Off the Chopping Block 

County commission’s passage of tax rate saves homeless services.

This week, the Shelby County Commission approved a tax rate of $4.38, ending some grant-funded homeless service organizations' worry of having their funding cut for the fiscal year.

The Community Alliance for the Homeless, the Family Safety Center, and the Exchange Club of Memphis would have been among those affected by the cuts.

Members of Homeless Organizing for Power & Equality (H.O.P.E.), a nonprofit organization composed of people who are currently or have formerly experienced homelessness, spent the past several weeks lobbying the commission not to cut funding.

"A lot of times homeless funding and homelessness is an issue that kind of takes the back burner and can get lost in the clutter, so we're happy that this didn't negatively affect our funding for homeless services," H.O.P.E. organizer Paul Garner said.

All grant-funded nonprofit organizations providing homeless services had their funding frozen prior to the decision due to the county commission failing to come to a consensus on a tax rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

This left Community Alliance director Katie Kitchin frustrated since homelessness is on the decrease in Memphis, thanks in part to the commission's funding of homeless services.

"Homelessness is down 13 percent. Chronic homelessness is down 17 percent," Kitchin said. "We've got kudos across the nation for the work that we're doing, so it seems troubling that high performance would yield budget elimination."

In 2012, 2,076 people were homeless on an average a day. In 2013, so far, the average count is 1,816 people homeless on an average day. The lowered amount is largely attributed to the Community Alliance's 100K Homes project, which provides 100 of the city's most vulnerable homeless individuals with permanent, subsidized housing.

Through the 100K Homes project, the Community Alliance has been able to house more than 50 of the 100 individuals identified as the city's most chronically homeless, meaning they have health risk factors that could cause them to die within the next two years.

The Community Alliance's funding enables them to provide the newly housed with "wraparound services," such as mental-health support, substance-abuse counseling, and retraining them how to do basic activities like cooking, laundry, and cleaning their homes.

In 2012, the Community Alliance was awarded $495,000 in grant money to provide services to the homeless. In June, the county commission approved a $220,000 budget for the Community Alliance's 2013-14 year — a cut of more than half of the previous year's budget. Had the commission not approved the new tax rate, that $220,000 would have been cut as well.

Now that those funds aren't being cut, Garner said both the city and county would save money in the long run. He said by providing housing and supportive services, the number of homeless individuals being arrested or seeking emergency medical services would decrease.

"We're going to be able to continue these programs and continue to get vulnerable people into housing and connected to services they need to break that cycle of homelessness," Garner said. "We'll be keeping our eye on the progress of these programs over the next year. Hopefully it'll be an easier struggle next year when we're back at the county [commission] to request continued funding for these services."

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