Twenty-one people signed up to speak Monday night at a public hearing on Durham's housing needs after advocates learned of a potential change to how homeless services in the city are funded.
Nonprofits that serve Durham’s homeless population say a proposal to change the way the city doles out federal funding could jeopardize their operations.
But nothing is definite yet, and community development director Reginald Johnson says the city hopes to actually increase
its funding for homeless services by primarily using the city's dedicated housing fund instead.
However, no one told nonprofits that when they showed up to a December 12 workshop on how to apply for federal funds and learned that the intended use of the money they’ve received may change. So housing advocates sounded the alarm, prompting a flurry of concerned emails to city council members and a nearly two-hour public hearing Monday on the city’s affordable housing needs. (Johnson said the information wasn't pertinent to the subject of the workshop).
The messages of concerns caught council members off-guard, and they seemed similarly out of the loop Monday night as Johnson explained the proposal staff had developed. Council members assured the crowd that they don't intend to defund homeless services and, as council member Mark-Anthony Middleton put it, "the buck stops with us," not a city staff proposal.
The proposal is intended to help the city streamline its services from intake to permanent housing. Johnson said a recent review of city services revealed weaknesses in the intake system. Current intake procedures apply mostly to families, Johnson said, whereas most homeless people in Durham are single. City manager Tom Bonfield says this is the result of an Obama-era directive to prioritize addressing homelessness among veterans and families.
Local dollars would also be more flexible than federal money, Bonfield said.
Usually, about $120,000 in Community Development Block Grant money and $150,000 in Emergency Services Grant money are awarded to nonprofits that serve the homeless for uses like outreach and shelter renovations. Under the proposed change, the CDBG money would be used for affordable housing and the ESG money limited to rapid rehousing for the homeless.
Urban Ministries of Durham, Open Table Ministry, Families Moving Forward, and the Durham Crisis Response Center rely on that funding, advocates said Monday.
According to an alert that circulated Monday, Urban Ministries of Durham uses CDBG funds to serve an average of 712 meals per day to homeless and low-income people, and Families Moving Forward uses ESG money for operating costs at its emergency shelter, which serves as many as eighty families per year, and CDBG funding for case management.
“The net result of the CDBG and ESG decisions made by DCD is that all agencies providing food, case management, street outreach and shelter to homeless households in Durham are effectively defunded,” the alert says.
Monday’s public hearing was the first of two the city is required to hold to get federal housing funding. No final decision will be made until spring.