The Obama Administration will delay its deadline to end chronic homelessness — because they don't have the money for it
The Obama administration said Monday it has pushed back by one year its goal for ending chronic homelessness among the general public. It's maintaining a goal for ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year.
The Obama administration had set a goal of ending chronic homelessness for 2016, but Housing and Urban Development Department officials said during a budget briefing the goal had been pushed back to 2017 because of budget constraints. Tens of thousands of people still fit the definition of chronically homeless, which means they've been without housing for more than a year or have experienced four bouts of homelessness in a three-year period.
Officials initially said the goal for ending veterans homelessness had been pushed back a year, but then corrected that description to say they still hope to end homelessness among veterans this year. However, the results won't be known until surveys are taken in early 2016.
So while the GOP is talking a great game about being so concerned about income inequality, this administration is actually working on DOING something about it. And what is barely mentioned, is that gains have been made. Last Thursday evening, President Obama sent his Chief of staff to San Fransisco — to help count the number of homeless in the city
President Obama's chief of staff ventured onto the San Francisco streets alongside Mayor Ed Lee and Trent Rhorer, director of the city’s Human Services Agency, SF Gate reported. The trio were volunteers for the city's biennial survey that counts how many people are homeless and breaks down the figure by demographics, like age and gender.
In January of 2014, nationwide surveys for HUD, often referred to as point-in-time counts, found that there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. Of that figure, 216,197 were people in families, and roughly 9 percent were veterans.
While those figures are hardly worth celebrating, annual data tracking homelessness has shown progress consistent with the country's climb out of the Great Recession. As The Washington Post reported in October, there's been a 10 percent drop in homelessness since 2010, when Obama launched an initiative focused on ending homelessness among groups that are disproportionately affected by the issue.
There's been a 33 percent drop in homelessness among veterans -- one of such populations -- in the same span of time.
There is so much more to be done
Some cities have made significant progress: Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and New Orleans have ended forms of homelessness among veterans.
Efforts to end homelessness could move much faster if there were significantly more money for affordable housing. In 1970, when mass homelessness like we see today wasn't yet a problem, there was as a surplus of 300,000 affordable housing units. By 2009 there was a 5.5 million shortage. The government just took a tiny step forward on that front by allowing money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, an estimated $325 million in grants, to flow into the National Housing Trust Fund starting in 2016. While the sum is small, it’s the first time money has been put in the fund, which was created in 2008, to help finance the construction of affordable housing.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could convert some of these buildings to help shelter people, and reduce the number of those without a roof over their heads
? Sadly, It's not that easy. The upside is that it's not impossible, and with the President sending a member of his administration to see what is actually happening out there, this could be a hopeful sign for progress.
Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, is one of the lawmakers pushing to get a clearer picture.
"We don't know how many properties we have, we don't know which ones we own, which ones are leased," he says. "We don't know whether we ought to be building or buying instead of leasing."
But Carper says that even when an agency knows it has a building it would like to sell, bureaucratic hurdles limit what it can do. No federal agency can sell anything unless it's uncontaminated, asbestos-free and environmentally safe. Those are expensive fixes.
Then the agency has to make sure another one doesn't want it. Then state and local governments get a crack at it, then nonprofits — and finally, a 25-year-old law requires the government to see whether it could be used as a homeless shelter.
Many agencies just lock the doors and say forget it.
A panel made up of the Office of Management and Budget and other agencies is trying to tackle the problem. But the keeper of the property database is the General Services Administration.
Dan Tangherlini inherited it when he took over as GSA administrator two years ago. Tangherlini says he wants to see an accurate list so agencies don't wind up leasing space when they could use an empty government office somewhere.
"We're not arguing that the data can't be better and [that] it shouldn't be better. In fact, we're working really hard to make it better," he says. "But we're really interested in making it useful."
It's not like it can't be done. It starting to happen around the country
Converting empty buildings and lots into homeless housing has been done before.
According to Picture the Homeless, a grassroots organization for homeless advocacy, dozens of cities in the United States have reconstructed abandoned housing into usable housing.
In San Francisco, for example, the city passed the Surplus Property Ordinance in 2004, which gave the Mayor’s Office for Housing the jurisdiction of vacant lots so they could be developed into shelters for homeless people.
Additionally, in Seattle, a homeless grassroots group called Operation Homestead re-opened abandoned apartment buildings and turned them into affordable housing for formerly homeless people.
Quietly - even with its delay, the president's program is working, if only this Congress had the fortitude and commitment to want to end chronic homelessness in this nation. Instead, they want to cut the social safety nets that could help them not become homeless in the first place. You know what would be fiscally responsible and save the entire nation? Making headlines like this go away forever. Leaving Homeless Person On The Streets: $31,065. Giving Them Housing: $10,051
Even if you don’t think society has a moral obligation to care for the least among us, a new study underscores that we have a financial obligation to do so.
Late last week, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness released a new study showing that, when accounting for a variety of public expenses, Florida residents pay $31,065 per chronically homeless person every year they live on the streets.
The study, conducted by Creative Housing Solutions, an Oklahoma-based consultant group, tracked public expenses accrued by 107 chronically homeless individuals in central Florida. These ranged from criminalization and incarceration costs to medical treatment and emergency room intakes that the patient was unable to afford.
Bootstraps are great, but - without a roof - they really mean nothing at all.