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U.S. Cities Face Challenges In Reducing Homeless Population


Now we're going to turn to NPR's Pam Fessler. She covers homelessness for the network. And, Pam, beyond the scale and beyond the numbers of homeless people that some areas are dealing with, what are the other challenges that communities have in reducing homelessness?

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Well, one of the big things is trying to bring together all of the participants and the people who can actually do something about this. We're talking about housing agencies, nonprofits, the police department, mental health specialists, hospitals. In the places that have been successful in reducing homelessness, they brought everybody together. They've gotten everybody on board, said this is what we should do. There are a number of other cities that, in fact, have made big strides in reducing homelessness, especially for veterans - places like Phoenix, Houston, New Orleans and Las Vegas. And one of the big things is that they have all made this commitment to work together. In a place like LA, you have a very huge, sprawling government and there's lots of different parties involved, so it's a much bigger coordination effort.

MCEVERS: What other big cities, like New York City?

FESSLER: Well, Kelly, New York, like LA, has a huge homeless problem. It doesn't have quite as many chronically homeless people as LA, but overall, there are about 75,000 homeless people in the city. And that includes families. That includes people who are just coming in and out of homelessness. And part of the big problem in New York is a lack of affordable housing. And in New York, unlike a lot of other places, you are guaranteed shelter if you find yourself homeless. And that means you are either placed in a homeless shelter or some kind of transitional housing. And in a tight market like New York, that's why we're seeing the numbers exploding. Bill de Blasio, the city's mayor, has said he's going to address the problem, but so far, he's not having very much luck. And another issue there in New York is what we talked about earlier as far as coordination. There's lot of antagonism between de Blasio and New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo over who's responsible for this large increase in homelessness in New York and who's doing the better job. And so once again, you don't have that coordination that's proven successful in a lot of other places.

MCEVERS: And for all these success stories that we have seen - I mean, what we saw in Utah, the reporting you've done in San Diego, stories we've done about ending homelessness for veterans - there are places in the U.S. that are declaring states of emergency on homelessness.

FESSLER: That's right. The state of Hawaii recently declared a state of emergency - so did Seattle and Portland. And that's because, in these communities, in fact, we are seeing this explosion in numbers. And politicians are getting a lot of heat from their residents, as we heard in Kirk's piece. And they feel a lot of pressure to do something about it, so declaring the states of emergency shows we, in fact, are trying to do something about it. It also frees up some money that might not otherwise be available to address the problem. The other thing that we are seeing in some communities is an increase in laws to criminalize homelessness, to make it illegal to camp, to panhandle, to, in fact, feed people - large groups of people - outside. And that also is this response to a growing frustration in a lot of communities.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Pam Fessler. Pam, thanks so much.

FESSLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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