U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart gives a hand to Miami-Dade homeless

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The homelss seek nightly shelter at Camillus House, hard hit when nearly $6 million in expected HUD money for the homeless disappeared last year.
The homelss seek nightly shelter at Camillus House, hard hit when nearly $6 million in expected HUD money for the homeless disappeared last year. MIAMI HERALD

The homeless community has gotten a hand up thanks to a Miami congressman, who recently helped restore about $2 million to fill a federal funding gap the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust suffered last year in a grant-writing snafu. That’s a good thing.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, chairman of the House appropriations committee that oversees the Department of Housing and Urban Development, had vowed to use his influence to make up for the Homeless Trust’s devastating almost-$6 million loss in federal aid last year. The Trust is funded by Miami-Dade taxpayers to end homelessness in the county. Diaz-Balart lived up to his word.

The Trust last year had submitted a grant application seeking funding for more than 20 local homeless programs. But when HUD made public the scoring results, Miami-Dade had secured funds for only three.

Luckily for South Florida, Diaz-Balart included the additional dollars as part of the bill that sets 2017 spending for the agency. And Miami-Dade will get the money in the next few weeks — those are the benefits of having a diligent, political veteran like Diaz-Balart fighting for the region.

He carved out a $40 million pool of emergency funding — out of a pot of $2.4 billion — for areas like Miami-Dade that lost out on federal homeless dollars in the latest grant allotments. Miami-Dade is named in the bill, all but guaranteeing the money.

The blow to Miami-Dade’s homeless occurred last year when the county scored shockingly low in a federal competition for a leftover pot of money from HUD. Local leaders, including Diaz-Balart, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the head of the Trust, Ron Book, pleaded with HUD to no avail. But Diaz-Balart kept plugging away.

Now, Miami-Dade is expected to receive up to $2 million — not the total $6 million, but a welcome replacement amount nonetheless.

That includes money from a different pot meant to improve the Trust’s grant writing to HUD, which recently changed its award process and guidelines, surprising the local Trust. Under the new metrics, the Trust lagged other metropolitan areas in securing permanent housing for the homeless, the congressman said.

“This will hopefully soften the funding blow Miami-Dade suffered last year,” Diaz-Balart told the Editorial Board in a telephone interview.

Miami-Dade lost significant money in the grant competition, which ended up rewarding other agencies with additional dollars.

The news has sent chills through local agencies and nonprofits that work to get the homeless on a straighter path, like Camillus House, which helps the homeless transition to a new life. The county helped agencies funded by the Trust survive the hard times.

But it’s a new day, thanks to Diaz-Balart. However, the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust must not allow this to happen again.

It’s would be irresponsible to lose federal money on the table because of a lack of savvy grant writing, especially in a major metropolitan area like this one with persistent homelessness.

It’s good news today, but that loss of HUD money no doubt affected the county’s master plan to do away with homelessness by the end of this year. But we praise Diaz-Balart for stepping up and delivering on a promise.

Now, Congressman about our traffic problems …