
  • HUD’s emergency housing vouchers leased at a rate faster than any other housing voucher program, with at least 50% leased up by the end of October.
  • HHS approved several states’ waivers to allow them to use Medicaid to test innovative interventions to prevent housing instability and homelessness , especially among people with serious mental health conditions and/or substance use disorders, veterans, and young people who have been involved with the foster care or juvenile justice systems.
  • VA created the Legal Services for Veterans Grant Program for veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
  • VA proposed a new rule to reimburse Grant and Per Diem Program grantees for costs of serving children of veterans experiencing homelessness.
  • DOL awarded more than $57 million to organizations helping veterans find meaningful and stable employment while experiencing homelessness.
  • DOT launched the Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development Planning to help communities address homelessness through transit planning.
  • The Education Department approved every state’s plan for American Rescue Plan-Homeless Children and Youth funding.
  • DOJ announced nearly $225 million in grants to support coordinated community responses to domestic and sexual violence on the 28th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act.

This list of work is just the beginning. We know there is so much more to be done and so many more who need help. We know that service providers and community leaders have already done so much. And we know that money alone does not solve problems. It takes creativity, persistence, and deep collaboration to solve homelessness.

That is why USICH exists. We are here to help you overcome challenges so that, together, we can use these historic resources efficiently, effectively, and equitably.

Even in the face of our challenges, I am filled with an unshakeable hope and belief that we can as a nation do better. Despite all the division in our country and in the world, we can come together to create a country where no person experiences the tragedy and indignity of homelessness, a nation where everyone has a safe, stable, accessible, and affordable home. 

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