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Archive for the ‘homelessness’ Category

“Mr. Donovan, tear down this house. And this one. And this one. And that one over there. That’s the message federal Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan should take with him from his visit to Buffalo last week.”

So begins a recent Buffalo News editorial on HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s visit to Buffalo. Demolishing vacant housing seems to be the preferred policy for resolving Buffalo’s housing crisis.

However, vacant housing isn’t Buffalo’s only housing crisis. Nearly 2,000 individuals and families in Buffalo cannot afford housing and as a result are currently homeless. This number does not reflect the many more that may be doubled and tripled up with friends and family or who are otherwise precariously housed and may be in danger of losing their homes.

It is a paradoxical situation: increasing housing vacancy rates along with increasing numbers of homeless individuals. How did Buffalo get here?

This graph from the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s report Without Housing tells part of the story:

Beginning with the Reagan Administration and continuing to the present, HUD’s subsidized housing budget has been slashed yearly. Thousands of units of affordable housing have been lost.

These cuts correspond to the dramatic increase in the number of homeless individuals in the 1980’s and the steady increases in homelessness since then.

Mr. Donovan must hear about both sides of Buffalo’s housing crisis: the vacancy as well as the homelessness.

He must hear that plans to revitalize or restore Buffalo’s housing stock must make the development and preservation of affordable housing a central priority. Otherwise this twisted paradox of a housing crisis will continue to hinder any attempt to revitalize this city.

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We just got this message from our friends at PUSH:

We need volunteers!

One of PUSH’s national partners, National People’s Action, is bringing the Federal Reserve to Buffalo!

With millions of regular people caught in the grip of foreclosures, ballooning mortgages and predatory loans the Fed is traveling to cities hard-hit by the economic crisis to hear about the urgent need of reform and PUSH wants everyone there!

We need boots on the ground and people on the phones to get the turnout we need at this meeting. If you think you can canvass or phone-bank with us beginning on Monday, June 29th through July 15th, please give us a call at 716-884-0356 or shoot me an email, harrison@pushbuffalo.org

If you’d like to canvass, please show up to the office at 4 and if you’re interested in phone-banking, show up at 5.

The neighborhood needs to turn out to meet the Fed because we need access to credit, banks that invest in our communities, and green jobs that pay us a living wage! Real People have Real Power! Again, please lend us a hand canvassing or phone-banking, we would love to see you.

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The Subprime Crisis has helped force thousands of Americans into homelessness and it is hugely important that the Fed steps in to reform.  The National Coalition for the Homeless recently released  a report that details the effects of the Subprime Crisis on homelessness:

Foreclosure to Homelessness 2009: the Forgotten Victims of the Subprime Crisis

We need you to help bring people out to tell the Fed how the Subprime Crisis has affected people in Buffalo.  Volunteer to canvass or phonebank and try to bring anyone you know who has been affected by predatory lending.  The meeting is:

July 16th, 6pm
Trinity Episcopal Church
371 Delaware Ave, Buffalo

They’ll be here soon so it’s time to get moving!

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James McKinney, a level 3 sex offender, is completing his prison term and needs a place to live.  A state supreme court justice was ready to send him to his mother’s home in North Tonawanda until he reconsidered and decided to send him to an apartment that houses homeless welfare clients.  He decided against sending the man to his mother’s home because “It’s the epitome of a family, suburban residential area. It’s not appropriate [for McKinney].”

Certainly this man poses a threat to whatever community he moves to.  The judge even found in his trial that this man “had a mental abnormality” but the judge “decided against committing him.”  Understandably, the judge feels it is inappropriate to allow McKinney to move back to his mother’s home.  But for this judge it is apparently more appropriate to send him to a city of Niagara Falls apartment that may be housing homeless families.  Every family, regardless of income, deserves to feel safe in the place that they live.  Just because a family lives in the suburbs and has a higher income does not mean that they should receive preferential treatment when it comes to the placement of sex offenders.

This is a very difficult and unfortunate situation.  But even so, the safety of all people regardless of income must be ensured.  Hopefully the judge will be able to work with the parole officers to find a more appropriate place for Mr. McKinney.

Beyond the safety of homeless people, this story also brings attention to how the criminal justice system deals with sex offenders like McKinney who are finishing up their sentences.

This is not just an isolated issue either.  Over at change.org’s End Homelessness blog, Shannon Moriarty is also talking about homeless sex offenders.  As Moriarty states at the end of her blog post, a more humane way of dealing with homeless sex offenders who are completing their sentences needs to be developed.

High-risk sex offender ordered to live in Falls building housing the homeless

By Thomas J. Prohaska
NEWS NIAGARA REPORTER

LOCKPORT — A sex offender regarded as likely to reoffend because of a “mental abnormality” will live in Niagara Falls, not in his mother’s North Tonawanda home, a judge ruled Wednesday.

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“Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

-James Baldwin

Living in poverty not only takes a toll on a person’s emotional and physical health but also on the meager financial resources they may have.  This article from the Washington Post takes a look at some of the ways that the poor end up paying more for basic goods/services than many middle or upper income folks, just because of their lack of money and the (most likely) poor neighborhood they live in.  Being forced to pay significant chunks of your small paychecks to check-cashing companies or having to buy food at the convenience store on the corner may not seem like big issues to those of us who have comfortable incomes but for someone who is living on a shoe-string budget these costs pile up week after week and month after month.  These costs make it even more difficult for someone to get out of poverty.

With our Poverty Challenge we hope that people will be able to see some of these hidden costs of being poor.  Choosing to drive a car will automatically put you over budget,  so if you need to get somewhere you will have to take the bus or start going into debt.  This means you will probably have to walk to your bus stop (which can be a long walk in some neighborhoods) and hope that the bus is on time.  If you miss the bus, that means waiting for at least another 20 minutes for another one.  Being late to work can mean instant firing for workers in many low-wage jobs, which would be a huge set-back because at a poverty level budget, odds are you haven’t been able to save much money in the last couple months.

The difficulty of finding steady transportation is just one hidden cost of being poor that people with higher incomes (who can usually afford a decent car) may not necessarily see.  Reading this article and taking part in the Poverty Challenge is one way that those of us who do not live at the poverty level can begin to get some understanding of the unique difficulties facing those of us living in poverty.

Poor? Pay Up.
Having Little Money Often Means No Car, No Washing Machine, No Checking Account And No Break From Fees and High Prices

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 18, 2009

You have to be rich to be poor.

That’s what some people who have never lived below the poverty line don’t understand.

Put it another way: The poorer you are, the more things cost. More in money, time, hassle, exhaustion, menace. This is a fact of life that reality television and magazines don’t often explain.

So we’ll explain it here. Consider this a primer on the economics of poverty.

“The poor pay more for a gallon of milk; they pay more on a capital basis for inferior housing,” says Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “The poor and 100 million who are struggling for the middle class actually end up paying more for transportation, for housing, for health care, for mortgages. They get steered to subprime lending. . . . The poor pay more for things middle-class America takes for granted.”

Poverty 101: We’ll start with the basics.

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The narrative surrounding the foreclosure crisis of the past year has tended to focus primarily on the foreclosure of homes that were owned by the people who lived in the them.  This article shifts the focus to the rental properties that have been foreclosed upon.  Many of the tenants of these rental properties do not have very high incomes (which is one reason they have to rent instead of own a home) and after the foreclosure they are usually left without a home and do not have very much to fall back on.  People like Yolanda James will burn through the resources they have left until they eventually become homeless.

The article also highlights how rental property foreclosure disproportionately affects communities of color which already have been devastated by economic and racial inequalities for decades.  It also calls for a rethinking of the “ownership society” ideal which the federal government tends to put the majority of its funding into.  Affordable and secure rental housing is crucial for low income families and individuals who do not have the ability to put up the money to own a home yet.  Any effort to end poverty and homelessness must incorporate this type of housing into its plan.

Foreclosure Crisis Hits Poor Renters Hard: Evicted Families Have to Fight to Live Together

By Michelle Chen, ColorLines. Posted May 26, 2009.

Last fall, Yolanda James and her three children were lost in their own city. After foreclosure had forced them from their South Los Angeles apartment, they ran into closed doors at every turn. Aid agencies offered referrals to other offices, but no relief, and neither the shelter system nor the city’s high-priced housing market had room for them. James burned through her welfare money to pay for motel rooms and later resorted to sleeping with her children in their car.

“I was, like, two or three different people at one time,” she recalled. “I had to get on the grind, to hustle, to make sure my kids–when they get out of school, I could feed them, or I could take them somewhere to shower and bathe for the next day.”

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This article from MSNBC covers a major problem facing non-profits offering supportive services/shelter to homeless individuals: funds for their operations are being cut as demand for their services increases.  The current economic crisis has prompted state and federal officials to cut non-profit funding to close budget deficits.  At the same time it has pushed larger numbers of hard hit working class families and individuals to seek supportive services and shelter as jobs, wages, and benefits are being cut.

Providers to the poor try to stretch meager resources to meet growing need

John Brecher / msnbc.com
By Kari Huus
Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 2:14 p.m. ET, Fri., Jan. 30, 2009

SEATTLE – As snowstorms blew into this Northwest city and the economy iced over in December, the occupants of a shelter nestled among industrial buildings on the north side prayed for divine intervention.
“We were hoping for the Christmas miracle,” says Glen Dennis, 41, who was working his way through a residential drug-treatment program at the CityTeam Ministries shelter. Dennis and the other 11 guys in the long-term program —dubbed the “disciples” — also worked each day to prepare for some 50 to 60 overnight shelter guests, and dish up free hot meals to about 100 people. “We kept doing what we were doing, and hoped someone would come by and drop off a big check.”

But the check did not come — even after a coalition of other shelters, nonprofits and local churches tried to pull together a rescue package to keep the shelter open. On Dec. 27, CityTeam Ministries, based in San Jose, Calif., closed the Seattle facility — leaving scores of people to seek food, shelter and sobriety elsewhere. For Dennis, who had been free of crack cocaine for nearly 11 months, the upheaval led to another painful relapse out on the streets.

“It’s a real loss,” says Herb Pfifner, executive director of the Union Gospel Mission shelter in downtown Seattle. “We’re all scrambling to try to handle the growth of homelessness because of the economic situation …  and then the closing of another mission adds more pressure.”

The CityTeam closure is a piece in the expanding problem of homelessness across the nation: Shelters and related services for the homeless are facing funding shortfalls as the downturn takes its toll on state budgets and corporate donations. And while individual donors in many cases are keeping up gifts — or even digging a little deeper for charities that help with urgent needs like food and shelter — the service providers say they are faced with a rapidly growing demand from people losing jobs and homes in the economic crisis.

Less funding, more demand
“A downturn in (overall) funding in this case is accompanied by a surge in demand, so a homeless shelter, food pantry, or job-training program is going to feel it first,” says Chuck Bean, executive director of Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, in the District of Columbia. “Even if they have 100 percent of their budget compared to last year, they now see a 50 percent surge in demand. Then (they) get into the tough decisions: Do you thin the soup, or shorten the line?”

Even as census-takers fan out in cities across the country this week in an attempt to count homeless populations, advocates and experts point to a bevy of evidence that homelessness is rising and will continue to, most notably among families with children.

Shelters across the country report that more people are seeking emergency shelter and more are being turned away. In a report published in December, 330 school districts identified the same number or more homeless students in the first few months of the school year than they identified in the entire previous year. Meantime, demand is sharply up at soup kitchens, an indication of deepening hardship and potential homelessness.

“Everything we are seeing is indicating an increase,” says Laurel Weir, policy director at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “And homelessness tends to lag the economy. So we’re probably seeing the tip of the iceberg here.”

In the foreclosure crisis, the people being displaced from homes won’t likely be on the street immediately, explains Michael Stoops, director of National Coalition for the Homeless.

“The people who have lost homes or tenants in homes that were foreclosed … have downsized, and if that doesn’t work they will move in with family and friends,” says Stoops. “After a while, they will move into their RV in a state campground. The next step is a car. And the worst nightmare for a working, middle-class person or even a wealthy person who has never experienced homelessness is knocking on a shelter door.”

Services teeter on brink
As the case of Seattle’s CityTeam shelter illustrates, many nonprofits serving the poor are working on a shoestring, even in better times. Seattle-area donations to the shelter had to be supplemented from general funds, said Jeff Cherniss, chief financial officer of CityTeam, which operates shelters and food programs in five other U.S. cities.

“We were hoping (the Seattle shelter) could become self-sustaining,” says Cherniss. CityTeam Ministries, a Christian organization funded by donations from individuals, corporations and churches, kept the Seattle facility afloat with help from its general fund for most of a decade, but the 2008 crisis prompted them to retrench.

Every major source of funding is under pressure in the current environment: Charitable foundations — which rely on corporate profits for their seed money and investments to preserve and build those funds — have been forced to pull back grants after taking a massive hit as corporate earnings faltered and stocks plunged.  The National Council of Foundations recently estimated that philanthropic foundation endowments have lost $200 billion in value during the economic crisis.

A few of the largest foundations have, despite losses, promised to maintain or give at higher levels in the face of the crisis. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this week said it would increase its giving to 7 percent of its assets from 5 percent. And the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced three gifts totaling $34 million to help homeowners in Chicago avoid foreclosure and keep renters in homes.

Still, the casualties are mounting. Among them: Atlanta nonprofit Nicholas House, which closed a shelter for families in mid-January so it could safely keep other housing services open. Nearly all corporate donors gave to the organization at lower levels this year, says Dennis Bowman, executive director of the 26-year-old agency. The final straw came when a corporate donation ended, and was not renewed.

“It was directly because of the economy — the business has suffered in this economy, and so can’t provide the funding, which was well over $100,000 a year,” says Bowman.

The organization is scrambling to find other options for the 12 families — 45 people in all — who lived there, by squeezing them into other parts of its own programs or openings with other nonprofit programs.
In Washington, D.C., where Fannie and Freddie had been the largest corporate donors, dozens of organizations were up in the air as government auditors reviewed the corporations’ records, including their charity operations.

Linda Dunphy, executive director of Doorways for Women and Families, a shelter program that has been receiving funding from Freddie Mac since 1996, says the takeover of the mortgage company threw a promised $300,000 grant into limbo.

Meantime, Doorways watched other substantial corporate donations drain away — including some $50,000 that had been coming through an annual walkathon from financial companies Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch.

Fortunately, when the review of Fannie and Freddie’s charitable operations ended in late December, the Freddie Mac grant came through for Doorways, averting the need to shut down a family shelter — for the next six months, at least. “But then we face a whole new fiscal year, and our concerns about what is going to happen at (Freddie Mac Foundation) and whether they can continue to keep giving at the level they have been giving,” says Dunphy.

The Alternative House for homeless mothers in northern Virginia was not as lucky. Freddie Mac had been giving $35,000 to $60,000 a year to this nonprofit. The Freddie Mac money was spent on providing developmental assistance for the babies, who are often behind because of their chaotic beginnings. Last week, Judith Dittman, who runs the program, got word that the funding was cut.

States awash in red ink
Up to now, another major source of funding for nonprofits providing homeless services came from state budgets. But entering 2009, at least 45 states faced budget deficits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which estimates combined state budget gaps for the remainder of this fiscal year and state fiscal years 2010 and 2011 at more than $350 billion. The trend bodes very badly for programs that benefit the poor and homeless. The leading example of state budget problems is California, which has eliminated funding for emergency housing assistance this year as it struggles to pare its $40 billion deficit.

In Ventura County just north of Los Angeles, the cut of about $60,000 delivered an immediate blow to three homeless operations. The largest, a winter shelter run by St. Vincent de Paul that provides beds for 100 people, was forced to cut 30 nights from its schedule.

“Because they operate on a shoestring, it’s a significant hit to them,” says Karen Schulkin, program coordinator for homeless services in the county. “The winter shelter at the National Guard Armory can only stay open for the number of days they have funding for.”

Local government funding often provides seed money for nonprofits, who leverage it to drum up foundation money and other donations. So, according to Bean of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, the local deficit — about $1.5 billion in the case of D.C. and surrounding areas — could present an even bigger problem than the uncertainty over the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Foundation.

“This will put a huge strain on the ability to invest in the safety net. …The challenge for a lot of nonprofits is that local government support will be down, foundations will be down,” says Bean. “The question will be what happens with individual donations.”

To be sure, out of the crisis come tales of inspired giving as communities scramble to raise new funding. The town of Danville in southern Virginia rallied to reopen a shelter that closed at the end of December after 15 years in operation.  A drive prompted a $20,000 anonymous gift, which was more than matched by dozens of other local contributions. By Jan. 22, the money and a new director were in place to reopen the 20-bed shelter—offering some reprieve, at least, in a town with an estimated 150 homeless.

“The people of Danville … opened up their hearts and pocketbooks with $23,100 in matching funds,” reports Pastor Donnie Anderson of the Riveroak Church of God, who spearheaded the fundraising. “We are so grateful! The shelter is open as House of Hope and is ready for any who may need a warm place to stay and hot meals to eat.”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28916152/

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In honor of Veterans’ Day, here is an article on CNN.com about how Pathways to Housing, a Housing First program that is ending veteran homelessness in New York City. More behind the jump.

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