Spending on homeless questioned Study says too much money may be allocated to those with less serious needs
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
By Joe Fahy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Preliminary findings suggest that in some ways, families using the most resources have less serious problems, said Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor and one of the study’s investigators. The Chaneyfield family, for example, has not had inpatient care for mental illness or substance abuse or had a child removed from the home. And both adults are working.
“Ironically, we may be spending more money on higher functioning families and less money on more needy families,” said Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Mr. Mangano said that if the preliminary findings are confirmed, “obviously, we’ll have to look at how we’re literally spending hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Overall, the federal government spends about $4 billion annually on homeless individuals and families, he said, and at least that much is spent by state and local governments and private groups. About half the nation’s homeless population lives in families, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
As efforts to address family homelessness gained momentum in the 1980s, emergency shelters were an early response, Mr. Mangano said. Transitional housing, another type of temporary housing that typically allows two-year stays, also was developed.
While those efforts were well-intentioned, they often were not based on research, he said.
More recently, studies have suggested that even the most vulnerable homeless people can be placed directly in permanent housing, Mr. Mangano said. And the latest findings suggest that too many temporary housing resources may be targeted to families with less serious problems.
Mr. Mangano acknowledged that some of those families might have more trouble overcoming their problems if they receive less help.
“Even though we have grave concerns about all homeless households, the reality is that we have limited resources,” he said. “We want to make sure they are invested in those most in need.”
Dr. Culhane said the preliminary findings, which have not been published, are based on a study in Massachusetts and in New York City, Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio. He agreed to discuss only the Massachusetts findings in detail, saying they were presented at a conference in October. But findings from the three cities were consistent with the Massachusetts results, he said.