Dating back to the Reagan administration, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) is the federal agency charged with combating homelessness in the country.
It works across 19 federal agencies and departments and collaborates with the public and private sectors one of the nation's toughest issues.
In 2010, the council unveiled Opening Doors, the nation’s first comprehensive federal strategy to prevent and end homelessness.
Since the plan was launched, overall homelessness has decreased by 14%, chronic homelessness by 27%, and family homelessness by 23%. In addition, veteran homelessness has dropped by 47%, according to statistics from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
With these numbers in mind, supporters are working to save the agency, which is targeted for elimination under a fiscal 2018 budget blueprint released by the Trump administration.
Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have introduced a bill (S. 743) that seeks to continue and strengthen the USICH. Without the bill, the council would close its doors Oct. 1.
“Homelessness is a complex problem that requires a collaborative, comprehensive approach,” Reed said in a statement. “Thanks in large part to the leadership, guidance, and best practices of the USICH, we have made real progress in ending and preventing homelessness. The council works with government, public housing agencies, homeless service providers, and local partners to better align their resources, efforts, goals, and measures of success. The progress we are making is encouraging, but it is not irreversible and now is not the time to end this effective, evidenced-based program that has helped leverage federal investments and measurably reduced homelessness in America.”
In fiscal 2016, USICH "operated on a modest $3.5 million budget and helped serve as a catalyst for more than $5 billion in combined federal resources that aim to address homelessness," according to Reed.
He added that the council is an example that “the government can work and save money in the process.”
Studies have shown that providing permanent supportive housing to chronically homeless individuals saves money by reducing spending on jails, hospitals, shelters, and other services.
The bill is supported by a diverse group of organizations, including the Corporation for Supportive Housing, Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, Local Initiatives Support Corp., National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), and Volunteers of America.
“USICH’s authorization is arbitrarily set to expire this year,” said Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO. “Instead, it should sunset when we have ended homelessness in this country, and not a moment sooner. Eliminating the sunset date for the USICH is an important step to ensure Congress and the administration remain vigilant in the fight to end homelessness and housing poverty in the U.S.”
The investment of a few million dollars to coordinate $5 billion in targeted spending and billions more from mainstream programs across 19 federal agencies has worked, added Nan Roman, NAEH president and CEO.
“Despite strong headwinds in the form of increasing rents and stagnant incomes for poor people, homelessness has gone down,” Roman said in a statement. “The Alliance strongly supports the continuation of USICH until the problem of homelessness in our nation is solved.”