Last Friday, we report that Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s proposed budget called for 54 Child and Family Services Agency employees to be laid off. Roque Gerald, the agency’s director, announced that the cuts would be coming during a recent staff meeting. But there’s more proposed cuts on the table. Fenty has proposed cutting the agency’s $1.19 million Rapid Housing Program.
The Rapid Housing Program provides emergency funds to families who are in danger of losing their children—-or have lost their children—-due to homelessness. The program also helps youths who are aging out of the system attain housing. The cuts come at a difficult time; there are currently 125 families D.C. General’s emergency shelter, according to the last census count.
Gerald tells City Desk that he considered the rapid housing initiative a “good program.” He adds that he is looking for other ways to fund the program.
“I’ve taken the rapid housing out of the local dollars. But I’m exploring other options for rapid housing,” Gerald says. “We didn’t want to carry any other budget pressures—-that required us to look across the board. We are centralizing our focus on our core mandates: front-end investigations, in-home services, and out-of-home services. I don’t want any budget cut for services for those kids.”
Gerald hopes that the youths aging out of the system will no longer be in need of housing supports. He says his agency is committed to helping youths better prepare for aging out. Youths age out of the system at 21. Gerald cites his agency’s partnering with the Department of Employment Services as a key example in the ways the agency is helping its wards find support as they begin aging out.
Gerald says that more than 200 of the city’s wards have gotten jobs through DOES. “If we are preparing our youth much earlier on, it is less likely they will need that as safety net,” Gerald says of the Rapid Housing Program.
But advocates aren’t as optimistic as Gerald. Sharra Greer, the Children’s Law Center’s policy director, calls the proposed cut a “huge deal.”
“We are certainly doing everything we can to advocate that funding be restored,” Greer says. “This is a cost effective and inexpensive program. We’re working with the council to try and reinstate the funding.”
Greer doesn’t know why the Fenty administration would cut the program. “I have no answer for that,” she says. “We just don’t have a good answer. It would be one thing if their reports showed this is an inefficient program. But every report shows this is a successful program that everyone in the community supports.”
According to a Children’s Law Center’s research, the number of children entering foster care due to “inadequate housing” rose by more than 50 percent in the past year FY2008. The Center projects that the housing program would help 150 families and 110 emancipating youth in FY 2010.
Councilmember Tommy Wells will be holding a hearing on CFSA and the proposed budget this Thursday. Wells will surely be asking questions related to the rapid housing program cuts.
”We’re concerned about this as well as many other cuts to services to vulnerable residents,” says Charles Allen, Wells’ chief of staff.