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Texas funding cut leaves local agencies scrambling to continue services for homeless

Posted Sunday, Mar. 04, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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The impact of state budget cuts on homeless programs is evident on the calendar pages inside Larry Beasely's personal planner.

Last year, full hours were blocked off and highlighted for one-on-one assessments that Beasely, a case manager, conducted with people staying at the Salvation Army's emergency shelter in Fort Worth.

This year, each line is crammed with the names of people he assessed in hurried 15-minute meetings.

The shelter reduced its case managers from four to one after the state eliminated funding for a $20 million state homeless housing and services program last year. Other programs affected by the cuts include an employment program, street outreach and rental assistance.

The funding loss has left cities and nonprofit groups stretching dollars to avoid big lapses in services, officials say. At the Salvation Army emergency shelter, client assessments fell from about 1,400 in three-month periods to fewer than 500.

"It's pretty hectic," Beasely said between appointments Thursday. "It turns into a battle between quality and quantity because you want to spend enough time with someone to really help them, but that limits how many others you can help."

Officials hope the announcement this week by the United Way of Tarrant County of $2.4 million in grants from the city of Fort Worth's Directions Home program will provide some relief. Budget planners say they tried to fill holes in service without creating new ones.

Directions Home is the city's plan to end chronic homelessness.

"We had to figure out ways to squeeze the Directions Home budget to cover what we didn't get from the state," said Otis Thornton, director of the city's homelessness programs. "If you're helping pay someone's rent with funding that you were expecting to continue and it doesn't continue ... then you have to scramble to make sure people don't lose their homes."

Budget cutting

The Texas Homeless Housing and Services Program was created by the 81st Legislature in 2009 to help the state's eight largest cities provide homeless services. In most cases, the cities awarded the money to local nonprofit organizations, said Gordon Anderson, spokesman for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

The $20 million, which was allocated to cities in a two-year cycle, was eliminated during the budget crunch of the 2011 session.

However, the services the program funded were widely considered "a powerful resource for the nonprofits" so the state managed to draw $5 million through sources including the housing trust fund to help cities fill the funding void this year, Anderson said.

In Arlington, that meant the city got about half of the nearly $500,000 it had received in a year. Because of the cuts, some clients could no longer get rental aid, said David Zappasodi, executive director of the Arlington Housing Authority.

"The level of services provided to the city of Arlington's homeless significantly decreased when HHSP funding ended" in August, he said.

The city of Fort Worth's state homeless funding fell from more than $800,000 in a year to $460,000, according to the state. A jobs program and case managers were lost, and there was money for only one member of a street outreach team. Catholic Charities Fort Worth helped fund the team, though the result was still "an overall service reduction," Thornton said.

Getting direction

The Directions Home allocations include money for case managers, job readiness and rental vouching programs. The Salvation Army, for example, hopes to use the funding to hire two more case managers for the emergency shelter.

That would help Beasley, who recently increased the time allotment for assessments to 30 minutes because 15 minutes felt ineffective. One client, William Youngstrom, said he knew other people in the emergency shelter who would benefit from more access to help.

"Sometimes getting some direction on the things you need to do makes all the difference," Youngstrom said.

More precarious than 2012 is what will happen in 2013, officials said. Right now, no state money is committed for these services. Anderson said state officials are hopeful they can find $5 million for next year.

The state's efforts to find more money are appreciated, Zappasodi said.

"While we would have preferred continued seamless funding from one budget year to the next, clearly we desperately need and deeply appreciate the state's help in combating homelessness," he said.

Alex Branch, 817-390-7689

Twitter: @albranch1

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