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NCH Responds to Fallacious White House Report on Homelessness: Calls for Significant New Investments to End Homelessness NOW!

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog, White Paper, White Papers

In what appears to be an escalation on the White House’s war on the homeless, rather than a righteous war on homelessness, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released an unsigned report this week on “The State of Homelessness in America” that is on its face absurd, and uses faulty logic, statistics and policy prescriptions to give cover to the President’s recently stated desire to crack down on the homeless by criminalizing and warehousing people experiencing homelessness – not to help end their misery, but to alleviate the impact of street homelessness on real estate investors and businesses.

The report claims that homelessness is caused by 1) the higher costs of housing due to overregulation of housing markets, 2) permissive policies increasing the “tolerability of sleeping on the streets”, 3) the supply of homeless shelters, and 4) the ineffectiveness of previous federal policies in reducing homelessness.  Finally, in heralds the Trump Administration’s actions to reduce Homelessness without offering any evidence to support the impact of such actions on the reductions of homelessness.

“This report seemingly attempts to give cover to the President’s recent attacks on cities experiencing the crisis of increased homelessness without taking responsibility for the Administration’s own actions which undercut state and local efforts to end homelessness through a combination of housing and health care”, said John Parvensky, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.  “The report purports to be an economic analysis of homeless, but instead uses misleading statistics, faulty analysis and spurious conclusions to blame homelessness on those experiencing it, rather than on failure of the housing market and government policy to provide real solutions at the scale necessary to truly end homelessness.”

The report’s simplistic analysis of the effect of regulations on the cost of housing ends with the startling conclusion that a “1 percent reduction rental home prices reduces the rate of homelessness by 1%.”  While the regulatory environment may have a marginal impact of the cost of building housing, the actual cost of rental housing is dictated by the laws of supply and demand (something you would think a council of economic advisors would understand).  The cities with the highest rates of homelessness also have the greatest shortage of affordable housing with rents low enough for those experiencing homelessness to afford. 

When there is a shortage of housing units, owners will set the rents as high as the market will allow, which puts the cost far above what people experiencing homelessness can afford.  The report itself acknowledges that the mean incomes of people experiencing homelessness is about one-half of the poverty level – which equates to $6,445 for a single individual and $12,375 for a family of four.  Yet the 2019 fair market rent in Los Angeles is $1,158 for an efficiency apartment and $2,401 for a three bedroom apartment.  Thus, the average homeless persons in Los Angeles would need spend twice their income to rent an average apartment.  A 1% reduction in rent prices would have no impact on reducing homelessness.  Even a 50% reduction in rent due to deregulation (which even the report’s authors don’t suggest is possible) would mean that the average homeless person would still need to spend all of their income for an apartment.   The solution to high rents is not deregulation, but increased governmental subsidies to bring those rents within the reach of all Americans.

The report’s contention that tolerating people living on the streets increases homelessness is equally absurd.  Talk to any person living on the streets of Skid Row or in any city and you will discover that it is the lack of available, accessible and affordable alternatives that drive people to find refuge on the streets, not tolerance of such refuge.  Alternatively, criminalizing homelessness through camping bans, sweeps, and other means does not reduce homelessness – it only moves people from one place to another and makes it more difficult for outreach workers to engage and connect these people to the limited housing options that may be available to them.

Similarly, the report’s claim that the supply of shelter increases homelessness is laughable.  Building shelters, which are in already in short supply in most communities, no more increases homelessness than building hospitals increases those who are sick.  While building quality shelter may be one effective strategy of reducing street homelessness by providing realistic alternatives to those sleeping on the streets, few people would choose shelter over safe and affordable housing.

Fourth, the report’s critique of previous federal policies does raise serious questions about whether HUD’s contention that homelessness is actually declining in most communities is accurate due to methodological problems and changes in definitions.  However, it’s contention that evidence-based practices of “housing first” and permanent supportive housing are ineffective in reducing homeless is flawed.  Those interventions are designed to end the homelessness of those who have access to such housing, and numerous studies have documented that these approaches do in fact end homeless for 90% of those housed through these approaches.  The problem isn’t the policy intervention.  The problem is that the Federal government has never funded these interventions to the level needed to dramatically reduce homelessness nationwide.

The growth of mass homelessness in our cities did not occur overnight.  It is the result of nearly four decades of federal budget cuts to affordable and public housing programs under both Republican and Democratic administrations beginning in the 1980s.  Indeed, the Administration’s recent budget proposals have called for reductions in funding for strategies that work, not increasing funding to the level needed to truly end homelessness.

This year, HUD provided only $415 million in homeless assistance grants to California, a paltry sum compared to the number of people experiencing homelessness in that state.  Furthermore, only 4.5% of this funding was available to fund new projects to house those currently on the streets or in shelters – the remaining funding was needed just to keep those individuals previously housed through federal support from losing their housing.

Meanwhile, California has recently committed $1 billion of new state funding, and Los Angeles voters approved two $2 billion bonds to address homelessness.

If the Trump administration was serious about ending homelessness in California and across our nation, it would call for a massive new investment of funding for homeless assistance and affordable housing – not increased efforts to criminalize homelessness or warehouse those currently on the streets.

We need to demand that the President and Congress significantly increase its funding for homeless assistance programs — to not only continue to house those previously housed who need continued assistance to remain housed, but also to provide new housing those currently living on the streets.  Incremental increases are not sufficient.  

They must also restore affordable housing funding across the board to the levels necessary so that those experiencing homelessness are not continually competing for limited housing with those living at risk of homelessness, on fixed incomes, or working at minimum wage jobs. 

We know how to end homelessness through a combination of affordable housing, health care, and social supports.  Criminalization and warehousing of the homeless are not the answers.

 

Let’s End the Funding Competition and Devote Adequate Resources to End Homelessness NOW!

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog, Definition of Homelessness, Press Releases

Across the nation, agencies and communities providing housing and services to homeless families and individuals with federal HUD funding are beginning the annual ritual referred to as the SuperNOFA.  This is not some astrological event.  Rather, it is the funding equivalent of a cross between the Hunger Games and Survivor.  Agencies receiving HUD homelessness funding are required to compete with each other to renew their grants for permanent supportive housing, transitional housing, rapid re-housing or other programs.  The losers will be defunded and “voted off the island.”

While competition for funding can be beneficial to ensure that the most worthy projects having the greatest outcomes housing the homeless are funded, the NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability) is structured in such a complex and convoluted way that it traumatizes not only agencies serving the homeless, but the very people the funding is designed to help — formerly homeless families and individuals who are currently residing in supportive housing funded by these grants.

The funding process requires local “continuum of care” entities designated by HUD to hold local competitions for new and renewal projects serving the homeless, and submit a collaborative application which ranks projects based on HUD and locally determined criteria.  The collaborative applications are then ranked by HUD, and projects prioritized by the local continua will be funded or not based on how HUD has ranked their continuum and how the continuum has ranked the project.

The process involves a three month scramble that starts with reading and understanding an 83 page NOFA issued by HUD which changes each year, the issuance of local continuum processes involving scoring matrices and priorities, the writing of new and renewal applications, the ranking of those applications by the local continua, and the submission of the collaborative application to HUD with ranking of local projects.

HUD then takes approximately three months to review, rank, and make announcements as to which projects will be renewed and which limited new projects will be awarded.

Thus, half of each year, agencies housing the homeless with federal funding are working on getting their grants renewed or worried about the prospects of their grants not being renewed.

This might be chalked up to just the “cost of doing business” if it were not for the fact that the final funding decisions are really not about which agencies are funded and not funded, but whether the families and individuals being housed through these programs will continue to be housed or not.  Indeed, the non-renewal of homeless housing by HUD over the past ten years has led to significant reoccurrence of homelessness by thousands of people previously housed in HUD funded programs.

Simply put, families and individuals housed in supportive housing programs funded by HUD should not have their continued housing put at risk for the sake of HUD managing a competitive renewal process.

To make matters worse, HUD has created a process whereby local continua must rank their projects into two tiers – with 6 percent of funding ranked in the second tier.  Projects ranked in the second tier are least likely to be refunded. 

HUD initially created a two tiered ranking system in 2012, when congressional appropriations for the program were significantly cut through the process known as Sequestration.  However, HUD has continued to use the two tiered ranking even though funding in the past few fiscal years has been sufficient to fund all renewal projects.

A yearly national competition for funding might be justified if there were significant funding for new projects each year.  However, the vast majority of HUD funding is needed just to renew existing projects housing formerly homeless persons.  In the 2018 competition, 91.3% of projects funded were renewal projects, with only 5.8% ($126 million) being new housing or service projects.  Of these 71% of renewals (totaling $2 billion) were for permanent supportive housing – applications to keep those who were housed through those projects remain housed.

There is no other funding process in the federal government that places the housing or services of people in need at risk through a competitive renewal process.  Can you imagine if HUD required Public Housing Authorities housing millions of people through public housing or Section 8 housing choice vouchers to annually compete to continue to receive such funding and keep those currently housed from losing their housing?

To make matters even worse, HUD has devised scoring criteria for the national competition that penalizes communities that are experiencing an increase in homelessness due to factors outside of their control.  For example, they provide incentive points for continua that demonstrate an overall reduction of at least 5% in the number of people experiencing homelessness, and for demonstrating a reduction of “first time homeless”.  Similarly, they provide incentive points to continua that demonstrate a reduction in the length of time people remain homeless, demonstrate a decrease of 5% of chronically homeless persons, or a decrease in family homelessness, and for a reduction in the number of homeless veterans.

While there is certainly merit in rewarding communities for improving outcomes, penalizing communities that are struggling with increased homelessness due to affordable housing shortages, increased population, decreased employment opportunities, and other factors out of their control is not only counterproductive, it exacerbates the problem by reducing the very resources these communities need to reduce homelessness.

In what world would it make sense for the Center for Disease Control to reduce its assistance to communities for treating HIV-AIDS or TB because there were more people in those communities needing such treatment?”  That is essentially what HUD is doing in its scoring process.

HUD claims that chronic homelessness has decreased by 26% since 2007, despite recent evidence of increased homelessness in many communities.  Even if true, at that rate, we will not achieve the end of chronic homelessness until 2050.  That is unacceptable in the richest nation on earth.

To truly help communities reduce and end homeless, significantly more federal funding is needed to help leverage state, local and community efforts.  To rely on only 5.8% of funding to provide new housing for people currently on the streets will not end homelessness. 

We need to demand that Congress significantly increase its funding for homeless assistance programs — to not only continue to house those previously housed who need continued assistance to remain housed, but also to provide new housing those currently living on the streets.  Incremental increases are not sufficient.   We must start with at least a doubling of the current homeless assistance program budget.

Congress authorized in the HEARTH Act of 2009 that funding to renew permanent supportive housing be funded through the Section 8 Appropriations Fund rather than through the more limited homeless assistance funding.  HUD has refused to implement this change.  Doing so now would free up over $1 billion dollars of funding to target the newly homeless.

HUD should also end its practice of requiring annual renewals for desperately needed homeless housing and services.

Finally, Congress must restore affordable housing funding across the board to levels necessary so that those experiencing homelessness are not continually competing for limited housing with those living at risk of homelessness and those working at minimum wage jobs. 

The time to act is now.

#TBT – Hoboes, bums, tramps: How our terminology of homelessness has changed

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

Resentment and fear of the homeless is nothing new. Vagrancy was criminalized in England four centuries before the American Revolution; in 1547, England began branding those arrested for vagrancy with a “V” for “vagabond”. Those arrested a second time could be executed.

Attitudes have shifted over time, as has terminology. While “bum” is a derogatory term for someone without a fixed residence and regular employment, terms like “hobo” and “tramp” conjure up nostalgia that belies the difficulty in their wandering lifestyles.

Copied from the Hobo Times' Hobo Travel Guide by Bobb Hopkins

Copied from the Hobo Times’ Hobo Travel Guide by Bobb Hopkins

“Hoboes” emerged in the U.S. after the Civil War, when many men were out of work and their families displaced. The term emerged in the American West around 1890, though its origins are hazy. Some say it was an abbreviation of “homeward bound” or “homeless boy”; author Bill Bryson wrote in his 1998 book “Made in America” that it may have come from “Ho, beau!”, a railroad greeting.

“Tramps” also came out of the Civil War era, with the term, originally from England referring to “tramping about”, becoming Americanized as a term for a long war march. While the term came into use around the same time as “hobo”, they means different things. Depression-era writer H. L. Mencken wrote, “Tramps and hobos are commonly lumped together, but see themselves as sharply differentiated. A hobo or bo is simply a migratory laborer; he may take some longish holidays, but sooner or later he returns to work. A tramp never works if it can be avoided; he simply travels.”

After their post-Civil War emergence, hoboes and tramps became prominent again during the Great Depression. While we may today think of a hobo as a laid-back free spirit riding the rails with a bindle for a pillow, the mass migration of these laborers was born of destitution and desperation, akin to the life of the Joads portrayed in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”.

In a 2003 interview, Todd DePastino, author of “Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America”, said, “One famous quip had it that the hobo works and wanders, the tramp drinks and wanders, and the bum just drinks. More accurately the tramp, the hobo, and the bum represent three historical stages of American homelessness. … Hoboes were by and large more organized, militant, independent, and political than [tramps]. The widespread use of the word ‘bum’ after World War II signals the end of this colorful subculture of transient labor.”

The terms “homeless” and “homelessness” came into lexicon in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when modern homelessness began to appear. Terminology used to denote persons living outdoors or in inadequate or inappropriate dwellings continues to evolve, as many in the service sector now choose to say “people experiencing homelessness” or “persons with lived experience.” Whatever the terminology, no one should have to experience homelessness, especially in a country as wealthy as the United States.

hobo poem and other books

**Special thanks to Michael Stoops for helping us to remember our history**

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