A baby bailout for the homeless

Dec. 27, 2009

Earlier this week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the release of $1.4 billion in grants to help keep thousands of local homeless assistance programs operating.

It pales in comparison to the massive bailouts handed out to financial institutions earlier this year, but it is welcome news nonetheless. The grants will offer financial assistance to 6,445 programs across the country that provide services for the homeless.

These are not easy times for anyone in the business of helping the homeless. Not only have the numbers of those in need of assistance increased, but many programs that serve the homeless have seen their both their budget decrease and donations on the decline. According to a survey by The Bridgespan Group conducted in the fall of 2009, some 93 percent of the nonprofits surveyed were experiencing the effects of the downturn, up from 75 percent one year ago.

“As city, state, and federal governments have slashed budgets, foundations have reduced their grant-making, and individuals have cut back their charitable giving, the number of organizations that reported funding cuts has increased to 80 percent from 52 percent.” – Managing in Tough Times Survey, The Bridgespan Group

That comes on top of budget cuts made to municipal programs. From Illinois to Washington to Hawaii, state budgets for homeless services has been reduced forcing those serving the poor to make tough decisions. One church in Brattleboro, Vermont opted to sell a stained glass window for $75,000 to keep it’s shelter open. One bit of good news is that not every state is cutting back. The Connecticut General Assembly earlier this month turned back an attempt by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to chop the state’s homeless services budget by one-fourth.

Though municipal budgets may be strained, cutting services for those most vulnerable, most in need, is no way to balance the budget.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper