104th Congress Will Make or Break Local Services for Homeless People

by Bryan Gillooly

            Two days after the release of Issue #7 of The Homeless Grapevine, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Andrew Cuomo, visited City Hall to invigorate planners and encourage other Clevelanders to advocate for the congressional authorization of funds for services for homeless people. At his press conference Cuomo touted an estimated $14 million as the amount that could be available to the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County should Congress approve a new mechanism to distribute the funds.

            The HUD proposal introduced to Congress was to combine existing lines of the federal homeless program budget into blocks to be distributed by local governments. Block granting is standard with some community development funds and allows local officials to respond more readily to their local community needs than could HUD from Washington, D.C.

            The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, wholly supportive of the homeless block-granting concept and in anticipation of congressional authorization, organized volunteers to solicit our readers’ opinion about how greater Cleveland could utilize several million dollars, if granted, towards the alleviation of homelessness. Your responses were the center story of The Homeless Grapevine, Issue #7.

            Support for the Homeless Assistance Grants represents a rare convergence between HUD officials and advocates for the homeless across the country. Despite this eclipse, the 103rd Congress was too hung up on national health care reform to approve the authorization of the Homeless Assistance Grants.

            The Congressional Appropriations Sub-committees did their job, one of which was chaired by U.S. Representative Louis Stokes. They had approved the combination of the Emergency Shelter Grants and Homeless Innovated Funds with the Supportive Housing, Shelter Plus Care, Single Room Occupancy Mod-Rehab programs into a single budget line titled Homeless Assistance Grants. Unfortunately, the funds were appropriated in a block without congressional authorization of the distribution method. Without authorization HUD must rely on the old process of competitive national grants, for which they are admittedly uninterested and probably unprepared.

            The result is that the 104th Congress, aimed in the direction of a Contract with America, must act in favor of the new block-granting concept to allow the Homeless Assistance Grants to be distributed. There is great fear among individual citizens and advocated for the poor that the new Congress is too conservative to continue even basic entitlements like Social Security and Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

            One would imagine even the most conservative person would want to realize a vision of simplicity and efficiency within government. Anything less would be a shame.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #8, December 1994-February 1995