On the surface, it sounds like a good idea: Evaluate all agencies every year that provide services to the homeless, then steer limited federal dollars to those with the best track record of helping people.
But what happens to the people served by a program that gets thrown by the wayside when its funding is directed elsewhere?
For 43 individuals who for many years have received housing under a program operated by Chicago’s Human Resources Development Institute Inc., that seemingly good idea has turned their lives upside-down.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development informed the Chicago social services agency that it no longer would get funding for a program to provide apartments and supportive services to those 43 clients because other agencies had higher performance ratings.
As a result, most of those served by the program are faced, at best, with being displaced from their apartments — and potentially with the loss of any housing support.
We’re talking about people who previously were homeless. Many have disabilities. Some have children. That’s why they were accepted into the program in the first place.
Their problems haven’t disappeared. But, as of the end of June, the federal government’s commitment to house them has.
“I’m on a disability. I live by myself, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know what I did wrong,” said a distraught Veronica Goldsmith, who began to weep as we spoke.
Goldsmith, 50, said she has lived for about 15 years in a South Shore apartment funded through the program, called Shelter Plus Care — and has always complied with its rules.
“I got schizophrenia and a slipped disc, and I’m bipolar, and I take medication,” Goldsmith said. “I pay my rent. I don’t have no drug problem or nothing like that. So it’s nothing I did.”
Inga Parker, 56, of Roseland, said she had just gotten home from the hospital in March after brain surgery for an aneurysm when she got the bad news. She’s still looking for a solution.
“It has been a hard, sad time. It’s been stressful,” said Parker, who got an apartment under the program in 2005 while recovering from her first brain surgery, after nearly three years in a homeless shelter.
You’d think that, if ongoing federal funding for homeless programs was based on competition, there would be a plan in place to find alternative housing assistance for anyone whose program was eliminated.
Instead, it’s been a mad scramble.
HRDI came up with money at the last moment to pay July rents. August rents now also seem to have been covered with help from All Chicago Making Homelessness History, the agency that coordinates federal homeless prevention funding for the city.
Officials at HRDI and All Chicago said they are doing everything they can to make sure nobody is left homeless because of the loss of the grant.
“We feel we have a path forward for everyone,” said Dave Thomas, All Chicago’s vice president of community partnerships.
But those whose homes are at risk say information has been elusive and they’ve received no promises beyond this month.
All Chicago and HRDI say they are trying to tap into other federal housing programs for veterans, seniors and persons who are HIV-positive. Some could be moved into Chicago Housing Authority scattered-site housing. But that takes time.
Thomas said HRDI is one of several Chicago area homeless programs that lost funding but has had the most trouble finding new housing for clients.
Johnson put some blame on the clients. “There’s a group of people that are just not working well with us,” he said.
The federal grant originally was administered by another social service agency, Inner Voice, before being turned over to HRDI about eight years ago, which could be the cause of some disconnect.
“Our job is to make sure this never happens again,” Thomas said.
Trina Parker (no relation to Inga) has been one of the most vocal in calling attention to the problem.
“I would like some permanent solution to the situation. That’s what we really want,” said Parker, 51, of South Shore, who was living in a homeless shelter when approved for the program in 2008.
A permanent solution for those being displaced — and a plan to make sure it never happens again. That’s what I want.