Federal focus on permanent housing leaves some Americans shelterless

As the federal government and local communities shift strategies for ending homelessness toward permanent housing, some of the most vulnerable are left with nowhere to go.

Cathy Bussewitz/AP
Jonathon Berliner, executive director of Gregory House Programs, stands outside the shelter in Honolulu. Temporary shelter managers across the country are scrambling to figure out how to continue to provide services to the homeless with less funding.

As the focus on fighting homelessness has shifted from providing temporary housing to permanent housing, grant money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development has followed. But temporary shelter leaders across the country say cuts to funding this year will force emergency shelters to drastically cut their services, which could force some residents back onto the streets.

The refocusing of funding follows a nationwide shift in how communities address homelessness, as legislators and advocates push for investment in longterm solutions rather than temporary measures such as emergency shelters and aggressive policing, as The Christian Science Monitor has previously reported.

There is some evidence that strategic shift is paying off, as homelessness across the nation has decreased by 11 percent since 2010. But diversion of funds from temporary to permanent housing has left people in emergency situations with limited immediate options.

In Baltimore, prioritization of permanent housing in grant applications netted the city $2 million for a new housing project, Bill McCarthy, executive director of Catholic Charities of Baltimore, told the Associated Press. But that strategy also resulted in transitional programs in the city losing $3.8 million, which will cost hundreds of beds to shelters like My Sister’s Place Lodge, which houses women with disabilities, and Christopher’s place, a shelter that helps men transition from prison to the workforce.

"You're talking about hundreds of beds that are lost without the support of HUD," Mr. McCarthy said. "The city had no plan in place with what they would do with the individuals that were living in these programs."

Another shelter to be affected is the Gregory House in Honolulu, Hawaii, which provides temporary housing for people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Jon Berliner, executive director of Gregory House Programs, told the AP the impact of the cuts would be “unbelievably awful.”

“I can’t in good conscience just allow this group of people to become homeless because of some ill-arrived decisions from a federal agency,” he said.

For the first time this year, groups applying to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development were graded on whether local groups were working to decriminalize homelessness. Norm Suchar, director of office of special needs area assistance programs at HUD, told the AP that when communities criminalize homelessness, they end up jailing the homeless for sleeping or relieving themselves in public places, which makes it harder for the homeless to get a job with a criminal record.

Honolulu County banned sitting and lying down in in select places in 2014. Their funding from HUD was cut by more that $525,000 this year which impact programs that house around 465 people.

Overall HUD funding increased, as they awarded about $2 billion in grants for homeless programs, an increase from $1.8 billion last year. Houston and New York City both saw large increases, with Houston receiving a $9 million increase to bring its total to $32 million and New York receiving an increase of $ 17 million to bring its total to $122 million.  

But certain shelters will be greatly impacted by the funding cuts, such as the Gregory House. David Willett, who was homeless and struggled with a drug addiction before moving to Gregory House, echoed Berliner’s concerns.  

“I would be dead if it wasn’t for Gregory House,” he told the AP. “We just desperately need this program.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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