This post is part of a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert is taking the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today’s post comes from Steve Berg, VP for Programs and Policy.
There appears to be a majority in this country, and certainly a majority in Congress, who believe that the federal government has tried to do too much. As a result, Congress and the Administration have decided to cut federal spending. Funding for most social safety net programs is being held flat or even cut. So, many decisionmakers believe that maintaining the current funding level for homeless assistance programs should be considered a “win.” But keeping these programs at their current level means continuing to tolerate what should be intolerable: homelessness.
Many federal programs make people’s lives better. Federal spending to build highways means an easier commute to work; Medicare ensures that retired people don’t need to spend as much on health insurance, leaving more money for other things. But very few federal programs do what homelessness programs do: find people whose current situation is deeply wrong and dangerous, and move them rapidly into a decent situation. Homelessness programs are different because, to put it simply, the people they serve are already homeless, and this is unacceptable.
The talk in Washington now when it comes to spending is about making hard choices and prioritizing the federal government’s activities. Doing more to support ending homelessness has all the makings of a priority for policymakers. These key programs:
- Support people who need help – people who have been hit hardest by the bad economy;
- Promote interventions that work, bringing solutions to this problem;
- Encourage leadership that comes from the local level, with the federal government as a partner;
- Increase cost-effectiveness – no one should believe that leaving homeless people on the street will save taxpayers money; and
- Have a history of bipartisan support.
Increasing homelessness funding by $300 million would mean that over 200,000 Americans will be housed instead of homeless, filling in for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing programs that are running out of money and funding cost-effective permanent supportive housing. Not doing that means that they will be homeless. That’s simple, and a priority. The cost is inconsequential compared to the entire federal budget, but lifesaving and immeasurable for the people on the street.
Homelessness has gone on too long. There’s a movement now to end it. The federal government has a role to play, small compared to other areas but vital nonetheless. Congress made a commitment to that movement with the HEARTH Act – new, bipartisan legislation to reform and update HUD’s programs. To make progress in the short run requires investment, although in the long run communities will be more effective and efficient, and spending will be lower. Backing away from that commitment is a mistake, no matter what the state of budget politics might be.