Homelessness Myth #2: “They’re All Bums!”

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Absolutes can be tricky because there is usually an exception that “proves” or breaks every rule.  We have often heard the expression, “Never say never!” We generally know in our hearts that in the world of human beings, no one is perfect, no rule remains unbroken and no expressions are absolute.

The same is true with homeless people. There are no absolutes. Just based on what we intuit about the world around us, we know that each homeless person is a unique person – just a housed person without the home.

Whether a person can be called a bum actually depends upon how, of course, we define the word, “bum.” However, anyone chooses to define that word, I think most of us would agree that children are not bums under any definition.

In my experience, I have found that approximately 25 percent of homeless people are children. Together, women and children make up close to 40 percent of homeless people and are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. They have not chosen homelessness as a life-style; rather, homelessness has been forced upon them.

Escaping battery is one reason why women become homeless. When women leave their batterers, they generally take their children with them. Battered women’s shelters are testaments to this experience. Not unlike homeless shelters generally, most of the battered women’s shelters are full.

Another reason women and children become homeless is the impact of a challenging economy upon single mothers. Since the first working mom sought employment, finding a job and arranging for childcare so she could go to work have been huge issues. In the past, however, some of these working moms had family that they could rely on to some extent for support.

Today, large distances separate many family members and extended family finances have dwindled due to a host of economic circumstances. Thus, poor mothers often find they are unable to get help from their already overstressed family support system.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 signed into law by President Obama on February 17, 2009, will hopefully help prevent more people from becoming homeless. On October 8th, LaDonna Pavetti, director of the Welfare Reform and Income Support Division of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support that the ARRA  “prevented millions of Americans from falling into poverty and has helped some states to forgo significant cuts that would have weakened the safety net for very poor families with children.”

Part of ARRA, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) as administered through the States and their Continuums of Care may help homeless women and children become housed. Since applications for assistance are just now being made available to potential participants, the impact of the HPRP is yet to be felt.

The opinions that some housed people may have of homeless people may be understandable, but their opinions are uneducated. For example, some housed people may see homeless people sleeping in public during the day and conclude they are lazy.

In truth, many homeless people choose to sleep during the day because it is too dangerous for them to sleep at night because that is when they are most vulnerable.

Some time ago, I accompanied students from Crossroads High School in Santa Monica as they made a short film about homelessness in their city. I introduced them to my friend, “Charles,” who spoke to them very frankly about his experiences since he became homeless.

Charles shared that although he was over 6 feet tall and weighed over 230 pounds, he was afraid to sleep at night.

“Why?” asked the surprised students.

Charles was slightly embarrassed when he confessed that when he slept at night he was afraid someone would hurt him. Instead, he chose to sleep during the day and in well-trafficked areas because he felt that the constant flow of people would provide him with an additional measure of safety.

Charles asked the students if they had read the reports of some young people who had killed homeless people while they slept.

Bums or people protecting themselves? You decide.


Breaking Homelessness News: Tens of Thousands Detroit Residents Apply for HPRP Funds

Also published on The Huffington Post.

Yesterday, I wrote what I considered an academic piece describing The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), the $1.5 billion part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) that President Obama signed into law this past February.

Today, my friend, Maurice, sent me the following two videos published on YouTube – one of which has just been aired on television – which show what actual HPRP funding means to people in Detroit, Michigan:  Tens of thousands of Detroit residents are standing in line to receive applications for HPRP assistance.

A few facts for background…

•  The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2006, the population of Detroit was 871,121.

•  The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2006, the population of Michigan was 10,095,643.

•  In Detroit, the unemployment rate is nearly 30%.

•  In the State of Michigan, the unemployment rate is 15%, the highest in the nation.

• Detroit will be receiving approximately $15 million in direct HPRP funds, plus an additional $3 million in HPRP funds through the State of Michigan for a total of just over $18 million in HPRP funding.

•  The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) will be receiving approximately $22 million in HPRP funds, $3 million of which will be disbursed to Detroit.
Video #1: Associated Press, October 7, 2009  on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cV2ngvYI_ZU

The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP)

Also published on The Huffington Post.

On February 17th, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) into law.   The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is administering $1.5 billion of this $787 billion stimulus package through its Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).   HPRP funding is truly significant since it equals HUD’s entire annual homeless assistance budget.

While the overall goal of HPRP is housing stability for those being helped, HPRP funds will provide two-fold relief:

1. Homelessness prevention assistance for households who would otherwise become homeless and

2.  Rapid re-housing assistance for persons who are homeless.

HPRP funds are intended for short- and medium- term financial assistance for housing stabilization, linking program beneficiaries to community resources, and mainstream benefits and helping beneficiaries develop a plan for preventing future housing instability.  It is noteworthy that HPRP funds are not for mortgage assistance nor are they intended to provide long-term support for beneficiaries.

HUD provides the following funding table  to show the intended categories for distribution of HPRP funds:

ActivityFunding Level
Direct financial assistance, such as rental assistance, etc.                 $820,875,000.00
Housing relocation and stabilization services                                    $447,750,000.00
Data collection and evaluation by grantees                                       $149,250,000.00
Grantee administrative costs                                                              $74,625,000.00
HUD will provide training, technical assistance, monitoring
enforcement, research and evaluation activities                                     $7,500.000.00

TOTAL                                                                                          $1,500,000,000.00

By the terms of ARRA, each HPRP grantee must expend 60% of their grant within two years of receipt and 100% of its grant within three years of receipt of its grant.

With a grant minimum of $500,000, funds have been awarded to U.S. territories (0.2 percent of total funding allocation, i.e., $3 million), metropolitan cities, urban counties and states for distribution to local governments and private nonprofit organizations.  There are 540 eligible grantees  and funds have been awarded pursuant to the Emergency Solutions Grant Program, formally the Emergency Shelter Grants (ESG) Program, formula.

Under HRPR, grantees will provide reports on a monthly and quarterly basis and HUD will do remote monitoring. Further, grantees and subgrantees will collect data through the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS).

HPRP funds may benefit individuals or families with or without children for any number of months up to 18 months of assistance.  However, these funds are to be paid only to third parties, such as landlords or utility companies, “[i]n an effort to…avoid mismanagement of grant funds.”

The ultimate beneficiaries of HPRP funds, known as “participants,” are those people who are homeless or are at risk of being homeless.  While HUD “allows grantees significant discretion in program design and operation,” it does admonish that “grantees and subgrantees should carefully assess a household’s need and appropriateness for HPRP.”

HUD sets forth the following minimum criteria that grantees of HPRP funds must consider before assisting individuals and families, whether homeless or housed:

1.  Participants must have initial consultation with a case manager who can determine the appropriate type of assistance to meet their needs,

2.  Participating household must be at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI).  While income limits are available at http://www.huduser.org/DATASETS/il.html, grantees are advised to use HUD’s Section 8 income eligibility standards for HPRP and

3.  Participating households must be either homeless or at risk of losing its housing and
(1) No appropriate housing options have been identified, plus
(2) The household lacks the financial resources and support networks needed to obtain
immediate housing or remain in its exiting housing.

Regarding the prevention of homelessness, HUD “strongly encourages” its HPRP grantees and subgrantees to assist those individuals and families at the “greatest risk of becoming homeless.”   It asks that grantees and subgrantees remember to ask themselves, “Would this individual or family be homeless but for this assistance?”

Grantees in California include:

Alameda    552,208.00
Alhambra    567,605.00
Anaheim 2,046,908.00
Bakersfield 1,372,351.00
Baldwin Park    605,041.00
Berkeley 1,332,952.00
Chula Vista            819,738.00
Compton    848,514.00
Costa Mesa            560,237.00
Daly City    510,070.00
Downey    611,834.00
El Cajon    512,686.00
El Monte 1,110,506.00
Escondido    709,782.00
Fremont    682,331.00
Fontana    783,380.00
Fresno 3,130,746.00
Fullerton    622,710.00
Garden Grove 1,068,707.00
Glendale 1,346,899.00
Hawthorne            703,261.00
Hayward    703,342.00
Huntington Beach            566,611.00
Huntington Park            656,002.00
Inglewood    918,344.00
Irvine            540,656.00
Lancaster    564,646.00
Long Beach         3,566,451.00
Los Angeles       29,446,304.00
Lynwood    646,575.00
Merced    515,203.00
Modesto    966,016.00
Moreno Valley    732,872.00
Norwalk    633,782.00
Oakland 3,458,120.00
Oceanside    742,791.00
Ontario    997,869.00
Orange    545,636.00
Oxnard 1,124,994.00
Palmdale    615,530.00
Pasadena    908,395.00
Pomona 1,164,766.00
Rialto    546,485.00
Richmond    559,735.00
Riverside 1,383,070.00
Sacramento 2,375,126.00
Salinas 1,013,978.00
San Bernardino 1,455,066.00
San Diego 6,168,104.00
San Francisco 8,757,780.00
San Jose 4,128,763.00
Santa Ana 2,831,989.00
Santa Maria            521,839.00
Santa Monica    553,576.00
Santa Rosa            516,527.00
South Gate            865,273.00
Stockton 1,725,572.00
Sunnyvale    508,191.00
Westminster            511,454.00

Alameda County    802,915.00
Contra Costa County         1,421,551.00
Fresno County 1,634,630.00
Los Angeles County       12,197,108.00
Kern County 2,076,503.00
Marin County            659,106.00
Orange County 1,556,026.00
Riverside County 4,276,900.00
Sacramento County 2,396,773.00
San Bernardino County 3,040,382.00
San Diego County 1,925,974.00
San Joaquin County 1,460.619.00
San Luis Obispo Country      855,184.00
San Mateo County 1,166,526.00
Santa Barbara County    829,013.00
Santa Clara County            717,484.00
Sonoma County    817,572.00
Stanislaus County 1,023,163.00
Ventura County    826,094.00

State of California       44,466,877.00

Funding directly allocated to the State of California is the largest state allocation in the U.S. to date and is being distributed to 31 California agencies and local governments.  California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has commented, “This funding will boost efforts helping those who find themselves on the edge of homelessness and add support for the homeless – and it couldn’t have come at a better time thanks to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

What outcomes are hoped to be achieved through HPRP?

• Reducing the length of stay in shelters or in homelessness
• Reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time
• Increasing the number of people who are diverted from shelter to stable housing
• Reducing repeat episodes of homelessness
• Reducing the number of people overall who are homeless

For additional information about HPRP, please visit www.HUD.gov/recovery and www.HUDHR.info.