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- 2009 - July - 29th -

ARRA grant to help City combat homeless issues on two fronts

Max Marbut

“It’s wonderful to see the smiles on your faces. You all know you’re getting money. The first ARRA money is hitting Jacksonville and we’re excited.”

That was how Wight Greger, director of the City’s Housing and Neighborhoods Department, greeted about two dozen representatives from nonprofit organizations at a meeting Tuesday at the Ed Ball Building. The group was gathered to hear details and disbursements regarding more than $2.7 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds that will be used to combat homelessness in Duval County. The grant comes from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program (HPRP).

“These funds will allow us to help persons affected by the current economic crisis and to provide assistance resources targeted to serve households most at need and most likely to achieve stable housing,” said Greger.

The program is designed to focus on two groups, she added: people who are in housing but at risk of losing it because they can’t pay rent or utility bills and homeless people who need temporary assistance to obtain and retain housing.

Financial assistance will be available to pay rent, security and utility deposits and utility charges for up to 18 months. Funds will also be available for moving costs and temporary housing at a hotel or motel for up to 30 days if no shelter beds are available.

In terms of relocation and stabilization services, HPRP can cover the costs of case management, housing search and placement, legal services related to landlord-tenant actions and credit repair.

“We want program participants to be knowledgeable about money management,” said City Human Services Planner Mamie Henderson.

Costs related to homelessness which may not be funded by HPRP include mortgage payments, credit card bills, food, clothing, car repair, transportation or travel costs, pet care or work and education-related materials other than financial literacy education.

More than $400,000 of the total grant will be used for data collection and evaluation and administrative costs. The United Way is tasked with creating a centralized intake system that will connect potential clients and service agencies.

“We’ve been talking about getting a better-coordinated system for some time,” said United Way Vice President of Community Impact Melanie Patz. “The system works for some but not for all and funds are dwindling while need is increasing.”

She compared the current evaluation protocol for qualifying for assistance to playing the lottery.

“If you’re persistent you can get assistance but if you’re not you may not,” she said.

In addition to developing a shared database accessible to all agencies involved in the program, United Way will also provide training and technical support for those using the new system.

Greger said the cost of data collection and reporting involved with HPRP is greater than with other federal programs because of the public scrutiny applied to the “stimulus funds” issue.

She also pointed out that while HPRP funds may be expended over a three-year period, Jacksonville’s nonprofits need to be more aggressive in getting the money on the street. Not only is the need great, she said, but also, “When funders give you money and then don’t see it being used, they ask questions like ‘Don’t you know what to do with the funds?’ or ‘Don’t you have systems in place to spend it?’ The better Jacksonville can show need through expenditures the more likely we are to get more money if it’s available.”

mmarbut@baileypub.com

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