By Anna Katharine Thomas
After seven months of moving from couch to couch, William Wheeler finally realized that he did not have a safe place for his two school-age daughters to stay when they came to visit him.
“They don’t live with me, but I do get them every weekend. At least I try,” said Wheeler. “Not having a stable place for them to come and comfortably enjoy themselves — that is my biggest issue.”
Wheeler is one of a million Americans who has received aid from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) since its formation in 2009.
Under the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), HPRP has provided $1.5 billion dollars to local communities to help struggling families keep a current home or find affordable housing. To put this sum in context, spending $1.5 billion to save a million people from homelessness averages out to about $1,500 per person.
Ashley Gammon, a representative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), explained that many of the program’s beneficiaries are struggling homeowners who exhausted all their resources and were on the verge of homelessness when they sought assistance from HPRP. About a quarter of the people served were already on the street or relying on emergency shelters when they entered the program.
Along with help finding housing, HPRP provides access to employment specialists for participants looking for a job.
After a participant receives a callback, the employment specialist will work with the participant to prepare him or her for the interview, according to Wheeler.
“She makes you feel confident and good about yourself,” said Wheeler. “Your situation isn’t the prettiest when you are dealing with them, because you are homeless, you are unemployed.”
Wheeler had been in the program for less than a month when he saw results. Coming off of a year and a half without any callbacks from jobs, HPRP helped him arrange to go back to work towing. He also has an appointment set up at Macy’s to interview for a second job.
Out of all the people helped, “the latest data shows that fully 94 percent of people assisted by HPRP successfully found permanent housing—and nearly two out of every three of them were homeless for less than a month,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in his prepared remarks for a September, 2011, press conference.
In addition to the report about the million Americans they have helped this year, HUD announced that it was awarding $1.6 billion in grants from the Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Program to a number of housing facilities, and $216 million to new homelessness facilities, according to Gammon.
Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a well-known conservative think tank, believes that the fact that homelessness did not dramatically increase in the face of the current recession is a success story for the Obama administration, but it is only one battle in the ongoing fight against homelessness.
“Part of what they did there is an accelerated movement out. If you look at the data, I think they moved some long term homeless out of the shelters and into transitional housing. So I think the program seems to have worked pretty well,” said Rector.
According to Rector, when the recession eventually ends, America will still need to address the issue of why people are poor. He suggested that instead of cutting programs that provide aid, those programs should be refined to prevent homelessness in the future.