Claire Thornton - USA TODAY
The White House is rolling out a nationwide push to reduce homelessness 25% by the start of 2025 as major cities across the country wrestle with a growing, stubborn crisis.
The Biden administration's plan, which was announced Monday, will offer federal intervention for a problem that has been mounting for years. Federal agencies will work with states and cities to target unsheltered homelessness, expand housing and services and attempt to prevent homelessness before it happens, according to the administration.
"Many Americans live each day without safe or stable housing. Some are in emergency shelters. Others live on our streets, exposed to the threats of violence, adverse weather, disease, and so many other dangers exacerbated by homelessness," President Joe Biden said in a statement announcing the plan.
The plan builds off the March 2021 American Rescue Plan, which gave tens of billions of dollars in rental assistance to people struggling during the pandemic. Biden also has requested an increase in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's homelessness assistance spending of more than $360 million for the 2023 fiscal year, the White House said.
The plan aims to "maximize the use of existing resources" and "will inform future budget requests across all agencies," said Caroline Cournoyer, communications manager for the council that created the plan.
It comes after New York, Los Angeles and Portland have amped up efforts to reduce homelessness. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has announced an unparalleled plan to get people with severed untreated mental illness into hospitals even if they refuse treatment.
How will the Biden administration's homelessness plan work?
The Biden administration's Interagency Council on Homelessness will send federal staff to targeted communities with acute needs and work to create solutions with local leaders, including people who have experienced homelessness.
By working directly with cities, the federal government hopes to quickly mobilize federal resources and streamline the creation of housing and services such as health care and job training, a process that has faced administrative hurdles in the past.
"The United States of America can end homelessness by fixing public services and systems – not by blaming the individuals and families who have been left behind by failed policies and economic exclusion," said Jeff Olivet, executive director of the council.
Individualized approaches in each community will mean solutions to homelessness won't be one-size-fits-all, White House officials said, although they have not shared a list of areas selected.
The administration said in a press release that a rise in local strategies in some U.S. cities that forces homeless people off streets was troubling, arguing it criminalizes homelessness without offering solutions to the problem.
Biden is encouraging state and local governments to use "All In: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness" as a model for creating their own goals. The administration will host webinars starting next month to help local leaders make plans.
The Biden administration's Interagency Council on Homelessness includes HUD and the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Education, Agriculture, Labor and 13 other federal agencies.
Did homelessness get worse during COVID-19?
Along with the new federal strategic plan, HUD released fresh data giving a snapshot of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected homelessness in the U.S.
Federal data shows 582,462 people were experiencing homelessness in January 2022 – a number about the population of Milwaukee. The number includes people living in shelters and unsheltered people.
The U.S. saw a .3% increase in homelessness since 2020, not an overall spike, federal officials said.
Notably, veteran homelessness dropped more than 11% since 2020, and homelessness among families and unaccompanied children also decreased, according to HUD.
Although federal data doesn't show a rise in homelessness nationally, encampments in many U.S. cities became more visible during the pandemic, sparking debate and concern among the public and putting pressure on elected officials to address the growing problem.
Since 2020, the unsheltered homeless population, which includes encampments, increased by more than 3%. Chronic homelessness, which includes many people with disabilities, increased 15%.
New York has seen a spike with 65,633 living in shelters in October 2022, compared with 57,341 in October 2020, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. The Los Angeles region, which recently counted 69,144 people experiencing homelessness, saw a small increase since 2020 after a massive increase of 25% from 2018 to 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Portland has also seen an increase in people living on the streets since the pandemic hit, according to the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
LA declares emergency, NYC hospitalizes mentally ill homeless
Los Angeles and New York, the two most populous U.S. cities, have the largest homeless populations by far, according to estimates from HUD's 2021 homeless assessment report.
On her first day in office this month, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass declared a state of emergency over homelessness and has said she intends to place more than 17,000 people into housing in her first year.
In declaring the emergency, Bass said disparate arms of government must unite to confront homelessness and the city "must have a single strategy."
In New York, Mayor Eric Adams announced last month that city officials can hospitalize homeless people experiencing severe untreated mental illness, even if they refuse treatment.
"The very nature of their illnesses keeps them from realizing they need intervention and support. Without that intervention, they remain lost and isolated from society, tormented by delusions and disordered thinking. They cycle in and out of hospitals and jails," Adams said at a news conference last month.
"It is not acceptable for us to see someone who clearly needs help and walk past," he said.
In Portland, Oregon, the city council approved $27 million last month to build designated camping areas for homeless people after the mayor announced plans to ban living in tents elsewhere in the city.