A Conversation on Federal Efforts to End Homelessness: My Discussion with Two Leaders in the Biden Administration

By: Felicia Salcedo, Executive Director of We Are In

The crises of homelessness and housing affordability are not just something we face here in King County — their impacts are felt nationwide. While these challenges show up locally, there is significant work and investment happening at the federal level to support cities, counties, and states in their collective fights to end homelessness. 

To learn more about these federal efforts, We Are In Executive Director Felicia Salcedo had conversations with Margaret Salazar, the Northwest Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Jeff Olivet, the Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). You can view the recording of our October 24th event here.

Below are some of our most important takeaways from the conversation.

The Biden administration is putting an unprecedented amount of money into communities to combat the housing and homelessness crises. 

As Margaret shared, the federal government is investing an unprecedented amount of resources as a result of two COVID relief packages passed by Congress and the recent Inflation Reduction Act.

A nonexhaustive list of the funding and resources HUD and others are offering include: funding for housing authorities; funding for the repositioning, preservation, and operation of public housing; emergency and general housing vouchers; housing, rental assistance, supportive services, and non-congregate shelter through the HOME Investment Partnerships Program; and more. 

In addition to funding, the administration is easing regulatory constraints and lowering costs.

We know that homelessness is a housing problem, and yet there are many systemic barriers to good housing policy. But, as Jeff shared, the Biden administration is working to ease regulations that would otherwise prevent or slow the development of more affordable housing and to financially incentivize localities to ease their own zoning restrictions. At the same time, the administration is also implementing a Housing Supply Action plan that will ease the burden of housing costs and close the housing supply gap. 

HUD is helping King County treat an emergency like an emergency by supporting the establishment of the Housing Command Center.

In October 2022, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, in coordination with We Are In and other key partners, announced the Housing Command Center (HCC), an emergency operations management system focused on housing people experiencing homelessness. Modeled on the federal government’s response to natural disasters, the HCC is significantly speeding up the process of getting people experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. With technical assistance from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the KCRHA built the foundation for the HCC, which takes best practices learned from years of emergency response to disasters like floods, fires and other major displacements, and applies them to homelessness. 

As part of Partnership for Zero implementation, the HCC is currently focused on housing individuals living unsheltered in Downtown Seattle and the Chinatown-International District. To accomplish that goal, the HCC is focused on three actions: identifying available housing units, identifying eligible households, and matching households to units with support from System Advocates (outreach workers with their own lived experience of homelessness). 

Margaret and Jeff said it best: our Housing Command Center is a strong example of the urgency and collaboration we need to bring to this fight. 

Collaboration is key. 

In King County, we see the impacts of our regional collaborations and partnerships between government, businesses, philanthropy, and advocates. Jeff and Marget also reminded us of the need to continue to work together across local, state, regional, and federal levels to align our strategies, tactics, and resources. 

We must continue to follow the leadership and expertise of those closest to the issue. 

When we meaningfully engage folks with lived experience of homelessness, we get more proximate to the problem — and solutions — than we otherwise could. They must continue to be partners in the work with both a voice and shared power because they know best what it is like to experience homelessness and what can actually support those in need. And their time and expertise must be compensated accordingly. 

We need housing and wraparound services.

We often hear about ‘housing first,’ but it should never be housing only — there is also a need for robust supportive services for behavioral health, substance use, employment, and other needs. We know that this approach works. Though the reasons for homelessness will vary from individual to individual, the one thing that will resolve anyone’s homelessness is being quickly connected to permanent housing and supportive services because it provides the dignity and stability needed to thrive. 

Ultimately, the equation — nationally, regionally, and locally — must include emergency response, expanding housing and services, and prevention. 

As Jeff reminded us, the goal is singular and simple: end homelessness. There is a lot to do on the way to that goal, including: improving our emergency response, expanding housing and services, and going upstream to prevent homelessness from occurring in the first place.

You can watch the full recording here.