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Homelessness In Westchester Pt. 2: Housing Programs are Wasting Money While the Homeless Sleep in Shelters

Department of Social Services Central Office 112 East Post Road where the Continuum of Care Meets [Black Westchester]

[Editorial Note: If you have not read part one yet, click here to check it out]

Across America, counties are supposed to coordinate their homeless service providers including the government, through a Continuum of Care. CoC’s also score their programs for performance, and recommend which receive federal funding. They can choose their own membership, as long as they include those getting federal grants. Some Westchester providers have been excluded from the process, especially those funded through donations.

In 2015, Westchester CoC board members were only required to attend 50% of the meetings and could do so through a conference call device. Only their twice yearly forums are open to the public. Most of the minutes on their website are from 2012 or earlier.

The cities of Yonkers and Mount Vernon also have their own non-public meetings of providers receiving federal funds. The problems shown below were countywide, but it is easiest to use programs from these cities as examples due to the existence of (pre- 2012) minutes for these local meetings.

In the fall of 2008, almost all Yonkers agencies operating federally funded housing and outreach programs were months behind in using their grant money. Some had spent nothing. Several closed grants from the previous year had unused funds which went back to HUD*.

By February of 2009, as the problem continued with programs not spending up to 50% of their funds, and submitting late vouchers (requests for money from their grants) and reports*, the federal government placed several programs on hold. It can be assumed that this was occurring elsewhere as well.

By June 2009, HUD was fed up. They froze all grants of “poor financial management” in Westchester, imposing conditions before they were renewed: submit paperwork on time, and use all authorized funds. They had already been required to do this.

HUD announced that it would be auditing Yonkers projects the following year, and  the county department of mental health’s housing contracts that summer. The Yonkers group surmised that it would be a “huge task” to get the latter in compliance with HUD rules before then.

The problems didn’t go away. In September 2009; a Mount Vernon shelter plus care program* was facing the loss of 100,000 it had not spent, two other programs had not used any of their funds. In October, its housing for veterans was empty, a pronouncement that fittingly has the word “problem” typed next to it in bold. In Yonkers, some grants were going up to 8 months without using any money; others were up to 19 months behind schedule.

By March 2010, the minutes of the Yonkers meeting could say “every open contract from (the) previous financial year has some issue.”

In May 2010, HUD reexamined the problems. Like naughty school children; agencies had to write letters promising to follow the rules from now on. HUD also made programs in Mount Vernon, Yonkers, and elsewhere promise to stop: not serving enough clients, poor financial management, having clients from transitional housing who may not have been from the streets or shelters, and in the case of the Family Service Society, agencies using grant money to lease units in their own buildings. That October, HUD told grantees that money would not be given for costs vouchered for more than 6 days after they happened.

At the end of 2010, the CoC asked that the funds of 6 housing programs countywide be reassigned due to poor performance. But the problems still did not go away. In June 2010, the Mount Vernon YMCA’s shelter plus care program and Renaissance’s Mount Vernon outreach ended with $80,000 and $40,000 unused. In February 2011, the Yonkers YMCA’s shelter plus care program for veterans closed with almost $170,000 returning to HUD.  Westhab’s SRO* had been sitting empty since 2010. The YMCA had somehow used up all funds for another housing program 9 months early. The Yonkers YMCA was at this point in transition, their executive director having left in 2008 after being accused of misspending funds. Today, after experiencing turnover in staff, it is a much better organization.

County CoC minutes confirm that reports were still being submitted late in 2012. After that, things did get a little better. Many programs were reassigned, including a Yonkers outreach ran by the Mount Vernon Health Center that had consistently used almost nothing of its grant. DSS did make a rule change: they would directly control half their sub-recipients administrative funds.

There are still issues. A Westhab housing program had a total of  $110,000 unused for their most recent grant period. Hope Community Services in New Rochelle just got selected to apply for a 18 bed housing program despite not submitting their application on time, and not being present at the meeting. Hope also runs the Refuge housing program for lgbtq youth, in 2013 it left $33,000 unspent, and had an average occupancy of 3.53 out of 14. It has also submitted vouchers with errors.

A DSS/Westhab housing grant started in 2014 did not use $81,000 including $63,000 in leasing funds. It consistently had 10% of its beds empty. In 2014, DSS and Children’s Village’s housing program for young adults did not spend $28,771 in supportive service costs due to, in the words of DSS: “ineligible, incomplete and insufficient documentation provided by the subrecipient for claimed HUD funds which were disallowed by DSS upon review.” Also, 2 staff positions required by the grant were empty for 4 months. The Turning Point Grant, which is supposed to house 99 of the chronically homeless, apparently has a “large remaining balance” because there were “few clients” for its first months of operation. It is now operating “near capacity.”

A Department of Community Mental Health housing program that started in 2014 left $63,000 unspent. Some money went unused due to tenant’s paying a share of the rent, but 3–4 beds sat empty. In 2015, A $7 million dollar DCMH program with several sub-recipients did not spend $1,444,361 and had 25 unfilled beds. A Westhab/DCMH program for veterans was not using 2 of its 6 beds. These numbers may seem small, but they add up. DCMH programs serve the homeless who have mental health issues.

Over the past few years, the administrative staff monitoring these grants have not been submitting their time sheets on time, resulting in additional late drawdowns of money.

In 2015, our county got the second most funding in the state for federal housing programs (after New York City,) yet somehow we still have this mess.

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About Laura Case (4 Articles)
Laura Case is a writer, activist, and peer-advocate on issues concerning homelessness in Westchester County, New York. She stays on and off at a drop-in shelter. Laura also writes for Daily Kos, Talk of the Sound, Medium and more.
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