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Funds to keep people housed dwindle

Funds to keep people housed dwindle

Despite success, funding for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which was cre

Since 2009, a coalition of Schenectady nonprofit organizations that work with the needy has been able to provide residents in imminent danger of eviction with financial assistance that enables them to stay in their homes.

Deb Schimpf, the executive director of the Schenectady Community Action Program, said that 620 Schenectady County residents have either avoided eviction or been re-housed under the program, which is overseen by SCAP in partnership with Bethesda House, the Schenectady Inner City Mission and the YWCA of Schenectady.

“The program has been a success,” Schimpf said. “Far more people would have become homeless without it.”

Despite this success, funding for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which was created using federal stimulus funds with the goal of mitigating homelessness during the recession, will run out by the end of the year.

The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program has two main goals: preventing homelessness before it occurs and placing homeless people in housing as quickly as possible. Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal, it was given a three-year budget of $1.5 billion.

“The program has been an unqualified success,” said John Penzer, the executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, which runs the HPRP that serves Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties. “It’s helped people who would have otherwise been displaced from their homes. There’s no doubt that it’s reduced homelessness. If not for the program, many people would have been evicted or foreclosed upon, and they would be homeless and backed up into the health care system, and the legal system.”

He said that keeping people in their homes is cheaper than dealing with them once they are homeless.

The HPRP primarily serves the working poor, providing temporary housing subsidies to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless but have a steady income. Most participants have suffered a loss in income or a medical emergency.

“They are almost always working people who have had some kind of financial calamity,” Penzer said. “If someone loses money at the racino, they won’t get help.”

Shelters of Saratoga received a $450,000 HPRP grant and has served 250 households, while the Schenectady coalition received a $1.5 million grant.

In Albany County, a coalition of organizations has also kept people off the streets and out of shelters using a $400,000-plus HPRP grant. Liz Hitt, the executive director of the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society, said that the program had helped 76 families avoid homelessness in 2010.

“It would be great if the funding continued,” Hitt said. “It was great while we had it.”

To help mitigate the loss of the federal funds, the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance has created a new program, called Solutions to End Homelessness, that will do many of the same things HPRP did. The new program combines four existing state programs.

The groups receiving HPRP funding said they plan to apply to the new state program for grants, but Schimpf pointed out that the amount of money being allocated for the state program is far less than the HPRP funding. While the stimulus package directed about $26 million in HPRP funds to New York, the state program will only make about $8 million available.

“That’s a significant reduction in money,” Schimpf said.

Schimpf said that even though the recession is officially over, the number of people seeking assistance from SCAP has not declined.

“We’re not seeing any let-up among the population we serve,” she said. “They’re always hit the first because they’re always living on the edge.”

A new report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that the number of homeless people in the U.S. held steady between 2009 and 2010, despite the economic downturn.

The report also examined the impact of the HPRP, which assisted nearly 700,000 people during its first year. Seventy percent of those people received assistance to help them avoid eviction, while the remaining 23 percent were moved from the street or shelters into permanent housing. Almost 60 percent of HPRP recipients received assistance for two months or less.

The people assisted through the HPRP differ from the traditional shelter population in several ways, according to the HUD report. Two-thirds of adults receiving assistance are women, compared to one-third of the sheltered homeless population. HPRP participants are also younger than adults in shelters, more likely to be living in their own housing and less likely to be living with family or friends.

According to the HUD report, many states saw their homeless populations decrease between 2009 and 2010, but New York was not one of them. Point-in-time estimates, which attempt to count the number of homeless people on a given day, show that between 2009 and 2010 New York’s homeless population jumped from 61,067 to 65,606, an increase of 7.43 percent.

Overall, the number of homeless people in the U.S. increased 1 percent during the same period while falling 3.27 percent between 2007 and 2010.

Penzer said that Shelters of Saratoga plans to turn one of its buildings into an emergency women’s shelter.

This building, next to Shelters of Saratoga’s 18-bed emergency shelter on Walworth Street, can house four people; the plan is to transform it into an eight-bed emergency shelter for women. Penzer said the number of women seeking assistance from Shelters for Saratoga is on the rise, but right now, the organization only has six beds available to them.

“One month this year, we turned away 23 women,” Penzer said.

Hitt said that the number of families served by the Homeless Aid and Travelers Aid Society has tripled over the past decade. In 2000, the organization helped 206 families; by 2010, that figure had grown to 762.

“That really makes me pause,” Hitt said. “If that figure was to triple again, that would mean that we would be serving over 2,200 families. Looking at it from a logistical standpoint, where do we house those families?”

Hitt said homelessness in Albany County was on the rise before the recession and the number of homeless families has gone up every year since 2000. Albany County has 24 shelter units available to families at the Marillac Homeless Family Program in Albany. “In 2000, those 24 units met the need,” she said. “But as the number of homeless families has gone up, we’ve been forced to house them temporarily in hotels.”

As a result, HATAS has launched a new campaign, called Change for Change. The organization is asking people to pay 30 cents a day — about $10 a month — to keep children out of homelessness. The goal is to raise $300,000.

“The feds and the state are tapped out,” Hitt said. “We were hoping HPRP would be renewed, but that’s not happening. So we said, ‘Let’s go another way. We don’t have to rely on the public sector. We can do this for ourselves.’ ”

Hitt said that many working people have trouble paying for housing.

“There’s a big difference between minimum wage and a living wage,” Hitt said. “Even for people who are making $9, $10 an hour, that is not going to cut it.”

The HUD report found that the number of homeless families has increased 20 percent from 2007 to 2010 and that families now represent a much larger share of the shelter population than ever before.

The City Mission of Schenectady is not part of the group administering the HPRP grant in Schenectady County, but the number of homeless people served by the organization has climbed steadily. Mike Saccocio, the organization’s executive director, said that in 2008, the mission’s shelter served 69 people per night. That number jumped to 81 in 2009, 89 in 2010 and 95 this year.

“We’re still seeing an upward trend,” Saccocio said.

One bright spot is that people are more optimistic about their futures, Saccocio said.

“There’s been an uptick in hope,” he said.

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