HUD Chief Sees Hard Winter For Homeless
By Cindy Loose
Housing Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo urged providers of services for the homeless yesterday to gear up for a particularly bad winter that could be a death sentence for hundreds of the people they serve.
He also called on volunteers throughout the nation to step forward and announced that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will operate a toll-free number to link potential volunteers with local agencies needing help.
That number 1-800-HUD-1010 also can be used to report homeless people in need of services. A HUD operator will alert local providers who can respond immediately.
Using a satellite TV hookup from HUD headquarters, Cuomo spoke yesterday to 5,000 providers for the homeless gathered at 70 HUD field offices. He was accompanied by a meteorologist who predicted El Nin~o would bring floods and unusually rough winter storms to large areas of the country, requiring a bigger and more coordinated response if deaths by exposure are to be avoided.
"Homeless people will die; the only question is how many," Cuomo said. "El Nin~o will make a bad situation worse, but how much worse we don't know."
Cuomo also announced that HUD would distribute more than 300,000 wallet-size cards that include the 800 number and 10 tips on ways to help the homeless. The cards will be distributed by HUD field offices to supermarkets, bookstores and community centers.
Cuomo said that for the last four years, HUD had focused on increasing resources and institutional involvement in the fight against homelessness. "Now," he said, "we need to get individuals involved."
He noted that federal resources for the homeless have never been greater: When he joined the department about four years ago, HUD had $300 million available in grants for homelessness programs. Despite shrinking federal budgets generally, that figure has increased this year to $823 million.
Moreover, nonprofit groups have been working with the private sector and state and local governments to maximize their efforts.
After Cuomo's speech, providers for the homeless in the Washington area met to discuss their plans for the winter. A hypothermia planning group has been working to coordinate efforts and develop a plan to ensure that any homeless person needing shelter will have access.
Cornell Chappelle, of the Community Partnership, a nonprofit agency funded by HUD to help coordinate efforts in the District, said that under a centralized census plan, van drivers who pick up people needing shelter will be told where there is room.
Under the Frigid Temperature Protection Act of 1988, he noted, the city is mandated to open public buildings when shelters are full and the temperature drops below freezing.
The partnership has its own toll-free hot line 1-800-535-7252 for homeless people seeking shelter.
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