Commentary by Donald Whitehead
In all my time as an advocate for the rights of low-income people, I have never been as discouraged as I am today. I have witnessed unprecedented hypocrisy at work. The most unsettling fact about this hypocrisy is it runs rampant, not unlike some deadly bacteria, throughout Local, State, and National Governmental bodies. The extremely discouraging part is that, the effects of this hypocrisy will only continue the all out assault on the poorest among us.
The first hypocritical decision comes from the national level. In several cities across the U.S., Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) have started demonstration projects that insure that the problem of homelessness will continue to increase. In several cities across the country new design funded by HUD’s HOPE VI program. The HOPE VI program, which after a decades long ban on demolition, is making $2.6 billion available to raze 100,000 dwelling units that house the section of the housing population with the biggest gap in housing.
While the name itself is Hypocritical –how can we call any program HOPE that demolishes much needed housing. The most controversial aspect of the HOPE VI program is that it will reduce the number of Public Housing units. In nearly every case the government is demolishing more units than it is replacing and, in order to achieve a mixed population, is allotting only about one-third of the new units to public housing. Low-income renters who are denied replacement units will receive vouchers or certificates to supplement rents in the private housing market, where a tremendous gap in affordable units already exists. Along with the scarcity of units, with congress continuing to slash HUD’s budget since 1995, the federal housing budget has shrunk by 25%. Public Housing alone has been cut from $8 billion per year to $6 billion. Congress is at this moment considering eliminating reserve funds for disaster relief: in effect trading one disaster for others.
The second and possibly the biggest and most troubling incidence of hypocrisy comes at the state level. Ohio became the first big state to turn grants from President Clinton’s new program to create job opportunities for the hardest-to-employ welfare recipients. According to Governor George Voinovich the money is not needed for a “new,” somewhat duplicating grant with a lot of red tape. Labor Secretary Alexis M. Hermann was “very disappointed” by Ohio’s decision. “We know that $88 million in welfare – to - work funding could be very helpful in areas like Cleveland, Toledo And Youngstown.”
Labor Department Officials said they expect most states to sign on to the “welfare –to –work program, but they were surprised when Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Mississippi decided to pass up on a slice of the $3 Billion set aside for needy families. Since this money was targeted to the hardest–to-employ welfare recipients, `the decision not to take set aside adds weight to the assumption that improving the quality of life is merely an afterthought to policy makers behind welfare reforms in Ohio.
Money from the set aside could have been used for very innovative programs for the hard to serve. In Michigan, much of the set aside dollars, will be used to help non-custodial parents find work: “When absent fathers are alienated, embarrassed and can’t provide support it hurts the children” stated a labor department official in a recent Washington post article.
While many recipients are expressed to shuffle through mountains of paper work on a monthly basis, Governor Voinovich of Ohio complains about red tape attached to the set aside to ensure that money goes only to the most needy families. In the highest spirit of hypocrisy the Governor explained that the State of Ohio has $400 million just sitting in a pot waiting to be sent; this fact would be hard to explain to the many people sitting in homeless shelters whose benefits are inadequate to cover the costs of daycare, transportation, and other job related activities.
“States are flush with money,” said Jack Tweedie, Children and Families program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, “They have money they need to build up programs for the hard- to- serve, but they don’t know what works. They can’t do it instantaneously.” Another hard to explain concept for those recipients is the ever present ticking of term limit time clocks as they are forced to comply with self- sufficiency contracts. Another surprising part of the whole situation is that these decisions along with decisions not to take waivers are being made without consultation from other members of the state legislature.
As we struggle to find an end to homelessness, it becomes increasingly tough tasks when rules are not applied consistently. It is our hope that articles like these and others in STREETVIBES will bring these instances of blatant hypocrisy to your attention. The struggle must not end there however: We must make our elected officials accountable for the decisions that they are making. Politicians are making decisions that are negatively impacting thousands of poor people daily.
They like to place blame on voting records. This is in part true. Voting records among poor people and minorities are terrible. This must not continue. Many people have lost faith in the system, believing that their votes have no bearing on the outcome of elections. The truth is , voting is our only defense, we have to fight injustice with a loud voice. Please get out and vote, it does make a difference. I know the day-to-day struggles of poor people in this country leave little time for anything more than survival, but that is what voting is all about right now, our very survival. Last year, we buried 28 homeless people (in Cincinnati )—let’s not bury any more.
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 27 May 1998