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PA Senate Democrats Hold Policy Hearing on Systemic Housing Insecurity

Harrisburg – May 14, 2021 – At the request of state Senators Tim Kearney (D- Chester/Delaware) and Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia), the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a virtual public hearing on housing and the unhoused in Pennsylvania.

“Everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home, but that goal is out of reach for many Pennsylvanians. This policy hearing will be critical to understanding the full scope of housing insecurity and how we can combat this crisis,” Sen. Kearney said.

In 2017, Pennsylvania’s unhoused population was over 14,000. This ranked Pennsylvania 7th highest in nation for those experiencing housing insecurity. As of January 2019, Pennsylvania had an estimated 13,000 individuals experiencing housing insecurity, and that number is expected to rise in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our housing crisis is the result of a decades’ long arc of divestment. Pennsylvanians were in dire need of support from all levels of government before COVID, and now, with tens of thousands at risk for houselessness, we must turn our energies toward finding solutions with renewed urgency. Housing is a human right, and it’s past time that we legislate that way,” Sen. Saval said.

According to the U.S. Census, over 13% of adults in Pennsylvania missed at least one month of rent payment and 25% of renters have fallen behind on rent during the COVID-19 crisis.

This past year alone, homelessness in the portions of Pennsylvania rose 71 percent, said Christina Kapp, Central Valley Regional Homeless Coordinated Entry Systems Manager at the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authority

“The single largest barrier to keeping people housed is a simple lack of adequate, affordable housing units,” Rapp said.

Jane Downing, Senior Program Officer, Economic and Community Development at The Pittsburgh Foundation, spoke about the specific populations that are effected most by housing insecurity and houselessness, “Research studies indicate that eviction disproportionately affects the lowest-income residents, primarily women of color with children. It causes trauma due to loss of teachers and friends for children, and networks of friends, neighbors, and local institutions for adults. Many lose their possessions, incurring additional storage and moving costs. Eviction affects mental and physical health and may cause job loss.”

To address the systemic issues that create housing insecurity and houselessness, Kayleigh Silver, of the Montgomery County Office of Housing & Community Development and Senior Manager of Housing & Homeless Services – Montco “Your Way Home” Program, spoke about the importance and the success that the county has through using a ‘Continuum of Care’ model to address housing insecurity and houselessness.

“Our partners include residents with the lived experience of homelessness, housing and homeless service providers, public and philanthropic funders, faith communities, landlords, housing developers, and community-based health and human service providers, including agencies that meet the specific needs of veterans, transition age youth, and victims of domestic violence or human trafficking,” Silver said.

Cynthia Shields, Assistant Deputy Director for Housing & Homelessness at Allegheny County DHS, also said the Continuum of Care model has effectively ended veteran homelessness in Allegheny County through their network of resources.

Shields gave three policy recommendations that could further address housing insecurity in Pennsylvania including: better integration between permanent housing and behavioral health services, Increasing supply and quality of units accepting housing vouchers, and improving re-entry housing for those leaving the correctional system.

“Housing is a proven solution to homelessness,” Christina Kapp stated.

Xavior Robinson, COO of Pathways to Housing PA, said in his testimony that his organization does not require people to “earn” their housing, because housing is a human right and is not meant to be earned.

“Housing first, but not housing alone,” Robinson said. His organization prioritizes houselessness first, and then address the behavioral, medical, and other issues that people are facing that may be contributing to chronic houselessness individuals and families are facing.

“It is imperative that we not only continue this conversation on housing insecurity and how to best assist the unhoused populations, but that we also work urgently to take bold action to address these serious problems.  This is not just a city issue; housing insecurity is a problem in every part of our commonwealth.  I am ready to work with stakeholders and my colleagues in the legislature to advance reforms to our social safety nets; moreover, we need to address the systemic issues that have led to the rampant housing crisis here in Pennsylvania,” Sen. Katie Muth (D- Berks/Chester/Montgomery), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said.

Below are all who participated in today’s hearing:

  • Kayleigh Silver, MSS, Montgomery County Office of Housing & Community Development; Senior Manager of Housing & Homeless Services – Montco “Your Way Home” Program
  • Amanda Andere, President – Funders Together to End Homelessness
  • Cynthia Shields, Assistant Deputy Director for Housing & Homelessness at Allegheny County DHS
  • Xavior Robinson, COO – Pathways to Housing PA
  • Christina Kapp, Central Valley Regional Homeless Coordinated Entry Systems Manager Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authority
  • Jordan Casey, Staff Attorney – The Health, Education and Legal assistance Project: A MedicalLegal Partnership at Widener University Delaware Law School & the Foundation for Delaware County
  • Jane Downing, Senior Program Officer, Economic and Community Development – The Pittsburgh

Foundation

  • Cindy Daley, Director of Community Development Initiatives, Regional Housing Legal Services
  • Jeff Rich, Executive Director – Clinton County Housing Authority and VP of Operations – Clinton County Housing Coalition
  • Mark Dambly, President – Pennrose

The full recording of this roundtable, as well as the written testimony from participants, can be found at senatormuth.com/policy. A full recording of this hearing can also be found on the PA Senate Democratic Facebook page.

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