Sunday, April 13, 2008

What is Happening to Homeless in America?

National Coalition for the Homeless Meeting in DC

First, just two weeks ago we identified Alphonso Jackson as the worst HUD Secretary in history. Today, the Washington Post had a front page story on how bad the HUD Secretary was as he exits this week. Check out Jackson's improper emphasis on homeownership, while easing scrutiny of mortgages. Maybe this colossal failure will force HUD to return to the safe rental housing, but I doubt it. Home ownership is the American dream, and people vote for dreams no matter the costs.

I was in DC last week for the cherry blossoms and the National Coalition meeting. The best part of the meeting is going around the room to find out what is happening in the local communities. I have to say that even though Anita from Georgia was not able to make the meeting, Atlanta is certainly one of the worst places for homeless people in the United States (besides New Orleans). In fact, having visited there last year I have to believe that Atlanta is the future New Orleans. They are at war with poor people, and have eliminated almost every shelter and now working on eliminating public housing. When you isolate poor people and the City is struck by tragedy (a lack of water, tornado, fire, terrorist attack, etc.) hits the city, low income people suffer disproportionately. [Photo by Kevin Cleary from Cosgrove Center in Cleveland].

Here is a rundown of things going on around the country:
Baltimore: The Mayor of Baltimore is putting extra effort into addressing homelessness. She shows up at the shelters unannounced. She volunteers at the shelters with her senior staff, and has started to make progress with a planning process, a push for advocacy, and two replacement shelters.

South Carolina: More barriers put in place by the State legislature to building affordable housing. New rules based on NIMBY issues. They passed a Housing Trust Fund, but

Virginia: Advocates concerned about the new rules for the homeless mentally ill in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Los Angeles: The biggest concentrated disaster area in the country for homeless people has to be Skid Row Los Angeles with thousands of homeless people sleeping outside every night. In response police are cracking down on "quality of life infractions" by issuing 15,000 jaywalking tickets last year. City officials have rejected the 10 year plan because it was based on "need," which they determined to be unreasonable. They want a re-write the plan based on the number of resources available.

Kansas: Still working on a planning process, and have developed a few new housing resources in Wichita.

Arizona: Phoenix has a foreclosure crisis that is out of control. Tuscon has seen an increase in hate crimes against homeless people. The state is in such financial crisis that they are proposing stealing money from the State Housing Trust Fund to offset their expected $1.7 billion deficit.

Colorado: Denver is making progress on the development of permanent supportive housing goals, and they are committed to not disrupting the lives of homeless people during the Democratic political convention in 2008. They opened a 20 bed facility for vets using tax credit financing, and have recently built 100 units of new housing.

Austin, TX: They are looking at opening a park with tents, mobile homes, and other entry type housing opportunities to ease people back into permanent housing. This is an interesting experiment that we will have to keep an eye on. I have never seen this type of mixed housing sharing a space.

Minnesota: Advocates are working on funding their permanent supportive housing goals, but they want their projects to include families. Ohio needs a similar plan.

DC: They are working on a Housing First fund. One of the bigger shelters is closing down after the loss of a separate shelter last year.

Jeffersonville IN: They are suffering under large numbers of foreclosures, and people coming to the shelters in need of help. They have made some progress in coving the uninsured in Indiana. Jeffersonville was rocked by the suicide of a local Iraq War veteran who fled South and crawled into a drainage ditch in Florida and died because of symptoms associated with PTSD.

Brian Davis
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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