For many Kentucky families, the economic downturn has affected more than just their grocery bills and energy costs. The housing crisis and credit crunch have some facing potential unemployment, threat of foreclosure on their homes or even homelessness. According to the National Coalition of Homelessness, more than sixty percent of service providers have reported a rise in homelessness since the housing foreclosure crisis began in 2007. Unfortunately, as hard times sweep across the nation, many more Americans could become homeless.
It is important that we develop sound federal policies that will efficiently use taxpayer funds to respond to the local needs of homeless individuals and families as we deal with the repercussions of the economy. In 2006, the late Congresswoman Julia Carson [D-IN] and I introduced legislation to improve the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) definition of “homeless,” increase local flexibility and streamline the Homeless Assistance Grants Program. After two years of hard work, H.R. 7221, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2008, passed the House on October 2, 2008.
Unfortunately, the number of homeless persons in Kentucky has nearly doubled since 2005. Many of our local shelters and service providers not only lack the necessary resources to meet rising demand, but also lack the flexibility to respond to the local needs. Homelessness in the Fourth District is not the same as homelessness in Los Angeles or New York City, so H.R. 7221 would give local service providers more flexibility while reducing overhead costs and unnecessary bureaucratic burdens.
In addition to increasing funds for the Homeless Assistance Grants, H.R. 7221 increases the percentage of the grants that a provider can use for homeless prevention. As more families face foreclosure or struggle to pay their rent or utility bills, homeless prevention is key for a number of reasons: it is more cost-effective to help a family before they become homeless, it avoids the entry of even more individuals into an already overcrowded population, and, most importantly, prevention can reduce the human and social costs of homelessness.
One local shelter, Welcome House in Covington, had to turn away 118 homeless families seeking shelter in the last quarter because they were full, a dramatic increase over the previous quarter. Welcome House has also seen an increase in the overall number of families and individuals in need of groceries from the food pantry or employment services. Service providers across the Fourth District will undoubtedly see many new faces in the coming months.
I am very proud that the House passed H.R. 7221. It is critical that the Senate passes this legislation as soon as possible. Right now, more families and individuals than ever are in need of a local response to their basic food, shelter, job counseling and homeless prevention needs. A roof over one’s head goes a long way, but it is the supportive services, combined with housing, that have the biggest impact on changing a person’s path in life. The Homeless Assistance Grant Programs lend a helping hand to people who want to build a future and pursue a dream. This type of federal assistance has a lasting positive impact not only on the recipient, but on our communities as a whole.