Southeast Pa. homeless assistance program to shut down

Homeless people sleep under an overpass in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/Whyy, file)

Homeless people sleep under an overpass in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/Whyy, file)

The Philadelphia region is about to lose a federally-funded homeless outreach program.

The loss comes at a time of uncertainty for agencies that help the homeless, which face funding cuts proposed in President Trump’s budget plan.

The Homeless Outreach Support Transition Program, or HOST, sends peer support workers into the streets of greater Philadelphia to help people experiencing homelessness. These workers were once homeless themselves, and draw on that experience as they link those they serve to healthcare and housing.

“They walk side by side with them to engage them, to identify if there are some services or supports they would like to explore,” said June Cairns of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the organization that runs the program.

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HOST was launched in October 2015 on a one-year grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, funds which Cairns said the program stretched to support itself for a year and a half. The money will run out at the end of April, she said.

Local government in Philadelphia and Delaware and Bucks counties are unable to pick up the tab to continue the program, Cairns said, so the program is forced to shut down.

Liz Hersh, the director of Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services, said that local resources to reduce homelessness would become even scarcer under the federal budget proposed by the Trump administration. It calls for a cut of $6.2 billion from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the elimination of funds for affordable housing and community development.

“Any of these kinds of cuts are going to have an immediate and dramatic impact on the most vulnerable individuals,” Hersh said.

She said that the city continues to work with its partners to deploy its own homeless outreach teams, but that those resources are already stretched thin.

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