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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 LowenthalProgressive lawmakers call for United Nations probe into DHS 'human rights abuses' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill 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 BeattyTrump's controversial diversity order expected to see swift reversal under Biden Companies start responding to pressure to bolster minority representation Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry MORE (Ohio) and Republican Reps. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day House GOP celebrates unexpected gains MORE (N.Y.) and Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Biden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond 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 - Sponsored by Facebook - Election Day has arrived Law enforcement braces for unrest after Election Day The Hill's 12:30 Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association -Trump enters debate week after NYT obtains his tax returns 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.