We all know that poverty and homelessness got worse because of the recession. But surely as we ease out of the recession things are getting better. Sadly, no. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities authored by Doug Rice places the blame for rising homelessness squarely at the feet of the GOP led sequestration.
Government programs that help deal with homelessness are taking a big hit and that hit will fall on the most vulnerable, the homeless and those teetering on the verge of homelessness. The number of homeless is not precise. According to Rice, roughly 1.5 million Americans spend time in temporary or emergency shelters each year. The US Conference of Mayors reported in 2012, that on any given night 633,782 people slept on the streets. Whatever the correct number, the problem is huge.
For roughly the past 40 years, since the Nixon Administration, the federal government’s Section 8 Voucher Program has eased the problem of homelessness by providing federal rental assistance. This program mostly helps seniors, persons with disabilities, and families with children. Historically, there have been waiting lists of people seeking this aid. As Rice reports, only 1 in 4 eligible households gets a voucher or other federal rental help in the best of times.
Now, in 2013, things are getting even worse. Given sequestration cuts, far fewer low income families will get vouchers. People getting vouchers are being terminated from the program or being told they stand to lose their assistance in the months to come.
Not only are Section 8 vouchers being cut, federal funding to communities to deal with homelessness is being cut. This includes, for example ESGs (Emergency Solutions Grants) that provide aid to communities building emergency housing and providing other forms of housing aid, as well as CoC grants (Continuum of Care) that focuses on preventing homelessness among persons with mental problems or physical disabilities. HUD (Housing and Urban Development) is also experiencing cuts that will hurt development of new low cost housing and repairs to existing structures.
Not only are these GOP cuts heartless, they are shortsighted. Inevitably, cutting these services ends up costing the government more money in health care, emergency room visits, and incarceration. Children, especially, will suffer since homelessness takes a terrible toll on their physical and mental health, their education, their ability to support themselves in later years, and more.