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Providers Seek More State Funds for Homeless Services

Leaders of homeless service programs on Monday addressed a joint hearing of a House appropriations subcommittee and the Urban Affairs Committee, saying any funding cuts would hinder their ability to provide services.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 36,000 Texans were homeless at any given time last year.

Further reductions in state funds for homeless services and prevention programs could hinder the ability of service providers to reduce homelessness in Texas, some of those providers said Monday at a House committee hearing.

A House appropriations subcommittee held the joint hearing with the Urban Affairs Committee to discuss strategies to maximize the effectiveness of state funding for such programs.

In 2011, the Legislature cut $20 million in general revenue allocated to support the Homeless Housing and Services Program, which started in 2009. Other grants and programs that support homelessness initiatives also lost funding. Most organizations found ways to work around the reduced funding by seeking support from private sources — but further cuts would make it difficult for many service providers to continue offering the same level of resources, some organization leaders said.

The HHSP found about $10 million in other funds such as bonds that allowed it to operate in 2011 and 2012. Tim Irvine, the executive director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the department would keep looking for funds for the program.

"We don't see federal funding as a good solution for this program" because of the complications and strings that come with federal money, Irvine said.

Speakers included leaders of programs in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin.

Sheryl Cole, an Austin city councilwoman, said the state should put a higher priority on funding homeless services and prevention.

“The funding is so inadequate in relation to the magnitude of the problem,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 36,000 Texans were homeless at any given time last year. Irvine cautioned this was probably an underestimation.

Individual service providers say they felt the impact. Mark Carmona, the executive director of Haven for Hope in San Antonio, said his organization saw its state appropriations reduced from $3 million to $1.6 million in the 2011 session.

"The ongoing investment from the state would help us as we continue to achieve the results on this transformation campus," Carmona said.

At the main shelter and the overnight shelter, the organization houses up to 1,600 people per night. The organization also provides services including medical care, support to transition to permanent housing, and job training and placement. If HHSP does not get additional funds in 2013, Haven for Hope would have reduced ability to continue its job placement program, which means clients would stay homeless longer, Carmona said.

Cole said cities like Phoenix that have a four-part model that includes funding from government, business communities, faith communities and social services are most effective at fighting homelessness. 

The committees hope to find effective ways to combat homelessness as it looks at appropriations measures and other legislation during the next session, members said. 

"We want to try to find solutions and make sure we fund adequately the programs that are successful and try to figure out what makes those programs successful," said Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee.

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