Homes on the Navajo Nation. Photo: Quinn Dombrowski

Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act advances on Capitol Hill

A bipartisan bill that would help tribes address homeless in their communities is due for passage in the U.S. House of Representatives.

H.R.4029, the Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act, does something rather simple. The bill makes makes tribes and tribal housing entities eligible for the same types of grants that are already available to other communities.

"To say the least, the rate of homeless among Native Americans living on tribal lands is alarmingly high," Rep. Denny Heck (D-Washington), the sponsor of the measure, said at a markup session on September 18.

House Committee on Financial Services: Full Committee Markup Part 1 - September 18, 2019

The data indeed is staggering. According to a recent report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, between 42,000 and 85,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives living on tribal lands are experiencing homelessness, which often leads to overcrowding, another major issue in Indian Country.

The report, Housing Needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Tribal Areas, noted that tribes can tap into existing funding streams to provide housing for their people. But they are not eligible for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance program, which is in fact the government’s largest homeless assistance program.

"Making tribes eligible recipients of these homelessness assistance is a step toward fixing tribal housing issues and solving the hidden crisis of homelessness on tribal lands," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-North Carolina), the senior-most Republican on the House Committee on Financial Services, which approved the bill during the markup

H.R.4029 is scheduled to clear the Democratic-controlled House on Monday afternoon under a suspension of the rules, according to the Majority Leader's calendar. The process is typically used for bills that are considered non-controversial in nature.

The U.S. Senate version of the bill is S.2282. It too has bipartisan support.

"We know that widespread homelessness is happening on tribal lands, and yet tribes aren’t able to get or apply for most federal funds to fight homelessness,” said Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minnesota), a new member of Congress who serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “This bill would fix that and give tribal governments the same access to federal housing grant programs as county and local governments. I’ve heard about this directly from Minnesotans, and this is one step that we know we can take right now to reduce homelessness.”

“By giving tribes the ability to access funds specifically designed for homeless assistance, this legislation is an important step towards ending the cycle of chronic homelessness plaguing so many Native communities," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also serves on Indian Affairs. "Every American deserves to have access to a safe and stable living environment that enhances their long-term health and well-being.”

The bill has yet to be considered in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

To watch the House of Representatives session, tune into or C-SPAN.

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