New Round Of Trump Budget Cuts Could Force More Californians Into Homelessness, Advocates Say

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Above Photo: Caroline Kennedy, who has experienced homelessness since 2012, stands next to portable toilets near 7th and North B streets in Sacramento on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. Attorney and homeless advocate Mark Merin has filed a federal suit against the city of Sacramento alleging officials removed portable toilets that had been donated for homeless residents near the homeless campsite. After that removal, a group arranged for more toilets to be placed at the site on Monday “to protect the right of homeless people to dispose of their waste in a dignified and sanitary fashion.”  DKIM@SACBEE.COM

New round of Trump budget cuts could force more Californians into homelessness, advocates say

The Trump administration is proposing a cut in homeless assistance funding next year, frustrating advocates who say the crisis in Sacramento and other cities is worsening.

The White House budget plan for fiscal 2021, which begins Oct. 1, proposes $2.773 billion for homeless assistance grants, slightly less than the current year. The administration also wants to cut funding for affordable housing programs as well as Community Development Block Grants, which help revive and improve neighborhoods.

It’s part of a $4.8 trillion budget blueprint for the entire government includes deep cuts in environmental, health, education and housing programs. The Housing and Urban Development budget would be reduced by 15 percent.

In Sacramento County, federal dollars go toward offering rental assistance or permanent housing that includes wrap-around services like employment training, education and other behavioral services.

Cutting mainstay federal programs like housing vouchers and block grants for affordable housing will likely lead to more low income families sliding into homelessness, said Lisa Bates, CEO of Sacramento Steps Forward, the county’s main partner nonprofit on homeless services.

“We definitely want to see an increase in federal support,” Bates said. “You’re seeing the state is having to come up with huge amounts of funding, providing billions of dollars, to address it in part because we haven’t seen a substantial increase to match our need from the federal government.”

A new round of federal spending cuts could very well displace more people and force them into homelessness, critics said.

“This budget is not really looking for solutions to the homeless problem,” said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“Without working to build new affordable housing units and preserve current ones, the number of homelessness will only grow,” said Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and HUD.

The White House said in the budget that it “provides sufficient funding for homeless assistance grants, as the administration continues to strengthen efforts to reduce the number of homeless persons living on the streets.

“To support assisted households to live independently and enhance their quality of life, the Budget also expands key programs that promote self-sufficiency and increase earnings.” No detail was available.

Advocates were quick to say that the budget would at best maintain the status quo, and “it’s not anywhere near what is needed,” said John Parvensky, acting executive director at the National Coalition for the Homeless.

During the current fiscal year, about 5.4 percent of the grants are for new initiatives, he said, and the prospect of that percentage growing under the Trump budget is not great.

“There won’t be new funding for communities seeing increasing homelessness,” he said.

HUD said in a statement it would “continue working with local and state governments to compassionately house their most vulnerable populations through grant funds for emergency shelters, rapid re-housing, and transitional and permanent supportive housing — all while providing people with key services to help them regain their independence.”

The budget number could go up as Congress tackles the issue. There’s been strong support from both Republicans and Democrats for increased funding for homeless programs. In December, lawmakers agreed on a 6 percent boost this year.

While homelessness declined in most states last year, California saw a very different trend. Homelessness in the state was up 16 percent last year, according to data from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

California and other western states led another 2019 trend; An uptick in homeless people not living in sheltered housing. The California unsheltered population jumped 21 percent in 2019 — and the state had 53 percent of all unsheltered people in the nation.

California cities and metro areas led the country in percentages of homeless people that are living on the streets or in cars. Topping the list were Fresno City and County and Medera County, with 82.5 percent unsheltered, followed by Vallejo and Solano Counties. Sacramento City and County ranked fifth at 70.1 percent.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg was among city chief executives in Washington last month to discuss and push for homeless policy reforms. Steinberg’s pitch was to make housing the homeless a government mandate, and while his colleagues at a mayors’ conference were sympathetic, none offered a similarly comprehensive plan.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and others met with Trump at the White House — Steinberg did not attend — and Garcetti was optimistic. He had urged the administration last month to provide federal help to his city to ease the homeless problem.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson tweeted, “The homelessness crisis in California has been an entrenched problem for a longtime. Per the request of @MayorOfLA & @kathrynbarger we look forward to a new partnership that will benefit our fellow citizens.” Garcetti also tweeted how he “appreciated” being able to work with Carson.