To borrow a phrase, homelessness, like politics, is local. Decisions made at the federal level can constrain us or can spur progress in addressing and ending homelessness. But locally is where it all comes together, with each individual life we serve.
The 2016 election has ushered in tremendous uncertainty – not just because of the presidency, but because of who will be controlling Congress and in turn funding for homeless programs. Homelessness was not an issue anywhere during the presidential campaign. Even in campaigns in congressional districts hit hard by homelessness, we do not have a lot to go on in terms of policy direction, and I’m not going to speculate now. I do know that since homelessness gained visibility in the late 1980s, we have seen Republican and Democratic administrations, and Congress shifting between parties. Regardless of who has been in power, there has been some good and some bad to the administration of homeless programs. There has never been enough funding to adequately staff programs and fund the housing that would make homelessness a rarity.
Under HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo a Democratic administration created the Continuum of Care that required funded localities to better organize and plan for homeless services. Later, a Republican Congress responded to organized homeless advocates by adopting appropriations language to protect funding for Shelter plus Care for years. And in his first term, President Obama signed the HEARTH Act, which built on the Continuum of Care system to prioritize homeless adults and families for targeted programs. Regardless of who is in power, we have had to educate and advocate for funding and policies that help us fulfill our mission. So in that regard, the fight does not change.
But locally we have several encouraging trends. Los Angeles voters passed by more than a 2/3 margin, measure HHH to raise $1.2 billion for temporary and permanent housing programs. We also have two new County Supervisors, Janice Hahn, and Kathryn Barger, who will join a board already demonstrating a commitment to improving and expanding services and housing for homeless people.
Now more than ever, we need to look closer to home for the resources and policies to ensure all our neighbors are sleeping in one.
Los Angeles County remains home to the second largest homeless population in the country. If you want to be part of the solution to ending homelessness join us, or connect to another homeless agency in your area and see how you can help.
For a summary of affordable housing measures see: http://nlihc.org/article/voters-approve-state-and-local-affordable-housing-and-minimum-wage-initiatives