Friday, November 14, 2008

The Economy and Housing First

First of all, I would like to clarify my position on the Housing First program known as Permanent Supportive Housing. (For those who are just coming on board with the homeless/housing issue, "Housing First" doesn't refer to an actual program, but rather a philosophy and a way in which some Permanent Supportive Housing programs are run. It is the practice whereby people are housed first and their issues are dealt with later. Those issues can range from mental illness to drug addiction to a need for job training.)

I am not against the PSH program at all. However, I believe that DC government's plan is seriously flawed. There have been numerous reports of people who are still addicted receiving housing only to sell their furniture, appliances and housing vouchers. There have also been reports of inadequate casework. To make matters worse, the mayor is withholding information from the Council so that they can't properly evaluate the program. For all of its faults, I still don't want the program to be done away with. Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. Let's just smooth out the rough edges. I have heard housing recipients express their gratitude for the program. I believe that the PSH program can be shaped into something awesome.

As a quick aside I'll say that many people are shocked and appalled to hear that I haven't been housed in lieu of my pro bono homeless advocacy. I am too.

Unfortunately, the housing program has fallen prey to the economic downturn. The poor are always the first to feel the budget crunch during an economic downturn. The stories vary, due in part to people being misinformed and in part to the decision makers changing their minds. On Saturday, November 8th I read an e-mail that said $10 mil would be taken from the Permanent supportive Housing budget of $19.2 mil. By Monday the 10th it had risen to $12.4 mil, which would've left $6.8 mil. On that same day over 50 homeless persons and advocates visited the Wilson building (City Hall) to voice their concern.

Councilman Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who is also the chairperson for the Committee on Human services, gave his explanation: "Of the $19.2 mil budget for PSH, $8 mil is for one-time expenditures that include but are not limited to the purchase of buildings and furniture. The other $11.2 mil is for operating expenses. $6 mil is being cut from the $8 mil and $2 mil is being cut from the $11.2 mil. That leaves $2 mil for one-time purchases and $9.2 mil for operating expenses. We will continue to house homeless singles, but not families."

Friday (this morning) I received word from homeless service providers in 2 locations that the funds for PSH have been frozen. With both sources being reliable, I know that it must be true. The way news changes in just a few days!!!!! As a word of assurance, I will tell you what I know to be true, which is that the Council can't freeze or take funds that have already been committed. This is true for any and all departments of DC Government. For this reason, the Council is in a race with the rest of DC Government to cut funds before those departments rush to commit their funds in an effort to keep from having their budgets slashed.

I've heard the homeless express their feelings of hopelessness. Some were told that they were very close to being housed, then this. Those who were in despair prior to the economy going sour are sinking even further into despair now. When will it end? Be vigilant.

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