Federal Policy Brief | March 4, 2014
On a given night, over 610,000 people are homeless in the United States. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal government’s primary response to homelessness, funding proven solutions to the problem. The bipartisan HEARTH Act of 2009 reauthorized the program to increase its emphasis on using outcomes and research to drive programmatic decisions.
The Homeless Assistance Grants appropriations account funds two programs: the competitive Continuum of Care (CoC) program, and the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) block grant program. The CoC program funds proven interventions like cost-effective permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people. The ESG block grant funds emergency shelter and adds a new focus on the cost-efficient interventions of homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.
Despite the persistently lagging economy and increased housing costs, homelessness actually declined slightly between 2012 and 2013, largely because of a concerted focus on outcome-oriented programs and solutions. Unfortunately, communities were recently forced to cut up to 5 percent of their CoC programs and much, much more of their ESG programs due to sequestration cuts. The economic and demographic indicators of homelessness remain high, and there have been deep cuts to key affordable housing programs at the federal, state, and local levels.
As a result, further federal investment is needed to make real progress on homelessness. The HEARTH Act works to address homelessness among families, individuals with disabilities, and others by expanding the emphasis on proven, cost-effective solutions, including:
• Rapid re-housing (short-term rental assistance, landlord mediation and other housing search services, and connections to employment and other key services) for homeless families and individuals;
• Permanent supportive housing (long-term housing and supportive services) targeted to people with disabilities who experience chronic homelessness; and
• Homelessness prevention.
In January, Congress finalized fiscal year (FY) 2014 legislation that provides $2.105 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. The Alliance estimates that this funding level will be just enough to cover CoC renewals, though not enough to replace programs lost through sequestration. Should Congress decide to flat fund or cut the program in FY 2015, many communities will be forced to make extremely difficult decisions about who to provide housing to, and who should be left without a place to call home.
With deep cuts to many housing and safety-net programs, without help from Congress there is a high risk that homelessness will increase. Congress should invest in proven solutions to homelessness through the HEARTH Act by providing $2.405 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants in FY 2015, the amount requested by the President in his FY 2015 Budget Proposal. This funding level would cover the cost of the renewal demand and provide additional funding to meet the goal of ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2016, while helping communities to expand their investment in the ESG program to rapidly and permanently house people experiencing homelessness.