Monday, February 2, 2009

Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness - Feb Newsletter

The Connection
a publication of the Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness, Inc.
...keeping you up-to-date on local, state and national homeless issues

From The Desk Of The Executive Director Katheryn Preston

The economic crisis gripping our nation is creating severe financial strain throughout Georgia. As unemployment rises so does the foreclosure rate. More and more families and individuals are losing the places they call home. Georgia's homeless service providers report significant increases in requests for emergency housing. The once accessible resources available to meet the needs are declining as a result of state and local budget cuts. The impact of the economy on foundations, corporations and individuals is equally devastating. While predictions in this rapidly changing environment are perilous, all indications are that things will likely get worse before they get better. Homeless service providers are serving record numbers of people. Philip Mangano, the Executive Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, recently estimated that we are likely to experience a 20% increase in homelessness in 2009 due to the economy. According to the most recent Point-in-Time Studies, more than 75,000 individuals experienced homelessness in Georgia last year. More than 60% of homeless persons were in households with children and most were homeless for the first time. Homelessness is not just a metro problem. Across Georgia, homeless families and individuals are seen in all 159 counties and Georgia stands at a critical crossroads. The safety net in our state, and our nation, is seriously frayed and stretching to the breaking point. We only have a fraction of the resources needed to meet the growing needs of homeless and at risk families and individuals in our state. Our most vulnerable citizens live just a paycheck or a crisis away from homelessness. Despite a drop in home prices, it is still impossible for many Georgians to qualify for this housing. There is no county in Georgia where someone working full-time at the minimum wage can afford an average one bedroom apartment. Home foreclosures have an impact on both homeowners and renters. Approximately 40% of households losing their homes to foreclosures are renters and include persons with Section 8 vouchers. The majority are low income families who lack access to resources for first and last months rent and the security deposit. These families are quickly becoming Georgia's new homeless. Loss of work and rising unemployment are directly impacting homelessness. Georgia's unemployment rate is at a staggering 26 year high at 8.1% and economists recently predicted unemployment could top 9% by 2010. Homeless individuals report that labor jobs are scarcer than ever and strong competition for entry-level jobs put persons in a state of homelessness at a severe disadvantage. As the need for shelter and housing increases, homeless service providers are facing significant budget cuts and loss of revenues. Foundations have less to give, tax credit investors are scaling back their investments in affordable housing, as their profits fall and bank financing for housing development is frozen. Individual giving is declining as donors worry about their own financial health. There is great hope that the Federal government will increase its efforts to address the needs of homeless families and individuals through stimulus programs in the coming year. However, unless the stimulus is targeted to include expanding housing and services for the lowest income families and individuals, it may be too little too late to have a positive impact on homelessness. As the Georgia State Legislature convened. Governor Purdue and some of our legislative leaders are asking for additional budget cuts for FY2009 and FY2010. These cuts will likely impact the health and human service needs of homeless families. We understand that the state's budget is strained as tax revenues fall. However, it is critical that the state also does its share to address the needs of those most in need - homeless and poverty level families and individuals. The Governor has cut 6% of the service programs funded through the Department of Human Services and is warning of another 10% cut for FY2010. These cuts will result in a direct loss of critical services for our most vulnerable citizens. Studies have documented savings of up to $40,000 per person with every investment in supportive housing to chronically homeless individuals. Thus, the proposed funding cuts will most assuredly end up causing millions in increased costs for hospitalizations, detox, emergency room visits, and jails.

Therefore, we issue the following call to action to the community and to our elected officials:

1. To the Community - We ask that you continue to support, or donate to local and statewide homeless service agencies, so we can all meet the rapid increases in need resulting from this crisis.

2. To the Governor and State Legislature - Do not cut essential health, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs for the indigent. Georgia's citizens with mental illness cannot afford further cuts to this inadequately funded system without sending thousands more into a state of homelessness. We recognize that due to falling revenue, significant state budget cuts will be necessary. We say to the Governor and Legislature: Don't balance the state budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens, the homeless and at risk families and individuals. We need assurance that those persons impacted by cuts in human service programs do not suffer, we propose that the state create an emergency services safety net to cushion the impact of the cuts.

3. To our Federal Leaders - We ask that any new stimulus legislation include funding that repairs the safety net and creates new supportive housing to meet the growing needs of homeless families and individuals across our nation
4. Finally, to our Neighbors - Now is the time to do whatever you can to help your neighbors who are struggling in this economy to ensure that they do not become tomorrow's homeless.

In closing, after all these years, we know what is needed to end homelessness - community involvement and participation in developing supportive housing, increased jobs, and access to needed health and mental health services. We need investments in programs that work and the political will to make it happen.

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