My afternoon must-read: Legislators zero-out programs helping the homeless

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Yesterday, Florida legislators reached a deal on a $70 billion budget. While there is much news going around about implications to a variety of services and programs throughout Florida, one cut in particular will have a significant effect on the most vulnerable population in Florida — the homeless.

All homeless funds have been cut from the proposed State of Florida budget. Statewide, this equates to approximately $6 million. Broken down, here is the overall picture:

  • $3,000,000 cut for Homeless Housing Assistance Grants that provide funds for acquisition of housing, construction of new housing, or repair of existing rental housing to be occupancy by homeless individuals and families.
  • $2,031,354 cut in Challenge Grant used to assist homeless services within the local homeless community such as food, legal services, transportation, and more.
  • $345,729 cut in local homeless coalition staffing grants to assist local communities in homeless system planning and coordination

Florida has at least 57,643 homeless people (2009 numbers). $6 million is roughly $104 per homeless person – a very small amount. Now this very small amounts to zero.

Locally, this means that the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board (formerly known as the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless), which is responsible for the coordination of homeless services throughout Pinellas and is mandated by HUD to serve as the lead agency on the area’s Continuum of Care, will carry the weight of this lack of funding directly. The greater effect, however, is that it will reduce support to countless homeless individuals and families and individuals and families at-risk of homelessness.

Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch, who also serves as Chair of the Homeless Leadership Board said, “From the Medicaid cost shift to counties, to education funding power plays, to cuts in homeless services, the Legislature continues to make short sighted decisions which will transfer costs to local taxpayers, cut critical services when they are most needed, and insure second tier status for Florida’s Colleges and Universities. Where is the leadership?”

Rayme Nuckles, CEO of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County and past president of the Florida Coalition for the Homeless said yesterday, “We just received word that the Florida House and Senate budget reconciliation group just zeroed out all homeless funding for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. It had been in the Senate budget but was stripped out of a budget agreement this afternoon.”

Nuckles went on to describe how these funds directly assisted Hillsborough County in a big way, “Challenge Grant Funding – this year we received $63,000 that is assisting with deposits, rent and arrears to prevent households from becoming homeless; and to provide case management to households. [An allocated] $12,397 was provided to local coalition staff to help cover operations – this amount is received by all Coalitions in the state.”

A very similar picture could be painted for Pinellas County and other counties across the state.

“This small amount of funding helps hundreds of homeless and at-risk households in our community – and losing these funds will mean less people get the help they desperately need,” said Nuckles.

A call to action was posted by Nuckles last night on his Facebook page, pleading with his “friends” to please contact  Speaker of the House (Dean Cannon, 850-488-2742) and Senate President (Mike Haridopolos-850-487-5229), and ask them to reconsider these cuts. He also urged people to please call the members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation and urge them to contact the House and Senate leadership on this issue.

While many programs and services were affected by necessary budget cuts, what message is the state sending to communities when they cut all funding for addressing the growing problem of homelessness? In the end, our communities’ most vulnerable suffer.

Via Daphne Street. You can reach Daphne at dts.streetmedia@gmail.com.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.