Connecting state and local government leaders
The program will “embed” federal officials in six cities to help local officials get people off the streets and into homes more quickly.
Local leaders in some cities experiencing high rates of homelessness are getting a direct line of support from the federal government as part of a new federal initiative announced last week.
On Thursday, the Biden administration launched ALL INside, an initiative aiming to boost state and local efforts to solve homelessness. The program will help support communities for up to two years. Cities that will directly benefit from the program are: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, the Phoenix metropolitan area, Seattle, and California.
Under the initiative, each community will have a dedicated federal official assigned to work with local officials to help accelerate efforts to reduce homelessness. The federal partners will also help cities navigate funding opportunities and identify potential areas for regulatory relief. Facilitated by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the initiative will convene stakeholders to develop partnerships across sectors and to create a peer learning network among participating cities.
“I think that it is a really excellent first step,” said Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. “It hopefully signifies the attention that the administration is paying to the issue of homelessness and also provides some unique resources.”
Embedding federal officials in local communities is a particularly powerful approach, Whitehead added, and one he hasn’t seen in efforts to combat homelessness in his more than two-decade-long career. Typically, consulting with federal officials about homelessness can be a bureaucracy-laden endeavor, he said, and having easy access to a federal official who has an understanding of the systems, barriers and opportunities surrounding homelessness solutions is likely to be a major asset to cities.
At a launch event Thursday, mayors and other local officials emphasized that navigating red tape can prevent people who urgently need help from getting the aid they need in a timely manner.
“We know that our current system on the federal, state and county level isn't designed for the emergency that we are facing today,” said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass. She hopes the intergovernmental relationships that the initiative bolsters will help reduce the administrative slowdowns and backlogs associated with determining peoples’ eligibility for municipal assistance.
The ALL INside initiative is part of the Biden administration's effort to reduce chronic homelessness by 25% by 2025. According to the most recent federal survey, in January 2022 there were more than 580,000 people experiencing homelessness on a single night.
Maricopa County, Arizona, is the fastest growing county in the country, according to Mesa Mayor John Giles, and the ALL INside initiative will help Phoenix, Mesa and other area cities build on the progress made during the pandemic. Taking regional approaches is critical to continuing that momentum, he said.
“We must increase our capacity of shelter and transitional beds so that we can help alleviate the strain on our neighboring cities,” Giles said. “The federal commitment through this ALL INside Initiative is a more direct way to partner with the federal government on local solutions to address homelessness in Mesa and our region.”
In Chicago, city workers, nonprofit partners and the local Continuum of Care board have identified local priorities for the ALL INside initiative. Those key areas include creating a data system to help implement homelessness solutions, outlining paths for formerly incarcerated people to find homes, reexamining housing eligibility requirements for them, and moving unsheltered people away from dangerous areas like under highway overpasses and on public transit.
While the initiative starts with six communities, the Biden administration plans to share lessons from the local initiatives with communities across the country, according to Denis McDonough, chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
In a perfect world, all communities would have access to the resources provided by ALL INside, Whitehead said.
“If we can address homelessness in a positive way in these six communities, we probably can do it anywhere in the United States,” he said.
The ALL INside announcement comes as Congress is wrestling with the looming debt ceiling. Republicans are looking to cut spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling to avoid default, and those cuts could include slashing funding for housing initiatives.
Homelessness advocates lauded the initiative, but the National Low Income Housing Coalition cautioned that the aid can only help so much with the epidemic of homelessness if the affordable housing shortage isn’t addressed.
“Without additional federal resources to make homes affordable for the lowest income people, its success will be limited,” said the coalition’s President and CEO Diane Yentel of the initiative in a statement. “Congress must reject House Republican proposals to slash federal investments in affordable housing and homelessness programs and instead expand investments in proven solutions to the scale needed.”
Molly Bolan is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.