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The number of homeless in America is going down, but in a handful of cities there have been big increases leading some local leaders to declare states of emergencies.
- Pam Fessler Poverty and philanthropy correspondent, NPR
- Mary Cunningham Senior fellow, The Urban Institute
- Philip Mangano President, American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness; he is the former executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
- Ann Oliva Deputy assistant secretary, HUD
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining me. I'm Diane Rehm. The Department of Housing and Urban development says that since 2010, there's been an 11 percent decrease in the homeless population, but in some cities across the country, the homeless population is increasing and a few have declared states of emergency. Here for a look at homelessness today, Mary Cunningham of the Urban Institute, Pam Fessler of NPR, Ann Oliva of The Department of Housing and Urban Development.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd joining us from studios at WGBH in Boston, Philip Mangano of American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness. And throughout the hour, we'll be taking your calls, comments. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.
MS. MARY CUNNINGHAMThank you.
MS. PAM FESSLERNice to be here, Diane.
MS. ANN OLIVAThanks for having me.
MR. PHILIP MANGANOThank you, Diane.
REHMGood to have you all here. Ann Oliva, HUD reported on homeless numbers to Congress last month. Give us a sense of the kind of progress you've seen.
OLIVASo this report is called the Point In Time Count Report. It is very specific in terms of the numbers that we are reporting. Every year in the last ten days of January, communities across the country do what we call a sheltered and unsheltered count of people who are experiencing homelessness in their communities. And they report those data to us. It is not us extrapolating or making any adjustments to their data. It's really what they report to us.
OLIVAAnd as you mentioned, we've seen an overall decline since 2010. We use 2010 as our benchmark because that is when the administration released Opening Doors, which is the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. And so we use that as our benchmark against to measure progress. And in this year's report, we focused on a few different areas. As you mentioned, there is an overall decline since 2010.
OLIVABut when you look at the changes between 2014 and 2015, which a lot of people do, you'll see that progress is mixed, as you mentioned. 60 percent of communities are seeing an overall decrease, but 40 percent are still seeing an overall increase. So we still have a lot of work to do. And when you look at the sub populations, you'll see we also made progress in some areas and not as much in others.
REHMWhat do you mean the sub populations?
OLIVASo when we look at this data, we don't just look at homelessness overall. We look at families, individuals, veterans, young people, people who are experiencing chronic homelessness and all of those different populations have different sets of numbers and those are reported in the count as well.
REHMAnd to you, Phil Mangano, how do you interpret these different reports, the progress in some areas and the lack thereof in others?
MANGANOThank you, Diane. I think the key thing to understand is that there is, as Ann rightly said, there's being progress made, I think especially when you look at the issue of homeless veterans. Progress that we had established under President Bush many years ago, that's been sustained under the current administration. So part of the progress we've made, actually, is that on this issue of homelessness, there's no D or R. We're just Americans moving toward a solution.
MANGANOAnd on the veteran side of things, because of very specific targeted resources for housing and services, we've seen a consistent decline in the number of homeless veterans since the middle -- since 2005 or so. So we do have strategies that, in fact, work and I think it's the implementation of those strategies. It's the scaling of what we know works. And we can say, for homeless individuals now, especially for homeless veterans, but for all homeless individuals, we know what to do. We know how to do it.
MANGANOThe real issue is scaling. That is matching the response to the size of the problem. And in the realm of veterans, we've taken some strong action there, actually an initiative that was begun under Jack Kemp, under Bush 1, which we revitalized under Bush 43. That effort to provide housing and services, that's made a big difference on the front of veterans. It's that kind of strategy that now needs to be extended much more broadly to other profiles of homeless people.
REHMSo are you saying that some areas of the country are doing it well and others not so well?
MANGANOWell, one of the things we learned when I was in Washington over seven years, we had people like Malcolm Gladwell and Jim Collins utilizing their business mindset to help us shape a policy and a frame of strategy. One of things that we learned from all of the work that we did creating ten-year plans in over 350 different places in the country was that political will is the most important factor in terms of the numbers going in the right direction.
MANGANOThere's only one metric on homelessness and that is fewer of our neighbors are experiencing the long misery of homelessness. And when we saw very focused political will, when we seen that around the country, we've seen the numbers go down because the entire community and the resources of communities are focused on the issue of homelessness. So if you take Denver, Colorado, for example, under John Hickenlooper, who's now their governor, there was focused political will there and the numbers went down.
MANGANOAnd that happened in a number of communities all over the country. I think -- I was in New York last week. I think there's a sense in New York that there's a bit of a flagging of political will there, not a kind of a preciseness of the political will. In Los Angeles, there's the same kind of nuancing of political will where the city council is thinking about things that didn't work 20 years ago and they're thinking about doing those now.
REHMOh, I see.
MANGANOSo wherever this political will is shaped around the best strategies, we see progress being made.
REHMAll right. And to you, Mary Cunningham, the White House says it wants to end homelessness. Is that really possible?
CUNNINGHAMYes. Absolutely, it's possible. We know from the past decade of research what works and what doesn't. And I think Philip Mangano is right. All we need to do is we have the solutions. We need to scale them, implement them properly. Homelessness in the United States is a solvable problem.
REHMAnd do you think that some cities do have it right and others just have used their own methods, which haven't worked?
CUNNINGHAMYeah. I mean, I think -- of course, I'm saying it's solvable problem. It's, obviously, a hard problem to solve.
CUNNINGHAMImplementation is key. I think that we've also had a lot of progress on some populations and not others so significant progress on chronically homeless individuals. That's because of a dramatic shift in how we serve people, housing first. Put them in housing first, then help them stabilize. Give them services. Before, we used to tell people who were living on the street that they had to get their act together first before we would give them housing and we have changed that dramatically and the numbers are going down on chronic homelessness, on vets.
CUNNINGHAMI think there's been less progress on families. The numbers are going down a little bit.
CUNNINGHAMBut not as much, not back to the pre-recession levels, sort of peaked during the recession. We know, though, what works for families and that is affordable housing.
REHMAnd to you, Pam Fessler of NPR, how do we count the homeless? How is that done?
FESSLERWell, as Ann pointed out, these numbers that HUD just reported is -- from a point in time, it is one sliver, one little snapshot of what happened on one night in January or a group of nights in January. And you're looking at people who are out on the street and are sheltered and they're usually counted a lot by volunteers. So they don't catch everybody. You don't know if a person who may have been living in the street a week before has, you know, stayed over in somebody's house the night of the count.
FESSLERYou are also -- what HUD is not also catching, and this is the local communities that are doing this counting, are people who are doubled up, people who are living from house to house to house, who maybe don't -- they're not in a shelter. They're not on the street, but for all intents and purposes, they are, in fact, homeless. And there is a lot of controversy over whether, in fact, those people should also be included, if we're trying to address this broader problem.
FESSLERBut then, you have the difficulty of saying, okay, who is -- how do you distinguish between a family where -- a house where two families are living together, maybe two different generations or cousins, or somebody who is, in fact, just going -- every night, they don't really know where they're going to be, whose friend's house are they going to be staying at.
REHMAnd we don’t know how to count them, is that it?
FESSLERWell, it's extremely difficult to do that.
FESSLERThe Department of Education tries to do it to some extent when they're looking at students. And, in fact, there are lots of young people who are in this situation. They don't necessarily know where they're going to be sleeping every night. And this is causing that same type of disruption that they might have living in a shelter. So the question is how do you address that, you know, distinction.
REHMExactly. Pam Fessler, she is a correspondent for NPR on poverty and philanthropy. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more, take your emails, your phone calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about homelessness in this country. There are some areas where apparently some progress has been made, other areas, for example, Portland, Ore., which has already declared a state of emergency as far as homelessness is concerned. I, myself, travel to Portland three times a year for voice treatments and have noticed a considerable difference in just the last year. I gather that Portland, Ann, is one of those areas that's declared a state of emergency.
OLIVAThat's right. We're actually heading to Portland on Wednesday to meet with the mayors of four different areas on the West Coast that have declared a state of emergency and are going to meeting together to talk about potential solutions. My secretary, Secretary Castro and I and Matthew Doherty from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness will be there.
REHMCan you talk at all about why these certain areas seem to be experiencing this type of emergency?
OLIVASo I don't know for sure. I don't think that anybody knows for sure. And that's one of the reasons we want to have these folks get together to talk about what's happening in their communities. But I think the underlying cause can be traced back to housing policy and the lack of affordable housing. For example, in Los Angeles -- this is something that we've seen -- even veterans who are homeless who have a HUD-VASH voucher -- that's one of the programs that Philip was mentioning earlier, so they have a voucher to get affordable housing -- about 600 or so veterans have a voucher in hand but can't actually find a unit to lease. So they're still homeless.
OLIVASo one of the things that we need to look at is affordable housing in those areas and how we can increase the amount of affordable housing.
REHMSomehow I can understand that, as far as a city like Los Angeles. But Portland, Ore., is a small city. And so I'm surprised.
OLIVATheir housing costs are quite expensive in Portland. And I know this. I happen to have a brother that lives in Portland. And, you know, Seattle is another one. The Bay Area is another area. Those areas on the West Coast especially is what we're taking a look at now.
FESSLERYes. And what I was going to point out is that, in addition to them -- the HUD and other officials having difficulty sometimes finding landlords that are willing to accept these vouchers, because they can get maybe a better deal just working with a regular renter. Because there's so -- the rental market is so incredibly tight that a number of cities and communities -- they're trying -- they're throwing in -- I think it's in Minnesota, they're throwing in a signing bonus, $1,000 signing bonus that they have offered landlords if they will in fact take in...
REHMTake in a homeless person.
FESSLER...a homeless veteran. There was a telethon that they held down in the Miami -- Dade County, last week, just trying to get landlords to sign up. And the market is just so tight. And when we talk about can we in fact solve homelessness, you know, there's so much going on to house people, to try and house people and provide them with permanent supportive housing. But there's this whole -- we don't really know what's coming next, you know, as the market continues to tighten. And that there are all these people who are on sort of the edge of homelessness. And it's sort of one of those other things that people -- that doesn't get counted in the numbers.
REHMPhil, I wonder if you can -- pardon me -- speak to the question from a listener. Is there a timetable to achieve Vision Zero homelessness?
MANGANOI don't think there's any question about setting a timetable as being a very important part of what needs to be done on homelessness. And both in the administration I served in, even in the transition when I served under President Obama, that was one of the key elements of our strategy, that we would not leave this nebulous or amorphous. We would set goals to accomplish the purpose. And, for example, again, on homeless veterans, while the secretary to the VA that I served under, Secretary Principi and Peak and Nicholson, they were all very committed. But to the credit of the Obama administration, when Secretary Shinseki took over the reins of the VA, he set a very aggressive goal of ending it in five years.
MANGANOThat hasn't happened but that aggressive goal resulted in the concentration of resources, including what we alluded to earlier, those HUD-VASH vouchers, which includes services and housing for veterans. And what we've seen is a very precipitous decline in the number of homeless veterans. While the five-year goal won't be achieved, it's quite possible within the next year that the number of homeless veterans in the United States will be down very close to zero. I think what that demonstrates and models is a way to approach the issue not only for the veteran population but for other populations.
MANGANOIn the Bush administration, we focused on those who were the most vulnerable and disabled -- those that researchers call people experiencing chronic homelessness by virtue of their disabilities. We know that without government intervention, they will remain languishing on the streets or living in shelters. That focus on that population has also resulted in a decline in those numbers as well. So there are strategies that work. And putting a timetable on those strategies concentrates attention and concentrates resources.
MANGANOAnd in each case, that's resulted in very substantial declines.
REHMSo, Ann, as far as HUD is concerned, is there a timetable?
OLIVAYes. We follow the timetable that's laid out in Opening Doors, the Obama administration's federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. So the first deadline is really at the end of this month. The goal was to end homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. Then we have a goal to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2017 and a goal to end family and youth homelessness by 2020 and also setting a path by 2020 to end -- to understand how to end all homelessness.
REHMHow realistic are those goals, Pam Fessler?
FESSLERWell, I think, when they talk about ending homelessness or -- it's not that we're not going to see any more homeless people on the streets or in the shelters. I think -- my understanding is that it is a system that's set up so that, when people do become homeless, there's some system that is set up so that they can be housed within a relatively short period of time and that you will not be seeing this explosion of street populations. So the question, though, of how realistic it is, well, they're not going to meet the goal of ending veterans' homelessness by the end of this year, even though a great deal of progress has been made.
FESSLERAnd I think talking about the deadlines, as Phil mentions, it's almost like the goal is something that's driving all these communities to work together and to actually make a lot of progress. One of the most amazing things to me is I have -- there are so many examples here of -- in these communities of all these people kind of getting together who never really talked to each other about this issue and you have the business community, you have the police, you have the mental health. You know, in the communities where it's really working, they're all getting together and they actually -- there's a recognition that the problem is not going to go away.
REHMGive me an example of a city or a state doing exactly that.
FESSLERWell, you have Salt Lake City, is probably a good example. And there are several others. And they -- basically, there is this recognition that it's costing taxpayers a lot of money just to have people out on the street, because of all the police depart -- the time that is spent by -- with police having to respond to complaints about, you know, people loitering or panhandling.
REHMMore money than it would cost to put them in decent housing.
FESSLERThere have been numerous studies that have done that.
FESSLERBecause a lot of people who are homeless, where do they turn for medical help? They go to the emergency room, which is extraordinarily expensive. So, you know, there have been numerous, numerous studies done. And I think people are pretty much convinced that they're accurate, that it is much more efficient to have people housed, even with services, than to have them on the street.
REHMHere's an email from Kathleen in St. Augustine, Fla., who says, as Housing First is a proven way to end homelessness, why are some so reticent to utilize this? Is it simply that some seek to penalize homelessness? Can you describe -- can someone describe Housing First? Mary.
CUNNINGHAMSure. So Housing First, as I said before, is a complete paradigm shift for how people serve homeless people on the street. It used to be that we would really raise the bar in terms of, if you want to have access to affordable housing, you have to get a job. You have to get clean, get sober. You have to all of these things and jump through...
CUNNINGHAM...all these hoops first. And, guess what? That's doesn't work. When people are on the street, they're dealing with a lot of different issues and it's really hard to figure all that stuff out. But -- especially if you don't have housing, right? So if you are trying to get a job while you're living shelter, that's a really difficult process. Housing First says, we will get you into an apartment first, help you stabilize. For people who have serious disability or mental illness, we'll give you services that help you maintain that housing.
REHMNow, is that up to each jurisdiction, each city, each state, as to how extensively to use Housing First?
CUNNINGHAMYeah, I mean, Housing First is a policy. It's been a policy that's been promoted by HUD. And certainly there are incentives to providing Housing First. And I'm sure Ann can talk about that. But there are some attitudinal barriers, too, to overcome. When you're a service provider, it's really hard to think about providing someone housing, getting them into housing, when they have active substance-abuse issues and things along that lines. It's -- and it's hard sometimes for the public even to think about, well, are you going to let someone who is actively using go into housing?
CUNNINGHAMBut, as Pam noted earlier, that is a way that's more cost effective. People who are out on the street are using really costly public services -- moving in and out of jail, showing up at hospital emergency rooms.
MANGANODiane, just on that note...
MANGANO...I wanted to add, the term cost-benefit analysis, that's become part of the nomenclature of compassion for homeless people. What we've learned both motivates and sustains political will more than all of the moral, spiritual and humanitarian arguments we mustered over 20 years of response to the issue, it's when governors and county executives and mayors understand that it's less expensive for people to be in housing than it is for them to be out on the streets, randomly ricocheting through very expensive health and law enforcement systems.
MANGANOIn fact, when I was in Washington, we gathered data from 70 different cities that had done Housing First as the intervention -- moving people directly into housing -- what we learned was, in cost-benefit studies, was that the range of the costs of people before they went into housing -- when they were on the street randomly ricocheting -- that ranged between $35,000 and $150,000 per person, per year. It's hard to believe that that person on the street is costing that much. But they're in the emergency room a lot, police, firefighter, courts, incarceration. The costs of the housing, when the intervention of housing first was made, the after-cost was between $12,000 and $25,000 to provide both the housing and the services to support the tenancy.
MANGANOSo we can expend $35,000 to $150,000 without solving the problem and leaving that person out on the streets to randomly ricochet further. Or we can actually invest $12,000 to $25,000 to solve the problem. You don't need to be Warren Buffett to figure out which of those is the better investment. And of course communities are deciding to make the investment in housing as opposed to leaving people out, which is far more expensive and far less humanitarian.
REHMPhilip Mangano, he's president of the American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ann, I wonder how much criminalizing the homeless population we're seeing across the country. I know that the Department of Justice is taking action on this.
OLIVAI, you know, it's something that we've seen increasing over the last several years. And both the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with the Interagency Council, have taken some steps to try and incentivize communities not to criminalize homelessness. Because we really feel like that's a short-sighted policy.
REHMSo what do they do? They simply put them in jail?
OLIVAIt depends on the community. In some places, there are camping bans, for example. And there are bans on panhandling. The kinds of things, if you are experiencing homelessness and there's no room in a shelter, putting you in jail for simply existing just doesn't seem like the right policy. And further, it really hurts people who are experiencing homelessness in the long run, because then they have a rap sheet and it's harder for them to get jobs and that sort of thing. So these are the kinds of things that we're working on.
OLIVAAt HUD, we have a very large homeless services competition. That competition drives, it's about $2 billion a year and we fund close to 9,000 individual projects in 400 communities around the country. When we incentivize something through points, it tends to move people in a specific kind of direction. So for this year, in 2015, for the first time we actually had points tied to communities that are working closely with their local elected officials to make sure that homelessness is not criminalized.
FESSLERYeah. I think what you're seeing is this conflict. You know, local officials are hearing from residents who say, why do we have this homeless camp downtown. You know, it's terrible, it's dirty. There might be drug paraphernalia, people urinating. I mean, it -- they, you know, so they're hearing from their official -- their local residents and they are trying to respond. So the question is, what is the response? Some communities are responding by saying, okay, we're going to just clean out this camp. We're going to arrest people or fine them -- fine them fines that they can't pay.
FESSLERAnd others are saying, okay, we have to combine that with trying to find a location or someplace where the residents of these camps where the people are panhandling can in fact stay.
REHMBut I wonder if many of them do end up in jail because there's nowhere else to put them.
FESSLERI mean, I think that's in some cases. I think it's more that they get a fine or some type of record. Which, as Ann points out, just only aggravates the problem. The other problem, though, is that some people don't want to go to shelters...
FESSLER...because they fear violence there or the rules there. You also have the -- some communities don't actually have enough housing or shelter to provide to these people. And one thing, when we talk about ending homelessness, you know, even though everybody sort of -- a lot of people agree that Housing First works, there's also been -- there have also been huge cuts in funding for housing services. So the question is, even though it may in the long run be cost effective, you know, on an annual appropriations basis, there's a lot of pressure on Congress to cut this funding.
REHMPam Fessler of NPR. Short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about homelessness in the US, what's being done to address it, the challenges it faces and how in some parts of the country the homeless population is increasing. Overall, says HUD, the homeless population is decreasing across the county. Here in the studio, Ann Oliva, she's deputy assistant secretary for HUD, Pam Fessler is poverty and philanthropy correspondent at NPR.
REHMMary Cunningham is senior fellow at the Urban Institute. And on the line with us is Philip Mangano, CEO and president of the American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness. Here's an email from Joshua, in Pittsboro, N.C. "Would you talk about the cities, counties that have passes ordinances making it illegal to give food to the homeless?" Pam Fessler?
FESSLERWell, this is a -- happened, as Ann mentioned, over several years we're seeing sort of an increase in this. A number of communities -- at one point I believe Philadelphia did, but a lot of smaller communities have banned the congregation people out in public places being fed. And, again, this is that the frustration that some people in some communities feel, where they see a congregation of homeless people. They say that it causes, you know, that there's debris left after the meals and that it's only attracting more homeless people to the community.
FESSLERAnd so a lot -- some of these -- quite frankly, in retrospect, a number of them have been repealed, these laws, because they do appear to be so sort of mean-spirited. But, again, I think it's a reflection of this frustration that people in some communities feel.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First, to Pittsburgh, Pa. Joseph, you're on the air.
JOSEPHYes. In my opinion, I think we need to build housing, affordable housing units. How many children? There's close to a million homeless children in this country. I'd like to know how many housing units has HUD built in the last year? The problem is actual housing units. The cities are out of -- becoming totally unaffordable for the majority of working-class people.
OLIVAThank you for the question. This is Ann, from HUD. And while I don't have the data right in front of me, in terms of how many units have been built over the last year, what I can say is that we agree with you, that there is -- there are in some areas of the country a shortage. So we need to actually do development, which means that we need programs like The Home Program, which is HUD's sort of flagship affordable housing development program that has been cut by, I think, 50 percent over the last few years by Congress, in terms of its funding.
OLIVAAnd without those kinds of resources, communities don't really have the money that they need to build the affordable housing that is so desperately needed in their communities.
REHMPam, another city with a big homeless population is New York. What are they doing there? What's the mayor proposing?
FESSLERThey're -- New York is kind of a unique situation because New York is one of the few communities that has a right to shelter. So they guarantee families a -- that they will -- if they are homeless or that they're in need of housing, that they will, in fact, get shelter. And that's why I think one of the reasons that we've seen such a huge increase in the numbers in New York City. New York has, I believe, 75,000 homeless people in this latest count, which is by far the biggest community.
REHMAnd is that an increase?
FESSLEROh, that is definitely an increase. It went up -- Ann probably knows this better than I do. But New York does definitely go -- has been going up. And you have the combination of this right-to-shelter with a city where the affordable housing stock is just diminishing rapidly. And what the mayor has said is that he's devoting -- going to be devoting more money to building affordable housing, but it's not easy.
FESSLERFirst of all, it's gonna take a long time to get these units on board. And also, when we talk about affordable housing, it's not necessarily getting to people at the very bottom rung. A lot of the way we describe affordable housing are people who are -- maybe young, entry-level workers who would still qualify for this affordable housing. So it's a very, very tight situation up in New York.
REHMPhil, do you want to jump in?
MANGANOI do. I think Pam is -- that last comment of Pam's is right on target. When we're talking about affordable housing that has very specific meanings to HUD and to local communities. And generally, that housing, though meant for poorer people, that housing is not accessible to homeless people, unless we're talking about housing that's affordable to homeless people whose incomes go from about zero to about 15 percent of the median income in an area.
MANGANOIt's only housing that's targeted in that way that makes a difference on homelessness. And to the degree that we see that kind of housing being created, whether it's through the veterans' initiatives that we've been talking about, and fortunately the new VA secretary, Bob McDonald has been very adamant about sustaining that kind of housing. Or, on the chronic side, where in the Bush administration we created over 50,000 units specifically targeted to people who are the most vulnerable, the most disabled and we insured that we stopped by the side of the road for that person who was passed by by everybody else.
MANGANOWe stopped, targeted housing to them, just as in that ancient scriptural story. And what we saw was numbers of chronic homeless people around the country, people who were out on the street, those numbers dropped. Unless we target the housing, that will not happen. So while we can talk generally about affordable housing, it's really the -- it's the housing that's affordable to homeless people that's most important.
MANGANOThe one other population -- I'd just like to jump in, Diane. One of the things that we've seen in terms of the work that we've done at The Roundtable, is that there has been little research and little policy development and very few resources targeted specifically to unaccompanied women who comprise, actually, 1 in 4 of every unsheltered person -- sheltered person in the country. There are more than 100,000 unaccompanied women who are homeless. And there's been very little focus on that population.
MANGANOWe're attempting to remedy that. We had a convening at Harvard University last year. It was the first time programs that serve population had been gathered together. We're doing another one January in USC on the West Coast. But that's another population that needs specific policy and research focus, so that, in fact, resources will be targeted to another group of people who desperately needs…
MANGANO…to be off the streets and out of shelters and into housing.
REHMHere's a tweet from Nick, who says, "A few years ago I worked with someone who had to quit his minimum-wage job because a shelter would not take him in while he was working." Mary Cunningham?
CUNNINGHAMThat's not usually the case. I mean, I think that there are some income -- some shelters may have some income constraints, but usually we're talking about -- there are people who move in and out of shelter and use shelter as low-cost housing, that are employed, some part time, some full time, many underemployed. But yes, people who are moving in and out of homeless shelters are -- some are working.
REHMAll right. To…
OLIVABut on the, may I add?
OLIVAThank you. On the flip side of that, I would say that one of the things we've really been working towards over the last several years is to make sure that shelters and transitional housing programs and permanent supportive housing programs have the -- have very low barriers to entry so that this person doesn't have to experience something like that, so nobody has to experience something like that.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Jane, in Baltimore, Md. You're on the air.
JANEThank you, Diane. I would like to submit that discussions of ending homelessness, and I think all the participants have been extremely informative in terms of the targeting and how important that is and so on, but behind all this -- I really feel that it's good that there's a HUD representative and I -- and she's been very informative, but the fact is the federal government has made major disinvestment in public housing.
JANEAnd there simply is no -- effectively very little federal funding now for affordable rental housing, which is underlying this whole issue with homelessness and the increase in homelessness. I also wanted to point out, in terms of reframing somewhat the conversation, that I don't know if anyone has the read the book, "$2 a Day, Living on Almost Nothing in America."
JANEThat's by a professor at Harvard, Kathryn Edin and a colleague, Luke Shaefer -- that documents the increase since '96 of families living in $2-a-day poverty that has more than doubled. And so discussions of ending homelessness, I think it's very optimistic. I like that it's optimistic, but I think that's it -- it's misleading in many ways.
FESSLERWell, I think that, you know, as the listener points out, it is, you know, it's unrealistic to think that we are going to, in fact, end homelessness, but I think that's the whole point here, that the goals are being used to sort of propel the system forward to try and really dramatically reduce homelessness. And one of the things that, you know, besides the fact that we have all these people who are really struggling at the margins, you also have a large portion of people who -- especially when you talk about the chronically homeless population who have mental health issues, very, very serious mental health issues, which, in fact, only get worse when they're out on the street.
FESSLEROr substance abuse issues. And, you know, we haven't really talked about that, about the funding for those types of programs, which have been cut back dramatically in a lot of local communities, which I think is, again, making it more difficult to reach these goals.
REHMThere was a situation here in Washington, DC, Mary, down near the Watergate, when they came in and simply cleared that homeless population. What happened to those people?
CUNNINGHAMYeah, so I think a bunch of different things happened to different people. You know, they cleared the -- this is a tent encampment, actually that I drive by every day as I'm commuting home. And I sort of watched one tent pop up and then a few more tents pop up and then there were 15, 20 tents.
REHMRight near the Watergate.
CUNNINGHAMRight near the Watergate on K Street. And there -- it was growing and growing and the District decided we need to do something around water source in that area and also, I mean, I think the growing visibility of homelessness, people feel really uncomfortable with. But the reports in the news from people who were living there, didn't want to go into shelter, found that living in shelter was a negative situation for them.
CUNNINGHAMThere's high rates of violence. There's bedbugs. Not all shelters are the best places to be. And so the city came one night and cleared the tents. And I think that some people got access to affordable housing, some people went to shelter, and some people had their belongings stored in lockers for them. And so it just speaks to the difficulty of when you have this growing problem, like Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, what do you do when you don't have a broader affordable housing plan for people? There is no place to go.
REHMAnd it's right here in the nation's capital.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Pam, you wanted to jump in?
FESSLERNo. I was just gonna point out that I think almost universally when these encampments have been cleared out, people have just moved somewhere nearby and a new development, a new encampment has popped up. And so it just goes to this question of without an underlying solution, clearing out encampments just doesn't do anything.
REHMAnd, Phil, I know you've been working in Los Angeles. What have you found there that works? What has helped the problem?
MANGANOWell, I think one of the most exciting developments in Los Angeles, which has one of the worst problems in the country, skid row, 3,000 Americans living in favela-like situations there within the view of the big skyline that's now developed there. I think one of the great developments there and around the country -- and I have to give credit to President Obama and to the efforts that are going on in Washington in terms of moving forward on something called Pay For Success, the idea of attracting private resources to scale what we know works.
MANGANOThe -- I think we have to come to the agreement that the government is gonna be able to do this alone. And we need to attract the private sector. In Los Angeles, there are actually hedge fund managers and billionaires literally at the table, thinking about investing their resources in scaling what Mary talked about earlier in terms of housing first. We know that it works. We know how to do it. We know that it saves government money. So the idea is to attract private money in to scale that kind of effort and then to provide a very modest return on investment to those investors.
MANGANOI know that HUD and another federal agency have moved out with attempting to encourage that around this permanent support of housing that constitutes housing first. So in Los Angeles, I think that's the real sign of hope in a place where it's pretty desultory otherwise, that's the place where we're gonna see some activity. And I think here in Massachusetts we've already begun that.
MANGANOGovernor Deval Patrick and now Governor Charles Baker, one a Democrat, one a Republican, have been very supportive of this idea of social impact financing. Pay for performance, attracting the private sector. The United Way has been instrumental in that happening in Massachusetts. So with all of the fear of putting a glimmer of hope into this, I think there are some things happening right now that do offer hope for the future. And the private sector partnered with the government, I think that's a place we can look to for the future.
REHMAll right. And last email, Gerald writes, "I have a homeless family member in Salt Lake City. His substance abuse and refusal of mental health treatment have led to his circumstances, continue to disqualify him for Housing First assistance. What can be done?"
OLIVASo Salt Lake City is actually quite progressive in terms of their, what we call, continuum of care or their continuum of homeless services. So I'm surprised to hear somebody saying that substance use or mental illness would actually be a barrier for them accessing…
REHMWhere can Gerald go?
OLIVAThere is a local agency called The Continuum of Care Lead Agency in Salt Lake City. He should contact them.
REHMAll right. Ann Oliva of HUD, Pam Fessler of NPR, Mary Cunningham of The Urban Institute and Philip Mangano of the American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness. Thank you all.
REHMIt's great to have you. And thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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