Friday, November 26, 2010

Prospects Over the Next Two Years

Elections Have Consequences

There are big changes underway within homeless services and these changes will have huge consequences on the struggle to move away from the "poorest city in the nation" designation. This has nothing to do Republican vs. Democrats. This has more to do with the number of people elected to office who do not like government. There is now a clear majority in state government and within the legislative branch of the federal government in Washington who see government as a huge problem and cannot see government solving problems. Here are a few broad concepts about what homeless people can expect as a result of the elections. We will have a detailed document about what the community can expect with specific project outlooks available to our members, because just as there are consequences for elections there are specific rewards for being a member of the Coalition.

Federal Government:
There is a strong push to return to the 2008 federal funding levels. This will have the most significant impact on the Housing and Urban Development funding, which supports many of the shelters and housing programs in the community. The big issue is what will happen with all the programs developed out of the 2009 stimulus bill that was passed. The original thought was that the prevention programs and rapid rehousing programs would receive additional funding after the 30 months of stimulus funding was exhausted. It was thought that the federal government would add funding to the Emergency Solutions Grant, and would be able to support the existing emergency shelters as well as at least a piece of the programs that prevent families from entering the shelters or the quick movement back to housing. After the election, it is very likely that there will not be enough funds to support both the emergency shelters and the prevention programs, and therefore the local community will have to make big decisions.

State Government:
At the state level there will be huge changes. These would include the privatization of various departments within state government, and even more competition for state dollars. There will be more of a focus on rewarding better outcomes, and probably an overhaul of the state emergency shelter program. It is likely that the state will fund new priorities of the new administration. Ted Strickland had worked as a counselor in a prison before his political career, and there were a number of re-entry programs started over the last few years. It is unlikely that the new Governor will have this same affinity for trying to ease people back into the community. It is unlikely that there will be a state housing trust fund, and this will put additional pressure on the state housing tax credit program. It will be interesting to see what happens with welfare benefits and the job training program, because there is a state matching requirement in order to receive the federal dollars. Both programs will probably mean a greater emphasis on serving those who are most likely to succeed and those people with multiple problems or barriers to stability will be left behind.

The mental health and alcohol drug addiction services will probably be cut again in this budget cycle. It is unlikely that every county will get funding due to forced mergers and cuts. Those who hate government will want to see better outcomes, and might force competition among the big agencies receiving government funding to assist those struggling with addiction or mental illnesses. They might also reward those programs that can show private sector investment to match state funding. Big government opponents often believe that Alcohol services can be done more effectively by religiously based organizations similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. This could lead to the total elimination of publicly funded treatment programs in Ohio. We may hear the same words we heard echoing through the 1990s in the State House with regard to a number of state funded programs, "We provide so few dollars of general assistance to individuals in Ohio that it was not worth it and tax payers might as well cut the program all together." I could see this same logic used on the alcohol and drug addiction programs. This was not the opinion of the single adults who were barely hanging on with $100 in cash that went to parent to allow them to stay in an unused bedroom or to buy hygiene items or clothing in order to find employment. But this bizarre logic is often used down in Columbus to put a positive spin on budget cuts. It is almost like they are saying, "Government has done such a horrible job in addressing the problems facing our society because we have for 20 years starved government for funds that now we might as well eliminate government funding and let the private sector solve the problems."

Cuyahoga County
All these changes at the state and federal level will mean that some tough decisions will have to be made at the local level. We will have to decide on the priorities for scarce resources. In 2010, all the county funded human services programs had to take a 6% cut or more. It is likely that the state funding to cities and counties will be cut or even eliminated, which will blow a huge hole in the County budget. We will have to decide on funding for shelters, transitional shelters or supportive services. We will have to decide if outreach services are more important than eviction prevention. County government will have to figure out how to fund food programs in the suburbs or domestic violence beds within the City. All of the homeless services will have to prove their value to the community in competition with health care, foster care, job training, or child support enforcement programs. How will we be able to operate a 24 hour a day helpline at the same time as we fund a case worker at all the new permanent supportive housing programs. At the local level, there are a few powerful agencies that dominate the current homeless landscape who will probably have to take a haircut in their budgets, and there will be smaller programs without the political influence who will not survive past 2012.

All of these "haircuts" mean cuts to staff, a decrease in financial oversight, a reduction in bus passes available, and fewer housing opportunities available to low income people. We will talk about the impact on homeless people with these changes and the potential struggles faced as a result of the election of anti-government forces to lead critical parts of the government in upcoming posts.

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