San Diego nonprofits running federally subsidized transitional housing programs for the homeless are getting a clear message: Switch to a new model or risk losing cash.
Now many nonprofits are rushing to create programs so they don’t lose money as the federal government moves toward funding permanent housing efforts that experts have declared most effective.
Other nonprofits have already gotten bad news. One is Interfaith Community Services, which learned earlier this year that 11 apartments that have housed homeless families for more than two decades were cut from the region’s funding wish list.
Instead, the region’s latest application for federal Department of Housing and Urban Development money proposes reallocating more than $2 million from transitional housing projects across San Diego County to new approaches garnering more federal support. Another $2 million proposed to bankroll similar programs isn’t guaranteed to come in.
The shift places about a dozen local nonprofits at a crossroads. The increased emphasis on the so-called housing first model, which prioritizes getting homeless people housed quickly rather than focusing on months- or years-long interventions first, is forcing both large agencies such as Father Joe’s Villages and smaller ones like El Cajon-based Crisis House to try new approaches.
This year’s HUD funding application demands that regions nationwide give funding priority to permanent supportive housing, which focus on getting chronically homeless people quickly housed and then provide continuous support,and rapid rehousing projects that help clients find housing, assist with moving costs and provide other temporary services.
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There has been a move toward permanent housing of the homeless and at-risk-homeless for some years now. It is more than HUD. The federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, which is administered through the state, provides anywhere from $20 to $30 million per year to San Diego County affordable housing developers through competitive processes. Those processes have moved more toward favoring supportive housing projects. Secondly, the MHSA program, funded by the state via a 1% tax on the extremely wealthy, has provided some money for such housing. Finally, there have been pilot programs in Los Angeles and San Diego, that aim to provide supportive housing to the 25 to 50 people identified as the most chronically homeless in their respective areas. These programs work, but they are just a drop in the bucket in comparison to the huge need. Furthermore, the supportive housing approach requires the delivery of extensive services to the clients, to help them successfully stay in a permanent, independent living environment. It, therefore, is expensive on a per client basis, but not near as expensive as the ad hoc provision of public safety and health care to those on the street. Unfortunately, some of the programs mentioned provide little, if any funding, for the required services component. In summary, local, state and federal governments need to step up further, if we are to adequately address the homeless problem.
I am so fed up with bureaucrats sitting behind their desks, conjuring up new approaches that preclude the continuation of everything that's currently being done. Everyone who wants HUD funding has to jump on their bandwagon and pay unquestioning tribute to the latest buzz-word solutions even when they know from boots on the ground experience that this cannot possibly work in every case. Homelessness is so complex that one approach cannot be appropriate for every situation or population. We need the wiggle room and support to do what needs to be done to reach the ultimate goal - that our clients are housed immediately, and prepared to remain housed in whatever way works for them at this time, and to have the flexibility to adapt to chnages in their situation so that they continue to be housed. In some cases that may be a form of housing that seems unsuitable to us, but works for the client. It has to protect them from the elements, allows them to feel safe and at the very least, does them no harm.
Efforts to house people who are without housing is complex and has been and made more so by the whole grant application/award/reporting process that tries to shoehorn everyone into the latest trendy program. We need a host of approaches and we need tons of money and we need to encourage innovation and mostly we need to re-direct the thousands of hours and resources put into the whole convoluted grant process. If a fraction of that energy was put into actually creating both innovative and proven housing solutions, the flexibility to try new ideas with sufficient stable funding to give those ideas the chance to actually succeed, and spending time listening to the needs of our clients, we could actually solve homelessness. Instead there is constant competition, confusion and wearing down of the people who really want to make a difference.
@Jeeni Criscenzo a person who dislikes buzz-words, resorts to "boots on the ground," "wiggle room" and "shoehorn" in a complaining post.
I do not like the rest of what you have written. Perhaps, it is because I can find no fault in having permanent housing units for the homeless and do not see how this new initiative excludes all else that is now being done. I do see that things being done may not "fare as well" with regard to funding. Moreover; aside from saying that you need tons of money there is not much for bureaucrats to measure. "Wiggle room and support to do what needs to be done to reach the ultimate goal" lacks the concrete specificity for supporting the programs that they conjure up.
Bureaucrats may not have boots on the ground, but I also do suspect that they do not have much wiggle room. Evidence of that need is found in the dreaded convoluted application/award/reporting process.
@Jeeni Criscenzo I'm with you Jeeni and I like every word you wrote. We do need to get away from the one-size-fits-all approach, clearly not working, and invite innovative approaches being tested, proven and either discarded or deployed based on local community metrics. One thing that puzzles me is why the national, annual count in January? Sure, we've got the weather that might include more accurate counts but, in the north where it is usually much colder doesn't that imply that homeless are sheltering better eg. couch-surfing, hidden in myriad of spots counters would never find? I was on a team that counted in a neighborhood that had recycling day that same morning. We believe we had such low numbers because in that area the homeless were canning.
Why we have to wait 33% of the year just to see the numbers is puzzling as well. Forms should not be manually collected, then tabulated. We have computers no? Smart phones? Why are we resorting to processing paper forms to identify approximations that have likely shifted many months later? This is a crying example of big government not being able to keep their finger on the pulse of the market. Your call for more opportunities for innovative approaches is spot on. And if our federal government had any sense they would create funds specifically for testing initiatives that delivered results > and funded future efforts based on that evidence, not simply collect counts and dole out funds by rote.