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Homelessness at record high numbers; legislators work to connect housing, mental health

homeless street tent
(© Halfpoint – stock.adobe.com)

Americans experiencing homelessness hit a record high in 2023 with more than 650,000 people affected in the United States.

In Virginia, nearly 1,000 more Virginians were included in the annual count of homeless individuals compared to pre-COVID numbers.

Studies show that behavioral and mental health challenges are a frequent cause of housing insecurity.

Legislators, including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), have presented a bill to address mental illness and homelessness together.

The Housing ACCESS, or Alignment and Coordination of Critical and Effective Supportive Health Services, Act would require national agencies to issue joint guidance to state Medicaid agencies on how to connect Medicaid beneficiaries with housing-related services.

Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and former fair housing attorney, cosponsored the bill which would issue directives to the Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Treasury departments.

“As a former fair housing attorney, I strongly believe that every Virginian deserves a safe, reliable roof overhead,” said Kaine. “I’m glad to cosponsor this legislation to make it easier for those Virginians to get connected with crucial housing services through the Commonwealth’s Medicaid agency.

“I will continue to do all that I can to increase access to mental health, substance use and housing support,” Kaine said.

The Housing ACCESS Act would ensure more people can access wraparound medical and housing services to help prevent housing insecurity.

The act is endorsed by fair housing and housing insecurity organizations and mental health services across the nation including the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, Virginia Housing Alliance and Vocal Virginia.

The legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

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If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org
For local mental health resources, visit AFP’s Project Mental Health page.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.