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RELEASE: Addressing Poverty and Homelessness in the United States

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Contact: Madeline Meth
Phone: 202.741.6277
Email: mmeth@americanprogress.org

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report that examines the state of poverty and homelessness in the United States and puts forth a set of policy recommendations for increasing access to affordable housing and addressing income inequality.

“Nearly half of all homeless people in this country work, but cannot afford to pay their rent. We have to address the fact that for many Americans, the cost of living is increasing faster than incomes,” said Tracey Ross, Senior Policy Analyst at CAP and author of the report.

While the report’s findings about homelessness and the ongoing affordable housing crisis are sobering, the analysis also reveals the positive news that there is a path forward for ending homelessness. A majority of homeless households have lived in independent permanent housing and are capable of being stably housed with limited assistance, but are pushed into homelessness because of economic circumstances. While homelessness occurs for a variety of reasons, poverty and the ongoing affordable housing crisis are significant drivers. Since the end of the Great Recession, the wealthiest households have fully recovered—and even shown income gains—while middle-class and low-income families are still suffering from the lingering effects of the downturn with little to no improvement in their incomes.

Based on this reality, the report recommends:

  • Aligning homeless and mainstream services. While targeted homelessness resources are critical to addressing the specific needs of individuals and families experiencing a bout of homelessness, it is important for communities to consider how mainstream resources, such as Medicaid, TANF, SNAP, and other programs, can enhance efforts to combat homelessness.
  • Increase access to affordable housing. Rapid rehousing is an effective strategy to ensure that individuals and families experiencing a bout of homelessness brought on by economic factors can recover quickly. It is necessary to ensure that more low-income people have greater access to affordable housing while at the same time ensuring that our housing market supports the preservation and creation of such housing.
  • Supporting the financing of affordable housing. Congress must ensure that the new housing finance system provides financing to preserve the existing privately owned, affordable housing stock and support the construction of new affordable units. In addition, any new housing finance system should charge a fee on all mortgage-backed securities that would provide capital for the National Housing Trust Fund and Capital Market Fund, both of which were established by the Housing and Recovery Act of 2008.
  • Increasing economic stability and addressing income inequality. Income inequality is in large part to blame for the existence of what researchers sometimes refer to as “modern homelessness.” Fortunately, our safety net is helping lift families out of poverty and meet their basic needs. Estimates show that unemployment insurance helped 1.7 million additional people avoid poverty last year, and without Social Security, nearly 15.3 million additional seniors would have lived in poverty.

Today more than ever, we understand what strategies work to prevent homelessness, and communities across the country are doing their part to end homelessness. But we cannot let these efforts be hindered by stagnant wages, higher rents, and the whittling down of our safety net. If we truly believe that no one should experience the uncertainty and pain of not knowing where they will live or how long they will be out of a home, we must continue to invest in preventive measures—such as expanding affordable housing and paying living wages—that will prevent us from paying the higher costs associated with crisis interventions.

Related resources:

To speak with experts on this issue, please contact Madeline Meth at mmeth@americanprogress.org or 202.741.6277.

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