Posts Tagged ‘HUD’

NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams will be airing an interview with Ann Curry Thursday, Nov. 29th that deals with a family of five from Johnson City, Tenn., that despite their homelessness, they are still a working family. There is now a growing number of working families who have become homeless in the wake of the current economic crisis.

Too many people are still holding onto the stereotyped homeless populations; that homeless people are either lazy or drug addicts, alcoholics, or have some type of mental problem. Although these make up a small percentage of the homeless community, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people, many of them hard working families, who are homeless as well.

The number of people in homeless families living in suburban and rural areas rose nearly 60 percent during the Great Recession, according to figures from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than one million school-aged children are now homeless, according to the Department of Education.  And it’s more likely today that your own children are sharing a classroom with a few homeless children. (And possibly joining other classmates in making fun of them)

Many of these employed homeless have worked hard to pursue the American dream. They have college degrees. They worked to build their savings just like they were taught. But when you combine student loan debt with medical bills (Even with the health insurance from work) , a family’s debt can very easily grow into a mountain.

Many families live paycheck to paycheck and still do not have enough to cover their monthly expenses.  They become behind on their rent, and even if they downsize to a smaller apartment in a bad neighborhood they still might not be able to afford rent.

Advocates say there are not enough shelters for the nation’s new wave of homeless families and many shelters separate men, women and children because of security reasons.

Shaun Donovan, the secretary of HUD, said that shelters must begin to use their funding differently to accommodate the rise in homeless families. But at the same time he acknowledged that family-friendly shelters are under-funded.

How many of us are one bad injury or a paycheck away from being homeless?

If you end up in the hospital, you are not earning any money. And if you work and are fortunate enough to have health insurance, you will still most likely have an out of pocket deductible and co-pays. A minimum wage job only pays $290 a week. (Hardly enough to pay for a decent apartment and keep up with medical bills, let alone purchase a house)

I remember when I was homeless for a time and lived in my van because my job at the time didn’t pay enough for me to afford rent. I used a relative’s shower every morning before I went to work. The large church that I was involved with at the time generously offered to let me sleep in a storage closet during the winter. (Do you sense the sarcasm?)

Let’s face it-we live in a very greedy world that refuses to be our brother’s keeper. When I think about all of the wealth available to many of the mega churches in this country that could easily meet the needs of the less fortunate in their communities, I feel like I could walk through those churches and turn over their pews, whipping anyone who tried to stop me.

Unfortunately, I don’t think even such a drastic act would accomplish much more than getting me a room without a view in the local jail.

Even though it’s so easy to blame “the other guy” for the ills of the world, the solution should be directed at myself- What can I do to help? It may not seem like a lot, but I can help the homeless community by donating my time and finances to organizations that minister to the needs of the homeless community. And I can minister one on one to those who are homeless when God gives me the opportunity.

Isn’t that what being a godly person is all about anyway?

Ways to help:

http://www.endhomelessness.org/

http://www.usich.gov/

http://www.familyhomelessness.org/

Advertisements

A charitable marketing program that paid homeless people to carry Wi-Fi signals at South By Southwest has drawn widespread debate at the annual Austin conference and around the country. 

BBH Labs, a unit of the global marketing agency BBH, gave 13 people from Austin’s Front Steps Shelter mobile Wi-Fi devices and T-shirts that announced “I am a 4G Hotspot.” The company paid them $20 up front and a minimum of $50 a day for about six hours work, said Emma Cookson, chairwoman of BBH New York.

She called the experiment a modernized version of homeless selling street newspapers. All of the money paid for Wi-Fi — an often difficult thing to find at SXSW — went to the participants, who were selected in partnership with Front Steps. ($2 was the recommended donation for 15 minutes of use.)

But many have called the program exploitative.

Wired.com wrote that it “sounds like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia.”

Technology blog ReadWriteWeb called it a “blunt display of unselfconscious gall.” The topic became one of the most popular in the country on Twitter by Tuesday.

I’ve been homeless before and believe me, it’s no walk in the park. I donated plasma, found odd jobs and did whatever I could legally just to sustain myself from day to day. If something like this came around when I was homeless I’d be one of the first ones in line. They are working and getting paid from the private sector, not from some government program.

Do these critics think it would be better to keep them in abandoned warehouses where they would be kept safely out of sight? I don’t understand the controversy. BBH Labs managed to find some temporary employment for homeless people and folks are complaining about this? Would they be less critical of a restaurant owner who pays minimum wage to a homeless person to wear a chicken suit in front of their fast food restaurant?

Especially when some of the homeless who volunteered to carry Wi-Fi at SXSW made more money in a day than some of the members of some bands playing there. If fact, many of the bands that play SXSW end up paying to play there. http://www2.metrotimes.com/news/story.asp?id=4737

According to Community Action Network, poverty and lack of affordable housing are the two primary reasons that people become and remain homeless. For housing to be considered “affordable” a person/family should spend no more than 30% of his or her gross household income on housing. (U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development– HUD) Stable and affordable housing is the critical first step for individuals and families to gain employment and become self-sufficient.

Here are some interesting facts about Austin’s homeless community:

• On any given day, there are approximately 4,000 homeless individuals of which 1,900 are downtown. (Homeless Count 2004)

• Over 1,500 children are affected by homelessness in the Austin Independent School District.

• High Cost of Living Contributes to Homelessness. Austin has the highest housing costs for an urban area in Texas (Texas A&M Real Estate Center Report 2005)

• Low wages Contribute to Homelessness. Of the top ten occupational categories in the Austin area, nearly 30% of those jobs have a median wage of less than $10/hour. (WorkSource)

• The Homeless Stay in the Community. 41.2% of the homeless have lived in the Austin area more than 5 years. (Homeless Task Force, 2004 Survey)

Homelessness often precludes good nutrition and homeless children often experience physical and mental development delays:

• Homeless children suffer more health problems than housed children: 38% of children in homeless shelters have asthma, middle ear infection prevalence is 50% higher than national average, and over 60% of homeless children are under-vaccinated (Redlener & Johnson, 1999)

• Nearly one-fifth of homeless children repeat a grade in school and 16% are enrolled in special education classes –33% higher than housed children; much of this is due to their high mobility rate (Institute for Children & Poverty, 2001)

• At least 20% of homeless children do not attend school. Within a year, 41% of homeless children will attend at least two different schools; 28% of homeless children will attend three or more different schools.

ECHO is Austin’s HUD designated Continuum of Care (CoC) for Austin & Travis County. ECHO is charged with providing dynamic proactive leadership that engages policy makers and the community in ending homelessness. In order to accomplish this, ECHO engages in a variety of activities including serving as the homeless planning entity for the community; and advocating for homeless issues and solutions. 

Interestingly, Austin’s COC has been silent on this issue. I would think that since part of its mission is to advocate for homeless issues and solutions that they would not only support such a venture, but also implement a similar program in its homeless community.

I hope in the future more communities and organizations can implement these types of programs that allow low income people the ability to earn some extra money while retaining some of their dignity.

In October of 2003, a cross-section of stakeholders from Nebraska attended a Federal Policy Academy in Denver, CO. The Policy Academy was one of several in which all States eventually participated. The purpose of the Academy was to assist States in developing “10-Year Plans to End Chronic Homelessness.” Nebraska’s resulting 10-Year Plan was titled “Nebraska’s 10-Year Plan for Increasing Access to Mainstream Services for Persons Experiencing Chronic Homelessness.”

Nebraska’s 10-Year Plan was unveiled in 2004 and was formally adopted by the governor-appointed Nebraska Commission on Housing and Homelessness. To ensured sustained and continued implementation of the 10-Year Plan, the Commission created a standing committee titled the “Ad Hoc Committee on Ending Chronic Homelessness.” The Ad Hoc Committee’s membership includes State inter-agency personnel, nonprofit housing and homelessness prevention service providers, and representatives of various consumer demographics. The Ad Hoc Committee serves as a State level version of the United States Inter-agency Council on Homelessness.

During 2010, the Nebraska Plan was revised to include five overall objectives. The Plan’s revised title is now “Completing the Journey: Nebraska’s Action Plan for People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness.” The Plan includes implementation objectives for the period beginning January 1, 2011 and ending June 30, 2012.

Chronic Homelessness

According to Homeless Emergency and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009, the Federal definition of chronic homelessness is: “Individuals or families headed by an individual with any of the following: diagnosable substance use disorder; serious mental illness; developmental disability; post-traumatic stress disorder; chronic physical illness or disability; and/or co-occurrence of two or more disabilities.”

The Nebraska Ad Hoc Committee on Ending Chronic Homelessness believes that the path to ending chronic homelessness starts where people are at risk of being homeless and involves meeting people where they are with a place for supports and connections to occur.

http://dhhs.ne.gov/children_family_services/Pages/fia_nhap_nhapplan.aspx

From under a bridge to a home

Homeless for years, Mark Rettele lived in the most improbable places; His usual habitation was under the bridge near 36th and L. During that terrible winter of 2009-10 his friends had fled, leaving Rettele alone to survive on that concrete ledge through the snow and the cold. His way of life was getting old. And so was he.

Rettele is one of the “chronically homeless” — people who typically have a disability, an addiction or both and have been continuously homeless for more than a year.

Their needs and society’s cost have propelled a national push called “Housing First” that offers permanent supportive housing — apartments or assisted living with case management — to chronically homeless people without first requiring that they get sober, get healthy or have jobs. It reflects a thrust by the government to get chronically homeless people off the streets and, some skeptics point out, off homeless census counts.

Proponents say it can save lives and money. One recent study of formerly homeless alcoholics in Seattle reported a $30,000-per-person savings a year. Omaha’s Housing First was launched in October 2010. That’s when the city joined others in a campaign called 100,000 Homes, named after its goal of housing 100,000 people nationwide.

The campaign gives priority to the most medically fragile, and so an Omaha team works off a list built after a massive census of the homeless. Outreach workers canvass known hangouts or sleep spots for the homeless and try to find and keep up with those on their list. They try to persuade them to agree to housing, and then find a place for them to stay.

The team in 2010 surveyed 908 homeless people, identifying 520 as vulnerable under a measure that takes into account emergency room visits, presence of chronic disease, addiction, mental illness and occurrence of frostbite. Of those 520, 120 have been placed into housing in Omaha. Local advocates plan to analyze costs, but the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless couldn’t immediately say how much it had spent to get these 120 people housed.

They expect a savings, given national research shows that vulnerable people, once housed, are less likely to wind up in emergency room care or in jail. And their research indicates that reduced jail and ER time would save money. In 2008, the continuum looked at the costs of a one-night stay in an emergency shelter ($12.54), hospital emergency room ($2,156) and jail ($82 plus $179 for arrest costs).

Under the 100,000 Homes program, those housed get their own apartments; in some cases they go to assisted living with roommates. They also get caseworkers who visit regularly and offer support geared to make that housing stick.

What it takes to house the chronic homeless 

Heartland Family Service is paying Mark Rettele $500 monthly rent and utilities. It also has provided caseworker Lisa Rice, who estimates that she has spent more than 20 hours in the past three months on Rettele’s needs and about 20 hours before that trying to persuade Rettele to trade bridge life for an apartment. (And he’s one of her lowest-needs clients)

Rice met Rettele during that Housing First homeless census. At the time he wasn’t found vulnerable enough to immediately qualify for an apartment. But Rice kept her eye out for him during countless hours in South Omaha looking for other clients and trying to encourage more chronically homeless people to come inside.

For nearly a year he stayed off her radar — in part because of three hospital emergency room visits and five jail stints for misdemeanors ranging from having an open container to trespassing.

Then, in August she ran into him and updated his profile. He was back under the bridge. Turns out, that after his hospital stays, he qualified for housing. What surprised Rice was that he had registered for class at Metropolitan Community College.

Rettele trusted Rice and the two spent hours in her car driving around South Omaha looking for an apartment. The place had to comply with Heartland’s requirements of affordability — rent plus utilities couldn’t exceed $600 — and it had to have a landlord willing to take a chance on someone like Rettele with no job, no recent record of renting and a criminal record laden with misdemeanors.

They finally found a willing landlord and an affordable apartment in November and Rettele moved in with nothing more than some clothes. So a homeless resource team in Omaha provided a move-in kit that included trash cans, cleaning supplies, pots, pans and dishes and some other basics.

It’s a nice story, but there’s a tough reality of housing long-time homeless people with addictions, mental illnesses and other problems.

Mike Saklar runs the 340-bed Siena-Francis House in north downtown. Del Bomberger runs the Stephen Center in South Omaha.

Both shelters deal with really difficult cases that need the most support. Even when a chronically homeless person lives on the street, they tend to come back to the shelters for motivation, moral support, meals and pantries.

Homeless services here, as elsewhere, rely on government grants and private donations. One major federal grant has increased overall funding for Omaha from $209,000 in 2009 to $360,000 this fiscal year. But the emergency shelter portion is now capped at 60 percent. At least 40 percent of the formerly Emergency Shelter Grant, now called Emergency Solutions, must go to other long-term housing strategies.

Saklar and Bomberger have plans of their own to add “permanent housing” to their emergency shelter campuses. Siena-Francis House is building 48 efficiency-style apartments; Stephen Center has plans for a complex to house 14 families and 40 single people. The Open Door Mission in east Omaha opened 42 two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Saklar said his staff has had to retrieve formerly homeless people from off-site apartments because conditions became too unsafe. He said the apartments he’s building on campus will help his staff keep better tabs on their homeless clients.

Saklar said his shelter calls 911 at least once a day for what is often a seizure or heart problem.

“A lot of homeless people need 24-hour care,” Saklar said. “We see lots of people who have head trauma, heart problems, and they need medical care. You have to ensure they’re taking their meds daily. If someone like that is placed in off-site apartments, how do you do that?”

But proponents of Housing First say the alternative leaves some of society’s most vulnerable to street life, which is dangerous and expensive.

The 2009 Seattle study found that it was twice as costly to do nothing than to provide free housing to the homeless. Over the course of a year, participants in the Seattle Housing First program reduced their total costs by more than $4 million, compared with the year before they enrolled, according to results published in the April 2009 Journal of the American Medical Association. That amounted to a savings of nearly $30,000 a year per person when Housing First costs were considered.

In other words, it’s all about saving money. In the year they were on the streets, this population of homeless people with jail and hospital time racked up costs of about $43,000 apiece. But when fully paid apartments and on-site social services were factored in, costs dropped to about $13,000 per year per person.

What about families?

The U.S. Conference of Mayors 2010 Status Report on Hunger & Homelessness in American Cities in their annual assessment of 26 American cities tallied a 9 percent overall increase in the number of homeless families between September 1, 2009 and August 31, 2010. Fifty-eight percent of the cities analyzed showed an increase in family homelessness.

Based on this survey, on an average night, 1,105 family members are on the streets, 10,926 find refuge in an emergency shelter, and 15,255 stay in transitional homes. Trapped in this deteriorating economy, low-income families find themselves stuck in financial sinking sand and, although they have work, they must move out of their homes, and onto the streets because of low wages.

Of the 1.6 million children who are homeless each year in America, 42% are under age 6. Spending their critical early years in unstable housing, unhealthy environments, and chronic stress poses serious risks to a young child’s healthy development.

These are families that have lost their homes and don’t have the credit rating to get into another apartment and don’t have the savings to afford first- and last-month rent payments. Seventy-nine percent of the households with children accounted for in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Report claimed that the main cause was unemployment, and 72 percent declared lack of affordable housing. Homeless shelters will soon become overcrowded as more families are losing their homes. These are working families. They just don’t have the resources to put a roof over their head.

Families experiencing homelessness are under considerable stress. They move frequently and many are doubled-up in overcrowded apartments with relatives or friends. Others sleep in cars or send their children to stay with relatives to avoid shelter life. Once in shelter, families must quickly adjust to overcrowded, difficult, and uncomfortable circumstances. Despite the efforts of dedicated staff, many shelters are noisy, chaotic, and lack privacy. Homelessness increases the likelihood that families will separate or dissolve, which may compound the stress the family feels.

http://www.familyhomelessness.org/media/306.pdf

And yet so many the resources that are spent on the chronic homeless overlook families that are left to fend for themselves. On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes $1.5 billion for a Homelessness Prevention Fund. Funding for this program included the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) that was designed to assist families facing homelessness.

HPRP ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS

The first step in any HPRP program is determining if a household applying for HPRP assistance is eligible to receive assistance under HPRP. In order to receive HPRP-funded Financial Assistance and/or Housing Relocation and Stabilization Services, households must meet at least the following minimum criteria:

1. Initial Consultation & Eligibility Determination: the household must receive at least an initial consultation and eligibility assessment with a case manager or other authorized representative who can determine eligibility and the appropriate type of assistance needed;

2. Income: the household’s total income must be at or below 50 percent of Area Median Income.

3. Housing Status: the household must be either homeless (to receive rapid re-housing assistance) OR at risk of losing its housing. (to receive homelessness prevention assistance)

AND must meet the following circumstances:

a. No appropriate subsequent housing options have been identified;

b. The household lacks the financial resources to obtain immediate housing or remain in its existing housing; and

c. The household lacks support networks needed to obtain immediate housing or remain in its existing housing.

The criteria listed above are the minimum criteria set forth by HUD to determine eligibility for HPRP.  But HUD encourages grantees to examine local needs to determine if additional risk factors or other determinants should be used to determine eligibility.

Because HUD encourages grantees to use additional factors to determine eligibility, many families may not get assistance; even though they meet all of HUD’s requirements.

Living independently can be a lot harder for chronic homeless

Apartment life doesn’t last long for some accustomed to life on the street. A man similar to Mark Rettele was placed in an apartment that was a quick walk from a liquor store. The man resumed drinking and while taking a shower, he passed out in the tub. A building manager found him and called 911. So the caseworker came up with a different plan: an assisted-living center where drinking is not allowed. The man now has a roommate, eats community meals and is trying to stay sober. But just last month a reporter driving downtown on Leavenworth Street spotted him outside slumped on the sidewalk, and leaning against a building.

I have personally witnessed this same type of behavior in friends and family members who struggle with addiction. Some my wife and I have taken into our home when they were facing homelessness. Sadly, in most cases, the addict will return to the street rather than get sober.

Some of the chronic homeless helped by the 100,000 Homes program may try to change but it won’t be easy. In the three months that Mark Rettele has lived at his apartment on South 25th Street, he has endured a near-eviction and a break-in. Many longtime homeless people such as Rettele, who built friendships on the streets, want to help their friends and invite them in. But in Rettele’s case, Rice said, she had to tell him it was either keep your apartment to yourself or go join your friends on the street. Rettele is working on that problem. He told his friends, “You have to leave.” Rettele said.  “I’m not here to take care of everyone.”

I only wish that more families could get assistance from programs like HPRP and the 100,000 Homes program, but I guess it only proves that the squeaky wheel really does get the grease. Because while the chronic homeless may be the most visible and have the greatest impact on downtown businesses and services; the homeless families have become invisible – and yet you see them every day – in the grocery store; at the gas station; and at your children’s school.

For more information about homeless families visit http://www.familyhomelessness.org/

(Some of the information reprinted with permission from WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER Erin Grace) http://www.omaha.com/article/20120213/NEWS01/702139945

Among the many challenges poor and homeless Americans often face is access to clean drinking water and restroom facilities. Add to that the public misconception that the homeless and poor are either lazy, addicted to drugs and alcohol, have some sort of mental illness, or all of the above, and you have a prescription for personal failure. Denial of basic needs like access to clean drinking water violates international human rights standards, according to a report issued by a United Nations investigator earlier this year.

A United Nations Special Reporter on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation visited the United States in late February, 2011 at the invitation of the U.S. government and it was discovered that  homeless individuals around the country not only struggle to access running water and restroom facilities but increasingly face criminal and civil sanctions when they improvise solutions.

The right to safe drinking water and restroom facilities is a part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The U.N. report’s findings detail just a few of the ways that U.S. cities and counties are failing to meet these obligations because of how they deal with homelessness.

Although the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that homelessness grew very little between 2009 and 2010, their report shows that there were still 700,000 individuals in the U.S. who were homeless. This number is a less than accurate total since many of the homeless make sure that they are not found by volunteers who perform the count. The HUD report found that the share of families who lack a place to sleep continued to grow during the recession. The elevated unemployment rate and the large number of foreclosures have increased demand for services to the poor and homeless but city and state budget problems have led to a reduction in those services. As a result, many communities are confronting an increasingly visible homeless population forced to sleep in city parks or take up residence in one of a growing number of tent cities.

Some cities have begun to regulate tent cities and in many cities, developers, businesses, and city councils have clashed with the homeless. Some have even encouraged police to issue tickets for violations such as sleeping in public and loitering. Others have begun shutting off the water supply to nearby water fountains and locking or removing public restroom facilities in an effort to discourage homeless individuals and families from taking shelter in the growing tent cities.

Rather than doing good things like providing more housing, more shelter, and more assistance, cities are using current laws and ordinances, normally not enforced, to push the homeless problem out of view.

In Omaha, where I live, community leaders as well as the police department do much to alleviate the struggles of the poor and homeless. But in many other cities the people who are supposed to be helping the homeless are the very ones who work against them.

An article that was written by a homeless blogger in NYC wrote in his blog, of the same name, that homeless people are treated just like criminals. He goes on to describe his personal experience with a homeless shelter in Manhattan. “At the corner of the building hangs a sign pointing to the entrance: ‘Intake and Vagrancy Control’ it reads. Upon entering all items must be removed from pockets, belts and watches removed and put in trays for x-ray. Then the ‘clients’ (as residents are duplicitously called) pass through a metal detector and are whisked with a wand if anything beeps. A combination of DHS, (Department of Homeless Services) police, and rent-a cops patrol every inch of the place and one is never out of the view of security at any time, except when in a bunk room – but the bunk rooms have no locks or latches. “You watch your s*t here, boy”, said a guard to me. “We’ve got crooks and scammers and pimps and drug runners and more in here. You watch your s*t all the time!” he said in regard to anything I might be carrying. It applies to your behavior as well.”

The writer is a 55 year old white male with a university degree, decent clothing, and a nice looking watch, and basically a target for anyone who wants a buck, a cigarette, or a new piece of whatever he owns. He has had two sweaters stolen after having mistakenly left them out to dry on top of his locker after a light rain.

He says that “the homeless (of which there are two for over 400 residents in this shelter) are routinely yelled at, barked at and told to “line up single file” for the elevator, sign in before 10pm to reserve your bed, and then be in that bed, at precisely 10 – or you will lose the bed and be booted out of the facility, not to return for at least 30 days.”

In many homeless shelters across the country residents are forced to see a case worker who is assigned to help, but in a lot of cases what they do is evaluate them. The institutional logic here is plain and simple: If you are homeless, there must be something wrong with you. Not with the system, not with the economy, not with the law. Millions of people get by without accessing the social services in the US and if you have to, then there must be something wrong with you. The system has the right to have you psychologically evaluated, and if you decline the invitation you will simply be booted out – and denied all manner of public assistance including food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid. (In an insane world, only the sane man is thought to be insane)

Although there are many social workers who work diligently and honestly to help the poor and homeless, the system in many cities only serves to promote the perception that something is wrong with them and they must be watched carefully. After all, it’s tax payer money at work here. Ironically, it is somehow ignored that many of these homeless people have worked hard most of their lives and have previously paid those same taxes.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is planning a series of cases to challenge ordinances that criminalize activities — such as using the restroom, sleeping or accessing water — that cannot be avoided or handled in private if a person is homeless. These laws violate international standards and amount to what a U.N. investigator said was cruel and unusual punishment.

And where is the Church in all of this? Should not the Church be the ones to lead the fight against homelessness? If what was done to the homeless in cities across the country were done to the victims of tornados, fires, and earthquakes, there would be an outcry from the religious community as never before. It doesn’t matter how a person became homeless. They remain homeless just the same until they are allowed the basic necessities that most of us take for granted.

Unfortunately, for the most part, the Church has the same misconception about the homeless as the rest of the world. Perhaps it’s not so much alcohol and drugs that brought some to be homeless; maybe it was being homeless that brought some to abuse alcohol and drugs.

Yes, it’s true that Jesus said, “The poor you will have with you always.” But neither did He suggest that we sit back and do nothing while the government does the job that He has called us to do. How can we expect the poor to break free from their poverty mindset when we treat them as less than human? Remember that Jesus also said, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.”

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

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.

You Tube Video:

 

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.

For the last several weeks I’ve had the honor of leading chapel services at Open Door Mission’s Timberlake Center in Omaha. The Timberlake Center is one of the many ministries of Open Door Mission to low income families in the community. There people can receive clothing, diapers, and food that they otherwise would not have. They are also offer free meals at Open Door Mission’s dining hall.

Most days when I arrive at the chapel it is overflowing with people. I begin by singing a few praise songs and finish with a short sermon of encouragement. Believe me, they don’t come to hear me. They are there primarily to get those items that so many of us take for granted.

These people are not lazy drug addicts or alcoholics that most of our society has labeled them. I have spoken with many of these people and found that they are good honest people like you and me just trying to get by in the current financial crises.

In my investigation into HUD’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) I have sent many letters and emails to members of the U.S. and state senate and congress as well as officials at HUD. So far I have had no response.

Is it possible that our political leaders are so out of touch with the people that they do not realize how great a problem we have with homelessness? Since this is an election year I would think that these politicians would be more educated about the homeless problem. Most of what I see and hear on political ads is more about attacking their opponents than about issues facing the people today.

I believe that if any of these political leaders would take the time to visit some of the shelters or attend one of the many chapel services for low income people like the ones at Open Door Mission; or even go out on the street and visit with their most venerable constituents they would get a more realistic view of what is really important to the people who will be going to the polls in November.

I would challenge anyone reading this to contact their leaders in the senate and congress and ask them to look into the way the low income and homeless community have been denied assistance for HPRP. Millions of dollars have been approved to be used for  HPRP and there have been some success in some of the major cities but there are still many more families that have fallen between the cracks and are living in substandard housing or worse; they find themselves on the street with nowhere to go.

Possibly if enough of us contact our political leaders about this problem some of them will do more than just cast their vote for funding but actually follow up on how the funding is being spent.