The Times ran an interesting story on April 29 under the headline, "Cape Homeless Provider Runs Out of Money."
The good news is that Housing Assistance Corp. hasn't completely run out of money for everything we do. We are still here in the community, providing whatever housing services we can, working so that everyone has access to a safe, stable and decent place to live.
The bad news is that we really have run out of the money that we, for years, have been able to pass onto people at risk of becoming homeless. The state has cut back on money for homelessness prevention at a time when the number of people who need help is greater than ever. The weak economy is pushing more people out of work and more people to the brink homelessness.
Our front line staff says that lately they've been seeing 10 new families every day seeking homeless prevention help. But we are literally out of public prevention money. So every day, there are 10 more people we cannot help. Ten more people who may end up in one of our shelters, a friend's couch, their car, the street, or worse.
We're now seeing 25-35 new households each week facing foreclosure, most in crisis because of a drastic drop in their income. Federal funding for foreclosure prevention will be gone by July 1. And the moratorium on electricity and gas cutoffs that had been in place over the winter is about to be lifted. That means anyone who fell behind on payments to provide heat or electricity to their home could lose their service beginning May 1.
HAC has already been notified that 10 of our clients will be shutoff unless we come up with a plan. And without power, a house is inhabitable. The double whammy is that if the service is disconnected for lack of payment, it can't be restarted — there or even at another address — unless the balance is paid or an arrangement is made with the utility.
HAC is utilizing private gifts from individual donors to prevent homelessness wherever it can. We are partnering with other agencies, like the Cape Cod Times Needy Fund or St. Vincent de Paul Society, to pool our meager resources and offer whatever help we possibly can. Our staff is working with the utilities and landlords to work out payment plans for people who are about to lose their home or be shut off. The utilities, quite honestly, don't get any pleasure in shutting off someone's service. So sometimes even a small payment goes a long way. But the resources we have even for repayment plans are far short of what is needed.
Preventing homelessness may seem costly, but it's a bargain when compared with the cost of shelter. A one-time payment of $2,000 plus support is the cost of preventing a family from becoming homeless. It costs about $4,600 a month to shelter a family. Prevention assistance always goes directly to pay someone's housing cost — a month or two of back rent, a utility payment, funds to help them move into a new apartment — the minimum necessary to keep a family housed so that they can get back on track, even if it means moving into a less expensive home.
Most families who face homelessness are also facing another unavoidable crisis: A child is diagnosed with a serious, life threatening illness. The death of the primary breadwinner. Divorce. Loss of job. No matter the reason, we know that it is best for the family unit — unquestionably best for any children involved — if the family can remain in their current home or transition to a different home in a calm, reasonable manner. We know that it is best for the community because a family that is housed is more stable. We know that it is best for government because it is so much more cost effective.
Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray are vocal in their commitment to reduce homelessness across the state. That's why so many of us voted for them. But what we really need is for them to let their money do the talking and come up with financial assistance that will allow people to remain in their homes during these most difficult times.
Rick Presbrey is CEO/president of the Housing Assistance Corp. in Hyannis