Rockford Register Star: Aid to prevent homelessness getting scarce for local agencies

November 25, 2011

By Julia Hunter

ROCKFORD — Funds aimed at preventing homelessness are drying up across the state, and the only local agency that disburses such grants to families in crisis is expected to exhaust its state funding by the end of the year.

The city of Rockford Human Services Department said state funding cuts could result in an increasing number of Rock River Valley residents facing homelessness. And because of cuts in other programs, those who find themselves homeless will be faced with fewer options.

About half of the state’s social service agencies are expected to exhaust homelessness prevention funds by the end of the year, according to a report by the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Housing Action Illinois. An additional 30 percent are turning away large numbers of people monthly in order to stretch funds to the end of the fiscal year.

Over the past 11 years, homelessness prevention funds from the state and federal governments have assisted more than 95,000 households with grants that provide help with rent and utilities and supportive services to those who are in danger of eviction, foreclosure or homelessness, according to the report. The grants averaged $916 during the last fiscal year.

“Typically, we see people that have had a medical emergency or some type of short-term crisis,” said Jennifer Jaeger, community services director for Rockford Human Services, which deals with homelessness prevention in Boone and Winnebago counties. “If we can resolve that, they overcome the issues and are fine again; but if not, it’s just a downward spiral and many times they end up homeless.”

In 2007, Rockford Human Services provided homelessness prevention assistance to nearly 500 families in Winnebago and Boone counties. This year, Jaeger said, the department will be lucky if it provides the same services to 60 families.

The agency’s homelessness prevention funding from the state declined from $465,000 in 2007 to $61,913 this year. About $2 million in federal stimulus funds disbursed to Rockford Human Services over the past three years is expected to be depleted by March.

An estimated 9,118 households statewide that applied for a prevention grant last year had to be turned away because of insufficient funding, according to the homelessness report. That number is only expected to increase.

Advocates argue prevention is the most cost-effective way to combat homelessness.

“It is so much cheaper to prevent homelessness than to provide services in the shelter,” Jaeger said.

Funds to help those who have already lost their homes have been cut as well.

The state has cut Emergency and Transitional Housing funds by 52 percent, or $4.7 million, this year. This has caused 62 percent of state-funded emergency shelters and transitional housing programs to lay off workers, reduce the number of beds or clients, decrease operating hours or end programs.

Two local agencies helping those already homeless receive such funds, Shelter Care Ministries and Rockford MELD.

“It’s impacted us tremendously,” said Mike Robinson, president of Rockford MELD’s board of directors. “Actually, it’s impacted the people we’re trying to serve tremendously.

“Our homeless shelter can accommodate up to 16 young mothers, and because of the budget cuts and lack of funding from the state, we’ve been forced to cut that back to assisting only eight mothers. Because of that, we’re turning away a lot of young women that could use our assistance and directions.”

The number is “well into the hundreds,” Robinson said.

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