The April 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Murder of Mary Katherine King

Eyes Wide Open

California Lifts Food Stamp Ban

The Ordeal of Ramona Choyce

Republicans Shred Disabled Housing

Art and Activism of Jos Sances

The Paintings of Jos Sances

Gambling with Social Security

Billionaires Grow Richer, Poverty Worsens

Existence Itself Is Banned for the Homeless Poor

Bush Policy Errs on Chronic Homelessness

Sankofa House: A Rainbow for Homeless Women

Student Summit Against Hunger

A Lifetime at the Bus Stop

Working for Transit Justice

Poor Leonard's Almanack

BOSS Community Organizing

The Anguish of Classism





May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Bush's Misguided Emphasis on 'Chronic Homelessness'

Any person with more than a passing grounding in history and policy cannot possibly expect Bush's current "chronic" strategy to "end" homelessness.

by Brad Paul

Ideas cannot digest reality.
-- Jean Paul Sartre

On March 21, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued its annual Notification of Funding Available (NOFA), a set of rules, regulations, and application procedures governing the annual homeless assistance grants competition. Historically, in applying for funds, communities are asked to rank local needs and prioritize the gaps in resources available to meet those needs through a local planning process known as the Continuum of Care.

Over the past few years, however, as a result of the "chronic homelessness" initiative, HUD's design of the NOFA has increasingly undermined local control, dispensed with Congressional action and essentially legislated through the rule-making process. Unable to successfully move the Samaritan Initiative, Bush's much-hyped homelessness initiative, through the 108th Congress, the Bush administration, via HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), has now aggressively moved to impose the "chronic" agenda on localities, rather than allow communities to determine their own priorities based on actual need.

This almost-exclusive focus on "chronic" homelessness is pushing continuums to seek funding for "chronic" projects -- representing 30 percent of the total awards in 2004 -- at the expense of more comprehensive strategies that place higher priorities on all or other populations. For example, this year's application limits a substantial "permanent housing bonus" to projects exclusively serving the "chronically homeless" and must be ranked as the number one priority on the locality's list.

The inevitable result? While many communities have witnessed significant growth in the scale and severity of homelessness among families with children, unaccompanied youth, and disabled and non-disabled populations that do not fit neatly into the "chronic homeless" paradigm, these communities will be forced to overlook emerging needs in favor of a narrowly constructed federal priority. And, with annual appropriations at a virtual standstill and more dollars being targeted and siphoned off for the "chronic initiative," funding for these permanent housing bonuses, which typically go to the largest urban continuums, will almost certainly come from the lower-ranking applications.

Tragically and undeniably, the Bush administration's strategy of "ending chronic homelessness" is now clearly being pursued and funded at the expense of smaller communities and other homeless populations.

This push to reorganize the homeless grants by awarding application points for what HUD calls "housing emphasis" is an especially cruel irony given concurrent budget cuts to housing for people with disabilities, the elderly, persons with HIV/AIDS, and continued attempts to dismantle the Section 8 program. In its slick marketing of the "President's 10 year plan to end 'chronic' homelessness by 2012," the ICH has attempted to sell communities on the premise that "priority" doesn't mean "exclusivity." We only wish it were true.

But in emphasizing "chronic homelessness" above all else, the current policy has fragmented resources, pitted populations and providers against each other, and attempted to "end homelessness" with the resources only intended to address a fraction of it.

For its part, the Bush administration appears impervious to criticism or sound evidence, and seems determined to carry out a preconceived policy of divestment and devolution (local plan to end homelessness, anyone?), driven by an impossibly inflexible and prescriptive grant process.

Will homelessness get worse before the Bush administration can "improve" the situation and declare victory? Any person with more than a passing grounding in history and policy cannot possibly expect the current "chronic" strategy to "end" homelessness. Some will insist otherwise, but that is just blind hope and nothing more.

'Serial inebriates'

It seems there's a new sub-pathology of the "chronic homeless" population - "serial inebriates." That's right. Serial inebriates. Talk about stigma.

Degrading labels and all, the Bush administration has rolled out a new $10 million project to fund housing assistance for persons who have been "on the street for at least 365 days out of the past year, and [have] alcohol problems." Certainly a population worthy of being helped, but the selection criteria make satisfying the grant almost impossible.

The person served could not have been in transitional or permanent housing at all during the five-year period, presumably meaning they have cycled in and out of jail; and projects applying for grant money need to be located in a community with "at least 100 people who are chronically homeless and unsheltered."

One has to wonder how smaller communities and rural areas can hope to compete for this grant, why there are so few treatment slots to begin with, or why this money couldn't have just as easily been rolled into the general homelessness assistance account.

But then we need to remember that demonstration grant programs often function a bit like professional wrestling. That is, the winners are frequently pre-determined, but the match makes for impressive choreography.

Brad Paul works at the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness. See their website at

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