Monday, February 20, 2006

Portland's plan to end homelessness held hostage by feds

Nearly 30 cities, including Portland, have participated in the San Francisco-born Project Homeless Connect.

Project Homeless Connect is a day-long event bringing together an assortment of social services, public officials, and community volunteers to offer a smorgasbord of services to people experiencing poverty.

In December, 26 cities participated in a National Project Homeless Connect Day. According to the Bush Administrations Interagency Council on Homelessness “most participating communities organized one-stops run by volunteers offering homeless people assistance with housing, health care, legal issues, benefits enrollment, treatment and other basic needs.”

At each event, San Francisco is averaging more than 1,000 people seeking services, and volunteers from the community who show up to help the homeless during the event. Last month Portland’s first Connect drew hundreds of volunteers, and nearly a 1,000 people seeking services.

The usual suspects are spearheading the program nationwide - led by Bush’s right hand man on homelessness, media savvy Phillip Mangano, executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Other homeless council members at the federal level include Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and Jim Towey with the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, to name a few — all experts, no doubt, on ending homelessness.

The agency’s Web site has touted the project as being “central to the community response to Hurricane Katrina, continuing to grow as an effective means of providing services and engaging the entire community.” I’m not sure if anyone has informed the agency that the post-Katrina response has been disastrous.

10-year plan to end what? (homelessness)

Meanwhile, the National Alliance to End Homeless, a non-profit in Washington D.C. that prides itself for dreaming up the idea of the 10-year plan to end homelessness, released a report this month praising the administration for adding $209 million to the Housing and Urban Developments homeless assistance programs. It also pointed out its disappointment with the $600 million dollar cut from the department’s budget.

According to the report, the administration is proposing cuts reducing housing assistance for the nation’s most vulnerable populations, including the elderly and persons with disabilities. Two major rural housing programs were cut by $256 million, along with proposed cuts of $261 million to the public housing capital fund. The Community Development Block Grant is also on the chopping block, which funds work programs for low-income individuals.

The report also states, “The administration is proposing deep cuts to several programs that support low-income households, including cuts to the Medicaid program that will affect its ability to serve chronically homeless individuals, the elimination of the Community Services Block Grant, and $500 million in cuts to the Social Services Block whose programs stabilize families and prevent homelessness.

Back to Project Homeless Connect

Project Homeless Connect was developed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and company. Some insiders say the project is window dressing for Gavin’s pursuit of greener pastures projected in his political future. In other words, the project can’t fail — at least in the public’s eyes. That’s why it’s not surprising that a “thank you” is noted on the Council’s Web site personally thanking Gavin for the blueprints of the program that is now making its way around the U.S.

But in reality, neither the 10-year plans nor the Homeless Connect programs offer much hope for people experiencing poverty in the U.S. — something insiders are well aware of.

Already, organizations around the country handing out vouchers for housing first programs highlighted in the 10-year plan are scrambling to figure out how exactly they are going to keep people in housing considering there isn’t any housing, and the vouchers only last for so long.

Forget about the thousands of people waiting for Section 8 vouchers – they’re no longer a priority. At the end of the day, targeting the chronically homeless has become more of a public safety issue than a housing issue. This is not about a right to housing, it’s about getting the undeserving poor off America’s streets – while millions of unemployed and underpaid workers struggle for existence.

Politicians and vested agencies have been able to manipulate the debate through the process of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. Recognizing this, many grassroots organizations have shifted their energy into building strategic plans, creating think tanks, and strengthening alliances for the future.

It took a hurricane to expose poverty to the larger public, but even in the storm’s lingering aftermath, the national public still refuses to address poverty honestly and effectively. By shielding themselves with a veneer of 10-year plans and service conventions, cities are complicit in the federal government’s shortsighted policies that will perpetuate poverty for generations. And, as we’re witnessing in New Orleans, no amount of volunteers and one-stop shops can plaster over a system that’s crumbling at its core.

Published in the current edition of Street Roots.

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