May 12, 2009

ARRA Bucks Incoming!

It’s here. With all of its 850 billion dollar weirdness, 2009 is now full throttle. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 or ARRA funds are all printed up and stacked high and proud, standing by and at the ready. And with a wink and a nod they’ll be slung from their super powered, high hoped, low drag American made titanium reinforced sling shot in D.C. Their target is a community near you. And when it comes to dollars to help the homeless I know what you are thinking. How will this change what we do as a community when it comes to addressing homelessness?

If you’ve been reading my blogs you pretty much can guess what I am thinking. My thoughts are generally on whether this whole ARRA thing, when it comes to helping the homeless, is going to be the mother of all containment operations. With all the free housing being offered up now around these funds and added to the changing policies around the “Housing First” model the real question is: will these AARA funds essentially put a giant dome over the battle against homelessness and call it “housed”? Are you following me?

Here is an example. There are some folks that I know around the region that run programs that help the homeless solve the root causes that led to their homelessness. If we walked into those places today with a sign that said “free housing”, how many would bail and abandon their programs? I know that I am simplifying this but really, I want you to think. If it comes down to these funds being used to allow folks to bypass solving the real reasons that got them homeless and get re-housed or stayed housed are we really solving homelessness or just containing it like the disease we as a society treat it as?

It’s human nature for us to be drawn to the “easier and softer” way of dealing with our problems. Now what about the person or family who is experiencing the consequences of those causative factors, maybe the recession is acting as a natural intervention and putting pressure on them to get help. But instead of addressing their causative factors and solving the real problem, they can get “symptom relief” by getting free housing. Yeah and I know all about those housing vouchers coming with a “case management” carrot and using that as some sort of accountability badge. Comon now.

Let’s pluck one of those San Diego folks asking for or getting help and give them housing along with a service contract that says they must see a case manager once a week to “address” their issues. Bingo. For some (maybe 15%) that might work. But for the huge majority of homeless folks in crisis, where is the motivation, the community partnership and the accountability to solve the real problems? Who pays for their free housing? Let’s connect the dots. Homeless person/family in crisis seeking help + given free housing + little or no direction, motivation, partnership and accountability around solving their causative factors + tax payer funded = mother of all containment operations.

INCOMING! – Here come the HPRP’s and the EHCY’s and an EFSP. Oh no…not an NSP! Duck, run for cover! The list below (according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness)shows the funds hitting the streets IN ADDITION to the billions already allocated through our regular annual planning and budgeting process:

- 1.5 billion dollars in Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).
- 70 million dollars in Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program (EHCY).
- 100 million dollars in Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP).
- 2 billion dollars in Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).
- 50 million dollars in Transitional Housing Assistance Grants (THAG).
- 510 million dollars in Native American Housing Block Grants (NAHBG).
- 1 billion dollars in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
- 1 billion dollars in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG)
- 5 billion dollars in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Here are the questions that I (and I hope you) will ask yourself and others responsible for doling out these funds.

Will these ARRA homeless assistance related dollars be used to solve the root causes of homelessness thereby resulting in less homeless people and a lesser need for more dollars?

After the billions on top of billions of ARRA Bucks are all used up and gone, after this epic landmark effort is all said and done, how many people will these dollars have truly solved homelessness for?

And the biggest question of all…

Is this battle plan a stealth containment (dependency program) operation? Meaning will this be that “dome over the battlefield” example I used earlier where we are essentially employing the mother of all containment operations?

I have this fantasy that somehow we won’t let that happen and that some way we will activate the collective will of us Americans to use these funds to solve homelessness for kids, adults and communities. It’s a really far out fantasy I know. But something tells me that if you really read this whole blog that there might now be another person out there who like me, has the same crazy idea. We have a real opportunity here to use the ARRA Bucks to solve this thing. Spending tens of billions of dollars to simply provide housing with “voluntary case management” WILL NOT end or solve homelessness. For the vast majority of homeless out there right now we must invest these funds into plans, people and programs that can solve the root causes around the specific needs and causative factors that led the person or family to become homeless. Everyone is talking about hand up not hand out and teaching folks to fish instead of giving a fish but what good is it if every year there is more homeless, more impacts on our communities and more ARRA Bucks being slung?

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