Housing agency OKs funds for homeless prevention
Columbia Daily TribuneCatherine Martin
Friday, February 17, 2012
The model for serving homeless people is changing, said Heather Bradley-Geary, community initiatives manager for the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which met this morning in Columbia.
Instead of sending those in need to emergency shelters and then transitional housing, some organizations are starting to set people up with housing "without all the red tape," Bradley-Geary said.
Today the housing development commission approved the allocation of $420,000 from its fund balance to go to the Housing First Scattered-Site program, or HFSS, which aims to increase stability for homeless people.
The funds will go toward 155 new units across the state for homeless individuals, including 29 units in Columbia. The program focuses on veterans, youths and those with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities.
"We have responsibilities as Missourians to care for those who are less fortunate … and to have the same hope and opportunities for all," state Treasurer Clint Zweifel said.
Zweifel has pushed for the approval of the units, which he said will also benefit taxpayers in the long run by eliminating costs that could have come from incarceration or health care for the people the program aims to help.
"It creates an opportunity for them to get back on their feet and work toward independence," he said.
The program does not cost any additional taxpayer money, he said. It is modeled after federal initiatives that came from the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act that President Barack Obama signed in 2009. The act amended and reauthorized the McKinney-Vento act and included changes such as expanding homeless prevention efforts and adding incentives for faster rehousing.
"The old model … just wasn't working," Bradley-Geary said. "This model says, 'We need to house people first.' "
A 2009 homeless study from the commission counted about 24,000 homeless people in Missouri, including 16,000 younger than 18.
About 365 units have been approved since HFSS started work in Missouri about two years ago, Zweifel said.
"It's been a game-changer for the communities and a game-changer in beginning to live up to our responsibilities to the mentally ill, veterans and kids," he said.
Zweifel said he began to push for HFSS after he met with an organization for struggling veterans and the mentally ill. "I realized there was a huge need, and so many Missourians are at risk of being homeless," he said.
The ultimate goal, he said, would be for 33 percent of all low-income housing tax credits for developments with special needs to go to HFSS.