Tuesday, September 07, 2010

How is the Stimulus Working for Homeless People?

Homeless Prevention Dollars in Cuyahoga County

In 2009, in the wake of the housing collapse, the federal government provided millions to cities to help prevent homelessness. The feds pumped money into existing programs so that they did not have to put a bunch of dollars into creating new infrastructure. In Cuyahoga County, we received $14 million that had to spent by 2012. The money was to be used to prevent homelessness, and to quickly move people back into housing if they became homeless. The City received $9.8 million, and gave it all over to the County. This may seem counter-intuitive since the FBI has set up camp around the Ontario Ave. County headquarters, but the City Council members had to go on summer break. The City of Lakewood took their $900,000 out of the pool, and they are using those funds for eviction prevention with the assistance of Lakewood Christian Services. Cleveland Heights decided to pool their money again with the County and so gave their $750,000 to the County Office of Homeless Services for distribution.

The County came up with their own plan for how to distribute the $13 million, and sub contracted with EDEN development corporation to distribute rent money, Mental Health Services to provide case management and administer the central intake to determine eligibility. Legal Aid, CTO, CMHA, Famicos, Catholic Charities, and the Department of Aging all received funds to help people prevent evictions. The Cleveland Mediation Center handles the payments to landlords in order to prevent evictions. We were told originally that only one third of the dollars would go to staffing and 2/3 would go to direct assistance to clients. This has proven to be difficult, and additional staff are being hired to keep up with the incredible demand for help during these difficult economic times. Money was set aside to pay for Housing Cleveland website and to purchase birth certificates and identification for homeless people as well.

Officials have had to engage in a "course correction" because things are not going as planned. Too many people are eligible for the funds and thus flocked to get help for their eviction. This has only increased over the last two months since the other pool of eviction diversion funds has dried up. CEOGC received a separate allocation and blew through their money in one year helping hundreds of families from becoming homeless. Through June the County was distributing twice as much for eviction help compared to those being placed in housing to get them out of homelessness. The Cleveland Mediation Center is overseeing the money to prevent evictions way faster than expected. They were so overwhelmed that they were setting up appointments after the hearing at eviction court. This usually meant that the individual would have to relocate to a new apartment, which is certainly not ideal. Now it looks like there was so much demand that they are going to limit rental assistance to only those in subsidized housing. Some in the community are angry that these decisions are made without any community input or oversight, but that is how things go in the County.

The other piece of the program is rapid rehousing, which is currently operated out of the two main shelters in Cleveland. With eviction diversion or homeless prevention, the County can provide rent to keep a person in housing. The other side of the HPRP stimulus dollars is the rapid rehousing and the agencies administering the rehousing program help find housing and then do follow up services to make sure the person will stay in housing. Many out in the field still wonder about the wisdom of giving away money at a shelter that are already overcrowded, but that is the plan. County and steering committee members defend both sides of the program saying that it is a new experiment and never before tried on this scale. The problem is that it is also time limited and we only have 19 months left to get it right.

Cleveland Hts seems to have backed the wrong horse here. They were one of two suburbs to get their own allocation. Lakewood officials pulled their money to use within the city limits, and have been giving money out at a rapid clip to prevent evictions. In fact in 2009, they were giving more money out than the entire rest of the County. But Cleveland Hts pooled their money with Cuyahoga County and were only able to serve 32 people through June 2010. The County wide average is that those receiving help average $825 per household as part of homeless prevention/eviction diversion. This means that Lakewood has served around 350 households since October of 2009 when the program began. Cleveland Hts has served 32 households or they have used around $26,000 of their $750,000 that the federal government provided as part of the stimulus.

So, here are the numbers from October 2009 to June 30, 2010:

Total prevention dollars spent: $906,996 or 1,190 households
Total Rapid Rehousing dollars spent: $412,602 or 1,548 households served
The total number of households re-housed is 232 from the Rapid Rehousing side.

We haven't had enough time to see if people are becoming homeless again, and since there is no central access point for all shelter it might never be possible to access these numbers. We still have to see if those facing eviction in non-subsidized housing will turn to the shelters in greater numbers because there is not rental assistance money available to prevent evictions as part of the course correction. We do know that thousands have been helped, and without these dollars the shelters would be overwhelmed. But the shelters are still completely full almost every day of the last year, and we still cannot provide a bed to everyone in need. It is unfortunate that we never get to discuss, as a community, strategies to use $14 million in the best manner possible instead of decisions being made based on the abilities of staff or agencies or course corrections made at the whim of the providers.

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