ANSWERING THE KENNEDY'S CALL
A study released in December 2017 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported America’s homeless population has risen this year for the first time since the Great Recession, propelled by the housing crisis afflicting the west coast, according to a new federal study.
The study has found that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night this year, a 0.7 percent increase over last year. It suggests that despite a booming economy, the poorest Americans are still struggling to meet their most basic needs.
Most affected are the western states of California, Oregon and Washington, where soaring housing prices have made even rental housing expensive and out of range for many low-income citizens that live and work in their largest cities.
The state of California estimates that 180,000 new housing units are needed each year in order to keep up with population growth. Over the last decade, however, there was an annual average of less than 80,000 units, because developers often face a long review process and local opposition.
Government investment in low-income homes has lagged since it was slashed during the Reagan administration, and today most people on the cusp of homelessness do not receive government rental assistance. In fact, the government spends twice as much on a housing tax break for the wealthiest Americans, and the tax reforms just enacted by Congress could deal a further blow to affordable-housing.
Localities are left to improvise solutions. Los Angelenos voted to tax themselves to provide billions in funding. Tiny-home villages have taken root in Oregon and Washington state (though a plan to erect them in Silicon Valley was met recently by angry residents chanting “build a wall” to keep homeless residents out). Hawaii is pursuing the idea of authorized tent encampments, according to The Guardian.
“The improved economy is a good thing, but it does put pressure on the rental market, which does put pressure on the poorest Angelenos,” said Peter Lynn, head of the Los Angeles homelessness agency, in an LA Times interview. The most dramatic spike in the nation was in his region, where a record 55,000 people were counted. “Clearly we have an outsize effect on the national homelessness picture.”
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has pushed through a record budget to build and house homeless denizens of Los Angeles. A recently passed Measure H initiative is generating $355 million each year to provide a wide range of services to help people in desperate need. Proposition HHH is giving the City $1.2 billion to build thousands units of supportive housing over the next decade — units that will be paired with those same services, so that unsheltered Angelenos can go home for good.
Because it will take years to build permanent housing, Garcetti has launched a new plan called A Bridge Home — to give homeless Angelenos in every neighborhood a refuge in the community they already know and love by housing them in “trailers, tents, and other temporary shelters across the city,” until they can be connected with a permanent home.
We are saying, in other words, that part of the solution to the housing and homeless crisis has to be the responsibility of governments. The private housing industry is booming for the most fortunate, but local, state and the federal governments must acknowledge that homelessness should be the concern of all Americans.
Harlan Green © 2018
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