The city of Baltimore is already feeling the effects of major budget cuts from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a government agency dedicated to providing relief to the nation’s homeless problem in the form of relief programs and emergency housing. Last month, HUD announced an 18 percent slash in government relief funds for Baltimore City, a decision which caused a wide amount of negative speculation within the city’s various private and non-private homeless service providers. In total, the city has lost $3.8 million this year.
For many, the federal budget cuts could not come at a more critical time. According to Health Care for the Homeless, an organization aiding the homeless for 30 years, nearly one-quarter of all residents live at the federal poverty line or lower. Of this demographic, nearly half of the population is an 200% below the federal poverty line, qualifying them for what’s known as “deep poverty”.
As for children, nearly a third of Baltimore’s children live in poor households, Health Care for the Homeless continues. Perhaps this is because almost half of the renters in Baltimore spend at least 35% of their income on paying the rent.
According to HUD reports, around 2,567 people were homeless in Baltimore City each night in 2014. By 2015, the number had grown to about 2,800. These statistics were based on a Point-in-Time (PIT) count, which estimates the homeless populations for one week a year in January.
Despite a growing homeless population, HUD chose to award grants to only two of 20 projects in existence. Even though HUD increased the available amount of funding across the country, Baltimore City was excluded from many of these grants due to a lack of clear-cut direction. For years, HUD has stressed to city officials nationwide to focus less on transitional housing programs and invest more in permanent housing solutions. However, Baltimore failed to meet these qualifications and is now being financially reprimanded, critics say.
Community leaders are scrambling to voice their opinions. John J. Schiavone, President and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul, wrote in an editorial that “Baltimore is in serious danger of backsliding in its efforts to make progress in ending homelessness. We as a community, can’t afford that.” Schiavone went on to call for a reinvigorated leadership with a more comprehensive structure, stronger methods of communication, increased teamwork, and more local funding.
Schiavone’s organization, St. Vincent de Paul, was founded in 1865, and hosts a litany of homeless programs designed to provide aide and assistance to permanently enable the homelessness to become self-reliant again. Since 2009, the Front Door Program continues to financially back homeless citizens seeking to rent an apartment. Other programs include a day camp for homeless children to receive nutrition and instructions, and many others. However, the HUD’s decision puts a strain on organizations such as these.
A September 2015 report by the Department of Legislative Services acknowledges that nearly half of all the state’s year-round beds are found in Baltimore City. The budget cut will greatly exacerbate the wait times for homeless populations to get a bed to rest in, and virtually eliminate any possibility for the homeless to stay in shelters for consecutive nights.
To HUD’s credit, Homeless Services Program Director Vidia Dhanraj managed to prevent even more cuts by diverting 30 percent of Baltimore’s supportive housing programming from veterans’ service, and securing an additional project that will find permanent homes for 55 people throughout the city. Still, how forgiving HUD will be towards Baltimore, and how compliant the city will be in the future, is yet to be seen.