By Senator Lena C. Taylor
The frigid temperatures we experienced during the Christmas holiday tested us all. As weather forecasters predicted record-breaking lows and heavy snow, large parts of the nation buckled down to ride out the storm. Others decided to continue with travel plans and try their luck at an on-time arrival to their destination. After all, there is nothing like going home or staying home for the holidays. This holds true if there is a “home” to go to.
As I opened my cabinet doors, to keep my pipes from freezing, you could feel that this wasn’t your typical cold Wisconsin weather. I started out of the house, to pick up a few items, and quickly retreated back inside. This was bone chilling cold. Any prolonged exposure could be dangerous. I took off my boots, then layers of coats and sweatshirts, and stood near the heating vent. It was in that moment that I thought of anyone that was homeless or “unhoused”, as they say today.
According to a report released this year by the University of Chicago, “On a given night there are 500,000-600,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States, about one-third of whom are sleeping on the streets and two-thirds in shelters”. In a 2019 study of Wisconsin, “unsheltered” residents numbered 6.5%, while the share of chronically homeless people hovered near 12%.
It is with this understanding that I welcomed the Biden-Harris administration’s work to address the issue of homelessness. In December, they released All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. The plan sets achievable and realistic goals to reduce homelessness by 25 percent. With a workable two-year timeline, the plan seeks to “address inequities that disproportionately impact underserved communities, including people of color and other marginalized groups, and help cities and states reduce unsheltered homelessness”
Utilizing and building on proven models like “Housing First” — an approach where housing is the first step to a better, safer, and healthier life and serves as a platform for providing services so that people can stay housed, this country is finally poised to continue meaningful progress towards addressing homelessness. Started under the Obama administration, the renewed focus builds on that earlier work.
States will be able to craft plans that encompass the unique drivers of homelessness in their areas. In addition, they will have federal support. Early next year, the White House and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness will begin working with a cohort of cities and states to provide full-time federal assistance with a community response team.
They will work in partnership with elected and local leaders, homeless service providers, and people who have prior or current experience of homelessness.
The support includes regulatory relief, technical support, added capacity, and outreach volunteers. The work to establish this Federal Response Leadership Team, coordinate an overall response, develop tools and guidance, track progress and get difficult issues in front of the administration is long overdue. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to try to survive this past weather crisis, while dealing with housing insecurity. Prayers for those that did not survive and those impacted are fine. However, it is real solutions, programming and funding that most often, will ensure that we can get folks in a home: not just for the holidays, but everyday.