City Desk

Inside The Homeless Services Budget Mess

clarence_h_carter_photo

Is this any way to coordinate homeless services?

Late last week, word spread down to various District shelters and homeless service providers that their budgets were going to be taking a huge hit. On September 28, Catholic Charities and others were told to expect 30 percent cuts.The 30 percent cut was the average cut. Some agencies would have to slash their budgets even more.

The problem isn't just the huge decreases in funding. The problem has been compounded by how the Fenty Administration has handled the funding issues.

This past summer, DHS Director Clarence Carter (pictured) repeatedly assured the D.C. Council that there would no cuts in services.

Says Charles Allen, D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells' chief of staff: "Back during all the budget hearings, Wells asked the question many different ways saying are there any cuts to homeless services, homeless funding and the answer was 'no'.... He asked the question every which way and the answer was still the same."

Now that there are cuts, Carter is fighting with homeless advocates and Wells over just how much money is being cut. In a hearing earlier this week, Carter denied that $20 million was being cut from homeless services. The Post wrote in its story:

"There was widespread disagreement among officials and service providers about the size of the cuts and what their effect would be....

The current homeless services budget, managed by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, is about $54 million for the 2010 fiscal year, about the same as last year, Carter said. He said DHS directed the partnership to reduce its budget only by $11.5 million because of the loss of TANF funds.

But Wells and homeless advocates disputed that, saying DHS cut the community partnership's budget by much more, about 30 percent, lowering it to less than $39 million. The reduction was distributed across the board last week to the city's network of homeless providers."

Advocates and Wells' staff are still trying to hash out just how much money is getting cut—and whether the money can be restored. The cuts, Allen says, "came as a really big shock."

Allen believes the cuts are comprised of $11 million in local funding and an additional nine million in federal funding. Even now, Fenty and Co. are insisting that there are no cuts.

"They are still trying to make the argument that there are no cuts," Allen says. "It's very frustrating but we are going to keep working the problem to figure out what we can do. I know the providers and the advocacy community are very frustrated."

Is it $20 million? Is it $12 million? "I have no idea," says Kelly Sweeney McShane, executive director of Community of Hope. "As a reality, we are looking at 30 percent reductions in our contract amounts."  This comes to a $400,000 cut and the probable closing of its 20 apartments for homeless families.

McShane says Community of Hope will at least attempt to forestall closing its apartments until after hypothermia season.  Those 20 apartments, she adds, represent more than 10 percent of the city's year round housing for families in the District.

McShane says Community of Hope was told of the cuts on Sept. 28. The cuts became effective Oct. 1.

"We were told we were getting [cuts]  in 15 to 40 percent range but we were also told that they would prioritize hypothermia, family programs, and permanent supportive housing," McShane says.

"I don't feel good about it," McShane says. "I'm really shocked at how this has been handled. I really don't want to place blame... I just want it fixed."

Marta Beresin, a staff attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic For the Homeless, describes a still very fuzzy budget mess.

"At first we were told by DHS officials that it had been a $20 million cut," Beresin says. "We contacted DHS and were told the cuts were about $12 million in federal dollars."

The federal dollars come from a TANF bonus award that the District receives every year. Every year for as long as Beresin remembers the award was always rolled into the homeless services budget. The award represents 20 percent of the overall homeless services budget.

But now, Beresin says DHS opted not to roll the $12 million TANF award into the homeless services budget. She says DHS has yet to say what they are exactly doing with the money. "They haven't given us a list," she says. "We've asked for it several times."

Carter did not return a call seeking comment. Carter only made a glancing reference to the TANF funds in his written testimony presented to Wells' Committee on Human Services on Oct. 5. In fact, he buries the budget cut news.

Still, Carter tried to put the best possible spin on the cuts, stating:

"We have also maximized the TANF grant to fund programs that were previously funded with local dollars. At this point in time, we are not able to fill the spending gap in homeless services with TANF. Therefore, we have directed our contractor, the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) to reduce their local budget by approximately $11.5 million."

Carter did note: "I cannot speak to the specific implications of the proposed cuts; but I can say that the hypothermia capacity detailed in the Winter Plan will be fully protected."

Late this afternoon, Ed Orzechowski, president and CEO of D.C.'s Catholic Charities, provided a statement to City Desk:

“Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese was alarmed when we were informed by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) that the funding to operate 11 programs, including emergency shelters, was going to be cut by 30 percent. We are quickly nearing the coldest days of the year where shelter is critical to the livelihood of the men, women and families we serve.  Thankfully, the District government, TCP and providers like Catholic Charities are working together to resolve this budget crisis. I remain hopeful that the needed services will be provided to our most vulnerable neighbors in our community.”

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