Miami-Dade’s homeless need HUD to reconsider its funding choice

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Camillus House will be hard-hit by the loss of $346,000 in funding for its homeless programs.
Camillus House will be hard-hit by the loss of $346,000 in funding for its homeless programs. MIAMI HERALD

Miami-Dade’s homeless community is on the brink of a crisis of such proportions that even Ron Book, the head of the county’s Homeless Trust, says he’s shaken to the core.

Miami-Dade scored shockingly low in a federal competition for a leftover pot of money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It means the loss of $5 million for vital homeless programs for the coming year. It’s a devastating development.

It’s baffling that one of the nation’s biggest counties — and an innovator in the fight against homelessness — bore such little clout. Mr. Book is gearing up to fight back, as well he should.

The Trust, as it does every year, submitted a grant application seeking funding for more than 20 local homeless programs. But when HUD Secretary Julián Castro made public the scoring results on Monday, Miami-Dade had won funds for only three.

“This means that, come June, some 700 people who were receiving services to get off the streets will be sent back to the streets. Can you imagine that?” Mr. Book asked the Editorial Board on Tuesday.

The news has sent chills through local agencies and nonprofits that work to get the homeless on a straighter path. Camillus House, unfortunately, will be hard hit. It has a slew of valuable programs that help homeless people transition to a new life. It’s a process that takes up to two years and often includes drug rehabilitation, which many need before they can qualify for permanent housing.

Shed Boren, Camillus’ executive director, is stunned. “I don’t know what we’re going to do to find the money to make up for this loss,” he told the Board. Camillus alone will lose 75 percent of funding for its Day Center, that represents $346,000 of the center’s $461,000 annual budget.

The center is an oasis for those without a roof over their heads, a place where they can shower, find counseling and a mail center, in addition to finding a meal — more than 300 are served each day. The loss of HUD money, Mr. Book said, will derail the county’s master plan to do away with homelessness by December 2017. “ I don’t think HUD realizes how impactful this cut will be for Miami-Dade,” he said. But Mr. Book says he is requesting a sit-down with HUD officials. He is also appealing to the Miami-Dade congressional delegation for help.

What happened here? What went wrong with Miami-Dade’s application to HUD? A department spokeswoman did not return a telephone call.

Here’s how it works: HUD does its major funding in March. Homeless consortiums, like Miami-Dade’s Homeless Trust, usually place their must-fund projects on a “first-tier” list.

In the second round of funding, the consortiums are asked to compete with each other for funding for their other projects via grant applications. Grant-writing expertise is imperative. But Mr. Book admits the complicated task fell on staffers doing it for the first time. He also said that funds for homeless people in transition — not yet ready for permanent housing — though considered crucial, was not included in the first phase of funding requests. That was an unfortunate lapse in judgment.

For the sake of Miami-Dade’s homeless, HUD should give Mr. Book a fair hearing and reconsider its decision, which will sow havoc here. And the Trust, which has a $65 million budget, will need to overhaul its grant-writing process. This has been a very expensive lesson.