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Sequestration Takes Away Services That Are Proven To Reduce Homelessness

By Bryce Covert  

"Sequestration Takes Away Services That Are Proven To Reduce Homelessness"

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On Wednesday, more than a dozen advocacy groups that work to protect the homeless and those living with AIDS rallied at the capitol to protest sequestration’s impact on programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The group is calling for a complete overturn of sequestration. “As a community fighting for an end to homelessness across the country, we are concerned by the impact of both proposed cuts to housing programing in the FY2014 budget and the impact of the sequester on these vital programs aimed at supporting those who are most vulnerable,” stated Christine Campbell, vice president of national advocacy and organizing for Housing Works.

Sequestration has taken a brutal toll on housing programs. As ThinkProgress previously reported, low-income people are already being denied vouchers to assist them with paying for rent. It will also have a devastating effect on programs that help the homeless. HUD estimates that more than 100,000 homeless and formerly homeless people will be removed from programs.

These programs are already feeling the impact. Homeless services such as shelters, health care, and substance abuse programs “rely heavily on federal money because states and local jurisdictions in many cases don’t have as much money set aside in their budgets for that,” Jerry Jones, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, told ThinkProgresss. And unlike the Federal Aviation Administration, which was given the authority to use money set aside for other purposes to blunt the blow of the budget cuts, HUD programs have very little that they can shift around. “The cuts almost immediately translate into grant reductions,” he said.

The decrease in funding has been swift and severe for Triumph Treatment Services in Yakima, WA, according to Ben Miksch of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. Many homeless people turn to drug abuse treatment centers like Triumph to get back on their feet, but thanks to the way Washington’s budget works, the organization “had to take an entire year of sequestration cuts in three months,” Miksch reports. That meant a $75,000 reduction in April, May, and June. The program usually has 68 beds for those recovering from substance abuse, but had to drop down to 50 for April through June and is now hovering around 64. “That means they served 27 less people for the three months,” he explained.

Next year they will have to cut about two beds every month. Statewide, Miksch anticipates losing 31 beds a month for treatment programs for the rest of the year, which translates to 32 fewer people a month who would otherwise have accessed those services.

Other services in the state are going to suffer. Shelters for the homeless, youths, and domestic violence survivors, all part of the network that help people avoid homelessness, are funded with Continuum of Care money through HUD, which will issue final numbers on budget cuts in the fall. The intense demand from programs across the country to renew those grants are likely to act like a 4 to 8 percent cut in how much gets doled out. That will mean shutting down programs, Miksch said. As shelters scramble to keep beds, they may also have to cut other supportive services such as help with childcare and back to work programs. The impact on these “frontline responses” to homelessness “is going to be really brutal and tragic,” Miksch said. “It’s almost unimaginable.”

And cuts to housing vouchers will have a trickle-down effect on the homeless. People in transitional housing programs or shelters trying to get into their own housing with the assistance of the Section 8 program will be left on their own. This will “create a brick wall” for programs trying to help move people out, Jones said.

The activists pushing HUD to reverse sequestration say that prior investment in programs that serve the homeless has recently seen success in a 1 percent reduction in homelessness between 2009 and 2011. Miksch also argues that the effectiveness of this spending has been seen in separate vouchers that go to helping homeless veterans that have been “robustly funded” by Congress. Homelessness among veterans is on track to end by 2015. “It blows my mind that we can show that when we invest resources in this we really can end homelessness,” he said. Yet the government is now going in the opposite direction.

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