2005 Continuum of Care Report Elucidated

 

Federal Homeless Grant Explained Continuum of Care Funding to Cuyahoga County

The graph on the following page gives an overview of the distribution of a large part 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 take into accounts unemployment and a number of other indicators to determine how much each city in the United States is entitled to receive. All of these funds must serve homeless people as defined by HUD.

Funds Available Section:

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, and 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 2005, Cuyahoga County was allocated over $10.5 million for all the homeless programs except emergency shelters get a separate allocation that is administered by the City of Cleveland for a little over $1.2 million. HUD has stressed housing in the grant application, and therefore the County could receive additional $1.5 million if they use these funds for permanent housing for people who have been homeless for a long period of time. This brings the total Cuyahoga County potentially receive at over $ 12million to solve the problem of homelessness. This is down $1 million from 2004.

2005 Funded Projects: New Project:

These is a committee formed every year called the Review and Ranking Committee that looks at every program requesting renewal funds, and all the new projects. Most of the grant is renewal funding, but every year 3 or 4 new projects are funded. New projects typically involve the development or renovation of housing for homeless people in order to get the bonus. We have listed the new projects recommended by the Review and Ranking Committee and approved by the local Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board. EDEN Glenville project is a two year program to build 96 units of housing. Shelter plus Care is a 5 year grant that provides a housing voucher to people with disabilities. This chart provides the point in time count for each program and then the cost to house each person/family per year. Each of the projects cost the community between $6,000-$7,000 in homeless funds for these units. For comparison’s sake, the fair market cost of a housing voucher for a 2 bedroom place is $8,736 using the Fair Market Rent for 2006 or $7,176 for a one bedroom at Fair Market Rent for a year. These programs are recommended by a group of 30-35 community leaders who look at each application and forward the top choices to the OHS Advisory Board who rubber stamp the process and send it on to HUD for funding.  HUD reviews the documents and can fund the entire package or take out one or two of the projects and deny those projects funds or in the extreme they can turn down the entire request. There were 4 additional new applicants, but those projects were given lower rankings or were pulled because all the additional financing necessary to go could not be located.

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. The most important aspect of these funds are housing homeless people, and that is why the program is called Supportive Housing Programs or SHP. This process generates a score from 1-204 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 hour each in smaller committees to visit each agency seeking funds. Once again this year, no currently homeless people participated as reviewers or as voting members of the Review and Ranking Committee. After repeated complaints there was a series of open meetings this year in which homeless people could comment on any of the programs. These meetings were conducted mainly by written survey, at the people overseeing the surveys did not explain very clearly what they were doing or what they looking for, according to witnesses who attended the meetings. In the end, only 33 people completed a survey at the three community meetings. 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 160-204. Or, translated to the academic score, every project but three would receive an “A” or a “B” in college. Nearly every one of the projects in Cuyahoga County that serve homeless people and were up for renewal in 2005 are rated at 80% or better by the local community leaders. This kind of success should translate to overwhelming successes in moving people into housing and reducing homelessness. This is not the case, despite the reality that 12of 30 projects are given the highest ratings by the County review team, and 27 out of 30 were given an A or a B on an academic grading scale. Every project up for renewal this year, even the one that did not receive an “A” or a “B” in Cuyahoga County. Then there were a few of the projects that were recommended for a second year of funding in this grant. Those projects marked with funding listed in the “2 Years” column are recommended for a second year of funding with 2005 funds. The next column is the Review and Ranking committee’s score given to each project. This is the score that the three individuals give to the project based on a site visit and is on a scale of 1-68. The points are tallied and the final score is given to each to each program (listed on the last column of the graph). The ranking is between 1-204.  One issue is that the three people doing the ranking are different for each project and there is very little oversight to assure that there are no conflicts of interest. Reviewers who have a close relationship with the programs reviewed are not screened out. For example, a banker reviewed one non-profit service provider, and he had also helped arrange financing for that same program to housing. A development corporation member reviewed another development corporation seeking renewal funding despite partnering on a number of other projects in the community and a former board member of an agency also reviewed that project for renewal funding. There are current board members or advisory board members for non-profit organizations that sit on the Review and Ranking Committee to decide on funding for groups with which they have a relationship. It is even a conflict for the public agencies such as the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Mental Health Board or Alcohol and Drug Board to be involved the ratings. The problem with the public entities are that they must realize that if they give a low ranking and the project is not funded, they will have to find funding somewhere else to keep the project open. There is no attempt to reduce conflicts of interest or reduce the possibility of giving a high score to a project just so there is no reduction in the number of programs available to homeless people. For the first time, the Continuum of Care Committee did put the bottom three organizations on a watch list. These three projects would have to improve over the next six months or the County would move to replace the providers of these services. A smaller committee was formed to continue to work with the bottom three projects to oversee improvements. There was a request for $8.1 million in funding for renewal projects and $3.9 million for new projects chosen by the local community to be sent on to HUD for funding.                                                          

Overview of the Graph on Page 11 2005 Renewal Cost to the Community

All these programs have a goal of moving people to housing stability, but there is a wide disparity in the successes such as referrals to transitional housing or the ability to increase benefits, but permanent housing is true measure of success. Therefore this second graph shows the one year cost to the community. The first column is the one-year budget. The second column is the total number served in 2004. This figure comes from the Annual Progress Report submitted to HUD at the end of each year. The next column is the cost to the community of Continuum of Care money for each person served in 2004. It should be noted here that HUD requires each program to raise 20% of their total budget from local’s funds. So, the figure listed is not the agency’s total budget, but the amount of federal Continuum of Care funds used for this project. Very few of the projects raise more than the 20% required match. In fact, in looking at all of the budgets it is questionable that some of the projects truly do raise even 20% of actual matching funds. The next column is again taken from the HUD APR, which lists the number of people who found permanent housing during the year. The next column is the number of people who were incarcerated during the year. While this is not a positive outcome, it is an interesting statistic. The next column is the percentage of people housed based on the number of people served. For example, New Life Expansion served 143 people and only 33 found permanent housing, or 23%, so this means that the other 77% are either discharged or are still at New Life Community. The final column is the cost to the community of the Continuum of Care funds to house each of the clients. The danger to publishing this graph is that the programs will further screen people out of the program to serve “easier” people or those without a great deal of baggage. In order to improve their scores it is reasonable to assume that some projects will “cream skim,” and serve people with very few barriers to housing. The other option is the “McDonalds” approach to favorable results or large numbers served. Cast a wide net, serve hundreds of people, and the chance for success goes up. Neither of these strategies is best for the community, but at this point there is does not seem to be any consideration by the Review committee of housing success as a basis for Continuum of Care funding. It is a tough to come to the realization that most programs fail more than they succeed. There are a number of programs that only have single digit successes. More people fail out of the program than get into permanent housing in almost every program. Only one programs cracked the 50% barrier in Greater Cleveland (Hitchcock Center), and that was one of the programs put on the watch list. Hitchcock Center was told that they have six months to improve or face further sanctions by the County, and they top the list at 70% of their clients finding housing in their 20 unit transitional housing project in 2004. At this time, we do not have any means to compare equally the programs who place people into housing and see how those individuals maintain their housing for some length of time. There does not seem to be any relationship between the percentage of successfully housed and the rankings by the reviewers. We did not receive quality information for two of the projects. The reason for the lower success rates are that most programs have strict rules that make it difficult to 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 with their addictions. There are problems with too many homeless people are not familiar with following, and the reality that many are unprepared for congregate living situations. The other issues are that the transitional programs do not recognize the landlord tenant rights of the individuals. There is no separation between programming and lease violations. Each of the programs have a very weak grievance procedure and not broad knowledge of the ability for clients to grieve. The notable exceptions of programs that do a good job with client grievances according to Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless records include Y-Haven, Lakewood Christian Services, West Side Catholic, and Domestic Violence Center.

Copyright:  NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio -December 2005, Issue 74