Tackling homelessness has traditionally been the responsibility of local governments, but given the scope of the crisis in California and across the nation, Congressman Ted Lieu believes it’s time for federal action.
That is why he, alongside California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, introduced the Fighting Homelessness Through Services and Housing Act.
This bill would authorize $1 billion in grants annually for five years for local governments to spend on supportive housing models with comprehensive services and intensive case management.
Lieu said that if the bill passes, the City of Santa Monica would be an excellent grant candidate, because of its “track record of being aggressive on dealing with homelessness” and its “very competent staff.”
Lieu represents California’s 33rd District, encompassing the coastal areas of Los Angeles from Palos Verdes through Malibu, and has witnessed firsthand the escalating and deleterious impact of homelessness on local communities. He came on the Inside the Daily Press podcast this week to discuss why he believes this bill is the best approach to tackle the issue.
“My view is just because the federal government has only had limited jurisdiction in the past, does not mean that’s the way it should be,” said Lieu. “Traditionally we have just been very involved with veterans who are homeless. I think we need to greatly expand that and help cities and towns to address homelessness.”
The grant program requirements align with the model of permanent supportive housing that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority upholds as the gold standard of homeless intervention.
In this model unhoused individuals are moved into permanent living spaces, not shelters, and are provided with a range of services aimed to tackle the underlying issues contributing to their homelessness. This includes health care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and job training.
While permanent supportive housing sounds excellent in theory, projects have drawn criticism for being both expensive and very slow to build.
For example, in 2016 Los Angeles voters passed Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to construct permanent supportive housing. By September 2020, nearly four years later, only three new housing projects had opened and the average cost per unit was almost $559,000.
Despite this, Rep. Lieu said he believes this is the best approach for federal funding, as it simultaneously tackles all of the challenges facing unhoused individuals and can prevent them from falling back into homelessness.
“What we know from the research is that it’s not enough to just put a roof over someone’s head,” said Lieu. “You’ve got to also give them services so that they can eventually transition to being out of homelessness, and that’s what the bill does.”
Lieu identified both substance abuse treatment and job training as two essential services for tackling the current nature of homelessness.
“I’m a big believer in substance abuse treatment programs as well as drug courts,” said Lieu. “I think we need to shift to a view of drug use as a medical addiction rather than as something to be punished.”
Although the bill is the first of its kind, Lieu believes it does have a chance of becoming law. It was simultaneously introduced in the House and Senate and is co-sponsored by two Republican representatives.
“I feel optimistic because it has bipartisan, bicameral support and that’s generally a good sign. At the same time, there’s a lot of issues that we’re dealing with in Congress,” said Lieu. “Now we’re focused on getting the Americans Jobs Plan as American Families Plan through, but I’m glad we’ve introduced this bill into the mix for senators and members of Congress to consider.”
To hear more about why Rep. Lieu believes this bill is an intelligent strategy for tackling homelessness, listen to this week’s episode of the Inside the Daily Press Podcast at https://www.smdp.com/pod.