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If ever we wanted a lesson in the politics of federal funding for poverty programs, the President and Congress just gave us a doozy.

It starts with the President’s budget proposing $1.6 billion in cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) primary affordable housing program: Section 8.

These were the cuts Bush’s Homeless Czar, Phil Mangano, referred to as “a reform” last month at a City Hall press conference convened to launch San Francisco’s Ten Year Plan for ending chronic homelessness. (Incidentally, such press conferences have become a virtual way of life for Mangano, who spends the bulk of his time traveling around the country ensuring that a positive—and positively pro-Bush Administration homeless policy—spin is superimposed on each city’s Ten Year Plan in turn.)

San Francisco was no exception. But here, as elsewhere across the country, individuals and organizations are refusing to be fooled by the Administration’s heavy-handed media manipulation. In fact, more and more people are perceiving—and publicly pointing out—the White House’s hypocrisy in heavily touting a homeless initiative designed to serve only “unaccompanied single adults,” backed by a mere $70 million in funding, while proposing to cut $1.6 billion from housing for everyone.

Congress seemed to agree, its members declaring that “We will not allow these cuts to Sec. 8.” And, for the most part, they didn’t, drastically reducing the President’s proposed cuts to the Sec. 8 program from $1.6 billion to $100 million. (Do note, however, that the final—significantly decreased—amount cut from Sec. 8 STILL exceeds the amount allocated for the “new” federally dictated approach to “ending homelessness” by a factor of nearly one-third [that is, in essence, the Bush Administration’s policy amounts to holding out $70 million in one hand, while using the other to take away $100 million.)

But before anyone gets too giddy thinking that we may finally have a Congress willing to stand up on behalf of the more than 34 million people currently living below the federal poverty line—or the over 3 million people per year who experience homelessness—we need to take a long hard look at the rest of the budget Congress is sending to the Senate in September. Unfortunately, once again, this kind of scrutiny yields findings calculated to undermine any incipient enthusiasm or sense of optimism about the future of Federal homelessness policy.

More specifically, to compensate for the funding they “restored” to Sec. 8, the House Appropriations Committee significantly reduced allocations to a number of other housing and housing-related programs. This sweeping series of cuts not only will effect the entire homeless and marginally housed population, but also will have a particularly negative impact on the circumstances of specific populations, such as elderly homeless people and people with AIDS.

Consider the following:

  • Sec. 8 Voucher Administrative Fees: Cut by $48 million (4%) [$800K cut in SF funding for these fees]
  • Public Housing Operating Fund: Cut by $154 million (4.3%) [$1.9 million cut in funding for SF]
  • Public Housing Capital Fund: Cut by $116 million (4.3%) [$600K lost to SF]
  • Hope VI: Cut by $6 million (4.1%)
  • HOME Formula Allocation: Cut by $80 million (4.4%)
  • Homeless Assistance Grants: Cut by $53.3 million (4.2%)
  • HOPWA: Cut by $13 million (4.5%)
  • Community Development Fund: Cut by $210 million (4.5%)

Institutionalizing Idiocy

Obviously, from any rational perspective, this approach makes no sense whatsoever. What idiot “restores” cuts to a housing assistance program by cutting housing assistance programs?

A political idiot—that’s who. And when you remember that all of these cuts were taken out of the already vastly reduced funding levels that characterized this Administration’s FY 2004 budget, the situation becomes even more ludicrous.

This month [September], the United States Senate will, in effect, be determining whether or not San Francisco’s homeless population will increase dramatically next year. The Senate makes the final decision on the federal budget. Not the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the Ten Year Plan, the Continuum of Care Plan, or Care Not Cash. Surely not anti-panhandling campaigns, business improvement districts, or any of a host of City policies—including using DPW trucks to hose sleeping people down, fingerprinting every homeless person willing to undergo the process in exchange for a single night’s lodging, removing public benches, barricading abandoned buildings, or closing more public parks at night.

After 22 years of drastically different attempts to eradicate homelessness from a local level, if San Francisco has learned anything, it is that the continued withdrawal of federal funding for anti-poverty programs in local communities is EXACTLY parallel with a dramatic rise in homelessness.

Call, write, demonstrate, mime, or open your window and yell out. The City employs lobbyists who work at the Federal level; our Senators are Feinstein and Boxer. These folks are all paid by us to work for us.

Tell them that we are disgusted with living in a country that is truly turning into “the Land of the Haves and Have Nots.”

Housing is good. We like housing… and we know for a fact that housing is the #1 solution to homelessness. Everyone should be able to get some.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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