Elected Officials Criticize Federal Cuts to Local Homeless Programs

As federal officials oversee a major shift in housing programs for homeless people, a range of local elected officials and unions are condemning the speed of the changes, saying they will force vulnerable families onto the street.

At a news conference Tuesday outside the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Santa Ana, the elected officials – including two members of Congress and several city council members of both major political parties – called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to reverse its decision to de-fund several local transitional housing programs in favor of more permanent housing services.

Much of the criticism was focused on cuts to Colette’s Children’s Home, a Huntington Beach-based nonprofit that provides transitional housing for homeless women and children. The organization says it’s now slated to lose 120 beds that affect over 250 homeless women and children to each year.

The upcoming cuts “have been to our most vulnerable population,” said Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), adding that local affordable housing wait lists are several years long.

“Our women and children on the street cannot wait three or four years” for a home, said Sanchez, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by a retiring Barbara Boxer. “We need HUD to change direction.”

Also speaking in support of Colette’s and other transitional housing programs were Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-Garden Grove), and city council members Jordan Brandman (D-Anaheim), Sandy Genis (R-Costa Mesa), Michele Martinez (D-Santa Ana), and Billy O’Connell (R-Huntington Beach).

O’Connell, who is also chief executive of Colette’s Children’s Home, described the upcoming cuts as “systematic discrimination” against homeless women and children.

“There’s a whole group of people who are being left out in the cold,” said O’Connell said. “We have the proof to show that it’s cost-effective.”

Homeless housing policy has been undergoing a nationwide shift toward the so-called “housing first” approach, which emphasizes providing permanent housing as quickly as possible and then providing services like drug and mental health treatment and job skills training.

This sea change results in a major drop in transitional housing funding nationwide for next fiscal year and a prioritizing of permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing.

“What we’ve learned through the most recent research…is that there is no service that can’t be delivered in a permanent home,” said Ed Cabrera, a spokesman for HUD.

“In other words, folks shouldn’t have to be waiting in a transitional shelter or housing situation…They should be housed immediately and then surrounded with supportive services.”

In Orange County, this means several transitional housing projects were not renewed for federal funding in the next fiscal year, including about $600,000 in programs run by Colette’s Children’s Home and $500,000 run by The Eli Home.

The overall federal funding for homelessness housing programs in Orange County, meanwhile, is increasing from $19.5 million in the current fiscal year to $22 million next year.

The extra money will help support two new permanent supportive housing and two new rapid re-housing programs, aimed at serving “more than 200 individuals/families,” according to the county.

(Click here to see Orange County’s list of federally-funded homelessness housing programs for the next fiscal year, along with how much was requested for each program.)

While Colette’s transitional housing programs won’t be funded by HUD, Cabrera said, there could be other programs for women and children served by Colette’s and similar groups that aren’t getting their funding renewed. “HUD is ready to help local communities” that are impacted, he said.

The elected officials, meanwhile, said that while the housing-first emphasis is admirable, the shift is happening too fast for some groups of homeless people, like women and children who have faced domestic violence.

Permanent supportive housing is a “great goal,” but if there’s an immediate transition to it “you lose a lot of people” like women and children, said Rep. Lowenthal, who was a longtime community psychology professor at Cal State Long Beach. “If we really care about helping people, you can’t leave out” programs like Colette’s, he said.

Tuesday’s press conference was supported by local labor unions, whose representatives said they fully support homeless programs.

“We have to stand together” to ensure the county’s new year-round shelter takes a comprehensive approach, said Jennifer Muir, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

The homeless people living in the county Civic Center are “a reflection of our values,” added Muir, who was joined by leaders of the Teamsters Local 952, Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, Ironworkers Local 433, and Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice.

Sanchez and Lowenthal said they plan to work with fellow Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein to build a bipartisan coalition in Congress on the issue.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Curt Johnston

    this Fedral shift in resources from temporary housing to more permanent house may be an attempt to more wisely spend the funds which are being funneled more toward the the homeless taskforce workers more than actually benifiting the homeless themselves.

  • Cynthia Ward

    Housing First is genuinely a more effective way to deliver services to the homeless, WHEN there are permanent housing units available for rent through the Fed grants. In OC we push people into transitional housing to meet the need for a roof, because there are no permanent units available. It is a Catch-22. And WHY does OC lack the more affordable units that could be funded by Fed grants? Gee, does it have anything to do with the “save the world at the expense of California” mentality of our current Gov. Moonbeam? Brown has failed to understand that even if we implement EVERY ONE of his draconian measures to save the environment it is such a drop in the bucket that it does NOTHING to save the planet! All we have done is make it impossible to build affordable units because of the outrageous costs and obstacles that developers are forced to surmount, in appeasement to Goddess Earth. And when our workforce is pushed out to the Inland Empire in search of affordable housing, he then punishes them for their commute, with regressive gas taxes that hurt the working poor in greater numbers, as they drive the least fuel efficient vehicles and pay the higher percentage of their income to gas taxes. Now cap and trade will bury them with per-mile fees. WAY TO GO LIBERALS! Let’s point directly to the failed policies of Sacramento and the Earth Worship Governor, when looking for who to blame for a whole bunch of women and children becoming homeless. Epic. Fail.

    • Jacki Livingston

      There are so many building methods that are not only quick and inexpensive, but they are also environmentally sustainable. I have seen the mini houses, that are very small, but perfect for this kind of population. There are binishell homes that are really cheap to build, and are energy efficient. I am not an expert on such things, but it seems to me that if a piece of land could be found, sufficiently removed from private homes tracts, that some innovating builder could do this building, and use solar energy, have a community garden, maybe some other resources…couldn’t funding be found from a variety of sources? Obviously, you know more about zoning and things like that. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could stop talking about forcing shelters into residential neighborhoods, and, instead, do something truly innovative and bring together a number of parties to build inexpensive and environmentally friendly communities where people don’t just get help handed to them, but they actually have to be a part of building better places for all? My ex has a company in Central California that takes olive pits from the olive growers, and turns them into cheap, clean energy. A project like this could be incredible, and cost efficient, with partners who want to accomplish goals that benefit us all. Like I said, you know more than I do, but it seems like we all, Liberals, Conservatives, Homeless, Homeowners, Tree Huggers and all, could find a common ground? Jobs, clean energy, homeowners happy…I don’t know, I just think there are positive ways to do this. Your thoughts?

    • Jacki Livingston
    • Colchester Creek

      I’m sorry Cynthia but you lost me after the first couple of sentences.

      Housing First is indeed the only logical sustainable model for supporting the homeless. However it cannot succeed without the political will to (a) provide adequate funding, and (b) change the social and economic system that causes homelessness in the first place.

      In terms of the Governor and development, I’m afraid I must completely disagree. When I visit the Armory I don’t see developers standing in line desperate for a cup and a cot. The will to provide affordable housing is not stymied by regulation, it’s the power of the pocket and the pull of the profit that drive our housing market. If we really are serious about our housing crisis there are five things we must do :

      1. Invoke stringent rent controls
      2. Require a high percentage of new build to be TRULY affordable – ie, based on average local minimum wage, not based on comparable local sale price or rent
      3. A significant tax increase on corporate profits and high incomes to fund enough year-round support services and beds for all that need them, not just those temporary ones we currently care to afford.
      4. Immediately enacting the Right to Rest ! Nothing speaks worse of the true interests of this county than the restrictive laws, defensive architecture and cruel overnight sweeps that deny homeless persons the simple human right to sleep. Confiscating the few possessions they have in the middle of the night and saying they can reclaim them 30 miles away is a most despicable form of OC cruel.
      5. Last, public financing of the electoral process and the banishment of all private monies from our political arena. Whilst our politicians remain locked in the pockets of business we will never treat those increasing numbers on the edge of our communities with the decency, humanity and respect they deserve.

      I would only add that if the last item were already in place, Nick may not have needed to file this otherwise excellent report.

      • Cynthia Ward

        Can we meet in the middle?

        #5: Agree, money is corrupting campaigns on both ends. Business “buys” a candidate by getting them elected, but politicians also extort funding by cooking up “bogey man” legislative threats and then holding up businesses about to be impacted by the monster that politicians just created. But what do you do about Independent Expenditures? The right to share support or opposition of a candidate or measure is a bedrock of American free speech, how do you protect the rights of citizens to express that while getting the extortion out of campaigns? Ideally not having corporate funding would be awesome, but our delightful Supremes blew that call so now what do we do?

        #4: Agree, stripping people who have nothing, of the very few possessions they do have (often including MEDS) is inhumane in the extreme. We need to provide for the ability of human beings to stop and rest and meet their basic needs, while working toward more permanent solutions. Leaving them on the streets until shelters are built is BONKERS. Harassing them for the need to sleep and use a restroom when no alternatives are provided is just cruel. On the flip side we will someday need to have a discussion about those who have chosen to drop out of society while demanding some “right” to use public space for their own private use, without an exchange of effort to provide for themselves, and while that is a small segment of the population, that is who I believe law enforcement is trying to force to move along, and sadly the unwilling homeless get caught up in the same net thrown to those who have selected homelessness. (Go ahead start with the angry emails but you talk to any social services professional and they will tell you there is a difference between the involuntary “homeless” and “street people” who have opted in to that life,

        But if addressing only affordability, we DO need to find ways to fund affordable units for those unable to earn enough to pay a market rate, there is no question about it. This is a moral obligation to all of us as human beings, and we suck at it, and should be ashamed. But I am reluctant to demand any one segment of the business community shoulder the burdens of what all humanity should be funding. I am open to exchanges of benefits for a set percentage of affordable units per new development. Sadly this often becomes parking shortages that further impact surrounding neighborhoods, or density bonuses that block out the skyline and sunshine for those adjacent to the projects. Instead, is there a way to offset the subsidy with property tax reductions/eliminations, based on the number of units set aside as affordable? It works fabulously to encourage heritage property owners to invest in rehab.

        For our willing and able workforce, instead of MEETING the need for affordable housing can we please look into ELIMINATING the NEED for affordable housing by creating economic opportunity for those who want to pull themselves out of poverty? Our low rent neighborhoods are PACKED with people who WANT better jobs and cannot find them. We are happy to subsidize entire segments of the business world, yet we don’t tie those subsidies to living wages. In CA we spent years offering tax credits to employers in an “Enterprise Zone” scheme that kicked back money to those who “created” jobs, but the credits only applied up to $12 per hour, when we know it takes about twice that to afford basics in OC and much of California’s urban areas. The EZ credits also did not require employers to offer benefits. This simply transferred the cost of California’s labor pool to the taxpayers, letting employers get away with poverty wages and forcing taxpayers to cover the cost of medical care. If we subsidize ONLY higher wage jobs with benefits, and permit those who want greater opportunity to get out of their low wage fields, we apply pressure to the market and move it upward, Anaheim is a great example of people being trapped in a tourism economy because that is the ONLY economy with a voice at City Hall, it is heavily subsidized, and since Anaheim failed to replace the lost manufacturing jobs that once supported Anaheim families, a workforce without options has no way to demand market wages, Don’t believe for a second this is not deliberate and intentional and further proof of the evil of money controlling government.

        But in combination with getting people out of poverty with opportunity rather than simply subsidizing and enabling poverty wage lifestyles, we need to think outside the box to increase affordability while working toward a better economic balance. Doing the same old failed stuff isn’t an option. I would love to see us play with zoning and density for existing housing stock, to permit 2nd units where our largely unused garages are sitting. This creates a lower cost housing stock of studio to small 1-2 bd units with less impact than more apartment complexes, distributes affordable housing throughout the city so no single area shoulders the entire burden of the higher density, under-parked projects, AND allows homeowners to pull in some (rent controlled for a set period) revenue for themselves, which in turn increases and area’s economic demographics and then brings in the more desirable retailers (Hello Trader Joe’s) which benefits ALL in the area. The 2nd unit also would bump property taxes as the property changes hands (reassessment would have to be deferred for the current owner of benefits are lost) but if passed to the new owner the higher property taxes benefit the General Fund for the community, which is a far more stable revenue source than OC’s over reliance on the volatility of tourism. (factoring some restrictions on roll-over to prevent flipping and evicting the low rent tenants) Even if the homeowner didn’t directly take in a homeless person for that 2nd unit, offering it to an aging parent or college grad trying to launch would free up their lower rent units to be used by others, any increase in inventory helps.

        See, I am not completely evil. Most days.