USICH Elects HHS and USDA Secretaries as New Leaders of Federal Homelessness Strategy

October 30, 2023
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VA Secretary McDonough and HHS Secretary Becerra
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Outgoing USICH Chair VA Secretary McDonough, left, and Incoming USICH Chair HHS Secretary Becerra, right, at the council meeting Monday. (VA/Robert Turtil)


The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) voted Monday to elect two members of the White House Cabinet to lead federal homelessness strategy. Effective immediately, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra is the USICH chair, after serving as vice chair the past year, and Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack is the new vice chair. 

USICH harnesses the collective power of 19 federal agencies that coordinate federal homelessness strategy and support state and local efforts to prevent and end homelessness. The council elects new leadership on an annual basis, and each federal member agency is allotted one vote. The chair and vice chair lead council meetings, support implementation of the federal strategic plan, foster collaboration across the federal government, and increase public and congressional attention on homelessness.

The vote was led by the outgoing chair, Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough. During his tenure, USICH released All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, which recommitted the federal government to the “Housing First” strategy and represents the most comprehensive federal effort to systemically prevent homelessness and combat systemic racism that drives it. Under McDonough’s leadership, USICH and the White House launched a key part of All In, the ALL INside Initiative, which is embedding federal experts and lowering barriers to housing, health care, and other support in seven communities facing high numbers of unsheltered homelessness. McDonough drove the VA to set and exceed goals to rehouse 38,000 veterans in 2022 and 2023 (the agency is on track to exceed this year’s goal). That is in addition to the more than 100,000 people who the Biden-Harris administration helped move off the streets, out of shelters, and into homes through the 2021-2022 House America Initiative. And in the last year, the VA created the Legal Services for Veterans Grant Program to help veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness obtain benefits, avoid eviction, and resolve legal issues.

“Every veteran and every American deserves a safe and affordable home in this country,” said VA Secretary McDonough. “It’s been my honor to lead this council over the past year, and I know that it’s in great hands moving forward with Secretary Becerra. Together, we cannot and will not rest in the fight to end homelessness for veterans and all Americans.”

Secretaries Becerra and Vilsack are taking the lead on homelessness at a time when many communities have been reporting rises in homelessness. While there are many causes of homelessness, the recent rise is likely due to soaring rents and the expiration of most pandemic-era protections, such as emergency rental assistance. During the worst years of the pandemic, the American Rescue Plan and other emergency resources prevented a rise in homelessness, proving that progress can be made—even during the most difficult times.

“Stable housing is essential to the health and well-being of individuals and families. Preventing and ending homelessness requires a collective effort to understand and address its root causes, such as housing affordability. We must also channel our efforts to address the health and social needs of many who are unhoused, including behavioral health,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is doing critically important work, and I am honored to take on the role of chair. We will continue to do everything in our collective capacity to dramatically reduce homelessness in this country.” 

“Unfortunately, nowhere in America is immune to homelessness. It does not discriminate between city and rural America; it affects every community in our nation,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The work of the United States Department of Agriculture touches Americans in every zip code. As the new vice chair of USICH, I will work to see through President Biden’s commitment to tackle the homelessness crisis and ensure all Americans across the country have access to quality and affordable housing.”  

“We are thrilled to have the leadership of Secretary Becerra and Secretary Vilsack for the coming year,” said USICH Executive Director Jeff Olivet. “They bring the experience and wisdom needed to guide our work at this critical moment.”

For more on council meetings, click here.

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