Living with the Consequences: Sequestration’s Impact on the Houston Housing Authority
This is the first post in a new blog series that will look at the impact of sequestration on services to the homeless. If you or your grantees have a story to share, please tell us. And please, keep telling your elected officials how sequestration is impacting your communities, particularly the most vulnerable among us.
by Tory Gunsolley, Houston Housing Authority
Many have heard the term sequestration and have a vague idea that it imposes some cost savings on government spending and bureaucracy. The reality is that decisions made by politicians in Washington DC have a cutting impact on the lives of real people in communities nationwide. Nationally, sequestration has taken a brutal toll on housing programs. Low-income families are being denied vouchers or having voucher assistance reduced, and formerly homeless families are being removed from programs. The decrease in funding has been swift and severe; impacting homeless services such as shelters, health care, and substance abuse programs.
In our community, the Houston Housing Authority (HHA) has had its own tough decisions to make regarding sequestration. On an average day, HHA serves about 60,000 Houstonians including our elderly, our disabled, our homeless and other struggling brothers and sisters. Over the last year, we have had to decrease the amount of assistance we could provide to our families, having them bear the burden of sequestrations impact.
HHA along with Mayor Anise Parker, Harris County Housing Authority and our other partners have rallied together and will not allow sequestration or any other challenge to deter us from our vision to see an end to homelessness in the city of Houston. These tough times have only encouraged us to double our efforts by committing 1000 project based vouchers to permanent homeless housing, and setting an audacious goal of housing over 300 homeless in 100 days in an effort to continue the lasting impact on the homeless community. Last year we housed 100 in 100 days, so I guess we tripled our efforts with the current push.
As the President and CEO of HHA, I am most proud of the commitment and dedication of the staff, volunteers, and team that we have assembled to make sure that every Houstonian has a place to call home. Every day, my staff at HHA, make people’s lives better and they make a positive impact on the community. Their efforts not only help the individual, but help the community and save public resources. Yes, by giving a homeless individual a home it actually saves our community money.
If homeless person is exposed to the elements and gets sick, or is unprotected from violence they go to the hospital. The amount of assistance for one visit to the hospital is more than the assistance for one month in housing. If a homeless person spends one night in the company of police, it costs more than one month in a home. So the moral of the story is that if we really want to make an impact and really want to preserve government resources and really save money, the answer is not in arbitrary across the board cuts imposed through a sequestration measure, but to look at the real impacts on our families and more critically evaluate the best ways to save money. Those ways to save money may actually be to better target where our resources might just do the most good and create the most public benefit. HHA, the Mayor of Houston and the homeless advocacy community believe that the security and safety of a home is the best cost saving investment that we can make.
Tory Gunsolley became the President and CEO of the Houston Housing Authority in 2011. Houston Housing Authority serves over 60,000 people with 17,000 vouchers and over 5,500 public housing and affordable units. Prior to this he worked at the Newark (NJ) Housing Authority and the Cambridge (MA) Housing Authority. He began his career in housing as a housing counselor for a number of homeless shelters.