HOMELESSNESS AND HOUSING IN LAWRENCE – Where We Are and Where We Go From Here

Minutes from a Public Forum Presented November 09, 2013 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Lawrence, Kansas

Moderator DAVID SMITH - Chairman of Sociology, Kansas University

Facts are far easier than solutions are difficult, major strides have been taken here in Lawrence but it is self-evident that the problems are vast and growing.

Over 45 million people in the U.S. live in households with incomes below the poverty line.

20.5 million Americans live in households with incomes 50% or more below the poverty line.

Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, many millions of workers lost their jobs -- and the total number of people without jobs is currently still millions below the number in 2008.

Until 1990 recoveries came with job creation.  But we're now mired in the 3rd so-called "jobless recovery" in just over two decades -- a "recovery" in name only for those who are out of work.

Currently 11 million people are actively seeking work but unable to find jobs.

Over 20% of all children in this country live in households below the poverty line.

Families with children are the fastest growing population of homelessness.  Seniors and people with disabilities can be found in shelters and under bridges in many communities.  Lack of legal status, rights, and public benefits fuels homelessness amongst undocumented immigrants.

PAUL BODEN Organizing Director, WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project) – PAUL BODEN Organizing Director, WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project)

www.wraphome.org

See http://wraphome.org/organizing/organizing-toolkit  for housing facts, glossary of terms, study workbook for groups, and the power point presentation we saw at the meeting on 11/09/13.

Sign up for the WRAP Newsletter at

http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/manage/optin?v=001PkT5eHO4C2L1Nt390gpqT6eO0pgA4IiSiiHK2nz9Kmt5a_S-GYlrMsA4h1Cfw8D-PDUWdrvKLor-r-jfMcU3WgHv94cgqNpS77RJ1ZRGdMk%3D

I come from the streets of New York.  I was an entitled kid – white, educated, middle-class – not the version of America that people who grow up in poverty experience.  Hitting the streets on my own at 16 - I quickly realized that what I was told in high school and junior high – that we can all grow up to be what we want to be – is not true for people who grow up in poverty.

Regarding housing, our government has gone from a history of affordable housing for all to housing programs that benefit homebuilders, real estate developers, the middle- and upper class.  Housing money through mortgage deductions if by far the largest housing support program of the federal government.  We have massively cut the support for poor people, while deductions for home ownership have tripled.

The Housing Act of 1937 provided for subsidies to be paid from the U.S. government to local public housing agencies (LHAs) to improve living conditions for low-income families [for an overview of public housing, please go to the end of this report].  Since the 70’s, housing became a commodity rather than a social service. HUD was charged with fixing up distressed units, but decided to tear them down instead. 

Forget the rhetoric and look at where the money goes.  HUD built 38,650 affordable housing units in 1979 and only763 in 2011- a 98% cut.  In 2011, we subsidized the privileged and corporate economy with $144 billion, while cutting the $37 billion budget for the poor.  We didn’t stop funding housing, we shifted who we support.  That’s not to say we don’t have the resources to live up to the 1937 housing program, that’s to say we don’t want to support housing that serves the people who most need it. 

CHANGING OUR THINKING

Our attitude is that everyone brings something to the table; seeing each of us as valuable resources that treats individuals with dignity and respect.  People who have experienced poverty and homelessness are our greatest resources, and should be the leaders in finding solutions.  Our work is not possible without this voice.  Poor and homeless people are talked about as needing to be taught, educated, and trained.  If the speakers standards of thinking aren’t met, it’s easy to say, “What’s wrong with you?”  It is most insulting to think that people want to be homeless.  Sleeping, sitting and standing are now criminal offenses if you are poor.  This comes from an attitude that poor people and homeless people are not worthy.  You can’t do for others if you can’t respect people who are different from you as being valuable, intelligent, beautiful people.

The poor people that live here need to work with the community organizations that will support them.  If people are going to be talking about us, we are going to be at the table. 

CHANGING OUR COMMUNITY

When we created this tool, we knew we had to connect our issues to the broader community. 

This is a social justice issue- Social justice isn’t about any one program includes a multitude of  symptoms and problems that lead to  this injustice.  You need to connect local organizers with efforts to build a broader social justice movement from the heart, as this won’t be last group to be discriminated against.  Individual campaigns need to be united into a movement.  It is up to each of us to lead the charge to stand up for justice and help to solve the issues - by being able to say “we” with integrity, you’re our representative.

The key is bridging the divide between different communities.  The reason WRAP became so focused on housing and civil rights is that those were the issues that were common in all the communities.  That’s where you start building a movement as opposed to representing people.  Speak out for housing as a human right.  Educate yourself and your community.

PUBLIC COMMENT

We should organize around people - build alliances across race, nationality, class, gender and religion.  Connect our community for housing, education, health care, dignified work, immigrant rights, sovereignty of Native Americans.

We need to take action now.  Connect local organizing with efforts to build a broader social justice movement.

Speak out for housing as a human right.  Educate our community.

Marci Franciso (Kansas State Senator) – I also firmly people should have jobs or work, we’re not connecting people with the jobs that are there.  Paul Boden – Believes in what WRAP is doing.  We’ve created over 1,000 units of housing, all with a living wage.  Housing is an economic development tool.

Norm White (Social Rehabilitation Services) - What is the sensitivity to aging populations in housing?  Paul  Boden – used to be able to get seniors and disabled into housing, that is no longer true.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has skipped that mental illness is a disability.

Forrest Swall – The U.S. ranks last in so many categories of social service.  Examples of communities that are succeeding – Portland, Eugene and New Jersey are humanely addressing the issue.  It is not feasible for local government to pick up the tab for what the federal government has placed in their lap.  There needs to be greater renters protections.

James Dunn (Landlord) – Some people are not protecting their vouchers, and are leaving their vouchers for very small amounts of money.  Frustrating that for small amounts of money, people here lose their housing.  Paul Boden – I hated the voucher program. It doesn’t impact the people in need in a sustainable way..Is there a next step that the community can take?

SHANNON OURY, Executive Director, Lawrence/Douglas County Housing Authority www.ldcha.org

The Transitional Housing Program provides an opportunity for homeless households to become stably housed – causing a positive ripple throughout our community including our schools, healthcare system, and social services.  The loss of significant funding for this incredibly successful program negatively impacts not only those families but our community. The future of LDCHA’s Transitional Housing Program, and the impact of the funding cuts from $300,000 in 2011 to $155,281 in 2012 to $173,105 in 2013 which means LDCHA is able to provide fewer households the opportunity to transition from homelessness to permanent housing and become eligible for a standard Section 8 voucher. 

Lawrence came together as a community and formed the Housing Vision in 2007 and LDCHA through the Transitional Housing Program fund by the City with HOME fund and the Bert Nash program fund with State HOME fund met the need for 30-35 – Section 8 Housing type vouchers a year. 

Due to the funding cut from HUD starting in 2012 the number of vouchers has significantly decreased and all the service providers have to compete for the limited funds. 

Best thing about this program is it’s an opportunity for permanent housing.  It has been remarkably successful, between 2007 and 2012, 145 households participated, and there is an 82% success rate for completing program and moving into regular section 8 housing.  LDCHA attribute this to the unique way we work together with our community partners to assist participant to stay housed.   The LDCHA has interagency agreements with the following 12 agencies to provide housing retention and self-suffiency services to homeless families and individuals for the 24 month program: the Bert Nash Center Homeless Outreach Team and CSS Program, Cottonwood, Inc., Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, Douglas County AIDS Project, Douglas County Sheriff's Reentry Program, ECKAN, Family Promise of Lawrence, Healthy Families, Independence, Inc., Lawrence DCF Office, Lawrence Community Shelter, The Salvation Army, and LDCHA Resident Services.  Additionally, we waive certain eligibility requirements to allow more homeless households to participate and have the opportunity to become permanently housed.

It is very difficult to replace the level of funding that we’ve lost, but this model provides a an extremely successful and permanent solution for many household and LDCHA is committed to continuing the program and finding ways to restore the prior level of funding so more families can have this opportunity. 

DOUG WALLACE – Coordinator for the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition

www.kshomeless.com

NOTE:  We were not able to reach Mr. Wallace for clarification/expansion on his comments.

4 Counties have their own programs - Shawnee, Wyandotte, Sedwick and Johnson.

There are 101 counties in Kansas (including Douglas County) that make of the balance of State/Continuum of Care.  The Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition Look at current state of homelessness and is in charge of the point in time count for the counties and the State which brings awareness and funding to the need.  Dani Dressler from the City of Lawrence  is in charge of the Douglas County point in time count.

Obamacare assumed we’d raise the income level for Medicaid.  The Kansas legistature didn’t accept federal funding for Obamacare.

Lawrence is lucky to have Loring and Shannon.

The 15th Annual Summit on Homelessness and Housing: The Journey Home takes place April 7-9 at the Ramada Inn Conference Center in Salina.  More information at www.kshomeless.com

LORING HENDERSON – Executive Director of The Lawrence Community Shelter  www.lawrenceshelter.org

Overall, the Lawrence Community Shelter (LCS):

Does an intake for all new guests, individuals and families

-Has four basic programs – housing, jobs, benefits, and intervention (addictions and mental illnesses)

-Shelter capacity is 125; average has been 113 but lately always full and are going to ask City for cold weather excess number permission

-The shelter turned away 22 families in one week last week (over the phone0

-Served an average of 208 different people each month in 2013

-Average 50 new intakes monthly; 399 in first eight months; project 600 for 2013 vs 665 for 2012 and 505 for 2011

-26% of guests have a diagnosed mental illness or substance use disorder; 61% with a combination

We wouldn’t know homelessness today as we know it if it weren’t for mental illness on the street.  There are multiple causes of homelessness and barriers to getting out of homelessness in a world where there isn’t sufficient public housing.

Particular programs:

-Housing: LCS works with various landlords to track available rental housing but the lack of affordable housing is a major problem.  Disability income or minimum wage jobs do not provide enough money for rent plus other background issues such as evictions, criminal history old fines, debt, and being listed on the sexual offender registry can prevent a person from being approved for housing or limit their choices

-LCS has rented a house with eight small units to help meet the need for permanent supportive housing for people with disability income.  The model could be replicated without great cost but it always needs an oversight staff person.

-In the shelter, LCS has a modified housing first plan with its Level 1 dorm for new or uncommitted guests and Level 2 for those who have committed to a plan with their case manager for getting out of homelessness.

-Intervention: The LCS staff gets many guests who are dealing with addictions into detox but the difficulty is the gap or transition period after detox until the person is able to enter a rehab program.  This is a challenging time and many people do not make it through without succumbing to drugs or alcohol.  LCS is investigating a recovery holding house where guests could staff with visits from a Peer-Mentor or other staff person until a rehab bed is available.

-Another clear barrier to getting out of homelessness is the lack of mental health services. LCS is going to explore a HUD funded supportive housing, apartment project for this sector of the homeless population but this is in the future.

-Jobs/Employment:  This LCS program is divided into two parts.  (A) The Good Dog! Biscuits and Treats small business entrepreneurial project that employs guests at the shelter and gives them marketable skills for future jobs.  (B) The counseling and employment search effort where LCS is a Vocational Rehabilitation provider for the Dept. of Children and Families and where the staff has connections with employers in the community.  In the future, LCS plans a project called MAP (Moving Ahead Project) to build self-esteem and employment skills through 13 weeks of classroom training and internships in local businesses.

So, yes it is “lack of housing” that causes homelessness but there are many moving parts to that phrase and that we are trying to work on.  Just putting someone into a house doesn’t cure “homelessness”.

NOTE: Minutes taken and transcribed by Steve Ozark.  Our primary presenters were contacted for clarification and modification for accuracy.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PUBLIC HOUSING IN THE U.S.

NOTE: The following is here to provide perspective on the known factual history.  This information is a combination of information I’ve been told over the years and Wikipedia.

 

The Housing Act of 1937 provided for subsidies to be paid from the U.S. government to local public housing agencies (LHAs) to improve living conditions for low-income families.  [for an overview of public housing.  The Housing Act of 1949, enacted during the Truman administration set new post-war national goals for decent living environments; it also funded "slum clearance" and the urban renewal projects, and created many national public housing programs. 

 

In 1965 the Public Housing Administration, the U.S. Housing Authority, and the House and Home Financing Agency were all swept into the newly formed and re-organized United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) often referred to as housing projects or colloquially "the projects", have a complicated and often notorious history in America. While the first decades of projects were built with higher construction standards and a broader range of incomes and applicants, as time went on, public housing increasingly became the housing of last resort. In many cities, housing projects suffered from mismanagement and high vacancy rates. Furthermore, housing projects have also been seen to greatly increase concentrated poverty in a community, leading to several negative externalities. As a result, many of the housing projects constructed in the 1950s and 1960s have since been torn down.

 

In recent decades, public housing has increasingly taken different formats. Since the 1970s, subsidized housing has increasingly been funded through rent vouchers rather than the construction of subsidized units.

 

The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 created the Section 8 Housing Program to encourage the private sector to construct affordable homes. This kind of housing assistance assists poor tenants by giving a monthly subsidy to their landlords. This assistance can be 'project based,' which applies to specific properties, or 'tenant based,' which provides tenants with a voucher they can use anywhere vouchers are accepted. Tenant based housing vouchers covered the gap between 25% of a household's income and established fair market rent. Virtually no new project based Section 8 housing has been produced since 1983, but tenant based vouchers are now the primary mechanism of assisted housing.

 

The other main feature of Act was the creation of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). While not directly tied to public housing, CDBGs were lump sums of money, the amount of which was determined by a formula focusing on population, given to state and local governments for housing and community development work.[7] The sum could be used as determined by the community, though the legislation also required the development of Housing Assistance Plans (HAP) which required local communities to survey and catalog their available housing stock as well as determine the populations most in need of assistance. These were submitted as part of the CDBG application.

Again in response to the growing discontent with public housing, urban developers began looking for alternate forms of affordable, low-income housing. From this sprung the creation of scattered-site housing programs designed to place smaller-scale, better-integrated public housing units in diverse neighborhoods. Scattered-site housing programs became popularized in the late 1970s and 1980s. Since that time, cities across the country have implemented such programs with varying levels of success. The Mental Health Care Act of 1983 began tearing apart the social contract we had by removing support for the poor and criminalizing homelessness. 

 

The next new era in public housing began in 1992 with the launch of the Hope VI program. Hope VI funds were devoted to demolishing poor-quality public housing projects and replacing them with lower-density developments, often of mixed-income. Funds included construction and demolition costs, tenant relocation costs, and subsidies for newly constructed units.[9] Hope VI has become the primary vehicle for the construction of new federally subsidized units, but it suffered considerable funding cuts in 2004 under President George W. Bush.

 

In 1998, the Public Housing Reform Act (CHWRA) was passed and signed by President Bill Clinton. Following the frame of welfare reform, CHWRA developed new programs to transition families out of public housing, developed a home ownership model for Section 8, and expanded the Hope VI program to replace traditional public housing units.  While this may sound like a good solution, it actually was a decision by the federal government, through its direct action, would not be responsible for Americans having decent housing.

 

Additionally, since the early 1990s, rather than constructing large subsidized complexes, the federal government has used funds under the HOPE VI Program to tear down distressed public housing projects and replace them with mixed communities built in coordination with private partners.

 

 

 


Location