UPDATED (see below)
Baltimore city's private, non-profit homeless service providers were shocked earlier this week when more than 18 percent of their federal cash support was cut.
The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the cuts on May 2 in a chirpy press release titled, "HUD AWARDS $355 MILLION FOR LOCAL HOMELESS PROGRAMS."
The release did not specify the cuts to Baltimore City's homeless services programs, which lost some $3.8 million according to two independent sources. The total award in 2014 was $21.8 million.
John J. Schiavone, President and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, and a member of the Journey Home Board of Directors, wrote a letter to City Paper decrying the cuts.
“Only two of 20 existing projects were awarded funding in this second phase—a devastating loss of $3.8 million in funding for Baltimore City,” he wrote. “Gone in an instant were commitments for annual funding that had been in place, in many cases, for decades that have helped thousands of people out of homelessness and into self-sufficiency and stable housing.”
This happened, according to Schiavone, because the city’s homeless policy leadership failed to adapt to HUD’s evolving policies: “The reason is a lack of a clear vision and direction in Baltimore City, and insufficient efforts to lead change.”
Reached by cell phone, Vidia Dhanrai, the director of the homeless services program, says she can’t talk because she is in transit. “Have you called Howard Libit?” she asks.
Libit left the city a week ago (an email bounce read, "Howard Libit's final day in Baltimore City government was Friday, April 29, 2016"). Anthony McCarthy, who took over for him as the mayor’s spokesman, says he’ll get back to City Paper.
According to the city’s point-in-time count, there were about 2,800 people living on the city’s streets on Jan. 25. The city’s homeless services are delivered by a patchwork of private, non-profit programs that have for years worked to keep people safe and fed. In February, City Paper wrote about one program, billed as a $252,000 project to quickly house 40 people permanently, which appeared to be floundering. It was not HUD-funded.
The HUD announcement called this year’s “Continuum of Care” grants “the most competitive ever, consistent with HUD's policy goals as well as Congressional direction to stringently review performance.
“HUD strongly encouraged local applicants to prioritize their funding request very carefully, using a mix of performance data and local needs. In addition, applicants were encouraged to submit projects that were based on research-driven approaches and supported the nation's goals to prevent and end homelessness. As a result, local CoCs eliminated a combined $124 million in renewal funding from lower performing projects in order to apply for new housing projects. These new projects will provide permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness."
These new projects will not be in Baltimore City, it appears.
Homeless Services Program Director Vidia Dhanraj called (multiple times) to tell us a bit more on this story. Though it’s true that many programs had been cut, she says, her office managed to avoid deeper cuts by reallocating 30 percent of the city’s supportive housing programming to veterans’ services (which HUD favors), and proposing a “bonus project” with Health Care for the Homeless which will permanently house 55 more people in scattered sites around the city. HUD funded this with over $1 million, Dhanraj says. The net loss for the city’s services is still about $3.1 million, she says.
We’ll update the story further in next week’s City Paper.