The June 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Court Upholds Legal Rights of Homeless People

Hunger Rises, Food Stamps Cut

National Hunger Survey

Union Busting in El Salvador

CEO Pay Rises, Worker Pay Shrinks

CEOs Scheme to Privatize Social Security

Dee's Story: The Stigma of Being Homeless

Bush's Chronic Homeless Plan

Pepperspray and Torture

How Earth Day Was Co-opted

St. Mary's Center

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Hodges Jones

Jose Querdo

Jeannette Hundley

James Jermany

Ken Minor

Lynn Hoberg

Social Justice in the East Bay

100 Teachings of Gandhi

June Poetry of the Streets

Students Poetry


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 Chronic Homeless Plan Imperils the Safety Net

by Paul Boden

It is a cruel, cruel irony that the Bush Administration continues to tout its "chronic homeless" initiative as proof of its commitment to "housing first," while simultaneously cutting federal funding to the Housing Authority, Section 8, Hope 6, Community Block Grant program, and subsidized housing for seniors and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Bush Administration is directing local communities to write 10-year plans to end "chronic homelessness." Sounds like a federal initiative with the potential to unite politicians, service providers, advocates, the homeless, and the public in communities across the country. So why is it stirring up anger, fear, and resentment instead?

Reason #1: Because it steals money from existing poverty programs rather than creating new funding streams, and effectively eliminates the mental health, substance abuse, transitional housing, legal services, child care, and employment training programs that constitute our continuum of care.

Reason #2: Because it is designed to house only those individuals who fit neatly within the federal government's narrow definition of "chronic homelessness" and comprise just 10 percent of the nation's total homeless population, leaving families with children, youth, veterans, seniors, and the working poor out in the cold.

Reason #3: Because it foolishly assumes that officials in Washington, D.C., are better positioned than we, the people, to determine our own local needs and priorities.

This year's Housing and Urban Development (HUD) McKinney-Vento application guidelines for homeless assistance grants limit a substantial amount of funding to new projects exclusively serving the "chronically homeless" -- defined by the federal government as unaccompanied homeless individuals with a disabling condition who have either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or have had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

So while the scope and severity of homelessness among families with children, unaccompanied youth, and non-disabled populations continues to deepen in big cities and small towns across the United States, communities are being forced to overlook these emerging needs, as well as other long-established needs, in favor of a narrowly constructed federal priority.

By simply aligning our community priorities with the federal administration's agenda, we are severely reducing, and in some cases, completely eliminating funding for a wide range of vital services that prevent homelessness, stabilize people's lives, and help formerly homeless persons and families succeed once they are housed.

Cornerstone programs that have developed over the years at the grassroots level in direct response to community needs are now on HUD's chopping block. Meanwhile, no other federal agency has stepped in to fill the resulting gap in funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment, transitional housing, legal services, child care, and employment training.

State and local governments facing massive budget cuts in health and human services will be unable to backfill the diverted money. And there goes our safety net.

Identifying the best use of limited resources is difficult; but aren't service providers, advocates, the homeless, and local government agencies, when working as equal partners, better equipped to make these decisions than HUD staff in DC?

Historically, when applying for McKinney grants, communities are asked to rank their own local needs and priorities. However, as a result of the "chronic homelessness" initiative, HUD's redesign of the McKinney application has increasingly undermined local control.

Unable to move its much-hyped Samaritan Initiative through the 108th Congress, the Bush Administration, via HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, has imposed the "chronic" agenda on localities, rather than allowing communities to plan collaboratively and determine their own priorities based on actual need.

In emphasizing "chronic homelessness" above all else, this McKinney process has pitted communities -- those who actually live with and work on these issues -- against mayors and local administrators who are eager to score well and maximize federal funding, even if it means taking money away from their own communities' successful, comprehensive poverty programs.

Our goal must be to secure additional funding for the creation of permanent, affordable housing for all homeless people, rather than diverting limited resources and cutting essential programs to serve only the most currently favored subset of the homeless population.

It is a cruel, cruel irony that the Bush Administration continues to tout its "chronic homeless" initiative as proof of its commitment to "housing first," while simultaneously cutting federal funding to the Housing Authority, Section 8, Hope 6, Community Block Grant program, and subsidized housing for seniors and people living with HIV/AIDS.

We urge the federal government to:
1. Restore these massive cuts to federal housing programs that serve a wide range of homeless and poor individuals and families.

2. Eliminate the McKinney application set-aside for the "chronically homeless."

3. Add explicit language instructing HUD to make funding decisions in accordance with local community needs and priorities.

4. Implement a "housing first" model that keeps in place the range of services necessary for homeless people to succeed not only in escaping the streets, but in remaining housed and in achieving their potential.

Until other federal agencies step forward to meet the direct service needs of homeless individuals and families, HUD must maintain McKinney funding for them. Otherwise, we're simply rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. And that's not compassionate. That's heartless.

Paul Boden is the director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project in San Francisco, a new advocacy group on homeless policy issues.

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