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ARRA Homelessness Funds Not Being Applied Where Needed

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Homelessness in Texas has become a widespread issue that effects over 200,000 individuals during any given year. Since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act started giving funds towards Texas homelessness in September 2009, the state has received millions-of-dollars to implement the Homeless Prevention and Rapid ReHousing Program, or HPRP, to battle homelessness across the state.

Although over $41 million was allocated by the ARRA to address homelessness, it has been difficult to use them to their full potential. “[Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs’s] general frustration caused by the [national] legislature is that we couldn’t use these HPRP dollars to address the needs of our chronically homeless,” TDHCA Executive Director Michael Gerber said. “ARRA funds are difficult to use and come with strings-attached. The strings here have been challenging for many sub-recipients to use them, not just for our program but the 60 million dollars not administered by the state.”

The “strings-attached” are that the funds can only be used to address certain homelessness issues and cannot be used widely to target the problem as a whole. This is because ARRA was initiated due to economic downturn, so homelessness programs from the act only address currently-housed people ailing from the economy. “One of my frustrations has been not helping out the guys living under the bridge or in the park but (guys who have) lost a job at a firm and have no other means of supporting yourself. “If you’re in danger of losing your house, we can’t make a rent payment on your house but the funds can be used to make a rent payment in an apartment for you, provided your income eligible, meaning that you basically have no other sources of income,” said Gerber.

More than $41,472,000 has been allocated from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, for the Texas Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program. The harsh restrictions on using the funds can’t be blamed on the Texas State Legislature or Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Rather, the conflict stems from the HUD who sets the limits and standards on how ARRA funds can be used to target homelessness issues that effect 31,000 individuals and about 12,000 families in Texas.

Many Texans who are ailing financially could benefit greatly from these funds, but there is a restriction that those in danger of becoming homeless have to actually meet a low enough poverty level to receive aide from HPRP. “The funds are limited to people making 55 percent of the area’s median income which is quite a low amount for a family of four. The line is pretty well drawn. Again if we were running the program we would write it differently to help out more Texans in need,” said Gerber.

Texas’ homelessness problems aren’t as bad as other states. Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington, D.C. have the highest numbers of homeless in the country. Texas has also been lucky in comparison to other states in not letting more people become homeless because of the state’s lesser impact to the economic downturn.

“In a given year, we think there is more than 200,000 Texans who spend a night in a homeless shelter or some other circumstance where they aren’t staying underneath their own roof. This program was really made to help out people who were made homeless by the economic downturn, and even though that downturn has not been as severe in Texas than in other states, it certainly has been significant and we have seen these dollars be used,” Gerber said

“I don’t think we’re hitting everyone that has a need, but we do have pretty aggressive outreaches to social service agencies that raise these funds, that raise their abilities to help within certain limitations and we feel that we have a strong sound program in Texas. The 31,000 being aided by HPRP is a lot, but no where near the number in need to those suffering,” he added.