Monday, December 13, 2010

How Are the Homeless Stimulus Funds?

Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing

Ruth Gillett of the Office of Homeless Services attended the last Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting last week. Media are not allowed to quote anything from that meeting, but I can pass along the stats from the presentation. Cleveland received $14 million (including money from the State of Ohio) in 2009 to be spent over 30 months. According to the OHS stats, we have spent $3.17 million in Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Assistance as of 12/3/2010 which translates to 2,658 households helped. For some reason they did not have a breakdown by agency as of 12/3/2010. The three largest providers of services (Cleveland Mediation, MHS, and Eden) are all spending above the average amount necessary per month to assure that all the money out by July 2012. But they did get a late start in spending money and did not really start spending until the first quarter of 2010.

All of these stats need to be taken in context. The assistance can be something as small as identification fee or can be one year of rental assistance. It can be moving expenses to relocate to better housing or paying off back rent. The funds support the Housing database in Cleveland, housing search specialists, and housing case workers. There are an average of 12,000 evictions just in Cleveland and 22,000 evictions in Cuyahoga County, and recent estimates are that 45,000 are in need of subsidized housing locally. Housing instability is increasing locally with the foreclosure crisis spreading out to outer ring suburbs, and the lack of development of new affordable housing options to match the units that are taken off line. One example of the serious need locally is the fact that the Parma Housing Authority opened the waiting list for the 400 vouchers that they have available and over 20,000 people applied for these vouchers. On another note, the agency running HPRP in Dayton, the Dayton Urban League, closed up shop two weeks ago which puts a hardship on those facing eviction in Montgomery County.

The County released statistics for the month of October 2010 which showed:
74 people got an intake at the shelter doors, and 20 were "diverted" to some other housing option and 7 were given "fast track housing." The rest (47) went into shelter or disappeared. On the prevention side, 81 intake referrals were done and 99 households were served for an average of $1,182 per individual household. I have no idea how more households were served than intakes done, but those are the stats we got.

The big change over the last three months were that a Ruth Gillett and a couple of the service providers decided that there would be some changes in the program. These changes were not approved by any oversight body in the community or homeless people or the broader homeless social service providers were not given the opportunity to comment on the changes before they were implemented. As of October, only those individuals currently living in subsidized housing can get eviction diversion/prevention funding. That is right, only those who already are assisted by the federal government every month now can get access to eviction help. These individuals would not need as much support since the federal government pays some of their rent. The most expensive and difficult population to serve, families with children, who enter the shelters will not be eligible for rental assistance unless they were living in public housing, had a voucher or were in a HUD funded building.

The NEOCH staff and board frustration with the system is the lack of transparency by the County in making these decisions. We also have concerns that the social service providers are keeping this program quiet to prevent a flood of people trying to access these funds. There is not a standard referral system to get these funds. We keep asking for the best process for referral of potential clients, and no one will give a definitive answer. There is no process even for people in subsidized housing written down anywhere that says go to this location or call this number in order to get help. In Cincinnati, there is one telephone number to call to get an interview. The rental assistance distributed from July 2009 to July 2010 by CEOGC locally also had a telephone system set up to schedule an appointment. For this program there is no set way to access the dollars mostly out of the fear about a riot as the City of Detroit experienced.

Our final frustration is the fact that the intake for diversion and rapid rehousing is done at the two entry shelters. This is the first time in our history that rental assistance was linked to shelter. Our fear is that more people will show up for a shelter bed just to get the rapid rehousing dollars. Since every shelter is already full every day, we do not need anything to attract additional people to the shelters. Maybe the Cuyahoga county reform will provide some transparency to the federal stimulus dollars being implemented by the County. We can only hope.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

**Blog Update As of 12/20/2010** In an effort to have full disclosure, Dan Joyce of Cleveland Mediation Center called today objecting to this blog entry. He refused to engage in "back and forth" about these issues, but wanted to make sure that we were aware that some of the things in this blog are not correct. Dan said that it was not true that they only give assistance to those in subsidized housing. He also said that some are approved for assistance, but don't receive it until the next month, and that is how the numbers can be more than the number requesting assistance.

Dan has never published exactly what the qualifications are for homeless prevention and where a person goes to get these funds, so it is no wonder there is confusion in the community. Also, in full disclosure, Dan was not at the Ruth Gillett presentation at CAHA, so I do not understand how he has the ability to clarify the information given out. It seems strange that a person not at a meeting would call to clarify my perception of the information given out. That is how things work in the community with some of the non-profits. It can be frustrating especially if you are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless and you depend on agency staff to be open with the information. All of these are federal tax dollars, but it is sometimes like pulling teeth to get real information about how to access help in the community. Dan did not address all the other concerns that I expressed in the blog, and I am not holding my breath that he will in the future.

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