U.S. Sens. Tina Smith & Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Reps. Denny Heck & Sean Duffy Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Tribes Combat Homelessness in Minnesota, Nationwide

WASHINGTON, D.C. [07/25/2019]—Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), along with U.S. Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA 10) and Sean Duffy (R-WI 7), introduced bipartisan companion bills in the Senate and House to make it possible for Tribes and tribally designated housing entities to access funding to combat homelessness on tribal lands.

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.

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.

“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 Sen. Smith, a member of both the Senate Indian Affairs and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committees. “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.”

“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 Sen. 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.”

“As Congress is working to alleviate our national housing crisis, we also need to make sure federal assistance is getting to those hardest hit. The rates of homelessness and overcrowding among Native Americans living on tribal lands are alarmingly high,” said Rep. Heck. “By establishing tribal eligibility for federal assistance, we can improve tribes’ ability to effectively combat homelessness and potentially help tens of thousands of people in Indian Country.”

“Homelessness on tribal land is a serious problem that unfortunately has not received the attention it should. Permanent housing has a dramatic impact on employment, wage, and health outcomes. That’s why housing is so critical—it can have a profound impact on a person’s whole life. I’m proud to work with Representatives and Senators from both sides of the aisle on this commonsense policy that empowers tribes to take on homeless assistance grants in their areas that they know best,” said Rep. Duffy.

“NAIHC appreciates Senator Smith’s efforts to ensure tribes are eligible to participate in the continuum of care program. So many tribes are affected by issues of homelessness in their communities and including tribes in CoC will help those Native Americans with the greatest need get access to the services that can help them the most,” said Gary Cooper, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National American Indian Housing Council (NAIHC) and Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

“We look forward to working with Senator Tina Smith and Senator Lisa Murkowski in reducing homelessness in our Native American communities and achieving healthy equity by acknowledging Tribal Sovereignty to access the Homeless Assistance Grants offered by HUD,” said Tammy Moreland, Chair of the Minnesota Tribal Collaborative to Prevent and End Homelessness. The Minnesota Tribal Collaborative is a coalition working to find sustainable housing options and address homelessness on Minnesota tribal lands and among urban indigenous communities. The coalition is comprised of six Ojibwe tribes: Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Nation, and White Earth Nation.

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