Cutting shelters


An unfortunate rift between Toledo’s homeless shelters and city government has erupted over how the city should allocate federal grants. The dispute threatens to undermine Toledo’s shelters and put people on the street.

It’s up to Mayor Mike Bell and Toledo City Council to make sure the city allocates the block grants in a flexible manner that meets the community’s needs. They need to work with local shelters to develop a plan to cope with funding cuts and changes in federal housing policies.

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People who have been homeless must also be part of a larger conversation on shelters that, in Toledo, has been too top-down, unresponsive, and autocratic.

Toledo’s neighborhoods department, with recommendations from a committee of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board, has proposed cuts in federal Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant funding to shelters.

A letter this week to Mayor Bell and City Council members from leaders of six Toledo homeless shelters criticizes proposed cuts in federal grant funding of about $160,000, or 30 percent — a devastating cut for shelters that operate on bare-bones budgets. At the same time, the letter cites an increase in funding for the homelessness board and United Way of Greater Toledo, including $110,000 for so-called centralized intake of people who need shelter.

Shelters charge that the city, homelessness board, and United Way seek to dismantle shelter programs. The letter is cosigned by the executive directors of St. Paul’s Community Center, Bethany House, NAOMI, Family House, Aurora Project Inc., and Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo, as well as the board president of 1Matters.

Such charges may be unfair, but they are understandable, given how the city has operated. Relations between the shelters and city government have become far too adversarial.

The homelessless board has been rigid, and at times incorrect, in interpreting federal guidelines on so-called rapid rehousing — the practice of moving people out of shelters quickly. Rapid rehousing works well for some people and providers, but it does not work for victims of domestic abuse or people who are struggling with multiple needs and problems.

The focus on rapid rehousing will cost Bethany House, a long-term shelter for victims of domestic abuse, the $15,000 it received this year from federal grants. “We’re not going to abort our mission,’’ executive director Kathy Griffin told The Blade’s editorial page.

Like any other community, Toledo should fund rapid rehousing when it makes sense. Pushing people out of shelters, only to have them fall back in, does not. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gives communities plenty of flexibility to meet local needs, if they exercise it.

The proposed allocations also embrace centralized intake for getting people into shelters, despite the opposition of grass-roots providers. Centralized intake requires any person or family to call United Way’s 211 number to be placed in a shelter. Previously, shelters referred clients whom they couldn’t serve to other shelters, a practice called “no wrong door.”

The additional bureaucracy created by centralized intake is costly. It’s also, critics say, prone to errors and unresponsive to the needs of homeless people. A move to centralized intake should have been part of a larger community discussion on shelter needs that hasn’t yet happened.

The neighborhoods department’s proposed allocations don’t meet the needs of Toledo’s shelters or people. The mayor and council must make sure that they do.