And according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, there were roughly 553,000 people experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2018. This was a 0.3% increase from the year before.
In the State of Homelessness Report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), the administration released a list of issues and solutions surrounding homelessness in the U.S. The proposal was met with scathing criticism from several housing advocates, including the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).
“This administration, President Trump and [HUD Secretary Ben] Carson, have repeatedly proposed policy changes that would worsen homelessness in our country,” NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel told Yahoo Finance. “But in almost all, if not all, cases we’ve been able to defeat those proposals.”
A ‘legacy’ of harmful proposals
Yentel has been especially critical of Carson’s time as HUD Secretary, particularly in regards to how he’s addressed homelessness.
“He’s put forward a number of really harmful proposals that could exacerbate the housing crisis and increase homelessness,” she said. “Since he’s been HUD secretary, every year he’s been there, he and the administration have proposed severe cuts to HUD’s budget … which would result in dramatically cutting or even eliminating several programs that provide affordable, accessible homes to the lowest income people.”
Yentel cited Carson’s proposals “to triple rents for the lowest-income subsidized renters and to raise rents for all other residents of HUD-subsidized homes... to force so-called mixed-status immigrant families to separate or be evicted from federally-assisted housing... allowing shelters to refuse to serve transgender and other LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness, and ... to discourage immigrants from accessing housing programs.”
Consequently, she argued that Carson’s legacy “has been one of proposing changes that could do real harm to some of the lowest-income and most vulnerable renters in our country.”
A HUD spokesman refuted these assertions in a statement to Yahoo Finance.
“These claims are a complete distortion of the real work our Department is doing to preserve the rights of all Americans, uphold our laws, and house our country’s most vulnerable population,” the spokesman said. “We remain committed to working with whomever is willing to improve the lives of all Americans.”
There is some evidence to back up Yentel’s claims. After Carson assumed control of HUD in 2017, the organization’s website “removed links to documents that guided emergency shelters on how best to comply with agency regulations and serve transgender people facing homelessness,” according to the Washington Post, and “it also withdrew proposals that would have required HUD-funded emergency shelters to post notices informing people of LGBTQ rights and protections.”
The Post reported that Carson told staff that “our society is in danger when we pick one issue (such as gender identity) and say it does not matter how it impacts others because this one issue should override every other common-sense consideration.”
The White House CEA report states that “policies intended solely to arrest or jail homeless people simply because they are homeless are inhumane and wrong. At the same time, when paired with effective services, policing may be an important tool to help move people off the street and into shelter or housing where they can get the services they need, as well as to ensure the health and safety of homeless and non-homeless people alike.”
A CEA spokesman explained to Yahoo Finance that “the CEA report states that arresting or jailing homeless people simply because they are homeless is ‘inhumane and wrong.’ Additionally, the report explains that police should work together with social service providers with the goal of getting people into shelter or housing. It should not be controversial to want to get extremely vulnerable people off the streets so they can receive the help they desperately need.”
‘Criminalization would certainly do real harm’
Yentel argued that the administration’s proposals are “about hiding homelessness” and not about solving it.
“It’s about attempting to move people who are sleeping on the streets or in cars or in RVs to jails or prisons or other inappropriate, unsafe, and harmful places as a way to lessen visible homelessness,” she said, stressing that the “underlying cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable, accessible homes for the people who need them.”
Consequently, according to Yantel, approaches involving criminalization “would certainly do real harm to low-income people who are on the cusp of or experiencing homelessness. Not only is the criminalization of homelessness unconstitutional and cruel, it also wastes public resources that should otherwise be spent on solutions.”
Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.