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Waters Requests GAO Study on State of Homelessness in America

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Washington, February 23, 2018 | comments

Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services sent a letter to the Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), requesting a comprehensive study on the state of homelessness in America. In the letter, Ranking Member Waters calls attention to the recent increase in homelessness nationwide, as well as the ongoing challenges that certain coastal communities and large cities, including Los Angeles, have faced in recent years.

To underscore her longstanding concerns, Ranking Member Waters referenced the troubling findings in the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress:

“…[P]rogress has been uneven across the country, across sub-populations, and has virtually stalled in the absence of new funding,” the Congresswoman wrote. “In fact, according to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, homelessness increased for the first time in seven years, with over 553,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States on a single night in January 2017. In particular, estimates from this report indicate significant increases in homelessness in certain communities, including coastal communities and large cities like Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Portland. Further, the data document varied progress in ending homelessness for certain populations, with a slight decrease for families with children, but virtually stalled progress for veterans, as well as people who are experiencing chronic homelessness. These results appear to have been impacted significantly by limited supply [of affordable housing] and increasing rents in many large urban areas across the country.”

In 2017 Ranking Member Waters reintroduced the Ending Homelessness Act, groundbreaking legislation that would provide $13.27 billion in new funding over five years to federal programs and initiatives that will help the over 500,000 Americans who are currently homeless. The bill also preserves the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), an independent council that ensures the most efficient use of limited resources by focusing on effective coordination of resources across all sectors, by eliminating the statutory sunset date of the Council.

Also in 2017, Ranking Member Waters sent a letter to Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling requesting for the second time that the Committee convene a field hearing in Los Angeles on homelessness. In 2015 and 2016, Financial Services Committee Democrats requested a series of hearings on the state of homelessness in America. To date, no hearings have been scheduled.

See the full text of the letter to GAO below.


February 23, 2018


The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G St, NW
Washington, DC 20548


Dear Mr. Dodaro:

I am writing to request a comprehensive GAO study on the state of homelessness in America. Since the launch of Opening Doors, the nation’s first strategy to prevent and end homelessness, we have made some progress toward our national goals. However, progress has been uneven across the country, across sub-populations, and has virtually stalled in the absence of new funding. In fact, according to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, homelessness increased for the first time in seven years, with over 553,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States on a single night in January 2017[1]. In particular, estimates from this report indicate significant increases in homelessness in certain communities, including coastal communities and large cities like Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Portland. Further, the data document varied progress in ending homelessness for certain populations, with a slight decrease for families with children, but virtually stalled progress for veterans, as well as people who are experiencing chronic homelessness. These results appear to have been impacted significantly by limited supply and increasing rents in many large urban areas across the country.

In order to better equip us in our efforts to prevent and end homelessness in this country, I request that GAO conduct a review of the current state of homelessness in America, including both the progress made and challenges we still face in ending homelessness. Specifically, I request that your review respond to the following questions.

  1. What is known about the factors influencing an increase in homelessness in certain locations, including increases we are seeing in coastal cities like Los Angeles?

  2. What policies and tools, including funding levels for homeless assistance programs, need to be in place in order to ensure federal homelessness programs across the federal agencies are as effective as possible?

  3. How are we currently meeting the needs of key sub-populations, including veterans, families with children, youth, adult individuals, individuals with substance abuse disorders, and the chronically homeless? What are considered to be the promising practices for reducing homelessness and serving their needs?

  4. What methods are used to determine the current numbers of people experiencing homelessness in the United States? Do existing methods provide insight into any significant trends over time, and what additional information, if any, should communities have in order to make progress?

  5. How is the limited supply of affordable housing and increasing rents impacting homelessness in the United States? To what extent could funding levels for housing programs or housing policies be changed to address the dynamic of both inflow into homelessness as well as how to get people out of homelessness and into affordable housing?

  6. What is known about federal homelessness programs’ ability to leverage non-federal resources?

Thank you for your cooperation and attention in this matter. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact my staff.


Sincerely,

MAXINE WATERS
Ranking Member 

 

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[1] 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (December 2017). U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Community Planning and Development. Accessed at: https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2017-AHAR-Part-1.pdf

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