Eight programs on Oahu that serve 282 homeless teenagers and homeless adults with HIV/AIDS and mental illness have begun losing their federal Housing and Urban Development funding as the agency changes its approach to homelessness.
The $1.3 million in cuts will affect some of the most vulnerable homeless people on the island. And the biggest chunk — $335,489 — will hit Gregory House programs the hardest.
The organization currently houses 20 formerly homeless clients with HIV/AIDS, who typically are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions and often have mental health problems.
Today, Executive Director Jonathon Berliner plans to tell the patients living in lower Makiki that there is no plan for where they’ll live as of Sept. 1.
“It’s baffling that HUD would do something like this when we have the highest (per capita) rate of homelessness” in the country, Berliner said. “These are people who have nowhere else to go. We’re doing what we can to not just dump our clients out on the street.”
The cuts will affect homeless programs only on Oahu. Two neighbor island programs will receive the same amount of HUD funding they got in the last fiscal year, as will two programs on Guam, according to HUD.
The Oahu cuts are part of a nationwide sea change in which HUD is pushing the country’s 398 local community groups — known as a Continuum of Care — to emphasize so-called “permanent supportive housing” over transitional programs such as Gregory House.
“Permanent supportive housing” is often called Housing First, which maintains that it’s more effective and cost-efficient to first put homeless people into fair-market rental units, then deal with problems that can include mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse.
“We recognize that local planners are making tough decisions right now about the programs they support,” said HUD spokesman Eduardo Cabrera. “But the good thing is we know how to end homelessness: encouraging communities to make permanent housing solutions so they can serve an even greater number of people.”
Asked about the future of the eight Honolulu programs that are losing their HUD funding, Ryan Okahara, field office director for Honolulu’s HUD office said, “In many cases these programs will look for other sources of funding.”
On April 30, Hale Kipa lost its $128,101 HUD funding to serve nine homeless young males and young women in two separate homes in Ewa.
The nonprofit is now dipping into money that wasn’t budgeted for it to keep the program running, said Chief Executive Officer Punky Pletan-Cross.
“There’s a lot of people that are scrambling right now,” Pletan-Cross said. “Everyone is trying to focus on doing a good job, and it’s difficult when you’re all on the street at the same time looking for money.”
Hale Kipa also will lose a separate federal contract for $100,000 on July 1 to provide homeless street outreach.
“We’re not going to precipitously put people on the street,” Pletan-Cross said. “That’s not appropriate. But it really feels to me the message is there’s a one-size model and we’re going to prioritize that over all other considerations. That’s narrow-minded. The longer they’re on the streets, the more difficult it is to come back. And the challenges to come out of homelessness become more complicated.”
While HUD has begun cutting $1.3 million for the eight Oahu programs, it is increasing the amount of money for rental assistance because of rising rents.
So the net reduction to Honolulu’s Continuum of Care adds up to an overall hit of $525,793 out of the $9.2 million HUD will provide.
The $9.2 million also includes $296,602 for Partners in Care — which leads Oahu’s Continuum of Care — to help organizations adjust to the funding cuts, said Mark Chandler, community planning and development director for HUD’s Honolulu office.
“It gives them administrative dollars to plan for homeless services and the direction that the continuum should head,” Chandler said.
Across the country, Chandler said, “many continuums received planning dollars this year to help them deal with the transition to head more into the direction the federal government wants these continuums to have.”
Asked how the money will be spent in Honolulu, the chairman of Partners in Care, Marc Gannon, said in a statement through a Honolulu public relations company that the HUD money “will help to ensure that PIC is effective and efficient in its role as the Continuum of Care for Oahu” by working with state and city officials and helping HUD to evaluate and monitor how its money is spent, among other things.
In a separate statement, Gannon said, “Partners in Care (PIC) remains focused on addressing the urgent needs of Hawaii’s homeless population. We are working actively with the affected organizations to ensure that we are able to continue serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness. PIC is collaborating with service providers and government partners to realign available resources to support programs that are most critical in our continuum.”
Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said HUD has been talking about de-emphasizing transitional programs in favor of permanent supportive housing “over the past several years.”
“No one is saying that traditional programs don’t have a role,” Morishige said.
He plans to work with his counterparts in the city to help nonprofit groups deal with the HUD cuts.
“We are one of many communities across the country where funding is being prioritized toward permanent housing programs,” Morishige said.
But for now Berliner, the Gregory House executive director, is still trying to figure out how to tell his 20 clients with HIV/AIDS today that they’ll have no place to live as of Sept. 1.
“These are individuals that are at the bottom of the bottom,” Berliner said. “They’ve come to us homeless, oftentimes with substance abuse issues and mental health issues. This all exacerbates that. It makes no sense.”