Mary Altaffer/AP

Recession Causes Increase in Homelessness, Decrease in Public Housing

February 18, 2009 02:03 PM
by Denis Cummings
The recession is causing a rise in homelessness, but strapped state governments are being forced to cut back on public housing programs that could help the homeless.

Governments Cut Back as Homelessness Rises

As the recession causes unemployment and foreclosures to rise, the number of people in need of public shelters is increasing significantly. However, state governments are facing budget shortfalls, and individuals are donating less money to charities. As a result, states have been forced to make cutbacks in public shelters and homeless services.

“A downturn in (overall) funding in this case is accompanied by a surge in demand, so a homeless shelter, food pantry, or job-training program is going to feel it first,” said Chuck Bean, executive director of Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, to MSNBC. “Even if they have 100 percent of their budget compared to last year, they now see a 50 percent surge in demand.”

In Massachusetts, the increase in demand for public shelters has forced the state to house more than 630 families in motels at an average of $85 a night. In response, Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration is imposing new regulations that will reduce the number of families eligible to live in public shelters.

Effective April 1, those living in public shelters must work at least 30 hours per week and save 30 percent of their income. Once a family’s income exceeds the maximum limit, the family will have three months to find independent housing—down from the previous limit of six months. The new regulations will save Massachusetts an estimated $520,000 in 2009 and over $11 million in fiscal year 2010, according to Julia E. Kehoe, commissioner of the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance.

The new rules have caused an uproar among advocates for the homeless. “This is not the time to change the safety net,” said Robyn Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, to The Boston Globe. “The number of people in need of shelter is like nothing we’ve ever seen. There’s never been such a desperate need for housing, and these changes could be devastating. They couldn’t come at a worse time.”

Background: The 10-year plans to end homelessness

Over the past five years, many U.S. cities and states, with the backing of the federal government’s Interagency Council of Homelessness, instituted 10-year plans designed to eradicate homelessness.

There have been many successes in the 10-year plans, including double-digit homelessness drops in Chicago, Denver, New York and Norfolk, Va. However, the problems caused by the recession may undo many of the advances. “By the time those dollars start flowing again, cities could be looking at starting from scratch,” writes The Associated Press.

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