Local agencies for homeless urged to spend funds wisely


A federal housing official had a blunt message Friday for local officials and social service agencies providing services to the homeless — declining federal funds mean local communities must spend wisely on the most effective solutions to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness.

Mark Johnson, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's office of community planning and development, spoke at a conference Friday organized by the city of Toledo’s Department of Neighborhoods and the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board.

"This is the first year in the history of our programs that we may not be able to fund all of them ... You need to start prioritizing projects," he said. HUD provides about $4 million to fund about 25 different supportive housing programs locally.

"I'm not trying to depress you," he told the crowd of more than 100 gathered at the University of Toledo's Scott Park campus. "But I'm just trying to give you the actual context as I see it," he said, referring to decreasing federal funds from Congress to tackle the problem of homelessness. Mr. Johnson oversees more than $7 billion in assistance such as affordable housing programs, initiatives to provide housing to homeless individuals, as well as programs involving stimulus funding, disaster recovery, neighborhood stabilization, and homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

Providers must use performance measures, he emphasized.

Mr. Johnson also touted the "housing first" model that puts more emphasis on rapid rehousing of the homeless, with less emphasis on emergency shelter services, though he said shelters still serve an important role.

"Shelters are not the solution, they are part of the solution," he said.

Earlier this year, the city's Department of Neighborhoods recommended cutting all federal Community Development Block Grant funds to several shelters and transitional housing agencies, causing an outcry among some homeless advocates.

"It's what we've been saying," said Lourdes Santiago, director of Department of Neighborhoods, Friday afternoon. "This is where is HUD is."

Lucas County has just fewer than 1,000 people who are homeless at any given moment, according to statistics from the annual "point-in-time" count.

About 20 percent of those individuals experience mental illness, about 25 percent have substance abuse issues, and about 7 percent are veterans, according to the statistics, compiled by the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board. About two-thirds of those individuals do not have children; about one-third are families with children.

Jane Moore, United Way interim president and CEO, who is also a member of the Homelessness Board, said she found Mr. Johnson's remarks useful.

"I think he painted a good picture nationally and locally. But it is scary to see what is happening federally with funding," Ms. Moore said.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091, or onTwitter @KateGiammarise.