PBS Takes Up Issue of Homelessness, But Any Biden Blame Is Brushed Off

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The Christmas Eve edition of PBS News Weekend found the publicly-funded outlet pushing that old “war on poverty” agenda that not even other networks aren’t devoting much time to these days: homelessness. (Two weeks ago it was prison abolition.)

Homelessness used to be a larger issue for the press, including PBS, which was at home criticizing Republican presidents for people on the street during the late 1980s, blaming Republican president Ronald Reagan and then President George H.W. Bush. Yet Democratic President Joe Biden was hardly mentioned in discussion of this nationwide problem.

Host John Yang: A new government report estimates a record number of Americans are experiencing homelessness. Starting in 2007, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sent volunteers out on a single night each January to count all the people they could find who didn’t have shelter….This year, they counted more than 650,000. That’s a 12 percent increase over the last year, the biggest one-year jump on record, and more than four times greater than any previous increase. In the past a single category drove the increase. But this year, all categories went up; individuals, families, unaccompanied children and so on. Ann Oliva is the CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Ann, what do you make of those numbers, of that big jump?

Ann Oliva, CEO, National Alliance to End Homelessness: ….You know, we are certainly concerned about these numbers. This is the highest number, as you mentioned, since 2007. And it’s across all categories. So what that means to us is that this is a systemic problem, and it needs systemic solutions.

John Yang: So explain that, a systemic problem, what needs to be changed or what needs to be fixed.

Oliva tiresomely argued “that we need to make investments in affordable housing and services, because we know that’s what ends homelessness.”

Actually, the United States has been doing just that on every level of government for years, and it has not come close to “ending homelessness.” Perhaps toughening up of mental health laws, including involuntary commitment of the mentally ill, and cracking down on drug use would do more than merely putting disturbed people into subsidized housing?

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This being PBS, they couldn’t help make yet another social issue into a LGBTQ rallying cry.

Yang: Are there disparities in terms of who is likely to be homeless?

Oliva: Yeah, thank you for asking that question. It is an important one. There are disparities, historically marginalized people are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and housing instability. What I mean by that is people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, are all disproportionately impacted by homelessness and housing instability, so they’re more likely to be homeless than others in our country.

Yang called for big government spending in a time of crushing national debt and still-present inflation risks: $50 billion extra in federal spending every year until homelessness is eliminated?

Yang: You mentioned the COVID era programs that were helping. The number of homeless was increasing from 2016 until 2020, and then it didn’t rise between 2020 and 2022, because of those programs, is there a lesson in that?

Oliva: There’s absolutely a lesson in the COVID-era protections. First, they were funded at a scale that’s much closer to the problem. So for example, HUD’s homeless programs are funded at a little bit more than $3 billion per year. And the COVID Emergency rental assistance program was funded at $50 billion per year. So you can see the scale was much greater.

There was only a single mention of the actual (Democratic) president during this purported historic rise in the homeless population.

Yang: President Biden campaigned on ending homelessness. Is he doing enough? Or is the administration doing enough?

Oliva mostly evaded the question: “I don’t think that anybody’s doing enough at the federal, state or local level.”

This ideological segment was brought to you in part by Consumer Cellular.

A transcript is available, click “Expand.”

PBS News Weekend

12/24/23

7:05:30 p.m. (ET)

John Yang: A new government report estimates a record number of Americans are experiencing homelessness. Starting in 2007, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sent volunteers out on a single night each January to count all the people they could find who didn’t have shelter. Experts caution that this is not a census and it’s likely an undercount because it’s hard to find everyone experiencing homelessness on a single night. This year, they counted more than 650,000. That’s a 12 percent increase over the last year, the biggest one year jump on record, and more than four times greater than any previous increase. In the past a single category drove the increase. But this year, all categories went up individuals, families, unaccompanied children and so on. Ann Oliva is the CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Ann, what do you make of those numbers of that big jump?

Ann Oliva, CEO, National Alliance to End Homelessness: Thank you first, for having me on your show today. This is such an important topic. And we need to make sure that folks are aware of what’s happening. You know, we are certainly concerned about these numbers. This is the highest number, as you mentioned since 2007. And it’s across all categories. So what that means to us is that this is a systemic problem, and it needs systemic solutions.

John Yang: So explaining that a systemic problem, what needs to be changed or what needs to be fixed.

Ann Oliva: So what this means is that we have an affordable housing crisis, what the data tells us and what the evidence tells us is that when housing becomes less affordable for people homelessness increases, so seeing a 12 percent jump year over year really should be a wake-up call to many folks, including our partners in the federal government, that we need to make investments in affordable housing and services, because we know that’s what ends homelessness.

John Yang: Why do you think it went up so much? I mean, obviously, you say it’s a — it’s a housing problem, did the inventory of housing shrink, or what happened?

Ann Oliva: Well, we’ve been tracking data over the last year. And while we were deeply disappointed in this increase in 2023, I can’t say that we were surprised. And that’s because we have seen sort of a perfect storm of issues coming up over the last couple of years. So for example, rents are skyrocketing all over the country. And people’s wages aren’t keeping up with the amount of rent that they have to pay. So they’re paying more and more of their income towards rent. We saw the end of the COVID era protections, the funding that was available for families and individuals across the country and the end of the eviction moratorium. At the same time, we are seeing this rise in unsheltered in unsheltered homelessness. So we have a number of things that we need to address structurally in this country.

John Yang: Are there disparities in terms of who is likely to be homeless?

Ann Oliva: Yeah, thank you for asking that question. It is an important one. There are disparities, historically marginalized people are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and housing instability. What I mean by that is people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people are all disproportionately impacted by homelessness and housing instability, so they’re more likely to be homeless than others in our country.

John Yang: You mentioned the COVID era programs that were helping. The (inaudible) homeless was increasing from 2016 until 2020. And then it didn’t rise between 2020 and 2022. Because of those programs, is there a lesson in that?

Ann Oliva: There’s absolutely a lesson in the COVID era protections. First, they were funded at a scale that’s much closer to the problem. So for example, HUD’s homeless programs are funded at a little bit more than $3 billion per year. And the COVID Emergency rental assistance program was funded at $50 billion per year. So you can see the scale was much greater. They were also quite a bit more flexible than our regular– our regularly funded programs. So as those pandemic era protection protections and resources started to dwindle, again, it is not surprising that we are seeing an increase in homelessness and at this same time that we’re seeing those skyrocketing rents.

John Yang: President Biden campaigned on ending homelessness. Is he doing enough? Or is the administration doing enough?

Ann Oliva: Well, thank you for asking that. I don’t think that anybody’s doing enough at the federal, state or local level, when we see a 12 percent increase over the course of one year, I think it should be a call to action for all of us who are concerned about people who are living unsheltered across this country, and people and families who are living in shelters. So there’s definitely more that we can do in terms of resources that are made available for this problem, and really funding affordable housing at the scale that it needs to be funded.

John Yang: Because you’re trying to expand affordable housing, there’s this need to involve the private sector as well.

Ann Oliva: So the best way to expand housing that is affordable to people at the lowest incomes, that’s usually somewhere between zero and 30 percent of the area median income is really to ensure that the government is subsidizing rents, and providing subsidies to folks who can do the development that’s needed. Affordable housing is really hard to do in the private sector. Given how expensive it can be in some markets, especially.

John Yang: Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, thank you very much.

Ann Oliva: Thank you so much for having me.

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