Good afternoon, Senators, and others concerned about homelessness in our nation. Thank you
Senator Reed for your kind invitation to appear before the subcommittee. Thank you, Senator Collins, for
your gracious introduction.
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act was enacted into law in July 1987, as the first, and to date only, major federal legislative response to homelessness as a national issue of grave concern. According to the Urban Institute, as many as 842,000 persons on any given night, and up to three and half million a year become homeless in the United States.
In Maine, the number of admissions into our shelters grew by 51% over the last 4 years. 32% of those who become homeless in our state are families; 11% are youth; 13% are veterans; 37% are employed; nearly 45% are challenged by disabilities. 61% are high school graduates. 12% have attended at least a year of college; in Portland, 29% have graduated from, or at least attended college. The average monthly income of shelter residents in Maine is $240. It's also important to know that 68% of those who entered the shelters were homeless in some other form prior to doing so, and prior, therefore, to being counted. They were doubled or tripled up with friends or relatives, living in motels, cars, tents, speaking loudly to us of how many more live so close to the edge that simply doing shelter or street counts cannot tell us the scope of the problem.
Since passage of the McKinney bill, RI, ME, CT, CO and every other state has been the recipient of HUD homeless assistance funds that have supported the development of many highly effective programs that not only allowed us to redress homelessness for those who suffer it, but also serve as models for addressing the holistic needs of vulnerable families and individuals. In Denver, McKinney funds helped renovate a portion of 92 rental-housing units, half of which were no longer livable and contributed to growing blight and crime in the neighborhood. Having significantly upgraded the community's self-regard, these units now provide permanent housing shared by persons challenged by mental illness who had lived on the
streets for years of their lives, high tech employees, factory workers, other families and individuals of mixed incomes in an integrated model we can all feel good about. In another, new construction of a complex of permanent affordable housing units for diverse populations includes a childcare center used by the broader neighborhood of homeowners, as well as children homeless in the recent past. In Maine, we're developing housing on an organic farm for late-stage alcoholics who've become homeless to bring meaning and hope back to their lives, and to provide vegetables and herbs for the bakery and catering service where shelter residents can develop skills in culinary arts from a terrific chef. In Columbus, the housing first model moves families out of shelters within two weeks and into permanent housing with transitional services, so they can quickly be reintegrated into the larger society. Developed now in many states, highly efficacious supportive housing programs also provide employment opportunities for persons with disabilities that help them feel whole again. For families who've suffered domestic violence and consequent homelessness, we are design-ing a co-housing model to create the community that 9-11 taught us is America at her best. Nationally, HUD McKinney programs have had a positive impact in every state in the union. The diversity of local responses has resulted in significant cross-fertilization of good ideas and best practices.
Having read a draft of your bill, Senator Reed, I am delighted to say it builds on much that is highly-effective in HUD McKinney programs, and improves elements needing such. I'll mention a few:
1. It consolidates the separate McKinney programs and eliminates the constraints they imposed to maximize flexibility, creativity and local decision-making.
2. It provides funding for the first time for permanent housing for non-disabled families.
3. It removes the caps on funding for transitional and permanent housing to more realistically reflect the cost of housing construction and renovation at the diversity of localities in our states.
4. It provides financial incentives to help build the funding capacity of non-profits so they can create housing stock for those poorest among us that other federal housing programs keep moving away from.
5. It requires limited and appropriate federal oversight to insure that the federal government does not abnegate its rightful role to effectively address the needs our most vulnerable citizens.
6. It brings to the table both targeted homeless and mainstream program recipients, public and private, to collaborate their planning, implementation and evaluation activities in order to utilize available resources in a manner that can maximize outcome-effectiveness, reduce duplication and reverse policies and procedures that unintentionally either stimulate or prolong homelessness.
7. It places responsibility for interagency collaboration at the federal level in the hands of the Domestic
Policy Council within the Office of the President to help insure that each federal agency assumes their
responsibility for preventing and ending homelessness using the resources under their administration.
Talking about homelessness is actually a dialogue about deeper and broader issues that narrowing to a topic too easily dismissed is neither accurate nor informed. It's a dialogue about the lack of opportunity for housing stability, an essential condition for family health and well-being, retaining steady employment and employees, children succeeding in school, neighborhoods retaining their quality and safety, disabled and elderly persons living as full and dignified a life as possible.
It's a dialogue about the unfinished business of deinstitutionalization - insuring that community based housing, treatment and support services are available and affordable. It's a dialogue about welfare reform whose enlightened purpose would be economic viability for the participating families, not naively moving the rolls into hidden or blatant homelessness. It's a dialogue about recipients of federal block grants that fund behavioral health care, not being held accountable for the poorest and most vulnerable of their target populations. It's a dialogue about wages and cash assistance benefits that remain remarkably disproportion-ate to the cost of housing and other basic needs. We can respond in one of two ways - increase income levels so housing is affordable at whatever costs the market requires, or we can significantly increase the public investment in producing and sustaining affordable housing. Doing neither is a prescription for protracted homelessness. Housing policy in America is primarily investment policy, an approach that is simply inadequate to meeting the housing needs of the disabled person whose annual SSI income is $6,000 a year, or a full time worker earning even $7.00 an hour. The larger housing dialogue is about producing housing and not simply talking about producing housing. It's about 36,000 new housing vouchers being proposed nationwide for 2003, when in one city alone, there are 150,000 eligible households on the waiting list. Finally, homelessness is about a shredded and shameful safety net, including the lack of health care, in a nation blessed with both the resources and the ingenuity to be fairer than that. I look at the weight of poverty, and burden of disregard that homelessness represents and wonder how, having so much, we've come so far from what is right and just.
In conclusion, we suggest that these broader issues that form the structural underpinnings of home-lessness must be addressed through omnibus legislation, similar but broader than the original McKinney legislation. We would be delighted to help you to pursue such legislation, replicating the highly collaborative process that resulted in the Community Partnership to End Homelessness Act of 2002.
Thank you for listening. I would be happy to answer any questions.
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