Homelessness: A crisis we can no longer afford to ignore

There is no better way to understand homelessness than to listen to the voices of those who have experienced it. Excerpts from two films by Diane Nilan of HEAR US were shown at the briefing, which captured the voices and experiences of homeless children and mothers from across the country. The briefing was moderated by Barbara Duffield, Policy Director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth and we heard from several panelists who, I believe, are doing God’s work.  

Panelist Beth McCullough, Adrian School District’s Home and School Liaison in Michigan, spoke about the need for education and school support programs and resources. Lori Criss of Amethyst Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, spoke about homeless families with specialized needs. Road Home’s Michelle Flynn in Salt Lake City, Utah, spoke of federal programs that allow her organization to get families off the streets and back into homes. By looking at programs working locally, Members of Congress and their staff were able to get a clear look at the facts – this is not the time to abandon those who need us the most.

When our nation is facing the utmost challenges, we cannot afford to cut programs and initiatives that are working for these families to secure stable housing and to keep children in school. President Obama’s 2012 Budget has proposed a $300 million cut to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which ensures affordable housing, provides services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and creates jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses. 

In addition, the proposed FY 2011 budget cuts could delay implementation of the HEARTH Act and limit McKinney-Vento homeless assistance grants preventing homeless programs highlighted at the briefing from spreading across the country. Other programs are also at risk such as veterans supportive housing, SAMHSA homeless grants, elderly and disabled housing within HUD and funding for runaway and homeless youth programs. I cannot make sense that we can pay for 150 Tomahawk Missiles for a no-fly zone to fight against a human rights crisis in Libya and yet we have an estimated 2,000,000 people experiencing homelessness right here at home. That is also a human rights crisis. What we need is a “No Homelessness Zone!”

As the founding Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness, I can say with all certainty, members of this Caucus take this work very seriously. Further, we cannot ignore the fact that a growing number of families, many who are working, are homeless. As the 2010 Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness declares: “There are no ‘homeless people,’ but rather people who have lost their homes who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.” I am committed, as a Representative of the 85,000 homeless persons in my home state of Florida, to end homelessness by promoting a comprehensive national response that addresses the housing, health care, income, and civil rights causal factors and consequences of extreme poverty. With so many Americans in need, it is not the time to cut proven and cost effect solutions to end homelessness. 

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings serves as Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Democratic Chairman of the Florida Delegation.

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