Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Effect of the fiscal cliff on the homeless

Homeless People Need 
Fiscal Support not Sequestering
A December 22, 2012, opinion piece in the Star-Ledger - Homelessness teeters on 'cliff' - articulated impact that sequestration will have on the homeless in NJ.
Robert Parker is CEO of NewBridge Services
By Robert Parker
Homelessness often exists under society's radar, but the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy has brought its emotional and financial toll into focus for thousands upon thousands of people driven from their homes.  

On any given day, thousands of people in New Jersey lack decent homes. Some crowd into spaces meant for far fewer people, while others live in shelters or on the streets - or wind up in emergency rooms and jails.  

Former President George W. Bush declared plans to tackle homelessness and President Obama has put forward his own. Two years ago, Obama released "Opening Doors," a road map for ending chronic homelessness among veterans by 2015 while eliminating child and family homelessness by 2020.  
Progress has been made on this ambitious, crucial initiative, but those strides would be dealt a major setback through massive spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January.

Unable to reach a deficit reduction plan last year, Congress adopted the Budget Control Act, which triggers the process of sequestration. It calls for automatic, across-the-board cuts to defense and discretionary domestic spending to the tune of $109 billion in 2013 and $1.2 trillion over nine years.

The impact on housing programs for society's most vulnerable would be devastating. Next year alone, an estimated 185,000 families and individuals would lose Section 8 vouchers that help pay their rent, and 145,900 people who rely on homeless assistance grants would lose shelter, according to the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding.

The availability of public housing would shrink. Communities would be left without $323 million in block grants to build and rehabilitate affordable units, to acquire property for such ends and to provide supportive services, which are necessary to help those with special needs achieve independence, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The lack of reasonably priced housing is crippling New Jersey. There were 1.15 million households here - a whopping 36 percent - unable to afford the basics of housing, food, transportation, health care and child care, according to a 2012 statewide study by the United Way of Northern New Jersey.

Nobody knows exactly how many people in New Jersey are waiting for affordable housing; more than 20,000 are on waiting lists, but those lists were closed years ago. And the fallout from Sandy will only heighten the problem, as some who lost their homes won't have the money to rebuild.

What we do know is sequestration would erase 9,700 Section 8 vouchers and $8.5 million in block grants that promote housing people can afford in the Garden State. And it would reverse the trend of moving people with special needs - including those with mental illness and developmental disabilities - out of institutions and into community living.

Sequestration would harm New Jersey not just socially, but financially: More people would wind up in public institutions, ERs and jails. Blighted properties that could have been turned into affordable housing would remain eyesores and magnets for mischief.

Now that the election season is over and with people still feeling the effects of Sandy, it is high time for Congress to find responsible ways to cut spending without forcing society's most vulnerable to take the biggest hit. 

Ending homelessness must remain a bipartisan priority. Our lawmakers must stop sequestration from taking effect and ensure that we continue on the path toward providing everyone with a safe, decent place to live.

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