By Donald Judd, CNN
(CNN) — The Biden administration announced new steps Thursday to assist the nations unsheltered population, launching a new initiative accelerating local efforts in six of the nation’s most populous cities as part of a larger goal to reduce the country’s homelessness by 25% by 2025.
The initiative – called “ALL INside” – will see the US Interagency Council on Homelessness and its 19 federal member agencies partner with state and municipal governments in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, the Phoenix, Arizona, metro area, Seattle and the state of California to fast-track efforts toward housing unsheltered people.
In a fact sheet shared with CNN on Thursday, the administration said it plans to deploy teams across the federal government to conduct reviews for possible areas of regulatory relief, funding opportunities, and peer networking, while each community under the “ALL INside” initiative will see a federal official embedded to help on the local level.
The announcement comes as a national debate rages about the nation’s homeless population – and how to address the issue.
According to the federally mandated Point in Time Count conducted every year by HUD to count the nation’s homeless population, there were 582,462 people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2022.
The issue has also developed as a political lightning rod, with Republicans harshly criticizing Democratic cities for what they described as ignoring the issue.
Daniel Penny, a US Marine veteran who held homeless street artist Jordan Neely in a fatal chokehold on a New York subway train, surrendered to police earlier this month to face a second-degree manslaughter charge in a case that has drawn national headlines. Penny waived the reading of his charges in a court appearance last Friday and was not required to enter a plea. “He risked his own life and safety, for the good of his fellow passengers. The unfortunate result was the unintended and unforeseen death of Mr. Neely,” Penny’s attorneys said in a statement.
Nikki Haley – the former South Carolina Republican governor running for president – has already called for Penny to be pardoned, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who’s expected to announce his own bid for the White House in the coming weeks, has also defended the marine veteran’s actions.
In a fiery exchange during a hearing on crime in the District of Columbia earlier this week, South Carolina Republican Rep. William Timmons and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser traded barbs over the city’s homelessness population, with Bowser telling the GOP lawmaker there are only 221 people experiencing homelessness in the city – a figure Timmons disputed.
“There’s 221 people living under 395, we can go right now, it’s 300 yards away, what are you talking about?” Timmons told Bowser.
“I’m talking about facts, and there are not 300 people under 295 or 395,” Bowser responded.
Thursday’s announcement targeting homeless also comes as the Biden administration warns that budget proposals from House Republicans would slash funding for public aid programs.
Earlier this month, the White House warned a plan passed by the House GOP could raise housing costs and slash rental assistance for more than 600,000 families, putting older adults, persons with disabilities, and families with children at risk of homelessness.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Social Security Agency, Department of Labor, Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies will also take steps under Thursday’s announcement to coordinate housing for unhoused Americans.
According to the Biden administration, funding for the program will build on the $2.5 billion in funding to prevent homelessness under the administration’s American Rescue Plan and $486 million in HUD funding earlier this year.
Altogether, the federal government made a historic $70 billion investment to help people find and keep their housing during the Covid-19 pandemic. The funds, approved by Congress, included money for rental assistance, emergency housing vouchers that families at risk of homelessness could use to pay rent, as well money that went directly to cities and counties to build or acquire more affordable housing.
Some places, like Minnesota’s Hennepin County, are using some of the federal pandemic aid to buy motels and convert them into affordable housing.
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CNN’s Katie Lobosco, Nicky Robertson and Haley Talbot contributed to this report.