Proposed US House of Representatives resolution aims to combat homelessness

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A proposed resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives could help alleviate homelessness by increasing resources available to state and local communities.

House Resolution, or HR, 5609, the Homelessness Emergency Declaration Act, was introduced by Rep. Josh Harder, D-Modesto. The resolution would authorize the president, upon the request of a state governor, to declare a “homelessness emergency.”

Berkeley City Council is expected to vote on a resolution to support HR 5609 at its Feb. 11 meeting. If adopted, a copy of the resolution would be sent to Harder, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California and President Donald Trump.

“Homelessness is a real emergency and not just in the big cities in California,” Harder said in an email. “The Central Valley is also struggling with this crisis and I hear about it from folks at home at every town hall I hold. It’s time to bring fresh approaches to this problem, including allowing the Governor to declare an emergency to get the resources necessary to combat it.”

Under the declaration of a homelessness emergency, federal agencies would provide resources to state and local communities for housing, urgent food assistance, transportation, access to healthcare and federal employment and job training programs.

The legislation would also better facilitate cooperation between the state and federal government, said Ian Lee, a spokesperson for Harder. Funds for a homelessness emergency declaration would come out of the existing budget of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Lee added, however, that additional funding can be allocated to FEMA through the House Committee on Appropriations.

Anthony Carrasco, who serves on the city of Berkeley’s Homeless Services Panel of Experts, said he is in favor of HR 5609 because the federal government has a “strong” obligation to deal with the transformation in the economy that he alleged has created the homelessness crisis.

“The factors that are the highest predictors of people entering homelessness actually don’t have to do anything with the people themselves,” Carrasco said. “There is this old paradigm about thinking of homelessness as an individual pathology — people losing their jobs and people getting addicted to drugs and alcohol. The majority, overall, have no substance abuse, and they have no employment issues. It’s just the fact that employment pays extremely little and the costs of living are extremely high.”

Between 60% and 80% of homeless families in San Francisco — the fastest-growing subpopulation of the homeless community nationwide — are both sober and employed, according to Carrasco.

“The Bay Area is a place where conversations are 10 years ahead,” Carrasco said. “It’s where policy problems are 10 years ahead.”

Contact Kaleo Mark at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.