North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Stimulus goal: Stem homeless tide in city

Stimulus goal: Stem homeless tide in city

By Matthew E. Milliken : The Herald-Sun
Mar 12, 2009

DURHAM -- The federal stimulus package will provide $789,000 for Durham agencies to devote to the prevention of homelessness over the next three years.

Rules for the new program, which will get $1.5 billion nationally and $29 million around the state, could be finalized by federal authorities next week. But advocates say it will help keep people off the streets by providing money they need to stay housed or to find new housing.

"This is really a new way of thinking about prevention than we have typically dealt with in the past in North Carolina," said Denise Neunaber, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness.

Neunaber said her group and allies around the nation have been lobbying for years for homeless prevention funding like that authorized by the stimulus bill. The program will include a great deal of flexible funding that could be used to pay such expenses as deposits, first and last months' rent, and moving costs.

"Basically it's whatever the family or individual needs in order to stay in their housing or get back into housing," Neunaber said.

Larry Jarvis, assistant director of the city of Durham's Department of Community Development, was reluctant to discuss the program until the Federal Register publishes the rules.

Others who are tracking stimulus funding distributed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said the city will have up to two months to submit a plan for using the funds. Once the plan is accepted, the money should become available very quickly.

At least half of the local allocation will have to be spent within two years or else HUD may take some of it back.

"It should be a good resource for us," said Anita Oldham, executive director of the Durham Affordable Housing Coalition.

The intent behind the prevention program, she said, "is that the economy and the recession the way it is right now is going to cause homelessness, so hopefully this will get people right back into housing and save everyone a lot of money."

Neunaber agreed, expressing excitement about the new program's potential. "It really has the potential to change the way that homelessness looks in our community over time," she said. "Obviously there's a really great need now, but over time if we make these changes what we may see is our emergency shelters truly go back to being emergency shelters."

That's different from how the shelters are used now, as housing for periods that can last years for some chronically homeless people, Neunaber said.

In 2008, surveyors found 12,371 homeless people in North Carolina, including 2,216 children. Durham surveyors found 590 homeless individuals, of whom 116 were members of families.

Durham results from the 2009 homelessness survey are scheduled to be released next week. Oldham said she expects a slight decrease in the overall number.
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