Image by Sabrina Otis of dark clouds descending on the Key Tower in Cleveland
Tough Times Ahead--Closing 1,000 Shelters
On January 25, 2011, the House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution laying out the goal of reducing federal funding back to 2008 levels before the Obama administration took office and before the massive stimulus spending. What exactly does this mean locally especially for homelessness?
I was fortunate to be in Washington on Monday and met with senior Department of Housing and Urban Development staff. I posed this question to HUD officials, and they said that they had actually run the numbers for various scenarios for the federal budget. While they were clear that they did not expect this to take place, and they felt that there was bipartisan support for implementing new guidelines for funding the shelters in the United States, they did indicate that a return to 2008 funding levels would translate to the closing of 1,000 shelters in the United States. This would translate to one or two facilities in each community closing including in Cleveland.
The problem is that in an effort to get funds out to the community to address the unstable housing market in 2008-2009, there was a massive infusion of funds to the emergency shelter system. This allowed for basically a doubling of the funds that each community would receive in federal dollars to be allocated over 30 months. Many communities expanded or started new projects to prevent homelessness. In Cleveland, we hired new housing case managers in the shelters to screen individuals who became homeless and then help those individuals go out and find housing. We boosted our legal assistance, and provided huge support to provide rental assistance to individuals to keep them in their apartments. All of these programs are in jeopardy in 2012 especially if we roll back funding to 2008 levels. Each community will have to decide to either close existing shelters or end those new prevention programs.
No matter what they decide to do, social service workers will be laid off and there will be reduced rental assistance available to keep people in their housing if Congress roles back federal funding for homelessness back to 2008 levels. The big issue for HUD is that in 2007, there was a renewal of the rules for distributing federal dollars that made many assumptions. The first assumption was that there would be many more activities eligible for funding (prevention, capacity building, community planning, legal, services to young people, etc). In order to balance this new broader focus on preventing homelessness there would have to be an expansion in the number of dollars going to end homelessness. We also have a federal push to end homelessness among veterans with additional housing vouchers and expanded services. It will be difficult if not impossible to implement these new rules and new initiatives if funding levels return to 2008 levels. To all those living and working within the shelters, prepare for tough times ahead.
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