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Waters: We Must Address the Crisis of Homelessness in America

Urges Support for “Ending Homelessness Act,” Extension of USICH

Washington, DC, May 18, 2016

Congresswoman Member Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, spoke on the House floor today about the state of homelessness in our country and sent a letter to Congressional Appropriators urging an extension of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).

In her letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Waters requested that the sunset date for USICH -- which is scheduled for Oct. 1, 2017 – be repealed in the fiscal year 2017 government funding bill. USICH coordinates the federal response to homelessness, working in close partnership with Cabinet Secretaries and other senior leaders across 19 federal agencies. Waters noted that the loss of USICH would send the message that we are not serious about meeting our national goals to end homelessness, and that we have accepted homelessness as a permanent fixture here in the richest country in the world.

“In Los Angeles and in other major metropolitan areas across the country, homelessness has been increasing, and I am very concerned that the loss of this critical agency would seriously set us back in our ability to address the challenges that we face,” Waters wrote.

In March, Waters introduced H.R. 4888, the “Ending Homelessness Act of 2016,” that would devote more than $13 billion over five years to end homelessness in America. This landmark legislation would help the nearly 600,000 Americans who are currently homeless. In her remarks on the House floor today, Waters urged her colleagues to recognize the robust resources that are needed to help solve this problem and support her legislation.

The full text of Waters’ floor remarks is below:

I rise today because I am deeply concerned about the homelessness crisis that is plaguing our country.

Homelessness affects the very fabric of our communities and it degrades the values upon which our country was built. Every American has the right to safe, decent, and affordable housing. But according to the latest estimates, nearly 600,000 Americans are currently homeless, over 83,000 of whom are chronically homeless, and nearly 130,000 of whom are children under the age of 18. And these numbers are increasing in some of our major cities. In my own hometown, sadly, in Los Angeles homelessness increased by a staggering 20 percent between 2014 and 2015, and continues to rise.

But this is not just about the numbers. When I visit our homeless neighbors on Skid Row in Los Angeles, I see how these Americans are facing chronic mental and physical problems that make it even harder to rehabilitate their lives. When I speak to families who are dealing with homelessness, I see the toll this housing insecurity is taking on their children, who can’t concentrate in school because they are sleeping in a car at night.

There is a solution to this problem, Mr. Speaker. We just need the political will and the resources. That’s why earlier this year I introduced comprehensive legislation to provide the resources we need to truly end homelessness in America.

My bill, “H.R. 4888, the Ending Homelessness Act of 2016,” would provide over $13 billion dollars over five years to strengthen programs and initiatives that will help us end homelessness in this country. The money will help to create approximately 410,000 units of housing to end homelessness for the estimated 407,000 homeless households in the country. This includes permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher units, and deeply affordable units through the National Housing Trust Fund.

My bill would also provide the resources to increase the number of outreach workers on the streets working with homeless populations. Furthermore, my bill would provide technical assistance to help states and localities align their health and housing systems.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has reported that major progress toward ending homelessness in this country has virtually stalled without new funding. So there is a real need to invest in our federal housing programs and to support our local service providers who are on the streets helping the homeless every day.

Passing H.R. 4888 would be an investment that would pay dividends in the long run. Research has shown that when we provide housing to chronically homeless individuals, the cost to the taxpayer is significantly less than if we allowed them to remain homeless. For example, Los Angeles County’s Project 50 found that providing permanent supportive housing to 50 chronically homeless individuals saved the County close to $250,000 dollars over two years. And similar results have been found in other major cities, as well as small cities and rural areas alike.

But this isn’t just about the cost or the savings, Mr. Speaker. It’s about recognizing the crisis that we face as a nation and having an honest conversation about what we really need to do to put an end to homelessness.

We are the richest country in the world and every person should have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing. This should be a bipartisan issue. We must, all of us, Democrats and Republicans, work together to finally end homelessness in this country once and for all.

Mr. Speaker, and Members, I will be on this floor every chance I get, to force a real debate and a real conversation about this crisis that we are confronted in America. We cannot continue to walk pass homeless, helpless, mentally-ill, physically-ill, homeless people on the street and pretend we don’t see them. They are there, it is unconscionable that we allow this homelessness to continue to grow and to be on our streets. In Los Angeles, when you go to so-called Skid Row, we have people on the streets lined up all the way up the steps of City Hall.

Elected officials, ministers, community organizations let’s get together with our legislators, let’s pass H.R. 4888 and stop the homelessness in America.

Thank you. I yield back the balance of my time.


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