Homeless Shelters Face Sharp Cutbacks
If you happen to be a homeless man on the South Side of Chicago, there are precious few places to go during the day to escape snow or rain or heat—the public library, the train station, and, until recently, Roseland Christian Ministries Center.
"For 20 years, we had a drop-in center," said Joe Huizenga, the ministry's director of development. "It was aimed at men in the Roseland community—homeless folks who have some sort of mental disability, maybe veterans who couldn't find services. Roseland had a high number of homeless and displaced men who had nowhere to go during the day."
Roseland Christian Ministries, which also runs an overnight shelter for about 80 women and children, worked with the Chicago Department of Human Services to staff the drop-in center. Doors were open from 9 A.M. to about 10 P.M. every day; about 80 to 100 men walked through them to find lunch, dinner, and a place to belong.
"It was just somewhere to go, something to do," Huizenga said. "It would give them a sense of community and belonging."
The benefit to the community was two-fold, he said. In addition to sheltering and feeding the men, the center worked for containment.
"The children and elderly folks who lived in the neighborhood didn't have 80 to 100 folks with drug addictions and mental illnesses on the street," he said.
The state paid Roseland $300,000 a year for staff and food supplies. Three years ago, the budget was slashed to $190,000. Huizenga cut the hours and number of meals. Doors were open just five days a week, from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. Only one meal was served.
A year later, the state completely eliminated Roseland from its budget. A church in the suburbs stepped forward to help, giving enough money to staff the program for a few months. The hours were even shorter, from 2 P.M. to 5 P.M. each weekday. But it was not enough, and in June, Roseland had to shut the doors to the men's daytime shelter.
It is a story that's playing out in hundreds of places across the country this year. Since 2008, the recession has shrunk state budgets. At least 31 states have projected shortages for fiscal year 2012, a sum of more than $86 billion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Some of those shortages are enormous. Nineteen states report gaps of 10 percent or more of their general-fund budgets. Alabama and Nevada have shortages larger than 30 percent.
Thirty states have raised their taxes, while 46 have cut services, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And assistance for the poor is not exempt from cutbacks—31 states have restricted health insurance eligibility or reduced access to health care for low-income children or families. Thirty states have cut expenses for medical or home care for poor elderly or disabled people, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
"Human services isn't organized like, say, teachers," said Ron Baiman, director of budget and policy analysis for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. The services provided directly by the state and staffed by state workers can better maintain their funding than can community agencies and nonprofits, he said.
"Most of the actual services [in Illinois]—75 percent—are non-state-provided," Baiman said. "They're privatized, farmed out to nonprofits." This trend started in 2000 under the Bush administration, when many Christian charities and larger churches began signing government contracts to provide such services.
Since these faith-based groups are diverse and rely on multiple sources for financial support, it is harder for them to organize. They do not have a strong track record for moving legislation forward.