The Omaha Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless said Tuesday that it’s been awarded $1.15 million for new permanent supportive housing programs. The agency says the some of that money will help provide 60 additional beds for the homeless. That’s on top of a previously announced $1.3 million renewal project award. Omaha mayor Jim Suttle said the award is a major stride for Omaha’s vision to end homelessness.

At the same time Sen. Ben Nelson said that he wants a complete audit of the Omaha Housing Authority’s finances to answer questions about how the agency handled more than $5 million of its federal funding.

OHA’s finances have been a problem in recent months. Earlier this year the agency had trouble paying its bills, leading the OHA board to pass a package of spending cuts and layoffs in March. OHA also received an “F” in financial management on a recent report card from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

OHA is required to repay $1.1 million in federal Section 8 voucher funds that were improperly used for the agency’s operations last year, Nelson and OHA board members said. In addition, over the years, OHA incorrectly used $1.5 million from another fund and loaned $2.5 million in public housing funds to its nonprofit development affiliate, Housing in Omaha.

Omaha is not alone in these problems of mismanagement of HUD funds. Many agencies in cities across the nation are being audited because of mismanagement of HUD funds.
http://www.hudoig.gov/recovery/ARRAaudits.php

The problems include financial mismanagement, fraud, and failure to comply with red tape. These problems were found in a broad array of programs. A Cato essay on HUD scandals explains why the department is particularly susceptible to such problems:
A root cause of HUD scandals is that the department has a large number of costly subsidy programs, and each involves a tangled web of stakeholders. Many HUD programs divide responsibilities between federal, state, and local policymakers, and they involve private interests such as developers and financial companies. The multiplicity of interests and the complexity of the programs create opportunities for people in the public and private sectors to take personal advantage of these programs.”

http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/hud-auditor-finds-problems

I can’t help but wonder if this has anything to do with so many homeless families that have been denied Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (H.P.R.P.) assistance. Many families are denied assistance because they have no sustainable income. (That’s why they’re homeless)

A 30-year-old mother of a 7-year-old daughter and a set of 16 month old triplets have been living at the Siena Francis House, 1702 Nicholas St. in Omaha, where she shares a tiny room with her four children.

She lost her apartment because the triplets’ father, who was working and paying rent, is no longer in the picture. It was too hard for her to juggle full-time employment and child care she tries to work out with help from relatives.

She has finished high school but has no college. None of the three jobs she’s interviewed for since arriving at the shelter March 16 have called her back. Her 1987 Crown Victoria barely runs. She doesn’t trust it to haul her children, and there isn’t enough space.

Therefore her family is living at the shelter in a tiny toy room just off the TV room and not separated by any door; there’s a tiny playground on a strip of grass fenced in that offers little privacy and separation.

There are a myriad of personalities sharing their limited space. Some women are in the shelter’s addiction recovery program. Some have mental illnesses. As cute and happy as those blue-eyed, round-faced chubby triplets are, they are hardly noticed by some women crashing out in front of the single TV.

She is trying to get into an affordable apartment or home. The Omaha Housing Authority, the state’s biggest landlord for the poor, has a two-year waiting list for its Section 8 program. Section 8 is the federal rent voucher program that reduces rents on the private market and offers more housing choice to low-income people.

The OHA’s attorney George Achola, informed about her situation Wednesday, said he’d see if there was a way to help her sooner. Her main advocate at the shelter is trying to get her federal aid like a small monthly welfare check but in the meantime, she has no other option for her family but to stay at the shelter.

She is not the only homeless mother. As of midweek, Omaha’s three emergency shelters counted 110 mothers and 148 children. The actual numbers are probably higher because the mothers often double up with relatives or friends and not part of an official count.

Due to privacy concerns I am unable to contact this woman (or anyone else who lives in shelters) but I would be curious to know if she was given the opportunity to apply for HPRP assistance or if she too, would be denied assistance. Even though many of the chronic homeless have been helped by this program such as the woman in the video below:

It seems that many hard working families have fallen through the cracks simply due to the fact that they have fallen on hard times and currently have no sustainable income.

I would also be curious to know just how the $2.45 million in funds that was awarded to the Omaha Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) was used.

Is the funding for HPRP also going to be audited by Senator Nelson? Will the audit include funding for MACCH? Once the audit is done will the public have access to those documents?

These are just a few of the unanswered questions many may have.

As many of you know, I spent months investigating HPRP with an email and letter writing campaign contacting to many officials in city and state government including Senator Ben Nelson and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan with very little success.

Now with recent reports of mismanagement of funds it appears that the saying is true that, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Tad DeHaven of the CATO Institute wrote, “We have learned that when the government intervenes in the housing industry, politically driven decisions lead to corruption and economic distortion, not efficient public policies. The federal government should begin withdrawing from housing markets, including dismantling the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/hud/scandals

Maybe it’s time for the Homeless Community to march on Washington so that our leaders can see the enormity of the homeless problem up close and personal.

Remember, “By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.” Proverbs 29:4 NIV

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