Friday, February 8, 2013

Harford Does More

Harford County just announced that for the second year in a row, its homeless population had decreased by nearly 20%.  Even more impressive is that of those homeless, the vast majority are living in some sort of shelter.  According to this article by The Aegis, in 2010 there were 221 homeless in shelters, 13 on the street; 2011 - 243 homeless; and in 2012 there 204 homeless in shelters and 12 on the street.  A recent count in January of this 2013 found 166 homeless living in shelters, including 68 children.

In Howard County, there were 230 homeless counted in 2012, which included 142 people in shelters and 82 living outdoors or in cars.  This was an increase from 191 homeless counted in 2011 and 221 counted in 2010.

"Shelter" obviously means different things to different people.  In Howard County, where our primary shelter has 33 beds, those that happened to sleep with a roof over their head in last night's rain and sleet were staying in a Motel.

The difference is Housing First:

Harford County has 13 emergency, transitional and permanent supportive shelters, offering a total of 304 beds for homeless adults, children and families.

If you're like me, you reviewed these numbers and thought "this can't be."  Maybe Harford is bigger?  Nope, Howard has about 45,000 more people.  Maybe they spend more money?  Nope, Harford County's FY14 operating budget was $624 million ($124.4 million capital), while Howard County's FY13 operating budget was approximately $900 million operating ($175 million capital).

The Aegis article goes on to note that the "Harford County Department of Community Services provided more than a $1 million in homeless program funding" to nonprofits, but you would be hard pressed to find a County Executive more supportive of nonprofits that Ken Ulman.

So what are they doing better?  Why are their homeless numbers under 200 and dropping fast?  Housing first.  The Plan to End Homelessness includes the following requests, totaling approximately 100 housing units (still far less than Harford):

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) apartment units for 16 families and 19 individuals. The new HSSP program will provide 7 or more units.

Small Efficiency Apartments
(SEA) for 54 individuals. The planned SEA project will provide 33 units. It is a specialized type of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals.

Recovery House beds for 18 individuals (about 5 housing units). Group residential settings for formerly homeless person in recovery from addictions.

Rent Subsidies for 6 families. This category includes households that do not meet the disability requirements for Permanent Supportive Housing but have income limitations preventing them from accessing affordable housing on their own.

Of these priorities, the Council is still pushing through SEA housing for 33 units, one third of the total goal. Anyone concerned about ending homelessness should be proud and thankful for the new and sincere focus that County Executive Ken Ulman has put on this problem.  But we're not there yet.  

In a little less than two months, Ken Ulman will reveal his Capital Budget for FY14.  This will be his second to last budget as County Executive.  He will have the opportunity to permanently solve homelessness in Howard County with a continued push on Housing First.

Harford has a lead.  Let's beat them to the finish line.