Cities respond to call to end homelessness
Demand for emergency food assistance and shelter is rising, according to the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors’ (USCM) 2006 Hunger and Homelessness Survey. Of 23 cities surveyed, on average, requests for emergency food assistance rose 7 percent, while those for emergency shelter increased 9 percent. In addition, most mayors in the surveyed cities expect the requests to rise this year, and they are calling for an increase in federal, state and local funding for programs to address the problems.
The USCM Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness is working with members of Congress to increase funding for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Emergency Shelter Grants that can be used for housing and other services. “It just seems like we don’t have enough dollars to help those who most need it,” says Des Moines, Iowa, Mayor Franklin Cownie, co-chair of the task force.
Changes are being made locally as well, Cownie says.More cities also are responding to President Bush’s call on government leaders to help end chronic homelessness in 10 years. Des Moines’ plan includes providing emergency shelters as well as supportive services, such as job training and mental health treatment.
Des Moines works with 40 to 50 faith-based agencies and non-profit groups to provide service to the homeless. Central Iowa Shelter, for example, receives money from HUD and some CDBG money through the city, says shelter director Jean Brown. But, while the amount of money the shelter receives has not changed, the need certainly has, she says. The city is planning to build a new $6.3 million, 173-bed building to replace the current facility, which was constructed in 1995 and is no longer adequate. “This shelter was put up in a hurry to get people off the street,” Brown says.
While Central Iowa Shelter does not accept families, another city partner, the Iowa Homeless Youth Shelter, specializes in youth services. Half of the homeless in Iowa are under 18, however, youth programs are far from adequate, says Jim McWeeny, the shelter’s resources coordinator. The 57-bed facility provides an outreach program to homeless youth and helps them finish their education and find jobs. “You practically have to teach these young people how to work,” he says.
A lack of available services in Charleston, S.C., may be the reason that requests for housing assistance for families in the city did not rise in 2006, says Stacey Denaux, executive director of Crisis Ministries Shelter. The city saw a 40 percent jump in requests for assistance from families in 2005. “All the beds for homeless families filled up in 2005 and stubbornly stayed full,” Denaux says. She says they will need more affordable housing and higher wages (about 15 percent of the shelter’s clients are employed but still cannot afford rent) to meet the rising need.
Each community’s response will be different, Cownie says, but they will all need more means to provide the services. “We are first responders in every instance,” he says.