Commentary: HUD funds won’t help majority of homeless

Jeanine Kleimo

Most readers of the Delaware State News who noted Sunday’s (Feb. 10) article about HUD funds coming into the state to address the needs of the homeless are likely to be surprised at the large amount of money ($8,249,505) and to wonder how much is coming to Dover.

Very little is coming to Dover. Very little is coming to Kent County.

Why? One might ask whether local organizations are doing their job.

The Continuum of Care funding operated by HUD provides resources to construct or to acquire housing for the “most vulnerable” in the homeless population and provides annual operating funds to the programs that continue to operate successfully.

This is a very expensive program, providing residential units and assistance primarily for those who are both homeless and who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse. The funding application process is complex and requires the dedication of considerable professional time and energy to plan for the housing, to secure land and permits, and to arrange for the professional design services that most long-term housing requires along with professional staff to manage the resulting program.

Some of the New Castle County agencies that are successful in securing funding have more than one hundred staff along with operating budgets in the millions. This is a totally different scale from what we have here in the Dover area. For example, the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing operates with five full-time and five part-time staff on a limited budget. There are no professional grant-writers and fund-raisers able to pursue the demands of the type of application that HUD programs require.

People’s Place will receive funds to pay for some of the rental costs of homeless families and abused women. This will help; but they will experience the challenge of a lack of available apartments at the rents that this program can pay here in Kent County. Some local families and individuals will indeed benefit.

There is no new housing construction in Kent County from these funds. In fact, only one new project is on the list for the entire state, with all other funds going either for “renewals” (i.e. continued operating costs of existing projects) or for Continuum of Care planning along with rental assistance as noted above.

Could Delaware do better? $8 million might go a long way toward housing the homeless, depending on how it is employed. In the past, many individuals with mental illness resided in state-operated facilities that were typically called “mental hospitals” or something similar. Legislative changes “released” their residents, some to local facilities and treatment centers, while others simply became homeless and lacking care. Some are on the street today, while others benefit from the efforts of organizations such as those receiving these HUD funds. What was once a state responsibility has devolved to private organizations, with the most sophisticated and best-funded able to compete for funds to implement federally approved programs and manage what were considered public tasks in the past.

This funding source does not provide for shelters or for affordable housing for homeless individuals and families who are able to work or who have stable income and the capacity to live independently. This largest share of the homeless population is simply not served by this program. Those of us experienced with the local homeless population can applaud the efforts of those who seek to assist the 10 to 20 percent of the homeless population who are unable to become self-reliant, though we hope that some of these resources might come south in years to come. We must continue to work with few established programs of assistance and almost no funds for the construction or acquisition of homes or buildings that could be made available to those who need affordable shelter. Sadly, this infusion of HUD funds does not address the root causes of homelessness despite the optimism expressed.

If you question what we are doing while large federal sums are distributed, this response might be a partial answer. If you want to help us to find solutions to the needs of those who are homeless now in Kent County, please talk with us. We welcome your ideas.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeanine Kleimo is chair of the Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing.

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