Homeless Legislation Hits Congress

For nearly 3.5 million Americans, high rents, low-paying jobs and health care in short supply add up to life on the streets or in homeless shelters. But a bill moving through Congress aims to change that.

Supporters of the Bringing America Home Act (BAHA) seek to end homelessness by tackling many of the problems confronting America’s  homeless and working poor. The legislation, H.R. 2897, would provide affordable housing, job training, civil rights protections, childcare vouchers, public transportation and increased health care, among other fixes.

Reps. Julia Carson, D-Ind., and John Conyers, D-Mich., co-sponsors of the bill, worked with social service providers, academics and homeless advocates for more than a year to craft a legislative solution to the plight of the homeless.

“The current economy places more and more Americans one paycheck away from homelessness,” Carson said during a recently rally in support of the bill. “Nowhere in the country can an individual earning minimum wage afford housing at fair market rent.”

Conyers echoed Carson’s statements, noting that “the fastest-growing homeless population … is the working homeless comprised of families and employed men and women who are forced to live in shelters, on the streets and in hotels because they cannot afford a place to live.”

Among the resources the legislation proposes is a National Housing Trust Fund that would finance the construction of 1.5 million affordable housing units during the next decade. In addition, the bill calls for increased spending authorization for the housing programs administered by the Department of Agriculture, Veterans’ Administration and Housing and Urban Development as well as a reintegration program for homeless veterans. Emergency rent relief also would be established for tenants facing eviction.

The civil rights component of the bill would call upon the General Accounting Office to investigate crimes against the homeless population as hate crimes. The bill also would require communities that receive federal funding for the homeless to certify that they are not enacting antihomeless ordinances.

Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, called the legislation “crucial” because of its comprehensive approach and necessary to stem the “worst form of poverty in the richest nation in the world.”

According to the Coalition, more than a million children live without housing in the United States. In addition, many of the nation’s homeless citizens have served in the armed forces. (See story on page 3.) The U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as dozens of municipalities across the country, has passed local resolutions endorsing the federal legislation.

The legislation has been referred to various committees within the U.S. House of Representatives. It is uncertain whether the legislation will head to the House floor for a vote by the end of the year. If the House passes the bill, it will move next to the Senate for approval.

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