I am a board member of the National Coalition for the Homeless, and at every board meeting we go around the room and hear local reports about homelessness in the United States. It is a great opportunity to hear about the troubles and struggles in other cities in America four times a year. There are some successes, but they are few and far between and are usually centered in Minnesota and Denver. Here are some of the things that I heard over this weekend. Overall, homelessness is up across the United States with only a few exceptions, and non-profit organizations are struggling to stay alive in this horrible economy.
Minnesota: They are taking a portion of the state’s money for supportive services, so these funds will just supplant state or local funds. Foreclosures are still up. Advocates are trying as much as possible to make sure that the new prevention dollars get to the poorest people and the money is not taken to replace local or state dollars because of the huge budget problems.
Montana: Still seeing an increase in foreclosures. There is extreme poverty on the Indian Reservations in Montana that does not even compare to the homeless issues in other parts of America.
Arkansas: Statewide Homeless Coalition is on life support. HMIS has been helpful in the rural communities—20,000 families were entered in the system and 38,000 children in the system. Trust Fund passed, but no money was put in the trust fund. $10.5 million in prevention resources are available for Arkansas. Immigration violations of homeless people, basically the undocumented are being used as slave labor.
DC: With regard to federal stimulus dollars the Mayor has decided to grab what he can to replace local funding for existing programs. Community has gutted the housing program budget and so will be assigned a case manager, but not getting a house. Pushing for homeless hate crimes into an Omnibus Crime bill, and looks like it will be passed in June.
Texas: Governor turned down $550 million for extended unemployment. Looking to expand legal services to homeless people with prevention dollars. State housing trust fund may receive a boost. Hate crimes bill introduced, but unlikely it will pass. Introduced a statewide voice mail bill—there is good support. May pass a voter ID law in Texas. Using stimulus dollars to educate, certify homeless people, and get them into a job while supplementing their wages.
Detroit: Foreclosures way up. Criminal justice focus of Mayor and Governor, and they are working on helping people leave jail and find stability with a job/housing.
New York City: 36,000 in shelter system including children. 4 out of 5 people in the shelters are from families. 970,000 families a year in one year. 13,000 new families entering the shelters. Eliminate priority for homeless people in the Section 8 program replaced with a time limited program 2 year. Government trying to swap out local dollars ($74 million) to fund prevention programs with the new stimulus dollars so there will be no increase or additional benefit. State budget battles, but luckily did not see major homeless cuts. Seems to be a crackdown on street homeless people maybe because of upcoming mayoral vote.
Ft. Lauderdale: Ranked 50th compared to the rest of the nation in education in Florida. Highly regressive tax system exists in Florida. Big budget problems and yet part time legislators have no solution. Local homeless coalition does a memorial day, living wage work, Stand Down, voice mail, and strong focus on re-entry programs. Working on passing an alternative to incarceration resolution in the state.
Miami: Activists are trying to make sure that the stimulus dollars get to the people. Use existing structure, but Miami Coalition will monitor. Florida third in foreclosures in the United States. Trying to change the bankruptcy law to protect the primary home of individuals. Trying to overturn the residency restrictions especially to help those who have turned to living under bridges for voting and other purposes.
Nashville TN: New staff at the homeless power project, and they are trying to work on the stimulus money--$2 million in prevention and $4 million in public housing money will be available to the City. Concerned that these funds will not result in jobs, and so long term homeless will not be changed. Homeless commissions just keep studying the problems, but not producing results at the local and state level. Nashville has a number of tent cities and there is a lot of media attention of one of those tent cities. They are working on trying to get low-income people into the green jobs initiatives.
Sacramento: Tent City has received a ton of attention (300-400 people were living on private property). Some were victims of the economy, but most were long term homeless. The government has extended the winter shelter until June. Some advocates are trying to educate public about the reasons people are living in the shelters: current system does not serve the population. Couples, those with pets, and too much stuff with them were the big reasons why people were not going inside congregate living arrangements. Put 40 people into housing and opened a safeground for people to keep their stuff. No one has been arrested to this point yet. Real spotlight should be on the lame 10 year plan in Sacramento. Need to rethink long-term homeless strategy, and take into account long-term services to families. Some of the local advocates feel that the Sacramento government’s response has been horrible, and staged a protest on Friday. Prevention and Rapid Re-housing funds coalition put together to respond to the prevention funding. Need to coordinate all the public money coming in to serve homeless people. Hate crimes bill reintroduced in state legislature in California.
Denver/Colorado: Grand opening of 100 new green apartments—50 for affordable housing and 50 for long term homeless people. Working on another project using federal stimulus dollars/foreclosure dollars for Denver. State Interagency Council is trying to coordinate stimulus dollars for the state of Colorado. Not seeing an increase in foreclosures, and stimulus dollars are being used to build new projects. Mayor of Denver has been a good advocate, and the Sheriff is doing a rental assistance program for those re-entering society with a mental illness.
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