Murkowski, Smith Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Tribes Combat Homelessness

Ensure Tribes & Tribally Designated Housing Entities Can Access Department of Housing Homeless Assistance Grants

U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a bipartisan bill to make it possible for Tribes and tribally designated housing entities to access funding to combat homelessness on tribal lands. The bipartisan bill—the Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act—would make it possible for Tribes to submit funding requests for these funds, and it would also help Tribes take on the administration and coordination of homeless assistance grants. U.S. Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA 10) and Sean Duffy (R-WI 7), introduced a companion bill the House.

According to a study commissioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are between 42,000 and 85,000 homeless Native Americans living on tribal lands. Homelessness on tribal lands often leads to families moving in with neighbors—sixteen percent of American Indian and Alaska Native households experience overcrowding, compared to only two percent of all households in the United States. Despite the prevalence of homelessness in Indian Country, Tribes and tribally designated housing entities are unable to access the Homeless Assistance Grants offered by the Department of Housing.

“Inadequate and overcrowded housing are major contributors to homelessness in rural Alaska. Any effort to promote the safety and wellness of Alaska Natives must include housing for families, homeless youth, and people fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Tribal access to resources for trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches will be critical to addressing the public safety crisis in Alaska,” said Senator Murkowski. “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. Every American deserves to have access to a safe and stable living environment that enhances their long-term health and well-being.”

“When you don’t have a home, it’s nearly impossible for other parts of your life to work like finding a meaningful job, going to school, and taking part in your community. 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 Senator Smith. “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.”

“I applaud Senator Murkowski and Senator Smith for introducing the Tribal Access for Homeless Assistance Act.  American Indian and Alaska Natives experience homelessness at a far too high rate.  Eligibility to access resources like the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants will begin to address the unique homeless situations that exist in tribal communities and respect those that seek a place to live,” said Jacqueline Pata, President and CEO of Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority.

The Department of Housing requires communities to take a strategic and coordinated approach to homeless prevention and housing services for homeless families and individuals. Communities must organize under the umbrella of a local or regional playing system—called a Continuum of Care (CoC) before submitting applications for Homeless Assistance Grants. CoCs, which represent geographic areas, coordinate outreach and intake of the local homeless population, emergency shelter services, transitional housing with supportive services, and permanent supportive housing for individuals and families. Nonprofits, local governments, or other eligible applicants can submit funding requests for specific projects or programs through the CoC planning body.

The Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act would:

  • Make Tribes and tribally designated housing entities eligible to submit funding requests through their local CoC, and;
  • Ensure Tribes and tribally designated housing entities are eligible to take on the administration and coordination of homeless assistance grants within their geographic area.

In addition to Senators Smith and Murkowski, the Senate bill is also cosponsored by Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). You can access more information about the bill and list of supporting organizations here.

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska