On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate held a hearing on All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
USICH Executive Director Jeff Olivet and HUD Senior Advisor for Housing and Services Richard Cho both testified before the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development. Senators asked the federal leaders about the effectiveness of Housing First, the plan’s strategy for preventing homelessness, and the eventual expiration of pandemic relief funding, among other things.
USICH released All In in December after more than a year of feedback from 19 federal agencies, more than 500 people who have experienced homelessness, and people involved in the work to end homelessness across more than 600 communities. The Biden-Harris administration’s plan is a roadmap for ultimately ending homelessness and sets a short-term goal of reducing it 25% by 2025. The plan recommits the federal government to strategies that have been proven to work—such as the Housing First approach that urgently addresses basic needs while setting people in crisis up for long-term success. All In will do more than any previous federal effort to systemically prevent homelessness and combat the systemic racism that has created racial and ethnic disparities in homelessness.
Since releasing the plan, USICH has worked with the 19 federal agencies that make up the council to set implementation of it into motion. In the coming weeks, USICH and the White House will announce details of a new federal initiative to help targeted cities and states specifically address unsheltered homelessness, which has been on the rise during the pandemic even though overall homelessness has remained flat.
In his opening statement, USICH Director Olivet discussed the current state and causes of homelessness, the positive impact of unprecedented federal investments like the American Rescue Plan, and how All In and Congress can build on that progress.
Read Director Olivet's opening statement (as prepared) below. For his full written testimony, click here.
"Good afternoon, Chairwoman Smith, Ranking Member Lummis, and distinguished members of the subcommittee. Homelessness is a life-and-death public heath crisis. Tens of thousands of people die every year due to the dangerous conditions of living without a home.
According to the latest data, more than 582,000 people experienced homelessness in the U.S. on a single night in January 2022. But this is only a snapshot in time. Over the course of a year, at least twice that number, more than 1.2 million people, experience homelessness in our nation.
Two drivers of this crisis are lack of affordable housing and the failure of wages to keep pace.
By some measures, as many as half of those living in shelters or on the streets are working. But full-time minimum-wage workers can’t afford even a modest apartment in any county in America. Decades of growing economic inequality have left more than half of Americans living paycheck to paycheck and one unexpected car repair or medical bill from homelessness.
In 1970, the U.S. had a surplus of 300,000 affordable homes. Today, a shortage of millions of units means that for every 100 extremely low-income renters, there are only 37 available affordable homes.
Health and homelessness are inextricably linked. Illness, injury, and medical expenses put people at risk of homelessness, and homelessness is harmful to people’s health. People who are homeless also face higher rates of mental health and substance use disorders.
Like many health conditions, homelessness is deadly—but preventable. Every day, roughly 2,500 people exit homelessness—yet the same number fall into it. To solve this challenge, we must combine effective housing and service solutions with upstream prevention efforts that keep people from losing their homes in the first place.
While homelessness has increased in recent years, we are beginning to see progress. After steady declines in homelessness nationally from 2010-2016, homelessness started rising again. During the pandemic, however, we were able to come together to stem the tide. In fact, between 2020 and 2022, we flattened the curve. And while unsheltered homelessness remains of paramount concern to this administration, we have seen homelessness drop significantly among veterans, families, and youth. These successes show that we can make progress even during the most difficult circumstances.
When the pandemic put millions out of work and at risk of losing their housing, you came together to pass the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan, amounting to the largest investments in ending homelessness at any point in our history. Congress expanded unemployment assistance, launched bold programs like emergency rental assistance, and provided financial support that saved families from starving and losing their homes. Together, Congress and the president prevented what could have been a massive wave of homelessness.
These investments ended homelessness for tens of thousands of Americans. In the last year and a half, HUD and VA initiatives helped more than 140,000 people move out of shelters, off the streets, and into homes.
Building on these successes, our new federal strategic plan, All In , aims to reduce homelessness 25% by 2025 and ultimately end it. With the help of Congress and state and local leaders, we believe it is possible to achieve this ambitious goal.
The plan is founded on an evidence-based, all-hands-on-deck approach; and it includes numerous strategies and actions to prevent homelessness, urgently address the basic need for shelter, and expand housing and support that help people exit homelessness.
Work to implement All In is already underway. Our team is developing implementation work plans and putting the strategies into action this year. As we move forward, we will work with Congress and our federal agency partners, as well as with people who have experienced homelessness, governors, mayors, providers, and others on the frontlines of this tragedy.
During my three decades in this work, any progress we have made has come when we were united. We all have a role to play. Homelessness did not happen overnight, and it will not be solved overnight. But with resources, creativity, and unity, I believe we can build a country where no one experiences the trauma and indignity of homelessness, and where everyone has a safe and affordable place to call home.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions."