Atlanta Update on Homelessness

Atlanta has to be in the top 10 worst cities in the United States for homeless people.  In my opinion, San Diego is the worst city because they keep finding innovative ways to make life hell for those without housing, but Atlanta is up there.  There are some huge decisions coming  for City leaders in Atlanta, but based on past decision making homeless people are going to suffer.  Atlanta has had progressive Mayors for years and is the home to the King Peace Center, but cannot seem to get it together to unify leadership around an effective strategy to deal with poverty and homelessness in the region. Here is the write up from the National Low Income Housing Coalition "Notes from the Field:" 

Atlanta Passes Homeless Opportunity Bond

The Atlanta City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on July 18 to address homelessness over the next three years. Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority, will issue a $26 million Homeless Opportunity Bond in an effort to make homelessness “rare, brief, and non-recurring.” This legislation culminates four years of work by the United Way of Greater Atlanta, Partners for Homes, and the City of Atlanta. The bond will finance activities targeted to homeless families and youth, chronically homeless individuals, and families at risk of homelessness.

The City Council approved an initial bond of $26 million with agreements from local non-profits to augment the city’s investment. The United Way of Greater Atlanta committed $26 million in matching donations, and Invest Atlanta will leverage $66 million in public resources to be used in conjunction with the bond, raising the total public-private partnership investment to more than $115 million.

The United Way and the City of Atlanta aim to end veteran homelessness by 2017, chronic homelessness by 2019, and youth homelessness by 2020, and the bond, together with the additional funds, are essential in meeting this goal. Together, the City of Atlanta and its partners plan to place 500 chronically homeless individuals in permanent supportive housing, secure permanent housing for 300 homeless families, and prevent 100 families from entering homelessness. They will also create 264 new emergency shelter beds and 254 new housing interventions for homeless youth by 2020.

In the last four years, the City of Atlanta has made strides in tackling homelessness. HUD reports that since 2013, the number of unsheltered homeless individuals in Atlanta decreased by 52%, chronically homeless individuals by 61%, and homeless veterans by 62%. The lack of affordable housing, however, leaves many at risk of homelessness. According to NLIHC’s 2017 Out of Reach report, Georgia renters must earn $14.25 per hour in order to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and $16.79 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment. In the Atlanta metro area, these numbers are even higher: renters must earn $16.50 to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and $19.04 for a two-bedroom apartment. The minimum wage in Georgia is $7.25 and the average renter wage is $15.61; both fall short of what renters need to keep rent and utilities under 30% of household income.  The new Homeless Opportunity Bond is a significant investment towards providing housing for the thousands of Atlanta residents experiencing homelessness. Chronic housing poverty – extremely low income renters paying so much for their housing that they cannot afford other necessities - puts thousands more at risk of homelessness.

 

I attended the US Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007 and have regular contact with Anita Beaty who ran the huge shelter down in Atlanta until earlier this year.  She and her group have basically been attempting to bring justice to City through three administrations. The City has gone down the path of most other cities in shutting down public housing, reducing the number of affordable housing units available, and eliminating access to emergency shelter.  Here is an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about Anita and her decades of work protecting homeless people.  The shelter has been under threat for a dozen years over a water bill and health issues.  Anita and her volunteers just want to provide a place inside for anyone who comes to the door.  She never wanted to hang up the sign the Peachtree-Pine shelter that there is "No Room at the Inn."  At the end of August, the Business Improvement District in the neighborhood will take over the shelter and stop taking new residents. 

Then by November 1 the main shelter in Atlanta will close down the building and the 1,000 people who use the Peachtree/Pine shelter will have to find another place to live.  As Atlanta enters the colder months of the year, they are going to have to find places for a significant number of fragile, disabled, those struggling with addiction, and men and women who cannot find a job.  There will be no overflow in the area and just like Cleveland, Atlanta has shuttered hundreds of shelter beds over the last eight years.  Whenever I look at other cities in America, it makes me so glad that we still have a commitment to try to house everyone who comes to the door. The above article indicates that the City is building new facilities to be ready by 2020 while the crisis is coming in November 2017.  I hope that the guys can hold out on the streets for three years while the new shelter is prepared.  

Also, don't believe any of the numbers in the above article.  The HUD Count is completely bogus; conducted by untrained volunteers with a different method in every city.  It is a one night count that has no relevance to the rest of the year, and attempts to count an extremely mobile community who by their nature attempts to stay out of sight.  Finally, building housing is expensive, and in a hot real estate market like Atlanta the $26 million will probably build enough housing for 150 people.  There are hundreds of homeless people who need help in Atlanta.  There will be tons of people waiting for a shelter bed once the city stops taking people into the Peachtree-Pine shelter.  Winter is coming to Atlanta.

Special to NEOCH by Brian Davis

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Some Good News for the Shelters

Y-Haven a program of the YMCA announced 80 new shelter beds in Cuyahoga County.  This will be in the space previously occupied by the Railton House operated by the Salvation Army.  Technically, these are not shelter beds, but they are going to be operated similar to the shelters.  We will count it as good news for the shelters. According to the Plain Dealer story:

The 80 new slots will be for:

  • 40 men who have completed drug treatment, with a priority given to those who are currently homeless and face significant barriers including co-occurring mental health problems and/or criminal histories;
  • 40 women, with a focus on those who have recently been released from prison or who are seeking diversion from prison.

It's the first time Y-Haven will offer its services to women, who are the fastest growing demographic in overdose deaths nationwide.

WCPN also covered the story here.  This will reduce the number of beds lost in the last decade to 464.  It is good that women struggling with addiction will have an alternative to the Women's Shelter on Payne Ave.   This will also help with the re-entry population in our community.  This is really good news in the community. 

Brian Davis

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Great News For Open Records in Ohio

The Ohio Supreme Court in a split decision sided with a reporter from Otterbein College in Westerville that will release the police records from this private college.   The Supreme Court decided that since these officers were doing public safety in place of the regular police force of Westerville Ohio they should be subject to public disclosure.  If the student had wanted to see local crime stats or how the police were responding to crime in the area, those records would be available through a public records request.  If they wanted to see how the Otterbein Police were responding, those records were denied because Otterbein claimed it was a private college not subject to public records request. 

The Ohio Supreme Court found that when a private corporation is engaged in replacing a public service, they must abide by the same disclosure requirements as the Westerville Police Department are subject to.   This is great news for then being able to pry open documents being held by private charities conducting public business. 

The publicly funded shelters in Cleveland are all subject to disclosure rules because they receive government assistance.  Those who claim to be a religion are not subject to the same disclosure and can keep their 990 tax returns private.  We hope that this ruling can be broadened to include other activities being done by non-profits operating public services such as prisons, schools, and shelters.  We could use more sunshine in all of these activities to show how our public dollars are being used to house people, educate them and incarcerate them.  All of these are previously done by government and now are being privatized largely in the dark.  We even have the oversight of whole industries being done by private industry such as fracking, financial transactions, waste removal and storage as well as power generation.  These are often skilled professions that government no longer has the skill to oversee, and is not deferring to non-profits or other corporations.  A little sunshine never hurt any industry or charity.  

Brian Davis

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County Staff and Providers Discuss Homelessness

The County is the caretaker of much of the assistance for homeless people in Cuyahoga County.  We receive around $24 million in funding for homelessness and housing programs.  County staff complete the application for funding, and do a very good job of following all the rules to maximize our allocation.  While nearly every other city in Ohio has faced a loss of funding because of problems with their application, Cuyahoga County has never had this issue.  They could do a better job of overseeing the shelters use of these funds, but that is another post. Every jurisdiction that receives homeless funding must have a local committee to oversee the funds.  In Cuyahoga County, this group is the Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board.  There is a committee called the "Review and Ranking committee" which forwards the list to the Cuyahoga Council for approval.

This year, the federal government required the County Continuum committee to approve a plan for how to count homeless people on January 27, 2015.  This "Point in Time" count is the dumbest thing done by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  There are a huge number of problems with the count including that it does harm to the homeless community by dramatically under-representing the number in a community.  The Homeless Coalition representatives both voted against the plan.  No one else joined in opposing the plan to attempt to "count" homeless people.  We would have no problem if federal government wanted to count the number living in shelters in Cleveland.  We can all trust that data, and we know that would be accurate.  Once they open it up to counting people outside on one night the data is useless.  Our issues with the Point in Time Count are:

  • The media and elected official misunderstand this data and regularly inaccurately portray this as some kind of census of homeless people.  There is no way to make the leap between one day and the number for a year.  It is factually flawed.
  • It violates all rules of collecting statistics for research.  To make this leap from those who you see on the streets to actually measuring a point in time stretches reality.  The variables of abandoned buildings, RTA rapid transit and buses, and hospital waiting rooms where homeless people may be staying make it impossible to do an actual point in time count.
  • Most of the other similar sized cities estimate the number of homeless people while Cleveland does not.  This makes it look like we have a tiny population compared to other cities.  They lie and we are honest locally. 
  • This exaggeration by other cities harms Cuyahoga County funding.  We get fewer resources because we have theoretically reduced the number of people sleeping outside.
  • No matter how great a job we do in serving homeless people (and we are doing a pretty good job), we are still the second or third poorest city in America.  With so many living in poverty, there are going to be many people struggling with housing. 

In other news, we heard that neighbors have filed a lawsuit to stop the next Permanent Supportive Housing project from going forward.  This will slow down the development of affordable housing for disabled homeless people in Cleveland.   It will cost additional funds to defend this lawsuit to overturn the building permit issued by the City of Cleveland. 

Shelter numbers for 2014 were released and we will post those on our website, because we trust those numbers.

The County limited the scope of the Public Policy committee to focus on a couple of narrow items.  There are huge issues in our community that shelter providers and social service groups should consider and layout a plan.  There are huge issues such as the explosion in family homelessness, the relationship between police and homeless people, problems with mentally ill homeless people, and recognizing and better serving victims of human trafficking in the women's shelters.  The providers are busy dealing with the crisis of homelessness everyday, and just don't have the time to weigh in on solutions.

There is still funding available to renovate the local shelters from the State of Ohio.  There are four projects going forward, but there is still funding available to help improve the facilities of local shelters. 

Brian Davis

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More Cuts to the Shelters in 2014

The Office of Homeless Services "Advisory Board" met this week and approved another 2% cut for the transitional shelters and safe haven programs in Cuyahoga County.  Staff and County Review and Ranking committee members have come up with a strategy to better compete at the national level by eliminating social-service-only projects as much as possible because HUD hates funding service instead of housing.  It is hoped in the second round of funding the 2% can be restored, but there is no guarantee. We also learned at the meeting that because of stating publicly that we have cut long term homeless, Cleveland is penalized.  This dubious statistic was criticized by Richard Trickel in a guest blog, and NEOCH agrees that this 73% decrease in long term homeless is at best deceptive at its worst is an outright lie. It is understandable for the Department of Housing and Urban Development focused its funding on housing if Health and Human Services stepped forward to fund services.  We are getting cuts from the federal government while the number of homeless people especially families is increasing. 

At the meeting this last week, representatives from the Salvation Army and West Side Catholic both expressed concern over the continued declines in funding for shelters. Both expressed concern that any further cuts (7% two years ago, 5% last year and now 2% this year) could results in further closing of local shelters or the loss of beds.  In 2014, Continue Life closed after a cut in funding from HUD.  It is no wonder we have such a problem with families in light of shelters closing in Cleveland.  Over the years, we lost Triumph House, East Side Catholic, Continue Life, the Upstairs program (single women), and Family Transitional.  We have had reductions in other programs resulting in a huge gap in beds available to homeless people.  This would be fine if we were not also losing affordable housing in the community. 

Congress passed the HEARTH Act a couple of years ago, which mandated huge changes in the homeless funding system.  It prioritized long term homelessness, and mandated outcomes to reduce homelessness.  The bill passed with language that sought a doubling of the funding for shelters and housing programs for homeless people. In the toxic environment of Washington DC, this never happened.  Instead, we have seen a steady decline in funding, and shelters are closing.  HUD made these huge changes in the process and the rules and the expectations, but did not give the shelters additional funding to implement these changes. Remember, the shelters do not get an increase in funding for cost of living changes every year.  The funds that they received when they first started getting federal dollars is the top funding available to them.  They can reduce their request, but cannot ask for additional funding.   How many programs or households could survive if they had the same income from their core funding source for 20 straight years? 

With the cuts made by United Way, we have a real crisis in serving homeless people.   No matter what the County says about a decrease in long term homelessness, there are more people seeking help.  There are more people outside than we saw living outside last year, and there are fewer options for women and women with children.

Brian Davis

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Funding Changes Announced

The United Way of Cleveland announced yesterday that they were funding 70 fewer programs in the community.  The United Way website does not make it easy to compare funding from 2013 with the funding for 2014.  But we know that programs such as the Cleveland Tenants Organization and Hitchcock Center for Women were not included in the list of funded groups released yesterday.  It is impossible to compare the amounts from 2013 given to groups compared to those announced yesterday because United Way seems to have scrubbed their website and Google cashed version of the site of the 2013 funding levels.   It does seem that most of the homeless programs were funded including Care Alliance, Cleveland Mediation, Frontline Service, Legal Aid Society, Lutheran Metro Ministry, University Settlement, West Side Catholic, Transitional Housing Inc., Salvation Army and the YWCA.  It is hard to tell if the Catholic Charities programs such as the Bishop Cosgrove Center and Jewish Community Federation Program such as Bellefaire are funded at the same level.  There were a few new programs announced as receiving funding this year by the United Way that serve homeless people including Enterprise Foundation and the Cleveland Housing Network. 

They had divided their funding into Education, Income and Health with most of the homeless providers funded under "Income" which seems kind of a stretch.  Here is how the Plain Dealer described it:

A committee of 120 people--called community impact volunteers--vetted proposals and made funding recommendations. They were guided by strategies the United Way began honing in 2008. Its Collective Impact Approach calls for focusing on the most urgent needs in areas of income, health and education, even if that means parting company with old friends.

Robin Cottingham, a senior vice president at KeyBank who lead the community impact volunteers, said she challenged her volunteers to think about "sustainable impact" and to favor programs that would help prevent poverty, not just fight it.

I don't understand how Cleveland Tenants Organization preventing evictions and people going into shelters is not an essential vital service in the community that prevent poverty, but I was not on the committee.   I don't understand how treatment services are not considered a prevention program for those falling into poverty and homelessness, but that is the decision.  We will have to wait to see the fallout from the United Way change in direction. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development also announced the table scraps available to the homeless programs after a second year of Sequestration.  They had previously announced the renewal funding and Cleveland had all the programs that were high priority funded.   This funding was for the programs that had to all compete with eachother for the money left over from HUD.  So, the Cleveland programs that were not funded as a top priority had to compete with Los Angeles, New York and Columbus for the money left.  We had seven programs that were either new or were not viewed by the local community as a high priority.   Only three out of the seven programs were funded.  The three funded programs were:

  • Another Permanent Supportive Housing Project for $62,699
  • West Side Catholic Collaboration with other women's program to provide transition services into housing for $367,135. 
  • West Side Catholic has a new project to provide rapid rehousing to women and families.  This is to replace the pregnant women program that did not seek renewal funding.

We had already lost the Bridging the Gap program and Continue Life shelter which did not seek renewal funding.   The programs that are currently operational that did not get funded by HUD include:

  • Frontline Services assistance to the Norma Herr Center at $39,032
  • LMM Housing Services to those at 2100 Lakeside at $50,157
  • Lakewood Community Services housing referral help at $41,398
  • Frontline Services Safe Haven for fragile populations at $229,897

We know that we already lost an outreach worker at Frontline Services due to funding cuts earlier this year and the men's shelter had to reduce staff who were focused on finding jobs for the residents.  We  will see how these additional cuts impact the shelters. 

Brian Davis

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What is Happening in the United States Around Homelessness?

I attended the National Coalition for the Homeless meeting in April.  Here are some of the things that I heard.  Our two members from Florida were not able to attend, but Florida is still working on stupid laws to restrict access to food.  These are general notes.  You can go to the specific state/community for more information or contact the National Coalition for the Homeless.  Thanks to Gloria for typing up these notes.

Local Reports

Illinois: Working on events around the 20th anniversary Homeless Education Law which was the foundation of McKinney Vinto Homeless Kids Act.  Trying to get $3 million from State Legislature to serve the huge rise in homeless kids in the Illinois school districts since 2009: 26,000 to 55,000 kids in the last full school year.

Mass/NH:  Advocates are doing a lot with hunger and homelessness in New England.  There were 50,000 Kids in Massachusetts schools in the last school year.  They are working on a Children’s Bill of Rights law for the state.

Austin, Texas: No Hate Crimes to report.  The City is mostly in compliance with no sit ordinance. Working on developing permanent supportive housing and constructing a manufactured home area to keep people out of the shelters.  Developing a strategy of “no dischargers to homelessness.”  City is focusing on preventing homelessness.

Minnesota: 6% increase in numbers of homeless families.  Affordability of housing continues to be a problem.  The City of Duluth passed Homeless Bill of Rights.  Developing housing in communities for those disadvantaged because of low credit scores. Want to try to rehab the large number of foreclosed properties.  Working on a minimum wage increase and a second chance re-entry ACT.

Sacremento CA: Homeless Bill of Rights put on hold in the State.  The funding for the Housing Trust Fund lost in legislature.  The City is building a new arena – 70 construction jobs to homeless people, but on the negative side there will be six single room occupancy buildings lost or 75 total units of affordable housing lost. The City is considering aggressive panhandling ordinance in the next month.  There was money allocated for the Safe Ground to assist with keeping the space clean and removing trash unfortunately the members are fracturing and need to regroup.  The number of homeless children in the schools has tripled in the last few years now at 250,000 student in California.  Sacramento did a really intensive Homeless Death study used and is now being used by nurses to improve outcomes.

Georgia: Legislative session is a Biblically short 40 days.  They passed even stricter voting charges that make it harder for poor people and minorities to vote. A NYC Mayor  Bloomberg funded group is in Atlanta planning around homelessness and housing.  This despite the fact that homeless family numbers exploded in NYC during the Bloomberg administration because he eliminated affordable housing funding.  It seems that a private equity group has been purchasing subsidized housing and may be interested in converting it to something else.  The main shelter in Atlanta continues its legal struggle against the City of Atlanta and other community leaders who have shifted funding for homeless services resulting in huge losses of shelter beds.

South Carolina: There are no State or local dollars going to homelessness--only dollars is from HUD Continuum of Care funding at $9 million. Tried to get rental assistance in state but that was killed in the legislature.  The state charges $50 for a person to get ID if they are coming out of jail.   There is a lot of interest in homelessness and housing, but no political will to do anything about the situation. 

Louisiana: Redevelopment of a nursing home for affordable housing has taken years because of opposition by local government.  They have been in court for years and the people who want to redevelop the property have continually won, but the project has still not happened.  The Justice Dept came in to investigate and found why the City of New Orleans has continually violated the law to redevelop this property.  The State has punished the city for not developing the property and not being in compliance, but the City has not backed down and seem to not care about homelessness and remains opposed to the development.

What is going on in the Nation’s Capital?   War on Poverty brought up a lot of discussion on the merits of the food stamp, Medicare, and other 1960s era legislation.  The right wing is saying that all the programs have failed on want to block grant all the programs to the States to develop 50 different laboratories for how to deal with poverty.  They insist that there is too much focus on inequality instead of economic opportunities available to Americans.  It looks like the House Tax Reform efforts are dead, and it seems a long shot that immigration reform will happen.  There is some light on Sentencing Reform with the Justice Department proposing commuting the sentences of a number of the 100,000 people held for long prison sentences for federal drug offences.  They are reviewing clemency decisions and there will be small number who have their sentences commuted under limited circumstances.  This President has been the least generous President on clemency in modern history.  There is some Congressional interest in sentencing reform because of the huge amount of money we spend on incarceration.   There is a bill that would ban receipt of food stamps for life for any ex-offender and no Federal Housing benefits.

New York City: Bad news because of the huge numbers of families asking for shelter-- 53,000 homeless families each night with 22,000 children – highest number in American history.  400,000 apartments lost – lower income families saw their housing disappear over the last five years.  New administration has completely changing course. Recognized the deplorable conditions within some of the shelters and are trying to move families out of these facilities.  Plan to put 6,000 homeless families into housing.  Need state resources, which is a problem because the legislature is pretty dysfunctional.  They will introduce a new affordable housing plan in the next week.  The bad news is that Bill Bratton was appointed Police commissioner.  He has not been good to low income and minority members in his previous jobs.  He is working on stepped up enforcement of panhandling on subway.  The did stop the “Stop and frisk policy" which the court and the new administration declared discriminatory.   NY is working on new ID opportunity for immigrants. 

Boston/Massachusetts: Good Mayor for housing elected in Boston and there is a Lame Duck governor finishing up his term for this year.  They continue to see growth of those living in shelters/motel homeless who are receiving some kind of assistance.  They are looking for funding for care for people leaving a mental health or behaviorial health institution.  They are a laboratory for the new ACA healthcare access & resources integrated care must include housing, must be important part of the diversion gap.

Indiana: No Statewide Coalition yet.  Local police & mental health partnered to figure out when is it appropriate to arrest.  Food and shelter programs being harassed and shut down across the state.  Concern that there is a real disconnect in HUD saying numbers down and communities saying there is a rise in homeless families.  Many shelters lost public money and now are exclusively funded by private sources.  They have no incentive to collaborate or be a part of coordinated intake.  Shelters are still dying in our communities.  They are having issues with the Complete count numbers by HUD done in January throughout the United States.  

Arkansas: Problems with shelters numbers going up but funding for the shelters going down because of changes in definition of who is homeless that has shown a decrease in need.   They did shoot down a voter registration law.

Washington state:  There is a threat to the dedicated revenue source that provides rental assistance.  Because of state budget issues they want to take funding from this revenue source to go to other sources.

Puerto Rico: very difficult economic times that are challenging everything that the territory does.  The homeless groups are not as committed to civil rights issues as they were in the past.  Tough budget times are challenging the homeless groups trying to keep beds available to homeless people.  PR had passed Homeless Bill of Rights, but now there is an effort to see how it has been implemented and followed by police and others.  May want to change what we they have to provide real protections to the community.  Health concerns in the shelters has caused a lawsuit within the continuum over new regulations.  The local homeless advocacy have been cut in half making it difficult to operate Speakers Bureau in the territory.  Going more toward services less on advocacy.

Mississippi: 33 shelters in whole state. Number of people coming back home who need help has increased over the last three years.  The shelters continue to experience funding losses.   More people coming back home means a reduction in housing.  Dropouts from college because they can’t afford to continue and then become homeless.

Denver/Colorado: Recreational marijuana has made it difficult for the social service providers to come up with policies to meet this new reality.  There is an inadequate supply of family shelters, local government and state need to address this continued problem. Denver has found that they need 27,000 housing units with a subsidy. They do plan to create 3,000 units, but don’t have the money at this point; overflow shelter usage has decreased. “Camping” ban increased engagements with police.  They rebuilt a shelter that has been mats on the floor to improve conditions.  There are NIMBY problems in a number of communities.  One community is trying to build a wall around their shelter keep what they perceive as problems contained.  Medicare Expansion – 15% before of the Denver healthcare for the Homeless patients had Medicare in 2012– 25% had Medicare in 2013 and they expect 50% this year.  This is a huge boost in helping to support these programs. They are working on doubling the size of their health care clinic in Denver.  There is a nice treatment program for homeless people in Southeast Colorado that has a long waiting list. Developing another seventy-eight supportive housing units. HUD & VA are trying to work on a coordinated intake and assessments to serve homeless and veterans who are experiencing housing issues. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Good News and the Bad News for Shelters

The budget compromise worked out in Congress over the last two weeks will allow funds going to homeless programs to increase by 9% for 2014.  The problem is that getting to that point will mean some tough choices, and those programs cannot be made whole in 2014.  This year and last we had to cut programs and reduce administrative costs.  Last year, every group took a 5% cut in funds.  Nationally, this is a $80 million above the pre Sequester level of $2.03 billion in 2013. This will mean an additional $2.16 million locally in 2014 for homeless and housing programs.  In the last month, the County decided to cut a number of programs and submit four projects that may or may not get funding. The rules do not allow going back and restoring the funds cut over the last few years, and a couple of projects will most likely have closed down over the last few years. 

What does this mean in Cleveland on the ground?  First, most of the transitional programs in the community will see a cut in their federal allocation in 2014.  These shelters will have to figure out how to find local or other funding to maintain services.  Two projects are not seeking federal dollars and will most likely close down in 2014.  Bridging the Gap, NEOCH's former housing program will cease operations in the summer.  It does not house the hundreds it did in the early 2000s, but we do not want to lose any programs that help to house people.  The other program that will have a significant impact on the community is the loss of Continue Life shelter for pregnant women.  This program goes back 20 years and was a response by the religious community to the abortion debate.  Deeply religious folks created this shelter as a place for women to go to get help as an alternative to giving up the child.  The building needs a great deal of help and there is not the level of support in our community that we saw in the 1980s for this facility.  

West Side Catholic has applied for additional funding to serve the pregnant women who previously used the Continue Life shelter.   This would mean no loss in the number of beds available to families in the community, but these would be scattered site transitional units.  Families would not live together in one facility, but would have their own space to live and regular contact with a social worker/housing specialist. Lakewood Community Services, LMM 2100 Lakeside Shelter, Frontline Services Safe Haven and the Norma Herr Women's shelter are all going to have to compete with other programs around the country for any funds left after the prioritized shelters are funded.   In Cleveland, we had $25.180 million needed to renew all the previously funded programs at the level of 2012.   We only have access to $23.995 million because Sequestration in the 2013 budget, which is being distributed in 2014. 

Because of the priorities in Washington, it is unlikely that supportive services only programs like Bridging the Gap or the local hiring of outreach workers to go out and build relationships with those outside and resistant to shelter will be funded as a new project.  A project will have a hard time trying to apply for additional funds to recoup losses over the last two years.  Transitional housing shelters are also not favored by either the local funders or HUD in Washington so it is unlikely that these programs will be able to find additional funding.  The new priority is funding housing programs, homeless prevention or permanent supportive housing programs. 

Brian Davis

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Sequestration: Shelters Face Uncertain New Year

There was a vote today on the recommendations for shelter funds for 2014.  These are federal dollars from the 2013 allocation from HUD which involves a 5% cut because of Sequestration.   To fully fund all of our currently funded shelters, services, and housing programs for homeless people we need $24,608,600 and HUD is only giving us $23,995,100.  This means that a few of the shelters will face a large cut in funding and another group of services/shelters will not know if they are going to get funded at all until February 2014.  For five facilities in Cleveland, they are going to wait to see if HUD picks their project based on the amount of money unspent at the national level and competition from every other city in America. 

There are a number of projects which will see a cut in 2014.  The Cleveland Tenants Organization Bridging the Gap program and the County Planning grants will both be eliminated in 2014.  NEOCH started Bridging the Gap back in 1990s, and in its prime it was housing over 100 people per year for the relatively small amount of $55,000 per year in Federal dollars.  We had received other local funding and an AmeriCorps grant to provide additional staff, but they program had a huge impact back in the early 2000s.   The BTG staff helped CMHA to improve their occupancy rate, opened up regular meetings with the housing authority application's staff and figured out a way to place the hardest to serve in our shelters into housing.  The program had dwindled to serving only a handful of people under CTO, but the program will be missed.   I still get calls from alumni of the program who thank us for helping them get into housing even today.

Around 80% of the federal funding for homeless services goes to Permanent Supportive Housing.  It is difficult to cut these programs because that would mean that the units either sit vacant or the disabled residents in these units will not have social service help.  In the plan that the County is submitting none of the PSH programs are slated to be cut.  The transitional housing programs take a huge blow as does street outreach.  Neither HUD nor the County are in love with transitional housing shelters anymore.  Staff from both HUD and the County view these programs as fads from the 1980s which keep people homeless too long and screen out the hardest to serve.  So, the Salvation Army transitional housing programs take a cut as does the Y-Haven program which will see a $50,000 reduction.  The West Side Catholic collaboration with the Domestic Violence and THI transitional housing program even though it was ranked with high marks received a cut and the Transitional Housing Inc. (THI) program also received a substantial cut in the 2013 plan.  The Frontline Services outreach and payee program for mentally ill people was cut in half which means that there will be 2 fewer outreach staff on the streets of Cleveland in 2014. 

These cuts are a direct result of Sequestration and the inability for Congress to agree on a budget.  We said over and over that we would not see the full results of Sequestration until 2014, and now it is time to pay the piper for Washington austerity and ineptitude.  We saw more families show up to request shelter in 2013 and yet we are going to see 5% fewer federal dollars to meet that need.  It is also a strange backward world in Washington where HUD officials push us to focus on youth, but not giving us money to carry out those goals.  All the money is going to long term homeless or those defined by HUD as having been documented to be on the streets for over a year typically with a disability, but homeless youth do not fall in these categories.  They couch surf which make them lose their eligibility for long term homeless programs as defined by HUD.   The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has also downplayed outreach, but how do we find these long term homeless without outreach?  Those who need permanent supportive housing are not in the shelters they are living on the streets.  It is impossible to document these guys as being homeless without outreach workers.  There is no doubt HUD has been crippled by Congressional cuts, but they are not revising their strategies to meet the new funding reality in Washington.  We cannot carry out all these goals of serving those leaving foster care, the long term disabled and increasing homeless families if we have fewer dollars.  The pie cannot be cut into any smaller pieces especially if HUD is not giving us enough money to keep our doors open.  

There are five projects who are not being recommended in the first "Tier" of funding.  These programs have no idea if they will receive any money in 2014.  They are going to have to compete against every other "Tier 2" recommended project in the United States. All the Tier 1 programs (31 locally) are safe for 2014 funding as long as HUD qualifies our local Cuyahoga application.  If HUD has any money left after all the Tier 1 projects are funded, they will rank all the Tier 2 funded projects in the United States and take the top projects until all the money is used.  So, our projects recommended in Tier 2 will compete against those in Seattle, Los Angeles, Columbus and Boston for funding.   There is a small grant for the main Men's Shelter (2100 Lakeside) and the main Women's Shelter (Norma Herr) being recommended in Tier 2.  There is a small housing grant to Lakewood Community Services for rental assistance to those on the West Side of Cuyahoga County and a supportive service grant to Frontline Services for mentally ill homeless people.  The biggest hit to our community is the Continue Life program which serves pregnant women.  Continue Life has struggled for the last five years and is looking for merger opportunities, but it is the only project that serve pregnant women in need of shelter.  It is a critical project that could be lost if they do not receive federal support. 

We congratulate the staff of the County Office of Homeless Services including Ruth Gillett and Shari Weir for putting this all together.  They coordinate a review of every project every year.  This year they will finish the 2013 round in January and will immediately start the 2014 funding application which will need to be submitted in March 2014.  (More proof of how messed up Washington has become).  They rank these projects and help a committee make these recommendations to County Council and the County Executive.   They met with the Homeless Congress about these cuts to solicit their ideas.  They met with social service providers to walk through some of these concerns.  Coalition staff are concerned about the future of the Continue Life program and the reduction in outreach, but the County plan seems to be the best we could do in a tough spot.  I do not understand the changes at THI, but it seems that this project is changing to a permanent housing program and the homeless funds will only serve a small number of transitional housing residents left in the building.  These cuts recommended by the County seem to be a move away from homeless funding to a permanent housing funding stream for THI. 

We can be angry that our priority project is being cut. We can voice our displeasure over the cuts.  We could turn on the County and ask why was our project cut and not theirs, but NEOCH staff would advise against this strategy. This is the County making the best of a bad situation.  The easy way out would have just been a 5% across the board cut, but this plan took a huge amount of work to balance all the needs in the community.  We should reserve all of our disappointment and anger for Congress.  In a time of housing instability and slow job growth, we should be adding funds for homeless services not cutting.  It is shameful to cut housing, support services, or shelter when there are so many women with children seeking help.  We can be confused by HUD's decision to press on with four different priorities when the local community is struggling to keep their heads above water, but the problem is caused entirely by our elected leaders in Washington not doing their jobs.  The people who will not be able to access housing because they lose contact with their outreach staff can blame the US House of Representatives.  If the pregnant women's shelter is not funded and women cannot find a place to live they need to call their US Senator to complain.  If the transitional shelters have to reduce their size because of the cuts and have beds sit empty, look to the US Congress for responsibility. 

Brian Davis

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Cuts to the Shelter Dollars Announced

The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the allocation for new projects in the United States.  Cleveland/Cuyahoga County asked for $25.59 million, but received only $24.28 million.   Local officials are happy and "grateful" that they only received a 5% cut.  There was a new Permanent Supportive Housing Project and more Shelter Plus Care vouchers.   The million dollars lost would have helped disabled homeless people pay rent to exit the shelters.  Because of sequestration, Cleveland received $1.3 million fewer rental dollars in the community.   We will have to keep people in the shelters for a longer period of time or operate overflow for longer. 

These cuts only mean that some other government has to pick up the costs.  The local community will have to pay for additional shelter beds, food, or emergency services, because of federal cuts.  We save so much money paying for rental assistance compared to the paying for 24 hours of care and the medical costs for a person living in a shelter or living outside.  Because of the across the board spending cuts in Washington, disabled homeless people in Cleveland suffer.

Brian Davis

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Large Cut to Homeless Shelters and Services Announced

The City of Cleveland received some unexpected news about a large decrease in funds for the Emergency Solutions Grant which supports the emergency shelters and the housing rental assistance programs in Cleveland.  City and County staff have not developed a plan yet for how these reduced funds will be distributed locally.  It was reported by HUD that Cleveland would receive a 22% decrease in funds while Akron received a 25% decrease. 

Cleveland has used its funding to pay for basic emergency shelter staffing, food, and transportation costs in the shelters.  We have decided to use the housing assistance funding to pay for rental assistance for families to avoid shelter or move quickly out of the limited shelter spaces.  This is especially critical at a time when we are seeing record numbers of families entering the shelters.  For the past two years, we have seen a huge increase during the summer months of families asking for shelter help in Cleveland and many other cities. 

We have posted a table showing the cuts in Emergency Solutions Grants for cities and for counties here.  (Thanks Gloria for making these colorful graphs).  HUD attributes these cuts to the Sequestration funding cuts and the austere budget passed by Congress earlier this year.   They have also begun using the American Community Survey from the US Census as the basis for distributing these funds.  Previously, they were using this strange formula which very few understood.  It is obvious that Cleveland and other similar Midwestern cities benefited from the previous formula.   We will keep you up to date on how this will impact the shelters.

Brian Davis

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Meeting with HUD Secretary

As part of the National Coalition for the Homeless Board meeting, we had the privilege of meeting Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.  He attended the meeting on Sunday afternoon before flying out of Washington.  Attending with the Secretary was

long time HUD staff member Mark Johnston who is responsible for special populations for HUD.  We have posted a summary of the meeting with the HUD Secretary in our latest newsletter (available on our website to our members on our website). 

Donovan was complimentary of the work of the advocates and social service providers from around the country.  He firmly believes that with a renewed commitment to prevention and moving people quickly into housing, we can end homelessness in America.  We thanked him for the lengthy discussion with Jon Stewart on homelessness on the Daily Show.  We do not hear much about homelessness on a national television show so this was a treat for advocates to see in early March.  Donovan indicated that unlike most HUD programs there is bi-partician support for homeless programs.  While homeless programs have faced level funding for the past two years, every other program has seen cuts.  The President has proposed an increase in homeless funds for the 2013 budget in order to implement the HEARTH changes. 

Shaun Donovan touted a HUD plan to address the mortgage crisis and provide resources for the National Housing Trust Fund.  All of this was spelled out in testimony before Congress on March 21.  He acknowledged the tough environment in Congress, which is making it difficult to serve all parts of the United States with housing assistance.  Donovan agreed that HUD was a long way from implementing the goals contained in HEARTH especially those goals for rural housing.   He said that HUD was doing all it could to get every subsidy fully utilized, and was urging the local communities to focus on providing those in need of the deepest subsidy.  Donovan also had sent out a memo to the field asking the Public Housing groups to re-evaluate their policies around those re-entering.  It seemed that there was a myth that HUD was pushing a policy to erect strict barriers to those with previous experience in the criminal justice system.  This was not the case and the HUD Secretary's letter has resulted in many jurisdictions changing their plans to allow those re-entering after serving their time to find housing in the local community. 

Donovan is looking at avenues for collaboration especially with the Department of Health and Human Services.  He was hopeful that the new health care law would withstand challenge, because he indicated that it would go a long way to reducing homelessness.  If those struggling with behavioral health can find a home to receive treatment, they are many steps closer to finding a residential home. 

NCH members asked for a similar letter to the field from the Secretary about the importance of shelter.  In a time of huge increases in need, some communities seem confused by the focus on prevention.  Many are withdrawing funding for shelter to redirect resources to housing first initiatives.  No matter how many times, Mark Johnston and other HUD officials say that shelter is still critical, cities are not hearing the message.  We believe that a letter from the HUD Secretary clarifying that we need shelters as part of the strategy to end homelessness would go along way toward providing support for the shelters.  In addition, we asked that homeless people be more involved in how funds are distributed.  We want to see local officials meet with those living in the shelters to talk about funding priorities and strict oversight of the resources provided by HUD.  Finally, we asked that the HUD Secretary put in a word with the President for a White House conference on homelessness. 

 Brian Davis

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