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Published: Wednesday, 5/8/2013

Toledo City Council weighs cuts in funds for city’s shelters

Already-struggling agencies worry about grant decisions

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo City Council on Tuesday continued treading slowly toward its decision on how much federal money each homeless shelter in the city should receive — a controversial topic for the second consecutive year.

Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson said she wants to avoid the kind of delays experienced last year that put shelters and service providers into a state of worry. To that end, she and Councilman Adam Martinez proposed an “informational meeting” Thursday with a federal official via phone. Other councilmen, such as George Sarantou, insisted on a full public hearing in council chambers.

But many of the shelters are already worried.

“They are going to dismantle Family House one piece at a time,” said Renee Palacios, Family House executive director. “I am very concerned about some of the social-service agencies’ survival, and as far as Family House, we will shut down our toddler program and school-age program in the summer,” she said. “That puts another barrier in front of our families. We are facing a $79,000 cut, which is a huge amount of money to close the gap.”

Forty homeless children were enrolled in Family House’s summer program last year.

The city’s Department of Neighborhoods recommended in April, 2012, to cut all federal Community Development Block Grant funds to five shelters and transitional housing agencies: the Aurora Project, Beach House, Bethany House, La Posada, and Family House.

The funds have been a source of tens of thousands of dollars for those service providers.

This year, the department — with recommendations from a separate committee through the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board — has proposed cuts again for the federal Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant funding.

“For 25 years, our CDBG allocation has been $82,000, so you can imagine our shock last year when we found out in April that we were recommended for zero. So we fought back and received $64,000 from council,” Ms. Palacios said. “We were warned this year that we were still not going to get anything, but that doesn’t stop the bleeding.”

Toledo’s federal CDBG allocation last year was $6.83 million and the Emergency Solutions Grant was $610,343. Officials expect a 5 percent drop in the Emergency Solutions Grant.

Beach House, for example, last year received $52,573 in Emergency Solutions money. It requested $94,517 for the 2013-14 allocation but is only recommended to get $47,841 under that category. However, the review committee recommended it get another $50,000 in Emergency Solutions Grant money for rapid rehousing, a program that helps people in need pay down their back rent, utilities, and other living costs.

Lourdes Santiago, Toledo Neighborhoods Department director, said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wants a greater emphasis on rapid rehousing. Last year, Mark Johnson, acting assistant secretary for HUD, told the city of Toledo’s Department of Neighborhoods and the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board that falling federal funds mean communities must spend wisely on the most effective solutions to prevent, reduce, and end homelessness.

Ms. Palacios said Family House, Toledo’s only shelter geared toward homeless families, had been funded to “rapidly rehouse” people, but that money was given to the United Way of Greater Toledo for that purpose.

“The rapid-rehousing piece in other cities is given to shelters because that is where the homeless people are,” she said. “Since this system went into place on Feb. 24, I got an email in mid-April that their caseloads are full ... so we are supposed to house the people even though I do not have a staff person to do that work.”

An April 8 email to the homeless shelters, from Jamie Brubaker, coordinated assessment program manager for the United Way, confirmed the program was at capacity.

The final decision on the funding rests with city council.

Mr. Sarantou said the city could be forced to dig into its austere general fund budget to help shelters maintain services.

Councilman D. Michael Collins said he fears the Aurora Project will have to close because of cuts in funding proposed by a review committee that reported to the city’s department of neighborhoods and the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board.

“Family House is going down the same road,” he said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171, or on Twitter @ignaziomessina.



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