Financial storms might to blow the roof off CT’s housing program

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We have made veterans’ homelessness rare and brief in Connecticut.

We have matched the vast majority of chronically homeless persons with a home and services.

We have built a system that will now give us a good shot of ending homelessness among youth and families.

In short, we in Connecticut — the agencies that create the homes and provide the support services, the government officials and philanthropies who fund and coordinate the massive effort — are national leaders. The structure we have built over more than a decade is producing outcomes, saving lives and public dollars at the same time.

So what’s the problem?

The fiscal storms blowing out of Washington and Hartford now threaten to blow the roof off of that system. President Donald Trump has threatened to reduce the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 13 percent. And the General Assembly must close a $5 billion deficit projected for the next biennial budget: $2.3 billion for fiscal year 2017-2018 and $2.7 billion for fiscal year 2018-2019.

I fear that tougher times lie ahead. Worse, I fear the approaching fiscal storms could wipe away the progress we’ve made, and cripple the system we’ve created to maintain our progress and further advance our efforts to end homelessness in Connecticut.

The president’s proposed $6 billion HUD budget cut could cause the loss of up to 200,000 housing vouchers across the U.S., slash housing authority budgets and reduce low-income homeownership opportunities. All of the proposed cuts would reduce the availability, or increase the demand for, rental units, which are already in extremely short supply.

The chain reaction of short rental supply – from exclusionary zoning, a lack of subsidy or both — inevitably leads to more homelessness. So even if Congress were to fund current anti-homelessness programs, they wouldn’t stop the storm.

In Connecticut, we are blessed with a governor and legislature that have continued to understand that conquering homelessness is both good for those who need housing and services, and also good for the state budget.

It has been shown time after time that providing a home, and services to help residents stay housed not only rebuilds lives but is less costly for state taxpayers than the alternatives: shelters, emergency rooms, hospitalization, prison, nursing homes and other more expensive, less effective Band-Aid solutions.

But the pressure to reduce spending this year has created a deep, dark cloud over those who are homeless or at risk. With the help of the Department of Housing and our many partners, we have created Coordinated Access Networks in eight regions of the state. These community-wide partnerships managed around 7,000 intake appointments from January through March of this year for people experiencing a housing crisis and rapidly connected them to housing and/or services. There is no duplication or inefficiency.

Should this successful program, funded by the Community Investment Act, be at risk?

The state’s Rental Assistance Program helps to keep people in apartments and out of shelters.

Should this program be threatened?

Housing Supports and Services funds from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services enable agencies to expertly provides the supports, training and assistance formerly homeless individuals need to live successfully – and less expensively – in their own homes

Should we take away these critical wrap around services?

The Housing Department’s Homeless Youth program is identifying children aging out of foster care or disconnected from their parents and finding them safe places to sleep and services, effectively preventing the production of another generation of chronic homelessness.

Does it make sense to cut that effort?

There is much more being done and, thus, much more under threat.  Gov. Dannel Malloy preserved these critical areas in his proposed budget, as have all the legislative budget proposals. I am certain our many forward-thinking lawmakers will continue their steadfast support. Our state policymakers recognize the effectiveness – and cost-effectiveness – of efforts to prevent and end homelessness in Connecticut.

But the budget storms sweeping across Connecticut — and our nation — are like none we’ve seen before. Real lives and futures are at stake. The solutions we’ve developed to prevent and end homelessness have proven extremely effective. They should continue to be protected. Not protecting them would be a huge mistake.

What do you think?

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