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People who are Unhoused Should be Involved in Oversight of Shelters and Funding Decisions

Written by admin on . Posted in Uncategorized

The horrific story of the Bronx Parent Housing Network presented in the New York Times recently points to the need for those experiencing homelessness to be more involved in the governance, oversight and distribution of homeless dollars in every city in the United States.  Staff and Board of the National Coalition wish to express our deep and profound sadness that women were allegedly sexually abused at a publicly funded shelter in New York City, and condemn all abuse, especially when inflicted on those seeking help in traumatic times. 

“It is shocking that the board of an agency serving abuse victims would not put in place strict protocols to protect those women from assaults while they are attempting to rebuild their lives. This agency is using taxpayer dollars to provide emergency housing, and these staff and residents faced some of the same misogynistic, controlling behavior they were fleeing. It points to a need for better oversight by both the local government as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the source of much of this funding,” said Donald Whitehead, executive director of NCH.

We believe that if people experiencing homeless were more involved in a meaningful way in the governance of the shelters in the United States, staff exploitation and harassment would be significantly decreased. Consumer feedback is a necessity in so many industries, why not in homeless or other social services? We at NCH have long advocated for both currently and formerly homeless folks to be employed with the task of collecting and reporting shelter concerns to community leaders. 

The agency facing these disgusting allegations rose from a small organization only 5 years ago to a multi-million dollar operation, in response to the explosion of homelessness in NYC. We now spend billions of federal dollars to provide direly needed services to those experiencing homelessness across the country. Yet no city has instituted full oversight by people who have used these services. Unfortunately, people who are utilizing the services are not treated as equals to homeless services providers, Continuum of Care funding boards or in the oversight of the shelters.   

This is not an isolated incident in New York City. We have documented media accounts of exploitation and harassment at shelters in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Florida, and Washington, DC. But there are many examples of homeless led organizations that could be tapped by HUD and local communities to provide oversight of homeless services. San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness has the most advanced Shelter Monitoring Committee which could be modelled around the country.  Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Portland and Philadelphia all have the infrastructure in place to take a leadership role in monitoring and providing peer support. 

We must more fully integrate those experiencing homelessness into reforming our systems. NCH demands that:

  • Communities receiving federal homeless dollars initiate a review of protections against the harassment and exploitation of residents.
  • Each funded Continuum of Care should have a reporting system that prompts action by the local government.
  • Cities should employ an advisory committee of people who have been homeless, or a homeless ombudsman, to review agencies serving people who are unhoused and ensure that they are acting in the best interest of those experiencing homelessness.
  • HUD initiate a process where local groups of unhoused folks are given a chance to weigh in on local funding decisions, and ensure that recommendations are taken seriously by community leaders. 

CARES Act: What’s in it, and what do we still need?

Written by admin on . Posted in Uncategorized

NCH members sent over 1,600 letters to Congress urging greater relief and stimulus for homeless and at-risk communities. Thanks in part to this action, the Federal government has now enacted the third stimulus package for COVID-19, known as the CARES Act. While this is an important step in providing relief to people who are economically vulnerable, there is still much more needed to keep our communities healthy, housed, and safe. Notably missing were increases in food assistance, adequate health and housing support for Americans losing their jobs, and enough support to house our vulnerable homeless neighbors.

The CARES Act included $4 billion for Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG). This money can be used for shelter for short term and medium term housing assistance such as Rapid Rehousing. Usually with ESG grants there is a state matching component, but this component has been waved for purposes of this emergency funding. Of the total, $2 billion will be released as soon as possible under the pre-existing formula. The last $2 billion will be released based off of community needs, an assessment of which will be forthcoming.

Also included is $5 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Similar to the ESG funding this money will be distributed in waves. There will be $2 billion released to states and communities based off of the fiscal year 2020 formula. One billion will be released to states and another $2 billion will be released to states and local governments based on risk and housing disruptions.

Further funding:

  • $1.25 Billion in tenant based rental assistance
  • $1 billion for Project Based Rental Assistance (PBRA)
  • $300 million in tribal housing grants
  • $120 million for 202, 811, and HOPWA housing
  • 2.5 million for fair housing
  • $30 billion in Disaster Relief Funds
  • $150 Billion in flexible funds for states and municipalities that can be used for rental assistance and other community development needs
  • $3 billion for rental assistance for Public Housing Authorities.

Also included in this bill is a 120 day moratorium on evictions. However, this moratorium only covers renters living in public housing or project-based rental assistance programs. The majority of renters renting from private landlords would not be covered. The moratorium on evictions only applies to new filings of evictions. This means if you are already scheduled to be evicted this moratorium will not protect you. Also this law only protects people who have not paid rent. All other forms of evictions are not included.

This is a great first step but we need much more to protect our most vulnerable. Here are the policy asks the National Coalition for the Homeless is calling for:

  • Cancel the FY2020 COC NOFA
  • Emergency rental assistance for all tenants
  • Ensure moratoria on evictions do not lead to mass evictions after the emergency has passed
  • Extend health care for uninsured/underinsured
  • Extend funding for hotel/motel space after the emergency passes
  • Facilitate transfer of unused/vacant housing to families who are unhoused
  • Increase food assistance through the SNAP program

YOUR ACTION IS STILL NEEDED!

 Thank you all for your great work during this difficult time. Stay safe.

Related issue areas:
Fixing Unemployment Insurance
Disaster Loans for Small Businesses and Nonprofits

TAKE ACTION to protect unhoused folks during the COVID-19 outbreak

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We applaud Congress for passing the Families First CoronaVirus Response Act, which will provide immediate paid sick leave and paid family leave to millions of people, expanded unemployment insurance, vital nutrition aid, more Medicaid funds for states, and free COVID-19 testing.

Image by Western Regional Advocacy Project

Image by Western Regional Advocacy Project

But they left out critical resources for people experiencing homelessness!!

Our unhoused neighbors are more likely to have underlying health conditions, use spaces with congregate settings (public transportation, shelters, soup kitchens), have already diminished life-expectancy, have limited ability to follow public health advice, or suffer from stigma and discrimination in accessing basic services. (Read more in the National Health Care for the Homeless Council‘s issue brief)

It is imperative that services, medical care, resources, and support for people experiencing homelessness is included in any further Federal Coronavirus response. 

We are all in this together – we must act now! 

We are asking for lawmakers to:

  1. Provide $15.5 billion specifically targeted to people who are currently homeless. This should include language that adds “medical respite care” services into allowable/prioritized uses for emergency CoC funding.  

  2. Cancel the 2020 NOFA: Direct HUD to automatically renew Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Funding in 2020 to programs that were recently renewed through the 2019 renewal process, as currently allowed in the HEARTH Act, so long as the Continuum of Care Entity documents that a) there is a continuing demonstrated need for the project and b) that the project continues to comply with CoC program requirements.  Use the 2020 CoC NOFA process to competitively award only additionally appropriated funding for New Projects to meet the needs of those currently on the streets, in shelters, or the newly homeless.

  3. Require HUD to increase flexibility to allow communities to utilize CoC Homeless Assistance Funding to meet local needs and local priorities.

  4. Call for a moratorium on all homeless encampments sweeps during the pandemic. The CDC has released guidelines saying encampments should not be displaced unless housing is available

  5. Provide $50 Billion of new funding for expansion of Low Income Housing Tax Credits targeted to housing for homeless families and individuals, expansion of the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and expansion of Project Based Section 8 funding for permanent supportive housing and housing for families experiencing homelessness.

These demands are absolutely imperative to the safety, wellbeing, and care of people experiencing homelessness, and we cannot wait. Contact your Legislator below!

 

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