With millions of persons who experience homelessness every year and hundreds of thousands of them without shelter and susceptible to death, serious bodily injury, or trauma from cold weather, violent acts, and sexual violence and other traumatic events, the funding for emergency shelters, transitional housing, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, and other homeless and housing services for persons experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness should be accessed to determine the adequacy of the funding levels to provide shelter for every single person who is experiencing homelessness.
In 2014 and 2016, more than half a million people were homeless on a given night and 1.49 million people slept in emergency shelters and transitional housing during the entire year of 2014. While the total number of homeless persons on a given night decreased slightly from 2014 to 2016 from 576,000 to 549,000, there were more homeless persons without shelter with 175,000 in 2014 and 176,000 in 2016.
Not only does sleeping without shelter leave anyone in that situation vulnerable to death or serious injury from cold weather and violent acts, unsheltered homelessness affects many extremely vulnerable people. As a previous blog explained, more than 100 unsheltered homeless people have died due to hypothermia, frostbite, and/or exposure to the cold during just the past few years. As a report described, more than 1,000 homeless people suffered from violent attacks in the past 17 years with 200 homeless people suffering attacks in just the two years of 2014 and 2015. Also, another report discussed the high rates of violence that homeless persons experience. Approximately half of all unsheltered homeless people on a given night in 2014 and 2016 were either persons in homeless families with children under the age of 18, unaccompanied youth, parenting youth and children of parenting youth, or chronically homeless individuals with a disability who have been continuously homeless for one year or more or have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness comprising at least 12 months in the last three years. Also, 25% of homeless individuals without shelter are women.
Homeless people were without shelter in all fifty states and the District of Columbia on a given winter night in 2014 and 2016. The five states with the largest number of homeless people without shelter on a given night during these two years were California, Florida, Washington, Oregon, and Texas with more than 70,000 and 78,000 in California, 21,000 and 15,000 in Florida, 5,000 and 8,000 in Washington, 6,000 and 8,000 in Oregon, and 10,000 and 6,000 in Texas. Although these five states have extremely large numbers of unsheltered homeless individuals and families, more than 1,000 homeless individuals and persons in families were located without shelter on a winter night in each of almost half (24 and 23) of the states.
The large number and increase of unsheltered homeless persons indicates that there are not enough shelters or housing or shelter or housing funding for homeless persons. Funding for emergency shelters are provided by Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) provided by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development and by the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In the past four fiscal years (FY), funding for ESG has remained the same at $250 million, except for a $40 million increase to $310 million in FY2017 and a $20 million increase to $270 million proposed by the Senate and passed by the House for FY2018. Meanwhile funding for the EFSP has remained steady for each of the past four years from FY2014 to FY2017 at $120 million and the House has passed a bill to provide flat appropriations of $120 million for FY2018.
The Emergency Food and Shelter Program began with an appropriation in 1983 and was authorized in the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act in 1987. The EFSP provides funding for served meals and other food at soup kitchens and food pantries, mass shelter and other shelter at mass shelters and motels and other alternative shelters, rent or mortgage assistance with one month’s past due rent/mortgage and first month’s rent, utility assistance for one month’s past due bill, rehabilitation in limited amounts to repair mass feeding and sheltering facilities, supplies and equipment up to $300 per item, and administrative costs to administer the grant limited to 5% of the award.
As the first table shows for FY2014, the latest year for which data are publicly available, of the $120 million appropriated by Congress for the EFSP, $113.8 million was spent in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In total, approximately $15 million or 13% was spent on served meals, $33 million or 29% was spent on other food at food pantries, $30 million or 26% was spent on mass shelter, $3 million or 2% was spent on other shelter, $23 million or 21% was spent on rent or mortgage assistance, $7 million or 6% was spent on utility assistance, $1,100 or less than 1% was spent on rehabilitation, $450,000 or 0.4% was spent on supplies and equipment, and $2 million or 1.6% was spent on administrative costs.
Therefore, more than half of the EFSP grant money was spent on shelter for homeless persons or assistance to prevent homelessness for persons at risk of homelessness. A total of $33 million or 29% of the total amount spent by the states was spent on shelter and an additional $30 million or 26% was spent on rent or mortgage assistance or utility assistance.
The EFSP provided funding for food and shelter in every state in 2014. As the second table shows, funding for the EFSP provided more than 150 million served meals at soup kitchens and food pantries, 96,000 nights in a mass shelter or other shelter, 73,000 paid rent or mortgage bills, and 77,000 paid utility bills.
Although funding for the EFSP has remained stead for the past several years, prior funding for the EFSP has been significantly higher, even during periods of relative economic prosperity such as FY2003 through FY2006 when states were provided total funding of $143 million to $147 million each year.
With this higher funding, along with likely lower shelter and housing costs given inflation over time, states were able to provide shelter for more than 90,000 to 290,000 additional persons each year for FY2003 through FY2006. In FY2003, $147 million in total funding and $34.6 million in shelter funding provided shelter for 379,000 persons. In FY2004, $145 million in total funding and $33.6 million in shelter funding provided shelter for 292,000 persons. In FY2005, $147 million in total funding and $34.2 million in shelter funding provided shelter for 186,000 persons. In FY2006, $143 million in total funding and $33.5 million in shelter funding provided shelter for 341,000 persons.
Most of the additional funding was spent on rent or mortgage assistance and utility assistance on past due bills, which enable states to pay 34,000 to 78,000 additional past due rent/mortgage bills and 56,000 to 90,000 additional past due utility bills in each of these years than in FY2014 and was likely to have a big impact on preventing homelessness for persons who were on the edge of homelessness. The additional funding for FY2003 through FY2006 enabled states to provide $38 million to $39 million in each of these years for rent or mortgage assistance that paid 125,000 past due bills in FY2003, 113,000 past due bills in FY2004, 151,000 past due bills in FY2005, and 107,000 past due bills in FY2006. The additional funding for FY2003 to FY2006 enabled states to provide $17 million to $18 million in each of these years for utility assistance that paid 168,000 past due bills in FY2003, 149,000 past due bills in FY2004, 155,000 past due bills in FY2005, and 134,000 past due bills in FY2006.
With the life-endangering impact of sleeping without shelter and with more than 176,000 homeless persons without shelter and the ability of increases in funding of the EFSP program to account for inflation and provide shelter for hundreds of thousands of homeless persons and provide rent or mortgage assistance to prevent homelessness for persons on the edge of homelessness, funding for the EFSP should increase by $50 million to $100 million.