SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Executive Director of the Welcome House of South County Linda Barden sees an inequity of funding for homeless shelters in Washington County, a situation she predicts may lead some to freeze in their homes this winter.
For FY 2012, Welcome House received $40,000 from the Rhode Island Consolidated Homeless Fund (CHF). This amounts to $4,000 to $5,000 less than last year. The Welcome House of South County has been providing emergency shelter and transitional and permanent housing to homeless residents of Washington County since 1987.
Barden accepted this funding decrease as something all homeless shelters expected.
“All the emergency shelters providers planned on cuts to our state contracts. The state is in a serious financial crisis. Shelter providers started planning two years when cuts began,” she said.
Her issue is what she believes is an inequity of funding between the two Washington County shelters, Welcome House and the Westerly Area Rest Meals (WARM) Center and the other state nonprofits mainly centered in Providence.
“The myth continues. Everyone in Washington County has a $450,000 home and two BMW’s in the driveway. All the needs are in Providence, Woonsocket and the East Bay,” Barden said. “When speaking to the Department of Housing, Homelessness and Community Development to discuss this inequity I pointed out the fact that Washington County covers one third of the state, that we have the highest private support and we cannot ask for additional donations. The economy has hit everyone, including people living in Washington County.”
In a letter to Welcome House dated in August, Governor Lincoln Chafee said the $40,000 in funding is just some of the $3 million being awarded next year to the 21 Rhode Island nonprofits. However, Barden countered that there are not 21 shelters in the state. She divided $3 million by 21 to get $142,857 each. Yet, the two homeless shelters in Washington County, Welcome House and the WARM Center received a combined 84.3 percent of on allocation of $142,857.
The WARM Center received $82,500 in funding through the CHF for shelter maintenance at its location at 56 Spruce Street, Westerly. This includes two household units and an emergency shelter with 19 beds for men and women.
Darline Price the Housing Resources Coordinator at the Office of Homelessness Services & Emergency Assistance for the Rhode Island Housing Commission said funds are allocated fairly.
“Every agency has a lot of money to ask for. The funding district committee determines how much each will get when they look at the applications,” Price said.
She said every year the state allocates $3 million for the state’s homeless shelters.
In Providence, Crossroads Rhode Island, the largest homeless shelter in the state, providing basic emergency needs, shelter, housing, case management and vocational services to homeless families and individuals in need received a total of $795,708 in funding. This funding is allocated to its four locations for shelter maintenance. In Woonsocket, the Family Resources Community Action received $104,498 for its emergency apartments for the six units at 176 Sayles St., Woonsocket. In Cranston, the House of Hope CDC received a total of $505,000 for its three locations.
“The state has to balance a lot of different factors. They balance geographic location with the number of people the geographic regions serve. There are more people in the metropolitan areas that are homeless,” Jim Ryczek, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless said. “The problem is that they aren’t enough resources to give everyone the amount needed to do an adequate job they need to do. We’ve had level funding for past six years.”
However, Barden said the poverty rate in Washington County has increased from 5.3 percent in 2007 to 9.9 percent in 2010.
“I am exasperated at how out system works. The state says we don’t have the data to prove the need. Welcome House has been documenting unavailable beds for over three years. If this is being done with the homeless funding stream is it also being done to other social service agencies,” she said.
Funding through the CHF includes 80,000 in transportation funds, another inequality Barden sees as unfair to Washington County. Barden said the state lacks an understanding of the demands in Washington County, demonstrated through the grant for transportation. She said Welcome House requested $2,500 and were granted $2,000. Barden said she submitted an actual awarded budget for $1,500 in $10 gas cards and $500 in RIPTA bus passes, but was told 75 percent of the award had to be for RIPTA tickets and only $500 for gas cards.
“Does the state know ‘you can’t get there from here.’ The bus system in Washington County caters to URI, APC and the park and rides. Our limited bus service in Washington County leads me to believe my choice of 75 percent in gas cards was a logical choice considering the vast area of service for the homeless shelters. The state does not want to hear this. I guess RIPTA needed Homeless money this year and last year. That’s one way to pass on money,” Barden said.
Barden said providing gas cards are one way to help people from losing all they have.
“I come from a different approach not because I’m from an agency, but because I was formerly homeless,” Barden said. “The money that’s out there, we should be able to help. The state’s not listening to your story. The state doesn’t see it as prevention.”
As she fights for equality in funding between the state’s nonprofits, Barden said the situation looks bleak for everyone everywhere.
“In Jan. 2012, over 30,000 people in Rhode Island are losing unemployment benefits. We’re going to find people frozen in their homes. That’s the 99 percent they are talking about,” Barden said.
She said the state system will worsen next year because funding will be based on outcome and whether the shelter clients move into permanent housing within 20 days, an outcome Barden sees as close to impossible.
“These people have no job, no food. In 20 days, they’re expected to find a job, save money for the security deposit and first month rent? Why are the shelters being held liable for the economy?” Barden asked. “We always say as soon as the people come in, the goal has to be to find a job and put their life together. In a normal economy, it’s tough to get a job in 30 days. People who come in don’t even have a photo ID. They can’t get hired.”