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HUD request imperils supportive service programs

Thu, Mar 27, 2014

Chicago’s annual allocation of over $55 million in federal money to implement Plan 2.0 to End Homelessness has encompassed 179 individual programs – 15 of which are jeopardized by the funding application filed in early February by the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness.

The Chicago Alliance application for next year’s funding prioritized the 15 Supportive Services Only (SSO) programs below those for permanent and supportive housing at the request of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD asked the Chicago Alliance and other Continuums of Care — homeless service programs across the nation — to cut their budgets five percent because of an anticipated revenue shortfall due to sequestration. That meant the Chicago Alliance had to reduce its $57.37 million budget request by $2.8 million to $54.5 million.

HUD also offered two bonus points to all Continuums of Care across the nation that ranked SSOs in Tier 2. The bonus points are important because CoCs compete for roughly $1.7 billion in federal funds; Tier 2 will not be funded until all of Tier 1 across the U.S. has received its share.

However, since SSOs comprise six percent of Chicago’s budget, three SSOs did make it into Tier 1. Officials said the cutoff was likely to be program Number 163.

Beacon Therapeutic has program Number 164. The Inspiration Corporation has Numbers 167, 168 and 174. North Side Housing and Supportive Services has Number 169. The Inner Voice has Numbers 173 and 178.

Beacon Therapeutic’s program provides comprehensive mobile mental health services to over 375 homeless women (many of them pregnant and parenting youth) and 615 children in 24 shelters city-wide. Beacon Therapetic President and CEO Susan Reyna said in a telephone interview that these moms and kids are vulnerable because of medical and mental health issues and trauma that demands extensive therapy. Beacon’s program picks them up from shelters and brings them to their psychiatrists, keeps them in medication compliance, assists with life skills training and child development screenings, educational advocacy.

“When you’re a mom with three kids, sitting in a clinic for three hours isn’t going to work. What happens will be the mom will sacrifice her own mental health, which leads to increased Emergency Room usage and impacts the child’s mental health. We’re keeping families intact, helping them to be the best parents they can be. And at the same time we are helping them to access mainstream resources.”

In an email Reyna shared an impact statement she presented to the Chicago Alliance Planning Council. She said that the likely shift away from SSOs will reduce Chicago’s ability to end homelessness. “SSOs tend to focus on engaging the most vulnerable individuals and families within our system and outside our shelter system, those without insight into their condition, those whose disabilities are so severe that they are unable to access the most basic of services, and those families that experience multiple barriers. As a result, access to and the capacity of the homeless service system will be greatly reduced. Individuals will be forced to rely on costly emergency services and many who are currently being served by SSO programs will have to return to the streets.”

The Beacon board has voted to continue funding through April 1 in the hope that HUD will decide Tier 2 funding by the end of this month, Reyna said.

Inspiration Corporation’s employment programs provide skills development to 400 homeless and low-income individuals, many of them ex-offenders, each year. It also provides case management to 70 homeless individuals, as well as 35,000 meals annually.

Inspiration Corporation programs at risk include:

The Employment Services Program, which provides career counseling, job development and job training for 240 homeless individuals annually at shelters and other agencies;

case management at its meal programs in Uptown and at the Living Room Café in Woodlawn; Inspiration Kitchens-Uptown is not at risk.

Inspiration Corporation’s food service training program serves 160 people annually in Uptown and East Garfield Park. If Tier 2 is not restored, enrollments in food service training programs will be greatly reduced, possibly by half.

“A thing that’s hard to reconcile with me is that two of our SSO grants are trying to address homelessness by helping people become employed,” Inspiration Corporation CEO and Executive Director Shannon Stewart said in a sit-down interview. “It seems like the expectation is the current Chicago workforce development will address the employment needs of people who are homeless. I think that’s unrealistic. It’s not doing it now.

“We know some people will have to be in subsidized housing but our goal is to help them move up the career ladder,” Stewart said. “We have some former clients who are in unsubsidized market rate housing.”

The three grants total $500,000 or 11 percent of Inspiration’s budget. “While this isn’t going to shut us down, it does reduce our programming,” Stewart said.
The employment support grant expires March 31, which gives little time to raise its $113,000 cost. The food service training grant is the largest and expires April 30. The $77,000 supportive services grant expires July 31.

North Side Housing’s Tier 2 program offers case management – linkage to housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, employment services – to 100 single men annually on the streets and in shelters. “These are services that are not being provided by the emergency shelters or interim housing programs,” said Richard Ducatenzeiler, executive director of North Side Housing and Supportive Services. “The majority of these shelters only provide basic services: showers, meals. They rely on grants such as these to provide services.” The program also has a goal of moving half its clients into housing by assessing them, having a nurse practitioner meet with them for undiagnosed blood pressure or diabetes and connect them to health centers or exchanges.

“We do a lot of the grunt work when it comes to people being stabilized,” Ducatenzeiler said. “We work to increase their income level, find benefits they are not receiving, then move them into stable housing. A lot of people see only the end result of people being moved into permanent housing but not all the steps needed to get there, which supportive services provided.”

This line item is less than $60,000 and funds two case manager positions. The program expires in July and Ducatenzeiler said he is preparing for the worst, shifting money around an “already super tight” budget. He might be forced to eliminate security deposits for new renters and 1 on 1 time with the mental health counselor. He will do administrative tightening to keep one or 1.5 case managers.

Inner Voice programs in Tier 2 include its Learning Center, where three case managers (an addictions counselor, a social worker and a job developer) help people get assistance in obtaining IDs, mental health or substance abuse services and housing; and its Family Regeneration program, which goes to shelters to help women access benefits, jobs and housing in the 120 days they are allowed there. They take women out of domestic violence situations and handle landlord situations for people with mental health issues. “Approximately 1700 clients could be left to fend for themselves trying to navigate a complex system of services with little to no support further jeopardizing their safety and stability,” Executive Director Jackie Edens said in an email.
The two SSO grants comprise 33 percent of the Inner Voice budget and would mean eight program personnel would lose their jobs, along with possibly another one or two administrative staff; these staff assist other programs, however, creating a “domino effect.” One program ends March 31 and the other June 30; in a telephone interview Edens questioned her ability to receive gap funding if it is public knowledge her grants will not be received next October.

“We have a job developer who helps women get jobs,” Edens said. “If we lose this money and don’t get re-funded, who’s going to help people do this? HUD is saying, ‘You can try and reinvent yourself in terms of permanent housing or transitional housing.’ But what if your agency doesn’t have the right stuff to do it immediately? HUD has been saying this for 10 years, so what was the plan, just ‘We’re done?’” Another year could save many programs, she said, because Medicaid expansion at the state level would allow these services to be reimbursed, but agencies would have to be already certified.

An alternative proposal presented to the Chicago Alliance Planning Council would have funded four SSO projects in Tier 1 and 15 in Tier 2. However, Nonie Brennan, CEO of the Alliance, said this alternative would have cost Chicago 130 units of permanent supportive housing. HUD’s instructions left the council with no good choices but they knew they had to comply as much as possible in order to submit a competitive application.

“The funder was driving what this was going to look like,” Brennan said. “We were in a position where we had to adhere to the funder’s guidelines. As a community we all understood how important these services are to our system. It’s been a very, very difficult process for everyone. But one thing I can tell you, when asked, consumers [homeless or formerly homeless people on the council] told us if they had to choose between housing and services, they would choose housing every time, because people who lived with the experience of homelessness would not want to become homeless again.” A committee within Chicago’s CoC has also been formed to look into funding for SSOs.

Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) John Pfeiffer said that the City can’t make up the $2.8 HUD shortfall because one round of sequestration already took $1.3 million out of its own homeless services. “We didn’t want to cut the residential program and it reduced our ability to support case management. It was a miserable tradeoff. We were forced to make the least bad decision.”

However, there is good news, Pfeiffer said, about the upcoming federal budget. About $80 million more has been included for homeless programs. He hopes for the restoration of Chicago’s funds lost to sequestration and the funding of Tier 2.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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