Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Democrat on the Committee on Financial Services, hosted an in-depth discussion today with actor, activist, and philanthropist Richard Gere and a panel of policy experts on the state of homelessness in America, focusing on the need for additional resources, coordination, and attention to help prevent and end homelessness in America.
In addition to Gere, the panel of homelessness policy experts included Nan Roman, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH); Matthew Doherty, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH); and, Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor on Housing and Services, United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). During the briefing, experts on the panel provided an update on the current status of efforts to address homelessness and called for Congress to work together to provide more support for homelessness assistance and affordable housing programs, which fuel local efforts to end homelessness in communities across the nation.
Richard Gere, an award-winning actor and philanthropist who has worked on homelessness issues over the last 10 years, provided a powerful account of his recent experience playing a homeless man, and a particular scene where he panhandles on the streets of New York City. During this experience, Gere came to understand first-hand what it feels like to be ignored, disregarded, and left isolated and alone after standing on a corner for over 45 minutes.
“Homelessness affects the very fabric of our communities and diminishes the dignity of the individuals it touches. I’m proud to join Mr. Gere and the experts on this distinguished panel to shine a light on an issue that has concerned me for quite some time,” said Ranking Member Waters. “The progress we’ve made toward the goal of ending homelessness is significant but uneven across the country. We must do more to build bipartisan support to provide the necessary resources for federal homelessness and affordable housing programs, or run the risk of stalling the critical progress we’ve made as a nation toward ending homelessness once and for all.”
According to the 2014 point-in-time survey, on any given day in January, 2014 there were 578,424 people experiencing homelessness, including almost 100,000 chronically homeless individuals and families, almost 50,000 homeless veterans, and about 45,000 unaccompanied homeless children and youth. In particular, chronic homelessness remains a persistent challenge for American communities, with 63 percent of chronically homeless persons living outside of shelters.
“I’m inspired by the commitment of many homeless service providers, nonprofit organizations, advocates, and our Administration, who continue to leverage every resource they are allotted to ensure that they house every single person they can; to think creatively about how to stretch every dollar; and to push to break down silos between the various levels of government,” Waters added. “But we have more work to do to achieve our goals—Congress has a responsibility to the people of this country to provide everyone with a safe, decent, and affordable roof over their heads.”
While homelessness overall has decreased in America, the City of Los Angeles, has experienced a 16 percent increase in homelessness across the Los Angeles Continuum of Care from 2013 to 2015. The number of chronically homeless persons in the Los Angeles region also increased dramatically – by 65 percent in just two years. And projections show that if funding isn’t increased at the federal, state, and local levels for Los Angeles, the rate of chronic homelessness could increase by another 40 percent through 2017.
Waters continues to work toward highlighting the issue of homelessness. In March of this year, nearly all nearly all Democratic members of the Financial Services Committee called for the panel’s chairman, Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), to hold hearings on ending homelessness. Last month, Waters visited the Downtown Women’s Center with HUD Secretary Julián Castro, in order to raise awareness of the rising rates of homelessness in the Los Angeles region.
Waters ended the event by thanking Richard Gere for helping to bring more attention to the plight of the homeless in America.