Rise in homeless linked to cut in aid to disabled

November 15, 1995|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Armed with a survey linking increased homelessness to a cut in state aid to the disabled, advocates for the poor issued a plea to Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday to restore the benefits.

"People are suffering," said Robert V. Hess, executive director of Action for the Homeless. "With more people on the streets, the winter weather could prove to be fatal for some individuals."

Mr. Glendening eliminated the $35 million Disability Assistance and Loan Program (DALP) this year as part of an effort to reduce overall state spending. The program provided $157 a month to about 22,000 people with mental and physical disabilities.

DALP often helped people who later became eligible for federal disability benefits. Since July, it has been replaced by a smaller-scale program offering some former recipients monthly housing vouchers of $50 to $125.

Mr. Hess said the survey conducted by volunteers and students from the University of Maryland School of Social Work shows that the loss of DALP has put hundreds of people on the streets, particularly in Baltimore, where 80 percent of former DALP recipients live.

Interviews with 158 former DALP recipients at city soup kitchens and missions found 75 percent were homeless, advocates said. Of respondents who said they were homeless, two-thirds said they lost their housing as a result of losing their DALP check.

"We are seeing many of the results of the elimination of the DALP program," said Sister Mary Louise Zollars of Beans and Bread, a Fells Point soup kitchen and outreach center. "We are seeing more people who are homeless or who are rapidly becoming homeless every day."

Advocates said the survey results are consistent with the increased numbers of evictions reported in Baltimore and surrounding counties. A survey conducted by the Downtown Partnership in August estimated a 65 percent increase in the city's homeless population.

The Action for the Homeless survey also found that only one in five people formerly in DALP have applied for benefits under the successor program. Mr. Hess said the new program is difficult to use and those who try are finding few rooms affordable for the reduced benefits.

Michael J. Busch, a former DALP recipient, said he would be homeless, too, if he had not received help from Beans and Bread, where he works as a volunteer. Diagnosed with severe depression and a liver ailment, the 41-year-old said he couldn't hold a job and has been waiting for federal aid since January 1994.

"I feel for these people," Mr. Busch said. "I plead with the governor to restore some financial aid. It's getting cold."

Mr. Glendening is considering a "refinement" of DALP's successor program, a press aide said. The changes recommended by the state Department of Human Resources could help "improve the delivery of service," the aide, Ray Feldmann, said.

He said Mr. Glendening has not seen the survey results and could not comment on them. Mr. Feldmann declined to speculate on whether the changes being considered by the administration would bring more money for the program.

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