$15 million grant to help city find permanent housing for homeless

HUD money will subsidize rents, pay for other needs

February 01, 2005|By Michael Hoffman | Michael Hoffman,SUN STAFF

Getting the homeless off Baltimore's streets and into decent permanent housing will be easier as a result of a $15 million grant the city received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city and federal officials announced yesterday.

Most of the grant money - part of $36 million Maryland received from HUD and $1.4 billion that the federal government is distributing nationwide - will be used to subsidize apartment and house rentals for the homeless, with the rest going to shelters, transitional housing and services related to keeping people off the streets, such as eviction prevention.

About $8 million, or more than half the grant, will go toward subsidies that will pay for rents - a keystone of the effort to aid the homeless.

"If we don't create this permanent sort of housing, then we wind up paying much more to house people in emergency shelters and much more to treat them in emergency shelters," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who attended the grant announcement.

Baltimore and Maryland received more grant money than cities and states with comparable needs mainly because of their emphasis on funding permanent housing for the homeless, city officials said.

"There was a focus on permanent housing in order to put a stop to long-term homelessness," said James Kelly, director of HUD's Baltimore field office.

Each night, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people are homeless in Baltimore. Sunday morning, volunteers hit the city streets to count the number of people who were outdoors for the night, in soup kitchens and in shelters, to gauge the size of the homeless population, said Laura Gillis, president of the nonprofit Baltimore Homeless Services. The new census numbers are expected to be released in two months; a count conducted in 2003 found 2,600 homeless.

"The single most important reason for being homeless is the lack of affordable housing," said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner.

Making housing more affordable for the homeless - and breaking the cycle of roaming from shelter to shelter - is precisely what the city hopes to accomplish by providing rent subsidies.

Much of the city's grant money will be distributed to 65 organizations throughout Baltimore that provide services for the homeless. Some of those grass-roots organizations, such as the YWCA, House of Ruth Maryland Inc., and I Can Inc., often are the first point of contact for homeless people.

Rosalyn Branson, chief executive of the YWCA of the Greater Baltimore Area Inc., said the grant money is especially welcome because placement of the homeless into permanent housing had become more difficult in the last two years.

Case managers with Baltimore Homeless Services will determine if an applicant qualifies for the subsidies and will help find an appropriate apartment or house. The caseworker will help ensure that the rental is away from the city's most drug-troubled neighborhoods, said Susan Olubi, program director for Baltimore Homeless Services. Some homeless are also battling addiction problems.

"This money will help get people in nice, viable areas, not drug-infested areas that could continue their habits," Olubi said.

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