The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers billions of dollars in federal funds each year to local organizations for homeless services and housing. Homeless services in Philadelphia, as in much of the country, are organized into a Continuum of Care, which coordinates services across multiple organizations and government agencies and at various levels of assistance, from shelters to subsidized rent.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced in early April that $1.56 billion in grants would be given to over 7,100 local homeless agencies for fiscal year 2013. The Philadelphia COC, headed by the Office of Supportive Housing, received nearly $29 million for the year. This amount is based on a formula that measures population and local need. Philadelphia, for example, given its size and persistent homeless problem, received around the same amount of funding as the entire state of New Jersey.
This round of funding is for what’s called Tier 1 renewal projects, or organizations and programs that are already funded by HUD. Philadelphia received only slightly more renewal grants — just over $30 million — in 2012.
The second round of funding, which goes toward new projects, has yet to be announced and could potentially be reduced due to the Budget Control Act of 2011. This legislation, otherwise known as the sequestration, made deep cuts to domestic spending that are still taking effect.
These cuts have left some homeless organizations unsure if funding for new projects will come at all.
“We are still waiting to hear back about the new projects, but we weren’t expecting them to be funded,” said Rachel Yoder, housing placement manager at Project HOME, the largest homeless services organization in the region.
“We’ve been maintaining the last few years, but we want to be able to continue to increase our ability to house people,” she added.
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Other organizations have experienced little change. Horizon House, Inc., which received funding from HUD for 2013 for its housing and rehabilitation services, reported that changes in funding have been small from year to year.
“HUD grants, like the majority of grant funding, change in minor ways here and there over the years,” said Christine Pollock, communications manager at Horizon House.
“In all, HUD serves as a key partner and supporter of many of Horizon House homeless services, making it possible for those we serve to overcome the challenges they face, address health issues and move toward their personal goals.”
Although the funding for Philadelphia organizations remains about the same each year, city officials know all too well that securing funding can be a struggle.
Roberta Cancellier, deputy director at the Office of Supportive Housing, explained how the agency had to cut the amount of Tier 1 renewal grants by two and a half percent due to the sequestration. It managed to do this without cutting programs.
“We had to so some pretty creative manipulating to make sure these organizations were funded at a level to be able to continue operating,” Cancellier said.
Some of the ways they did this include shifting costs, such as funding a behavioral health program through Medicaid instead of HUD, and finding local sources to substitute federal funding.
With this two and half percent gap closed, Cancellier is hopeful that Philadelphia will also receive at least some HUD grants for new projects in the second round of funding.
“What’s lost when Congress fails to appropriate the funding that is requested by the president and by advocates, it limits the ability to create new projects,” Cancellier said.
Despite decreases in funding locally and nationally, homelessness across the country has gone down. The total number of homeless people decreased by six percent between 2010 and 2013, according to HUD’s annual estimates.
These numbers are based on what’s called a Point in Time count, for which HUD contracts local organizations to survey the number of homeless on a given night of the year.
Philadelphia’s 2013 Point in Time Count (available below) estimated that there were a total of 5,645 homeless people. Out of this total, 526 were unsheltered and the rest were in some of kind of safe haven, emergency shelter or transitional housing. This is down from a total of 7,640 homeless people in 2007, according to the Housing Alliance of PA.
Planning for the Future
These improvements re not lost on HUD or the City of Philadelphia. Recent initiatives, such as the Shared Prosperity plan, represent a new local push to reduce homelessness and poverty. There is also the city’s 10-year plan to address homelessness, which is approaching its 10th anniversary.
At the federal level, Secretary Donovan has asserted that increased funding is essential:
“Over the last few years we have changed the trajectory of homelessness in America, but we need bipartisan support from Congress to fully fund proven strategies that have created this downward trend,” he said in a press release.
HUD and the Obama Administration seem to agree on this. For fiscal year 2015, the Obama Administration has proposed $2.4 billion in grants for homeless assistance grants. The Obama Administration also put together a national strategic plan for ending homelessness, titled Opening Doors, in 2010.
The Obama Administration’s comprehensive plan for ending homelessness, Opening Doors.
The Philadelphia COC Point in Time count summary.
(Photo via Flickr user Sharada Prasad CS)-30-
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