Miami-Dade County

Hundreds of Miami-Dade homeless face loss of beds with cuts in federal aid

A group of county workers prepares a count of downtown Miami's homeless population.
A group of county workers prepares a count of downtown Miami's homeless population. Miami Herald file 2015

An unexpected loss of federal funding has Miami-Dade scrambling to find money to keep hundreds of homeless people in beds this week, with a top agency official warning of a “devastating impact” for the transitional program that houses people forced to leave shelters.

Miami-Dade learned Monday that the federal housing department was not awarding it millions of dollars in subsidies it had expected for the county’s transitional programs. The programs provide a place to live for homeless who can no longer stay in emergency shelters but haven’t qualified for permanent housing from the government.

The county’s homeless agency lost out on about $5 million in federal aid that was earmarked to fund housing for about 700 people, officials said.

“It has a real devastating impact on us,” said Ron Book, the prominent lobbyist who serves as the volunteer chairman of the county’s Homeless Trust, a board that oversees Miami-Dade’s homeless agency and the food-and-beverage tax that helps fund it. “This has the potential of putting hundreds and hundreds of people on the street very quickly.”

We probably took the biggest hit of any [homeless agency] in the country.

Ron Book, chairman of the county’s Homeless Trust

HUD on Monday announced $355 million for homeless programs across the country, and a press release called the grant process “the most competitive ever.”

In an email to board members Tuesday morning, Homeless Trust director Victoria Mallette wrote that “nearly all” of the county’s transitional programs were not funded by HUD, and that related services for homeless people took a big hit, too. “Among the cuts, programs supporting victims of domestic violence, those recovering from addiction, youth, veteran services, legal services,” Mallette wrote. “In short, this cut represents more than 750 transitional housing beds in our community, and services to many more.”

Book said the lost funds seem to reflect HUD’s broader strategy to shift dollars to permanent housing and away from more temporary fixes to homelessness. Transitional programs provide housing for up to two years and often offer the drug rehabilitation treatment that many homeless need before they can qualify for permanent housing. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said late Tuesday he would be in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday and hoped to meet with HUD Secretary Julián Castro for help in restoring at least some of the rejected funds.

The nonprofits who receive the federal funds through Miami-Dade operate on different contracts, so some providers may be in a tighter squeeze than others without the grants. Book said Miami-Dade has essentially been spending some of the money in advance, with the grants counted on covering expenses incurred since Jan. 1.

“We’re in the middle of trying to sort it out,” Book said. “We probably took the biggest hit of any [homeless agency] in the country.”

A list released by the Homeless Trust, which has a budget of about $65 million, showed Jewish Community Services losing $900,000 for a jobs-training service, the Inn Transitions South home for battered women losing about $730,000, and $430,000 lost for the New Hope CORPS substance-abuse center in Homestead.

Fred Stock, CEO of Jewish Community Services, said he was optimistic that the Homeless Trust could negotiate more federal dollars with HUD.

“I don't know how this is going to shake out at this point,” Stock said. “Obviously, this is a significant hit on the community.”

Camillus House CEO Shed Boren said he lost roughly 75 percent of the funding for a mental health center that provides showers and meals during the day at Camillus’ Norwegian Cruise Line campus. He said in 2016 alone the center has served close to 1,200 people.

“I'm incredibly worried,” Boren said. “This is the center where people come to rest and get involved in support groups, get there healthcare. I don’t want to see these people not served.”

The news was grim enough that one prominent provider declined an interview, citing concerns about staff learning of impending steep cuts through the media.

Constance Collins, director of the Lotus House women’s shelter in Miami, said her nonprofit won’t be immediately affected by the cuts due to the type of government dollars the shelter receives. But Collins said the county system already squeezed for federal dollars is sure to suffer as a whole.

“I'm distressed to hear this because the ripple effect will be across the system,” she said. “It’s going to demand solutions from local government across the board.”

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.