HUD Seeks National Input For Federal Homeless Plan

Goals are coordinated planning, more local control

A MORE coordinated community-development strategy will help cities grow economically and will better address the needs of the nation's homeless, said United States Assistant for Community Planning and Development Andrew Cuomo at a Boston forum Wednesday.

Speaking before New England state and local officials, homeless advocates, representatives of nonprofit agencies, and economic developers, Mr. Cuomo said this year's federal homeless budget may be doubled over last year's allocation. In addition, he said, communities will receive better service and less bureaucracy from the government's housing and homeless programs.

``What today is about is not just resources,'' Cuomo said. ``.... We're also going to be smarter in how we use those resources.''

The forum, sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is 1 of 20 meetings being held in many cities. The purpose is to allow communities to discuss housing and homeless programs and provide suggestions for a federal homelessness plan. HUD must submit the plan, as mandated last May through executive order by President Clinton, by Feb. 19.

At the Boston forum, Cuomo spoke of the need to develop more comprehensive homeless programs. HUD officials want to increase the federal homeless budget from last year's $800,000 million to $1.6 billion, he said.

Since communities have different needs when it comes to helping their homeless, more decisionmaking authority will be given to local HUD agencies. ``You can't do this from Washington,'' Cuomo said. ``There is no cookie-cutter [answer that says]: `This is what a homeless program should look like.' The homeless problem is different throughout the country. While in some areas the problem is largely domestic violence, in others it may be high unemployment or a lack of affordable housing,'' he said.

Cuomo also said HUD programs must be more coordinated. ``You have to plan your emergency shelter to work with your transitional housing, to work with your permanent housing because they are all interconnected .... and unless each of the three works, none of them works.''

While many people at the forum applauded efforts to increase the federal homeless budget, others were skeptical. Some homeless advocates were concerned about possible cuts in the overall HUD budget, including those in community-development and housing-assistance programs.

Jim Stewart of the First Church Shelter in Cambridge, Mass., disrupted the forum to demand that Cuomo explain why proposed cuts were needed. They would result in less HUD spending than during Reagan or Bush years, he said.

Referring to a recent Washington Post article that said the Clinton administration is seeking large HUD budget cuts, Cuomo said the report was ``just false.'' In fact, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros is advocating an increased budget, while funding of specific programs is under discussion, he said.

``In hundreds of programs, they can't all be a priority, and they can't all be as efficient and effective as every other one,'' he said. ``What programs would you cut to fund those programs that are of a higher priority? That's what's going on now.''

UD officials also announced a $659,000 emergency-shelter grant for Boston and grants for other state communities. According to a US Conference of Mayors study, the city has more homeless-shelter beds and transitional-housing options per capita than any other major city, Mayor Thomas Menino says.

But, he added, family homelessness here has gone up 92 percent in a year due mostly to cuts in the state's rental-assistance program. Local, state, and federal governments must pitch in to tackle homelessness, he says. ``Everybody has to work together to solve the problem.''

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