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Ellen Allen and Ed Weber: Sequester 2013 bad for W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most West Virginians understand that the automatic Sequestration 2013 cuts mandated on March 1cut government spending across all agencies by approximately 10 percent, but few people understand the real life impact that those cuts will have on our community, and especially the most disadvantaged, the poor and homeless.

That is why Covenant House is reaching out to encourage our senatorial leadership to fully restore the $2.231 billion for HUD's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in the final fiscal year 2013 funding legislation.

The 10 percent cut on West Virginia's homeless assistance programs would be devastating to West Virginia communities. During the last 50 years, with the aid of federal programs, we have seen the poverty status of senior citizens reduced, while struggling to keep the abysmal poverty rates among our children from getting worse. It is critical that sequestration cuts be restored or more ground will be lost.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, West Virginia stands to lose more than $3 million in Federal Housing Assistance and Community Development Block Grant programs due to mandated sequestration. These funds have a triple bottom line benefit of feeding the local economy, reducing social stress on communities and providing individuals a way to improve their daily lives.

At Covenant House, our mission is undergirded by the premise that all people should have access to safe and affordable housing. Sequestration would severely weaken our ability to administer several effective programs. One is "Housing First". It moves people directly from the streets and shelters into their own permanent housing. This effectively helps those living with mental illness, addictions, or other disabilities through the assurance of ongoing housing and can actually save lives. Covenant House currently works with 18 individuals in the Housing First model.

Another critical program is the Supportive Housing Program, designed to assist homeless persons in transition from homelessness and to enable them to live as independently as possible. Assistance is provided to help meet overarching goals of residential stability; increased skill level and or income earning potential and greater self-agency or determination.

The Housing Choice voucher program, serving 13,279 West Virginia families, is the federal government's major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.

Covenant House works with approximately 200 people in 22 southern counties living with HIV/AIDS in the program called Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS. Assistance is provided for short-term payments to prevent homelessness. Funds also may be used for health care and mental health services, chemical dependency treatment, nutritional services, case management, assistance with daily living, and other supportive services.

This is the work of Covenant House. Every day, as many as 200 people walk through our doors at the Drop in Center at 600 Shrewsbury St. They know they will be received with respect and dignity. They will be given hope. Sequestration 2013 will severely hamper our ability to support the most basic of needs for Charleston's most vulnerable citizens. Women, men and children come here for food and clothing. They come here for short-term utility assistance to avoid water and electricity cutoffs. If they are homeless, they come here for companionship, a shower, a voucher for a haircut, or wash their clothes and blankets.

The Community Development Block Grant, Public Housing Grants, Housing Choice Vouchers, Homeless Assistance, and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, are all funding sources that absent such funding would result in higher rates of homelessness in our community.These programs are more than compassionate public policy; they represent sound economic policy.

Where do people go when funding is no longer available? Do they go to Aunt Peggy's house and stay in the family room until compassion fatigue sets in and they are asked to leave? Do they go to the local homeless shelter that is overflowing? Do they join the homeless encampment under the bridge? If they are living with HIV/AIDS, how do they continue their strict treatment regimen when they are uncertain where they will lay their heads? Do they end up incarcerated? Do they seek medical care in emergency rooms? Do we see more homeless people living on the street, in the doorways of businesses?

Sequestration 2013 is bad for West Virginia. It is critical that the 2013 funding level for HUD McKinney-Vento Homeless Grants is restored. We are grateful to our Senate leadership for their support in these efforts.

Allen is executive director and Weber is president of the board of directors of Covenant House in Charleston.


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