Whatever happened to local control of Federal money?

by Max Johnson

     Let me tell you a little secret about a con game played by the Federal Government. It is called Block Granting or turning control and decision making over to the locality. It is a big lie, because in the end the Feds don’t think a bunch of Yahoos from Iowa can decide where millions of Federal dollars go.

     We have played this con for the last two years and have been stung. We were told that there was a new sheriff in Washington and money for homeless services would be distributed to the country based on local decisions in what was touted as a "Community Gaps Analysts" process to determine which projects were funded. What it turned out to be was a summer of folly to distract us from the real work that needed to be done—getting American citizens into housing. While the homeless and the local providers were busy filling out surveys and evaluating programs, the Congress was taking the Housing out of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and removing the word entitlement from our dictionaries.

     First, they told us that money would be set aside for communities based on their need. Since we do not accurately keep track of the need, how would this be possible? Also, some of our local communities deny they even have homeless people, so how would that need be reflected. The formula for the amount of money was secret so that we would not get our hopes up.

     Next, we are told that we can use this money for new or expanding programs and those programs that are requesting a renewal of funds. The only problem is that we were not allowed to see the audit of the existing programs. We did not know what impact the existing programs were having on reducing the homeless population. Our only information was from the programs that were asking for renewal funds. "Did you serve your community over the last year, Homeless Shelter X?" They answer, "Yes we did and we did a damn fine job. Can we have some more money?"

     Then we go through the time of identifying the largest gaps in service. We ask for submissions of grants in areas that we see as those of the greatest need. We (the homeless of Cleveland) rank the programs in order of importance, and submit that to Washington. When the results comes back we see that the rankings did not mean anything. Not all projects were funded and many projects, including some of our highest priority projects, were skipped and lower projects were chosen.

     We say, "A pox on your house, you faux block granters." We will never again fall for your "local control" tricks. We will ask for the check first and then we will give you the details later about how we spent the funds. Pass the money on to those on the streets and we will make it work. Don’t tempt us with community oversight, and then go back to business as usual. If you want homeless input then you better damn well use our decisions. We get enough of government lying to us from local politicians and case workers. We have better things to do than evaluate programs—like standing in long lines for food, checking on affordable housing opportunities, and looking for work in a job that pays the same as our parents made when they graduated from high school.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 24