HPRP Is It Working? (The final chapter)

Posted: February 3, 2011 in homelessness, politics

Is it better to be chronically homeless?

There are 671,859 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States – roughly 22 of every 10,000 people are homeless.  Of that number, 37 percent are people in families and 63 percent are individuals.  18 percent of the homeless population is considered “chronic,” and 20 percent of the homeless population is made up of veterans.

In the past weeks I have been looking into HUD’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) and how it has been affecting the homeless community. HPRP, when implemented correctly, has been very successful in many major cities across the country.

http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/3057

Below is a video that highlights how communities across the country are decreasing homelessness among families:

http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/1902

The problems I have found are not in the program itself, but with the sub grantors in many of the cities. Because while HUD established baseline eligibility criteria for the HPRP program, local communities have discretion to institute locally defined targeting and sustainability determinants that may be more detailed and specific than those established by HUD.

Several providers of time limited rental assistance question whether households can sustain their housing after their subsidy ends. This fear has led some of these programs, including some funded by HPRP, to screen out potential recipients because of concerns about future housing cost burden.

The HPRP funds represent a time-limited resource to assist households that are experiencing a housing crisis.  Administrators of the HPRP program are required to not only document eligibility for the program, but also assess a household’s ability to sustain housing after the temporary housing stability assistance is exhausted.  This determination of sustainability can be somewhat subjective but must be documented and verified at the time the household applies for HPRP assistance.

Unfortunately, for those families who are facing the prospect of homelessness, they must jump through all sorts of bureaucratic hoops in order to qualify for HPRP assistance. What the sub grantors don’t realize is that by the time these families get approved for HPRP assistance that would have allowed them to stay in their homes, many of them are forced to move out and either move into shelters or find other places to live. Some of them are forced to stay with friends or relatives who are struggling themselves or live in their cars because the feel that many shelters are not safe for their young children.

Chronic Homelessness
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness an estimated 63 percent of people who experience homelessness at any given point in time are individuals – or single adults. Most enter and exit the homeless system fairly quickly. The remainder lives in the homeless assistance system; in a combination of shelters, hospitals, jails, and prisons; or on the streets. An overwhelming majority (80 percent) of single adult shelter users enters the homeless system only once or twice, stay just over a month, and do not return. Approximately 9 percent enter nearly five times a year and stay nearly two months each time. This group utilizes 18 percent of the system’s resources.

The remaining 10 percent enter the system just over twice a year and spend an average of 280 days per stay—virtually living in the system and utilizing nearly half its resources. Many of these individuals are defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as chronically homeless.

They often cycle between homelessness, hospitals, jails, and other institutional care and often have a complex medical problem, a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, and/or alcohol or drug addiction. There are approximately 123,790 chronically homeless individuals nationwide on any given night. Although chronic homelessness represents a small share of the overall homeless population, chronically homeless people use up more than 50 percent of the services.

The 100,000 Homes Campaign launched by Common Ground has been initiated in many cities across the country with the goal of housing 100,000 chronically homeless by July of 2013. To date, 5,918 chronically homeless have been moved into permanent housing. So far 58 communities have gotten involved with this program.

I think it’s great that so many communities have joined this campaign but how can people maintain housing if they haven’t first addressed their substance abuse problems?

On the 100,000 Homes web site they say that their priority is to help the most vulnerable homeless get into housing first, then work with each person to improve their health, including addressing substance abuse problems that would interfere with their ability to remain housed.

The providers are able to quickly move people into permanent housing and many of the chronic homeless are only required to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. So in most cases it’s fairly easy for them to afford to stay in an apartment they select to move into.

While I applaud this system I still see many honest hardworking families that are falling through the cracks simply because of our current economy they fell behind on bills and rent. These are people who are not considered to be chronically homeless. They do not have addictions or mental disabilities. They have simply run into some unfortunate financial difficulties.

Many of the chronically homeless that are being helped by the 100,000 Homes Campaign have abused their bodies with drugs and alcohol for years. That is the primary reason that some of them remain homeless for so long. I wonder if simply giving them permanent housing will change their lifestyle- Or will they use it to promote the lifestyle they’ve become so accustomed to?

Below is a video showing how the 100,000 Homes Campaign is working. Notice how they show her multiple apartments before she accepts the third one as her new home. Why so picky when you’re homeless at the time? Most families that I know who are struggling financially would accept the first one that was shown to them.

According to The National Alliance to End Homelessness, the federal government has established a benchmark of 30 percent of income as the maximum amount a household should pay for housing. This level helps ensure that households can afford housing and other necessities such as food, health care and clothing. Evidence indicates that housing is much more stable when housing costs meet this standard. For example, households that receive Housing Choice Vouchers—which limit housing costs to 30 percent of income—have much lower rates of homelessness and housing instability. However, many households do not become homeless even though they pay far more than 30 percent of their income for housing. More than half of households in poverty spend more than half their income for housing, which is generally considered the threshold for “severe housing cost burden.” In other words, reasonable housing cost burdens—such as the 30 percent federal standard—are the exception among households in poverty. Despite these housing cost burdens, no more than 10 percent of people in poverty become homeless over the course of a year.

The findings indicate that homelessness prevention and re-housing providers should not screen out potential recipients solely because of potentially high housing cost burden in the future. Once a prevention or re-housing program addresses the immediate housing crisis, most households will avoid future episodes of homelessness, even if they have very high housing cost burdens. Though these housing cost burdens cause hardship for the households that face them, and although deeper and longer term subsidy would be far preferable, when only short term assistance is available, it is preferable to homelessness.

So why do we spend so much more time and energy helping the chronic homeless than on helping low income families? I believe it’s because the chronic homeless are the ones that are more visible. They are the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.

Over the past few months I have contacted many political leaders in my own state as well as in Washington D. C. with little or no response. Most don’t want to address the issue.

Hopefully with the newly elected officials something will be done to decrease family homelessness. I pray that it does.

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