washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Virginia > Alexandria

Homeless Needs Rise as U.S. Aid Declines

Pressed for Resources, Many Area Agencies Had to Turn Clients Away, Report Says

By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2005; Page B01

Hunger and homelessness are increasing while government support is falling in the Washington region and across the country, according to national survey of 900 emergency food and shelter providers released yesterday.

Requests for emergency food assistance and shelter rose at agencies across Maryland, the District and Virginia over the past year, and many agencies in all three jurisdictions reported having to turn people away because of a lack of resources, stated the report by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.

"We're continuing to see an uptick in requests," said Bill Ewing, of the Maryland Food Bank, which feeds an estimated 45,000 people a week throughout much of the state. "As an organization we've never felt we've met the demand."

Ed Rea, director of the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless, also said that because of a shortage of funds, the coalition recently had to cut back its local transitional program designed to help homeless families get back on their feet.

"We had been taking about 30 families," Rea said. Now the program can accept only 24 families. Even after they improve their work skills and are ready to move on, they cannot afford even a modest apartment.

"Rental assistance is something government has to do," Rea said.

Yet advocates expressed concern that the Bush administration's proposed budget for fiscal 2006 would exacerbate the shortages, with reductions for many of the programs that help the needy, including food stamps, Medicaid and the Community Development Block Grant.

"This budget is lean, but it's also mean," said Karla Pippa, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, a volunteer organization founded by the state Public Interest Research Group.

The budget includes a proposed $26 million increase for the Health Care for the Homeless program and an additional $143 million funding for homeless assistance programs, according to an analysis by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. But those increases would be eclipsed by a proposal to cut Medicaid by $45 billion over the next 10 years, according to Kevin Lindamood of Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore.

President Bush's administration also has proposed to save $100 million in food stamp funding by making some working poor families ineligible in some states, including Maryland. "If they cut $1 off the food stamp budget, it's a dollar that has to be replaced" by food banks and pantries, Ewing said.

At the same time, many housing authorities are still reeling from cuts in the 2005 budget that, according to an analysis by the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, could result in the loss of as many as 80,000 rental vouchers in the current year.

At the District's Coalition for the Homeless, the executive director, Michael Ferrell, said the loss of vouchers makes more people homeless.

The results of the national student campaign study were reminiscent of another recent study released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The mayors found that even with an improving economy in 2004, requests for emergency food and shelter increased in cities nationwide.

The report also found that a majority of the requests for food assistance were from families and that more than one-third of the adults requesting help were employed. The mayors' survey also found an increase in homeless families. On average, 20 percent of the food requests and 23 percent of the shelter requests went unmet over the year, the mayors' study found.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company