USDA Secretary Explores Innovative Solutions for Homelessness

March 27, 2024
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Earlier this month, Department of Agriculture Secretary (USDA) Tom Vilsack, vice chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), and USICH Senior Regional Advisor Tamara Wright met with state, local, and private-sector leaders in Arizona to learn about their challenges and solutions for urban and rural homelessness.

“The work of the United States Department of Agriculture touches Americans in every zip code. Unfortunately, so does the challenge of homelessness,” said USDA Secretary Vilsack. “In Arizona, I met with several organizations and advocates to hear about their work. This is a priority of President Biden, and as vice chair of USICH, I will continue to meet with experts and leaders as we work toward long-term solutions for this crisis.”

Nearly 20% of the people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. live in rural areas, and rural areas have higher rates of unsheltered homelessness than big cities or suburbs. Like the rest of the country, rural areas have shortages of both affordable housing and accessible shelter for people without housing. 

During the pandemic, traditional congregate shelters were forced to follow social distancing guidelines and drastically limit the number of people allowed to shelter inside. This spurred communities to creatively explore alternative non-congregate options for shelter, including the conversion of vacant hotels and motels. In Phoenix and other places in Arizona and across the country, communities are also converting recycled shipping containers into individual short-term housing units where people can have a private place to shelter and connect to services, such as health care, while they await permanent housing. 

While in Arizona, Secretary Vilsack hosted a listening session that included Arizona Rural Development Director Charlene Fernandez, Arizona Housing Special Needs Administrator David Bridge, Phoenix Homeless Solutions Deputy Director Scott Hall, and CEOs of companies and organizations that want to help address the state’s homelessness crisis.

The group discussed both short- and long-term solutions, noting that investment in shelter or interim housing must not come at the expense of a community’s commitment to developing permanent housing solutions for people without a home.

“Arizona’s Department of Housing and Housing Trust Fund have been prioritizing both permanent housing and interim housing solutions, so no one has to sleep outside,” said USICH Senior Regional Advisor Wright. “But there is still red tape to maneuver to solve this crisis quickly.”

Phoenix is one of the several communities working closely with the White House, USICH, USDA, and other federal agencies to help people move off the streets and into homes. The ALL INside Initiative embeds federal officials and deploys federal teams in Phoenix and other communities to cut red tape that makes it difficult for people experiencing homelessness to access housing, health care, and other support. For more on ALL INside, click here.


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