In the last issue of SPARE CHANGE NEWS, there was a news article by Alex Ramirez on sequester cuts: how will they affect federal funding for programs that service the poor and the homeless?
For one, housing vouchers (like Section 8) which subsidize rent for those who cannot afford the full price, will be greatly affected. Not only will the housing waiting lists become longer, but some people, the ones who currently participate in the program, may be cut from the rolls and forced right back into a life of homelessness.
And yet, the Patrick administration put out a press release announcing that they will be receiving $4 million in federal money to combat homelessness in the commonwealth. Apparently, the money will support emergency shelters, rapid rehousing and other housing prevention programs.
First of all, while helpful, using $4 million to combat homelessness is like trying to fill a bathtub using an eyedropper: the problem is way too large for a budget so small. Instead of improving, homelessness will eventually hit a new low.
The cuts to the Section 8 program could keep hundreds on the wait lists for years. And cutting those who are already in the program will be detrimental. The shelter system in Massachusetts is bursting at the seams. A few hundred more will break the dam.
The Patrick administration’s press release states that $1.4 million will be used to move 612 homeless individuals from emergency shelters to permanent housing in this fiscal year through the rapid rehousing program. But with the potential sequester cuts, how will we be able to keep them there? And, of course, this does little for the hidden homeless—couch surfers, campers, squatters, people living in their cars, and others who avoid the shelter system. Most are not even eligible for those services.
The governor has set aside another $1.3 million for emergency shelter beds. Tell me, do politicians have a clue about the emergency shelter system? I know some that do, but a vast majority of them do not. They should get off their lofty perches, step outside their comfortable little homes, and spend an evening with the overworked, undermanned staff at Pine Street Inn, Long Island Shelter, Intake, or the smaller suburban shelters. Do it on a cold, rainy night in late December or early January, when these overworked and undermanned staff struggle to make enough space so someone doesn’t have to freeze to death on the streets.
Now think about the sequester cuts. Will $1.3 million really undo their damage? Of course not.
James Shearer is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which published SPARE CHANGE NEWS. He also co-found the paper.