Supportive housing - which fights homelessness - threatened by looming federal cuts
"Campbell" has been homeless since he was 9 years old. His mother was addicted to drugs and unable to take care of him and his father was emotionally and physically abusive and walked out when Campbell was 9.
From age 9 to 13, he lived with various neighbors, relatives and on and off the streets. Campbell admits to engaging in criminal activity and at the age of 13, was arrested and placed in a residential facility for boys where he stayed until turning 17. He was released at age 17, but due to a probation violation went into another facility until he was 18.
Since age 18, he has been homeless living on the streets, in shelters, abandoned houses or with friends for a couple of days here and there.
Unfortunately, stories like Campbell’s are all too common. People get caught in a cycle of homelessness, the shelter system, economic crises and they just can’t escape without real help. This cycle is damaging to the individual - and often the taxpayer winds up on the hook for institutional, hospital or mental care services.
Campbell’s story illuminates the need for supportive housing in Michigan and across the nation. Supportive housing is affordable housing that’s combined with supportive services that residents can use to get back on their feet. Services include everything from case management to job training to drug and alcohol treatment.
A wealth of research demonstrates that supportive housing is not only a very effective housing solution for people with complex challenges, but is also is more cost-effective than the alternatives (which sadly often include emergency rooms, mental hospitals or incarceration).
Today there are serious threats to federal funding that could undermine the good work backing supportive housing in communities across Michigan. The federal budget mechanism known as sequestration is set to be triggered in January unless Congress acts swiftly to reverse it. Sequestration, which threatens to cut 8.4% in funding for nearly every federal housing program and many other social service programs, is the result of a 2011 Congressional impasse over the budget deficit. As a result of legislators not agreeing on how to address the deficit, they chose the blunt instrument of across-the-board cuts to programs—including those that serve the most vulnerable among us.
What would that mean in actual lives impacted? According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an estimated 145,906 people nationwide would be at risk of being homeless because of nearly $160 million in cuts to McKinney-Vento homeless assistance grants. Additionally, almost a $1.6 billion cut in the Section 8 Program could result in an estimated 186,915 fewer vouchers for the program, putting those people at risk of becoming homeless as well. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities here in Michigan, that would mean an estimated 4,312 families cut from Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8), an estimated $7,272,677 in Public Housing funding, estimated $5,898,034 cut in Homeless Assistance programs and estimated $340,720 cut in Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS ( HOPWA) Grants.
That’s why it is crucial that the men and women in Congress work across the aisle to solve the impending funding crisis under sequestration and find a balanced solution that protects programs like McKinney-Vento, Section 8 and others that fund supportive housing.
The well-being of thousands of vulnerable residents of Michigan is on the line. As of 2011, over 94,000 Michigan residents were homeless- a 6% decrease from the previous year. It is imperative that we not add to this number, when we have the ability to prevent these cuts to crucial safety net programs for the most vulnerable Michiganders.
Recently, Campbell moved into permanent supportive housing through the non-profit organization Southwest Housing Solutions in Detroit. With their support, he has been reconnected to mental health services, is receiving case management services, and is attending a substance abuse group. Now, his new life is a stark contrast with his old one.
Campbell looks forward to building a solid foundation of recovery in his life and enjoys having a place of his own to call home. We need to protect the funding streams that helped Campbell and countless others across Michigan who can live with stability, health and hope thanks to supportive housing. (Lisa Chapmanâ€¨ is Michigan Directorâ€¨ of the Corporation for Supportive Housing in Brighton.)