This year, the Supportive Housing section of the Continuum of Housing saw cuts from a variety of directions. A $20.5 million cut was proposed to homeless services, putting shelter at risk for 1,500 single adults. The majority of cuts to emergency shelter and homeless services were restored as a result of dedicated public pressure and advocacy, resulting in only a $3 million loss.
An additional $1.5 million was cut from Housing First. The City hoped that it would be able to find some cost savings by paying for the housing part of Housing First using the Local Rent Supplement Program. In practice, that has been difficult, and much of that money is being cut from the Homeless Services budget. The total funding for Housing First in the FY12 budget is $26.8 million (assuming no additional revenue, with additional revenue the total will be $28.3 million). Housing First was originally funded with one-time federal funds, it is currently funded only with local dollars.
Looking forward, many of these cuts are coming from the supportive services that case managers provide homeless clients. D.C. has faced years of budget cuts, which has led to an increase in the number of clients each case manager works with. This puts a strain on the case managers and limits how much they can help any individual. In addition, discretionary costs that case managers were able to use to help their clients in case of emergency were reduced and have now been eliminated.
On November 1, D.C. entered the cold weather season, during which time they are required by law to provide shelter to anyone in need. Unfortunately, underfunding of the shelter system has left D.C. unprepared to meet its legal obligation. The Winter Plan developed by the Interagency Council on Homelessness identified a need for 366 families to be sheltered, but so far, only 309 spaces have been identified. In addition to this short-fall, the city has been turning away families since April 1, the end of last year’s cold weather season.
The cuts to the Department of Human Services are impacting the availability of shelter services, and at the same time, no new families will be placed in new supportive housing this year. As we’ve discussed, this would decrease the demand on the shelter system and offer long-term solutions to homeless residents. From DC Fiscal Policy Institute: “While the number of permanent supportive housing units will remain steady in FY 2012, capacity will remain far below the goal of 2,500 units for the chronically homeless that is part of the District’s strategic plan to end homelessness.”
To meet the needs of homeless or potentially homeless residents, D.C. needs to invest in shelter and supportive housing. When originally proposed, the Housing First fund would have had a capital component of the program totaling $7 million dollars. This was never implemented. We recommend the Housing First fund total $36 million a year for housing, services, and production. This level of funding could maintain more than 200 formerly homeless families and 800 individuals in permanent supportive housing, and create up to 100 new permanent supportive units each year.