Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Look at Obama's Progress on Homelessness In the Face of Conservative Parsimony

by Nomad

Let's begin with something obvious but often forgotten. Everybody has a story, even the homeless.

How Conservatives Dealt with Problems
The conservative news media channels like Fox News has repeatedly declared that homelessness under Obama has increased. Things they say, are far worse now because of liberal policies. Things were so much better, so the narrative goes, under Reagan. 
In fact, this is a usual type of lie promoted by the "fair and balanced" network.

Professor of Politics and director of the Urban and Environmental Policy program at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Peter Dreier, has investigated this subject in an article entitled "Reagan’s Legacy: Homelessness in America." Professor Dreier points out that one of Reagan’s enduring legacies is
the steep increase in the number of homeless people, which by the late 1980s had swollen to 600,000 on any given night – and 1.2 million over the course of a year. Many were Vietnam veterans, children and laid-off workers.
During Reagan’s two terms in the White House, which were boon times for the rich, the poverty rate in cities grew. 
The reason for this, Dreier suggests, is that Reagan Reagan "owed little to urban voters, big-city mayors, black or Hispanic leaders, or labor unions – the major advocates for metropolitan concerns."

Dreier also gives this pathetic snapshot. Early in his presidency, at a White House reception, Reagan greeted the only black member of his Cabinet, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Samuel Pierce, saying: “How are you, Mr. Mayor? I’m glad to meet you. How are things in your city?”

It was more than just an inability to recognize his own Cabinet. Dreier gives a list of Reagan policy changes that contributed to the problem of homelessness. None of the changes had a direct or immediate impact on the number of homeless on the street. 

By cutting programs it was very much like starting from scratch. The impact took time to manifest itself, and it was much more insidious and long term. For example, programs that addressed the problems of urban areas were ignored. Cities left on their own functioned as normal but went into a progressive decline over time.
Reagan eliminated general revenue sharing to cities, slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally funded legal services for the poor, cut the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit. The only “urban” program that survived the cuts was federal aid for highways – which primarily benefited suburbs, not cities.
In 1984 President Reagan made the most galling statement of all. In a serious attempt to defend his administration against a "callousness toward the poor" Reagan actually declared that “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.”

This is similar to his conservative crowd pleasing joke statement that 17 million Americans went to bed hungry because they were... dieting.

Obama's Open Doors
In June 2010, President Obama presented Congress with "the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness."
It was called "Opening Doors." Its goal was to end Veterans and chronic homelessness by 2015; and to ending homelessness among children, families, and youth by 2020. To do that, no small task, it was more of a matter of fully engaging and coordinating the resources already available. 

None of it matters without a full commitment by everybody. Back at the 2010 launching, one executive director of an homeless advocacy organization inserted a touch of reality. Quoting one source:
"The big question is whether preventing children and families in the U.S. from becoming homeless is important enough for Congress" to increase homeless-program funding, "and I don't think they'll do that without enough pressure and leadership from the White House," said Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. "In order to achieve these goals, the funding has to be there, and that means the administration has to really be firm and advocate."

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/06/22/96322_obama-administration-vows-to-end.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
After Four Years
Given the time that's elapse, we should be seeing some kind of noticeable result, right? 

Here are those results according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). Published on October 30, 2014, the report received very little attention from any of the mainstream news outlets. And you can see why: It doesn't fit into the mainstream media's narrative that things haven't improved at all under Obama.
The under-reported truth is that things are getting better, slowly but surely.

But that's only showing that the problem is not impossible to solve. 

Since the launch of the Opening Doors initiative, the federal government, with states and communities, advocates, and private and non-profit partners, was successful in mobilizing "the most comprehensive and collaborative effort to end homelessness ever."

Across the country, the status report points out, communities have come together to "create systems that connect resources, solve problems, and move together toward real and sustainable solutions to homelessness."

With the release of the report, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro had some positive news. According to HUD’s latest estimate of homelessness in the U.S., there was a continued general decline and specifically among veterans and persons living on the street. 
  • Homelessness is down by 10%, nationwide.
  • Homelessness among Veterans is down by 33%
  • Chronic homelessness is down 21%.
  • Family homelessness is down 15%, including a 53% drop in unsheltered homelessness among families.
  • Data on youth homelessness continues to improve.
  • Where homelessness is up, there is a road map to progress.

Castro told reporters
“As a nation, we are successfully reducing homelessness in this country, especially for those who have been living on our streets as a way of life. There is still a tremendous amount of work ahead of us but it’s clear our strategy is working and we're going to push forward till we end homelessness as we’ve come to know it.”
Said  USICH Executive Director Laura Zeilinger:
“The President’s Budget includes historic investments to prevent and end homelessness.  
Even as individuals and communities, civic groups, government agencies and local governments struggle to cope, it is clear that without Congress it will be an uphill battle. (Here's the budget fact sheet for further information on how the money is being spent.)

As the graph on the right suggest, eliminating homelessness- which should be an embarrassment for the richest country in the world- is comparatively painless. We simply have to get our priorities in order and work together.
Sounds pretty easy right? 

Bad Conservative Ideas Die Hard
Two days ago, there was a chance to show that Congress was as committed to solving the homelessness problem as the President and the rest of the nation. Yesterday, despite opposition from Tea Party radicals, the Senate approved of a new budget, averting another government shutdown. In that budget, the president had requested more than $5.69 billion for “targeted homeless assistance funding.” 

This was a 12 percent increase in the budget for homeless advocacy from 2014. That proposed increase in funding was meant to bolster Opening Doors which has shown to be a success. 

The funding would have included programs like Housing First, which provides the homeless with means to find a roof over their heads as quickly as possible. This was to be backed up with a more permanent housing support for long term solution.

In spite of this demonstration of a serious approach from the White House, Congress rejected the increase, and authorized $300 million less than what was asked for by the administration. 

Even though, the President did not get what he had asked for, there was an increase in funding. That increase came as Republicans howled at the very idea of compromising and supporting programs that have been working. 

The Tea Party foamed at the mouth at the very idea that Congressional Republican would "capitulate" to the Democrats. RedState, a Tea party propaganda site, called the budget deal a "farce" "a spit in the face" and "a deliberate slap in the face of the sentiment that brought them to power." With all that slapping and spitting it's hard to take the ranting very seriously. (It's like watching a Three Stooges short, actually.)

To the less hysterical, the positive outcome of Obama's long term initiative to eliminate homelessness should be a sign that not all government programs are a waste of taxpayer's time and money. 

But then again, that presumes that taxpaying Tea Party voters and super-wealthy members of Congress still actually care about the American people, the families and the children and the veterans who have no place to call home.