Stuck On Stupid Award #2

Posted: September 24, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness

With as much as I’ve been writing about HUD’s "Chronic Homeless Initiative" and the many cities all across the nation which are implanting their 10 year plans to end homelessness, you would think that I would already have it out of my system. In fact, you would think I would not have anymore to say about it at all.  

Unfortunately that’s not the case.

My small California county of San Luis Obispo is getting ready to unveil their 10 year plan to end homelessness.

When I first read about my county’s efforts at putting together a 10 year plan to end homelessness, I was excited. When it was mentioned that they had already contracted with a group which specialized helping local governments put together their plans, I felt as though there were a genuine potential for helping the homeless get of the streets; something was finally going to be done.

But as I began researching the Chronic Homeless Initiative, I found myself becoming quite disillusioned with it – particularly in light of the fact that nearly 90 percent of the homeless will not qualify for assistance under the initiative. Add to that, the way HUD altered its method of counting the homeless to make it seem that the overall number of homeless were less than what it really is, thus making it seem that significant strides had been made at reducing homelessness. And you can see why it has me thinking about a number of different things regarding these 10 year plans.

It’s no secret that I personally do not believe any of these 10 year plans are going to have any significant impact on reducing the numbers of homeless. Nor do I believe that there will be an end to homelessness within 10 years. If anything, I believe these 10 year plans will actually make it more difficult to reduce the numbers of homeless.

Here’s why.

On the National Coalition for the Homeless website, there are two reports: Questions and Answers About the "Chronic Homelessness Initiative" and Poverty Versus Pathology: What’s "Chronic" About Homelessness.

I’ve read both reports again and again over the last few days. I have come away with the distinct impression that the funding which will be allocated by the Federal government to local municipalities is "program specific." This means that the funding will targeted ONLY for specific homeless programs and cannot be re-directed to provide assistance to the remaining homeless population, regardless of the need.

The basic premise behind the "Chronic Homeless Initiative" is that the chronic homeless represent only about 10 percent of the homeless population, but utilize over 50 percent of resources made available for homeless support services. So, on the surface, it would seem like a good idea to try and reduce the numbers of chronically homeless, just for the sake of what it would save taxpayers. Then, this would theoretically allow the "savings" to be re-allocated to help the remaining homeless. So far so good, right?

Not really.

The savings wouldn’t really show up as spendable funds. Rather, the savings would actually take the form of savings for places like hospitals which would not have to write off the costs of emergency room visits; police departments not having additional processing or "booking" fees; the costs of "clean up" crews when homeless encampments and tent cities were removed, and so on. Therefore, there would be no actual physical funds which could be re-allocated. All of the "money" would be on paper only.

In addition, the block grant monies given by the Federal government to local communities will not be available for the expansion of existing homeless services. And without expanding current services the vast majority of homeless will continue to remain homeless. That’s just the reality of it all.

Don’t misunderstand me; I applaud the idea of the Federal government making it a mandate that communities be required to put together a comprehensive plan to end homelessness in order to continue receiving federal grant monies for homeless services. However, I believe by targeting only one small segment of the homeless population the mandate severely restricts the impact which local governments can have at reducing the homeless in their communities. And, ultimately that should be the goal shouldn’t it: to reduce the overall numbers of homeless – both chronic and non-chronic?

What HUD should have done was require local governments to outline the particular needs of their specific homeless population. Then, produce a "customized" plan which would implement programs to meet those needs. That would have made sense. After all, the needs of the homeless population in New York would most like be somewhat different than the homeless population in Albuquerque. Therefore by allowing each locality to address the specific needs of its homeless, the overall mandate would have had a better chance of succeeding at getting a larger percentage of people off the streets.

That brings me to this:

For its deliberate alteration of its enumerative process of counting the homeless; its skewing of the numbers to make it appear that the number of homeless nationwide had been significantly lowered; its lack of insight at recognizing that each community has its own set of needs with regards to trying to reduce the numbers of homeless; its putting forth a mandate which targets providing assistance to only the smallest segment of the nation’s homeless population, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) receives the second ever SLO Homeless Stuck On Stupid Award.

Wear it in shame HUD.

  1. Keep writing about this. If the majority of Americans can see through the bailout plan, there’s hope they’ll see through the Ening Chronic Homelessness plan. We can only hope…

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