HHSA Committee Approves Office of Homeless Services Request to Receive Federal Funding

The relationship between the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services was discussed at the August 17, 2016 Cuyahoga County Council Health, Human Service and Aging committee meeting. Ruth Gillett, manager of the Office of Homeless Services, testified and requested authorization of a consolidated federal grant from HUD of over $971,000 to help cover costs of sheltering hundreds of individuals who face chronic homelessness and severe mental illness and are in need of housing options. The county works with nonprofit and for-profit landlords to identify rooms that can serve as temporary housing for individuals who are in need of shelter.

Council members had a number of questions for the Director regarding homeless services. One question, posed by County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell, centered on whether or not those who are given shelter under the program necessarily have to live in single occupancy apartments, or if they can be paired with someone else, in an effort to maximize the impact of the program. Ms. Gillett responded by saying that there are guidelines for assignment of rooms based on availability, including if the person/people requesting a room is part of a family. She added that there are a number of projects that are under construction from now through the middle of 2018 that will provide additional beds to address the wait list of individuals in need of housing. She talked about the current admission assignment procedure, which is tracked by a HUD audit, which ensures that those who have the most need for housing (including those that have a mental illness or physical disability) and those who face the largest obstacles to attaining employment, are prioritized to receive shelter.

Another question posed by councilmembers was if the county pays different rates for different locations, and whether or not that opened the door for abuse by landlords who work with the county. Additionally, there was a follow-up question on whether there could be a “flat county rate” that could be used as leverage in negotiations.  Ms. Gillett was joined by Jen Pfleiderer, director of housing for the Economic Development and Economic Network (EDEN), one of the largest operators of homeless housing in the county, to answer those questions, as well as expand on some of the guidelines that govern admission. They explained that the dollars associated with the homeless housing program depend heavily on the person’s needs and the geographic location of the apartment, which influences how much is spent per person. Therefore, a flat market rate is not viable. They went on to explain the funding formula of the grant. If the homeless individual has employment, then they contribute 30 percent of the overall rent cost of the apartment, and the rest is picked up by the grant.  If the homeless individual has no employment, then the grant pays 100 percent of the rent. Ms. Gillett talked about how they work with many landlords across the county to ensure that people are able to get housing, as landlords view the county as a worthy partner for finding tenants. That being said, there are instances where a landlord may decline to offer housing for someone who has clearance to participate in the federal program, citing instances where a person might have been convicted of a felony of a sexual nature, or may otherwise be detrimental to the overall quality of life for other residents.

Over the past few months, Council members have heard complaints regarding instances where shelters are overcrowded and/or people were not able to access the support services that they needed. The HHSA committee briefing on this topic was welcomed by homeless advocates who appreciate the federal dollars that complement the county funding efforts to provide more housing units for the homeless population.

The committee passed a motion to suspend second reading, so that the grant approval process can be passed at the full council meeting on the first Tuesday of September.