WASHINGTON — Hundreds of advocates working to end homelessness pressed Congress on Friday to find federal money to move people off the streets by building 150,000 special housing units.
The advocates said additional "supportive housing" -- or residences with ready access to vocational training and services for mental illness and addiction -- would help realize the goal President Bush announced last year of ending chronic homelessness within a decade.
"It's worth it," said Carla Javits, president of the Corp. for Supportive Housing, an organization that helps communities house the homeless. She said that cities "are going to spend the money anyway" on emergency services, shelters and hospital care and that the money would be better spent on permanent housing.
Javits estimated that it costs local governments $10,000 to $15,000 in social services to support one homeless person for a year.
As part of President Bush's initiative, the federal government is encouraging cities to develop 10-year plans to eliminate homelessness. The federal government has committed to giving $35 million to local governments for the initiative this year, and the president has doubled that amount in next year's proposed budget.
So far Atlanta, Memphis, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Chicago and, just last month, Los Angeles have begun creating strategies to permanently house those living on the streets. The Los Angeles effort, called Bring LA Home, is headed by 50 leaders in politics, business and law enforcement, including Mayor James K. Hahn.
The Corp. for Supportive Housing says housing that incorporates social services is the best way to serve the chronically homeless -- the same group that Bush aims to target with his initiative. These individuals, who make up an estimated 10% of the homeless population, tend to move in and out of social service programs for years, said Philip Mangano, the executive director of the president's Interagency Council on Homelessness.
But the housing advocates told congressional staff members on Friday that supportive housing would require more federal funds. "If you don't have the money, you can't implement the programs," said Corinne Schneider, a bureau manager in Long Beach's Department of Health and Human Services. Schneider estimates that 6,000 people are living on the streets in Long Beach.
Los Angeles County's homeless population is an estimated 84,000 on any given night, with about half of those in the city of Los Angeles, according to a report by the Weingart Center's Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty. A 2000 study by the Urban Institute found that between 2.3 million and 3.5 million people are homeless nationwide at some point during the year.
Mangano described the $35-million commitment to local initiatives under the president's plan as "modest" but said he was encouraged by what he feels is momentum in tackling long-term homelessness.
"What we're attempting to do is to change the vocabulary of homelessness, change it from managing the problem to ending the problem," he said.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development spent more than $1.1 billion as part of the government's broader effort to end homelessness last year.