Both sides of the aisle call for local, state, federal cooperation on homelessness

Both sides of the aisle call for local, state, federal cooperation on homelessness

Republican and Democratic members of Congress said on Tuesday that addressing homelessness will require coordination among multiple levels of government, but policymakers voiced partisan disagreements on what form addressing the issue should take.

"First is the awareness and the acceptance that no one level of government can solve [homelessness] by itself," Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalHouse Democrats jam GOP with coronavirus bill Federal lawmakers finally have a real plan to fight plastic pollution — will they step up to the plate? Now is our chance to turn the tide on ocean plastic pollution MORE (D-Calif.) told The Hill Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons.

Lowenthal was joined by fellow Democratic Reps. Danny K. Davis (Ill.) and Joyce BeattyJoyce Birdson BeattyDemocrats highlight lack of diversity at major banks in new report Both sides of the aisle call for local, state, federal cooperation on homelessness The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment trial a week away; debate night MORE (Ohio) and Republican Reps. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Dybul interview; Boris Johnson update Sanders: 'Unfair to simply say everything is bad' in Cuba under Castro Trump allies blast Romney over impeachment vote: 'A sore loser' MORE (N.Y.) and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisPandemic sparks partisan brawl over voting by mail House Republicans, key administration officials push for additional funding for coronavirus small business loans Hillicon Valley: Coronavirus tracking sparks surveillance concerns | Target delivery workers plan Tuesday walkout | Federal agency expedites mail-in voting funds to states | YouTube cracks down on 5G conspiracy videos MORE (Ill.) at an event dubbed "The Right to a Roof: Tackling Homelessness," sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Danny K. Davis told Clemons that bipartisan agreement is within reach on homelessness.

"Many of my colleagues are dead serious about what they are trying to do and what collectively we are trying to do," said Davis. "That gives you a sense of hope and a sense of possibility."

Rodney Davis echoed Lowenthal's earlier comments in a conversation with The Hill Editor-in-Chief Bob CusackRobert (Bob) CusackThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump blends upbeat virus info and high US death forecast Hill's Editor-In-Chief: Is Washington establishment failing the test of this crisis? Democrat: Lawmakers need to approach opioid crisis as 'a chronic situation' MORE.

"It's one issue that we as Congress can't solve without taking a local-state-federal approach," he said.

Zeldin added that, in the case of veteran homelessness, a solution that worked in his district was peer-to-peer support networks to provide veterans with psychological, economic or social resources within their communities.

"We need to get more of our state capitals talking about peer-to-peer support," said Zeldin.

But policymakers at the administrative level expressed clear partisan differences in how to approach homelessness.

Dr. Robert Marbut, the executive director on the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, criticized the Obama administration's approach, where the federal government took a "housing first" approach to the issue.

Under housing first, compliance with other social programs, including drug treatment and employment programs, is delinked from housing assistance, and a priority is set on finding permanent housing for beneficiaries, rather than transitioning through shelters and temporary accommodations.

Marbut, the top official on homelessness for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said the numbers reflect the failure of that approach.

"When you look at from 2007 to 2014 and you look at the unsheltered number from HUD, that number dropped 31.4 percent," said Marbut. "Then in 2014, it steadily goes up to 2019, 20.5 percent."

"You have to stop and asked what changed there," said Marbut.

"There are two big things that happened in that time frame. One is we moved away from services merged with housing together," he said.

Marbut added that the housing first model also moved resources from emergency assistance and temporary shelters into providing permanent housing for beneficiaries as soon as possible, a change he derided as "one size fits all."

"Most of the money has been moving toward a one-size-fits-all model, rather than honoring the local uniquenesses," said Marbut.

Laura Zeilinger, the director of the District of Columbia Department of Human Services who held Marbut's position during the Obama administration, said housing first doesn't mean the discontinuation of other services.

"Housing first is also housing plus services, it's not a roof and nothing else. It actually brings the supportive services, but it doesn't make the offer of housing conditional based on participation on services or other things that other lease-holders don't have to do to live in a house or rent an apartment," said Zeilinger.

Zeilinger pointed to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as an institution that received bipartisan support and made a significant dent in veteran homelessness through the housing first approach.

"We have seen federal investment in housing solutions that work to drive down nationally homelessness among veterans, shifting in the VA from a recovery model to a housing first model," said Zeilinger.

Zeilinger added that macroeconomic and social pressures, particularly housing costs compared to wage growth, are key drivers of homelessness since 2014.

And wealth gaps between demographic groups intensify the risk for members of minority communities to fall into homelessness, according to Marc Dones, the executive director of the National Innovation Service, an agency that specializes in equitable policy proposals.

Around 40 percent of homeless people are African American, although African Americans constitute about 13 percent of the general population.

Dones said a study of homeless people of color showed "network impoverishment."

"What we tended to find was that there was a high level of interdependence, but not enough capital to wrap around that interdependence," said Dones, meaning that homeless people of color were less likely to be able to help each other with temporary budget shortcomings.

"For black and brown folks what we found is every dollar in is a dollar out, so there can be no margin of error. If I blew a tire, that's it," added Dones.