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Small Cut, Big Cost

by Curtis Black of Community Media Workshop
July 16, 2008 – The $4 million in new supportive housing for the homeless cut last week by Governor Blagojevich isn’t much compared to hundreds of millions cut from health care and higher education; the $200 thousand elimated from Housing Opportunities for Women is just slightly more than the Governor’s new salary, after his 7.6 percent pay hike. But it could jeapordize HOW’s effort to stabilize a troubled building in Rogers Park — and to bring independence to formerly homeless families.

“It’s a short-term cut with a long-term cost,” said Britt Shawver, executive director of HOW.

The funds were to provide supportive services in an affordable housing preservation project — a 25-unit subsidized Rogers Park building that Shawver said was “very troubled, with dealing and gang activity.” The building is across the street from an elementary school.

With full support from local elected officials, funding for HOW was included in the Illinois Department of Human Services budget and passed by the House and Senate in May. On June 30 the group closed on the building. On July 10 they were informed their funding had been eliminated.

Capital costs for the project come from renewed tax credits guaranteeing an additional 30 years of affordability, and operating expenses are covered by HUD subsidies targeted to special needs populations. That means tenants — some current and some new — will be women and families with long-term disabilities and barriers. Many HOW clients are survivors of domestic violence with issues including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Some have severe mental illness and physical disabilities.

“Service funding is a critical component” for making the building “a safe community,” said Shawver. Without it, the building “will look like it used to look.” Lack of funding could “destabilize the building and the block all over again.”

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, HOW houses 230 families in two of its own buildings and in apartments rented from private landlords, providing case management, employment services, support groups, educational programs, and health and family services.

“It’s a community integration approach, putting people in control of their lives in their own communities,” Shawver said. “It works really, really well. In terms of outcomes — people stabilized, increased income, becoming independent — it’s at a 90 percent success rate year after year.”

Barbara Hickman came to HOW a year and a half ago, after escaping a six-year violent relationship that had led her to alcohol abuse and dependence. “I’m blessed to be part of HOW,” she said.

With HOW’s backing, she lives in “a really lovely apartment” in East Rogers Park. “I’m thrilled with it,” she said. She sees a case manager once a month, attends 12-step meetings, and has “a wonderful women’s group that meets every Thursday night and covers topics from A to Z.” She participates in HOW programs ranging from financial management to meditation. Retired on disability, she’s found part-time work as a receptionist at a nearby school.

“I’m just so grateful that they’re here,” Hickman said. “Not just for me — for so many women who’ve had obstacles in their lives. It’s a stepping stone for women to get back on their feet after domestic violence.”

The $4 million cut means eliminating new supportive services for 871 families across the state, said Janet Hasz of the Supportive Housing Providers Assocation, a statewide coalition of 97 organizations. A recent estimate put the need for new units of supportive housing at 7,700 statewide, she said.

Since the service funding leverages federal monies, the cut jeapordizes an additional $20 million in federal funding, she added, as well as $600 thousand in Medicaid reimbursements that would go to the state.

In addition, a 2 percent cut in human services will affect existing supportive services, she said.

The House is expected to consider overriding the Governor’s budget veto this week; the Senate is not currently planning to reconvene this summer.

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