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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2012

Editorials

Shelter, and more

Toledo needs an adequate complement of emergency shelters, to offer stability to people who suddenly have become homeless. It needs appropriate transitional housing, to help homeless individuals and families get back on their feet quickly and return to permanent residences. It needs a broad range of services to prevent homelessness.

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The city -- and its homeless population -- don't need a destructive turf war among representatives of these interests. What's needed most now is political leadership to prevent that from occurring.

As of July 1, Mayor Mike Bell's administration wants to eliminate funding that five shelters and transitional housing agencies have gotten for years from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program. The city's Neighborhoods Department, which administers the grants, says it is relying in part on the advice of the independent Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board.

The board cites what it calls a change in HUD policy, which it says emphasizes support of homelessness prevention and permanent housing ahead of emergency services. HUD officials say -- and housing activists agree -- that local communities retain a high degree of discretion to set funding priorities.

Operators of the affected shelters say the threatened loss of funding, which amounts to nearly $200,000, would force them to slash the services they offer. They complain they have not been given enough time to adjust to the proposal, which the administration made in April. They have packed public hearings and provided heartrending testimony from people the shelters have helped.

The shelters qualify for funding under another federal program, Emergency Solutions Grants, which the homelessness board will administer locally. But they say the money that program would provide, based on city recommendations, would not make up for the hole in their budgets that the loss of the block grants would create.

Toledo City Council must vote on the funding shift by the end of the month. At the very least, the shelters are owed a less-abrupt transition.

A reasonable approach would supplement the shelters' emergency grants with enough aid from the city budget to keep them, at least for the next year, at the same level of funding they now receive from the block grants. Council members can work with administration officials to define the best source of the city money.

The problem is not beyond resolution. Neighborhoods Department Director Lourdes Santiago correctly told council members last week that ending homelessness in Toledo must take priority over the "preservation of different silos."

The administration can and should take the lead in knocking down these walls. Council members, the homelessness board, and the shelter providers also must do their part. Agreement is more likely if all parties place at the forefront of the debate the interests of the vulnerable Toledoans they claim to serve.



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