Federal Homeless Grant Dollars Explained

The graph on this page gives an overview of the distribution of a substantial portion of the funds used by local social service programs to address homelessness. These funds called the Continuum of Care are allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing, transitional shelters (up to two years), supportive services, and housing vouchers for homeless people with disabilities. There is a confusing formula developed by HUD that takes into account unemployment and a number of other indicators to determine how much each city in the United States is entitled to that is earmarked for homelessness.

Funds Available:

   This section describes the amount of money that each community in Northeast Ohio is entitled to receive. The County takes the lead by pooling all the money and completing the application for all the local communities. There is a complicated grant application that requires community planning, review of existing programs, an inventory of current homeless people, and then a local plan for addressing the gaps in services. A community must put all the components together or they do not receive any money. There must be help from all sectors of the community from homeless people, business, government, veterans, social service and advocates in putting the grant together. In years past, Akron, Canton, and Dayton have all had serious problems with the grant process that resulted in dramatic cuts or elimination from the competition for that year.

     In 2004, Cuyahoga County was allocated over $11 million for all the homeless programs except emergency shelters. These shelters get a separate allocation that is administered by the City of Cleveland for a little over $1 million. HUD has stressed housing in the grant application, and therefore gives a $2 million bonus to the community if they make permanent housing as the top priority and have more than 33% of the total request going to the development of new housing for homeless people. This brings the total Cuyahoga County could potentially receive at over $13 million to solve the problem of homelessness.

New Projects:

     Most of the grant is renewal funding, but every year 4 or 5 new projects are funded. New projects typically involve the development or renovation of housing for homeless people. We have listed the new projects recommended by the Review and Ranking Committee and approved by the local Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board. The graphic provided the budgeted amount which in every case but Shelter Plus Care is a three year request. Shelter Plus Care is a 5 year grant. This chart provides the point in time count for each program and then the cost to house each person/family per year. Cleveland Housing Network is the construction and operation of houses and so costs the community over $20,000 per family.

     These programs are recommended by a group of 30-35 community leaders who look at each application and forward the top choices to HUD for funding. There were seven applications submitted with one project, Mental Health Services purchase of the North Point Inn, forwarded but withdrawn before the application was submitted. The committee had decided on providing $1 million for the North Point Inn project to house 80 individuals, but the project was withdrawn before the application went in.

Renewal SHP Projects

   The bulk of the Review committee’s time is taken up going out and looking at the projects currently receiving money from the Continuum of Care. SHP stands for Supportive Housing Programs, which emphasizes the most important function of these programs housing. This process generates a score from 1-178 with three reviewers each submitting a score based on client comments, a look at the facility, and financial information. The committee is made of volunteers who have full time jobs and take a couple of hours to visit each facility or each agency. This year no currently homeless people participated in the process of review. Also, the only homeless people who were given a chance to comment were those who were currently staying at the facility being reviewed. Those who were expelled or disgruntled were not surveyed by the review committee. There are many groups of homeless people that meet on a regular basis, but none were offered a chance to review the renewal or new projects. In looking at the scores the overwhelming majority range from 160-178 or translated to the academic score every project but one would receive an “A” in college. Every non-emergency shelter project in Cuyahoga County that serves homeless people and up for renewal in 2004 is rated at 90% or better by the local community leaders. This kind of success should translate to overwhelming successes in that 25 of 26 projects are given the highest ratings by the County review team.

     Each of these projects was recommended for renewal even the one that did not receive an A in Cuyahoga County with a few of the projects recommended for a second year of funding. Those projects are marked with funding listed in the “2 Years” column are recommended for a second year of funding. The next column is the number of people or families that were in the program in 2003 by adding the number in the program on the first day of the program year plus the number that entered the program through the year. This information comes from the form that each agency submits to HUD and signs saying it is accurate under pain of imprisonment if the information is found to be false. Then there is a slash with the number of people that found permanent housing who were a part of the program. Some programs have a plus sign, which indicates that number of individuals were referred to an institution (mental or drug). Two programs lost participants who died while they were in the program.

   All these programs have a goal of moving people to stability, but there is a wide disparity in the successes of the programs. HUD measures other successes such as referrals to transitional housing or the ability to increase benefits, but permanent housing usually means that the state no longer assists the individual. For example Joseph’s Home, a transitional program for men with a health problems, took in 41 people last year, and moved 16 to permanent housing with 2 moving to an institution. This is a 44% success rate while Family Transitional Housing Enhancement program only has a 19% success rate. Family Transitional is a program placing families into apartments for a maximum of two years and then moving them to a permanent place to live. They took in a large number of people in 2003 (107), but were only able to find housing for 20 people. There is a separate graph on the successes and cost to the community on this page. The successes vary from 8% to 90% for the projects.

   It is a tough to come to the realization that most programs fail more than they succeed. More people fail out of the program than get into permanent housing. Only a few programs have cracked the 50% barrier in Greater Cleveland with the most successful an aftercare program led by West Side Catholic and the Domestic Violence Center. This is an unfair comparison since everyone entering the program is housed and therefore the measurement should be maintaining housing. In that case the success rate drops down to just over 50%. One of the other projects that claims greater than 50% success rate is Continue Life which was ranked at the bottom by the reviewers.

   Most programs have strict rules that make it difficult or demand sobriety and sober living environment. There is no tolerance for mistakes with most of the programs and the majority of individuals are kicked out for relapsing. There is a balance in measuring these programs. The community would be harmed if programs just choose the most likely to succeed in order to drive up their statistics.

   Cuyahoga County officials are recommending nearly $8 million in renewal funding and just over $5 million in new programs. The other graph on page8 also shows the amount of money spent per person as well as per success. Also included is the letter of objection submitted by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless to the entire process, and the letter in response by the chairs of the Review and Ranking committee. NEOCH objected to the process and to four programs that had received a larger than average number of complaints from homeless people. The committee chose not to address the complaints in any detail. NEOCH then filed the complaints directly with HUD.

     It should be noted that a committee looked at the process and made recommendations for reform including more inclusion by homeless people and forcing new projects to compete directly with renewal projects. Currently, the two processes are separate and the committee never compares the renewals with the new projects. All these recommendations were set aside by the committee that has final approval over the application. This committee called the County Office of Homeless Services Advisory board is heavily dominated by providers who receive money through the Continuum of Care and had a potential conflict of interest with increasing competition for the renewal dollars. This vote would have allowed an agency that successfully serves more people for less money to have a better shot at the funds over the current process which favors only permanent housing programs in funding new programs.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 66 September 2004 Cleveland, Ohio