A new report on homelessness shows some improvements in the country's response to those who are without shelter, but also a need for continued work, said an advisor to the U.S. bishops.
“There's a long way to go still, especially (for) those who are most vulnerable,” said Tom Mulloy, policy advisor on economy, labor, housing and welfare for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In a June 3 interview with CNA, he explained that “the vast majority of people who compromise the homeless population are non-chronic persons and families who have fallen on hard times,” rather than people who are continually without a home.
“We're talking about people for whom living paycheck-to-paycheck is a hard reality.”
Mulloy spoke in reference to a new report by the Homelessness Research Institute. The report shows a slight decrease in U.S. homelessness as the economic recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 continues, as well as a decrease in unemployment and increase in shelter services and re-housing programs.
However, these trends were not uniform throughout the country; 20 states showed an increase in homelessness, and some populations – such as veterans – saw extremely high rates of homelessness in some regions.
In addition, the report found that the economic recovery is reaching the poor at a slower rate, with the number of those in poverty increasing between 2012 and 2013, and the rate of poverty remaining the same nationally even as unemployment rates decrease.
Furthermore, the number of poor rental households paying more than half of their income towards housing – a key risk factor for homelessness – increased nationally.
Mulloy noted both the “modest uptick in affordable housing need” and the lack of “employment security” nationally for those at risk of losing their homes as among the most pressing concerns highlighted by the report.
For many people in a vulnerable housing situation, he said, “one hard expense is the difference between making and not making rent one month.”
The Catholic Church has played an essential role in addressing the challenges facing the homeless and those at risk of losing their homes, Mulloy said, by “making sure that there's an adequate amount of safe and affordable housing.”
“In 2011, Catholic Charities provided approximately half a million people with housing assistance,” helping to provide “the complete spectrum of housing” for homeless and vulnerable persons, he explained.
At the same time, he said, the U.S .Conference of Catholic Bishops has advocated “federal policies that are known to alleviate poverty,” particularly child- and working- tax credits that are “pro-family, pro-work, and are some of the most effective ways of alleviating poverty.”
In addition to “advocating decent jobs with just wages,” the conference has also been “supportive of federal appropriations” in helping families and local communities address poverty and housing vulnerability, Mulloy added.
“The bishops’ conference has been for years an advocate of the national housing trust fund,” he said. “There's a pretty extraordinary unmet need, and we all need to work together to make sure that the most vulnerable among us have access” to housing and other necessities.
In addressing homelessness and poverty, he explained, “the bishops have never said it's an either/or, but a both/and case of the private sector and the public sector.”
This includes a “mixture of private and public” funding to address the issue.
Based on the latest report, Mulloy said, “what we're doing on a national level is working, but more can be done.”