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Expert: Seattle’s new plan will help homelessness, a little

In Seattle, about one-third of unsheltered homeless people live in vehicles, according to recent homeless counts. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Homelessness expert Barbara Poppe weighed in on Seattle’s new plan to spend $100 million on affordable housing. She told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross that the plan is a step in the right direction.

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“I think it will contribute to the overall progress that you need to make. I don’t think in and of itself it’s an investment that will make visible impacts except for those people who are actually going to be able to move into that housing,” Poppe said.

“It also is really important that it’s going to provide some affordable housing options for people who are at risk of homelessness, so that’s kind of the unseen part of this. It’s going to help folks who you won’t ever have to see as homeless because they’ll be able to continue working and have a decent place to live on their low-wage working incomes.”

Homelessness at the national level

Poppe was once the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. That agency, which only employs about 20 people, might soon be phased out, Poppe said.

“It coordinates the work of 19 federal agencies toward a goal of reducing homelessness across the country,” she said. “It’s not really clear if there is a real disagreement with the important work that they do, but it didn’t appear in any of the president’s budget proposals.”

Poppe said the agency is actually a great bargain for taxpayers because it keeps other federal agencies working together.

“Most of the funding that is going out to help communities actually does come through the federal government and so they are important players,” she said. “That funding for services through Health and Human Services, through healthcare for veterans through the V.A., and for housing resources through HUD, could be going in different directions. But because of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, they’re actually all, as they say, rowing in the same direction.”

One of the agency’s biggest successes has been in helping to decrease veterans’ homelessness across the country, Poppe said. Cities like Pittsburgh and Kansas City have announced an “effective” end to veterans’ homelessness.

“I think it would be a mistake to eliminate that agency because it has proven success. It also is one that has been important to both Republican and Democrat administrations,” Poppe said. “Under the Trump administration, that team is working hard to move forward on our overall progress on ending homelessness.”

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