While some programs saw budget increases, overall funding for homeless programs is insufficient to meet the rising need and will likely result in more homeless persons being denied services, said the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP).
According to a 25-city survey published in December by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, cities reported an average increase of 13% in emergency shelter requests nationwide in 2003. But under the federal budget approved yesterday, appropriations for the primary homeless shelter and housing programs totaled only $1.26 billion, less than a 4% increase over Fiscal Year 2003. More than 80% of the cities in the Mayors survey also reported that emergency shelters had been forced to turn away homeless families because of a lack of resources in 2003, and that they expected unmet needs to increase in 2004.
Funds for other federal programs also have not kept pace with rising housing costs and increasing homelessness, although some appropriations came closer to matching the rising need. Congress funded the largest housing assistance program, the Housing Certificate Fund, at a level 12% higher than the previous year, providing $19 billion in funding to subsidize poor Americans seeking housing in an ever-more competitive market.
According to a recent Harvard University Report, the gap between the number of low-income Americans who need housing and the available number of affordable units is over 4 million, and only 34% of the nations most needy renter households receive housing assistance. The 12% increase in the Housing Certificate Fund will not erase that gap.
Congress also approved $8 million to increase outreach to homeless individuals who may be eligible for Social Security benefits, and a 15% increase, to $50 million, for Projects in Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH). The PATH program funds community-based outreach, mental health, substance abuse, case management, and other support services, as well as limited housing services. Funding for the Healthcare for the Homeless program increased by about 8%, to $139 million.
Maria Foscarinis, NLCHPs Executive Director, commenting on the increasing gap between the shelter and housing needs of homeless persons and the funds allocated to homeless assistance programs, noted that without an increased commitment, the number of homeless people will continue to rise, leaving families to live in their cars, on the streets, and in increasingly over-burdened shelters. "We applaud this countrys efforts to protect human rights and human dignity around the world, but we cannot ignore the overwhelming human need and misery of millions of poor Americans."
NLCHP is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to serve as the legal arm of the national movement to prevent and end homelessness.