Bill would help tribes combat homelessness

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate in late July would make it possible for tribes and tribally designated housing entities to access funds to combat homelessness on tribal lands, and to handle administration and coordination of those grants.

The Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act, introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Tina Smith, D-Minn., is cosponsored by Senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Jon Tester, D-Mont. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Representatives Denny Heck, D- Wash, and Dean Duffy, R-Wis.

A study commissioned by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development found there are 42,000 to 85,000 homeless Native Americans living on tribal lands. Homelessness on tribal lands often leads to families moving in with neighbors, and 16 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native households experience overcrowding, compared to two percent of all households nationwide, the study found.

Tribes and tribally designated housing entities are currently unable to access the Homeless Assistance Grants offered by HUD.

Murkowski said that 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. “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,” Murkowski said.