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City gets $12 million boost for homeless

The increase in HUD funding reflects an emphasis on housing rather than services. A main beneficiary is a planned 80-unit Center City project.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development increased financial support to the city to fight homelessness yesterday after slashing funding last year.

The funding will let local agencies produce 95 units of new housing - including an 80-room facility in Center City for men and women now living on the streets or in shelters.

The agency said the city would get $25.2 million to fund homeless programs, up from last year's $13.1 million.

The city lost 40 percent of its homeless funding a year ago because it placed too much emphasis on programs that provided services and not enough on creating permanent housing, said Dainette Mintz, head of the city's Office of Supportive Housing.

In this year's application, housing was the priority, she said. "The message sent last year was they wanted to see more of a housing emphasis. This year, we did that."

The 80-unit project is a partnership between Project H.O.M.E. and Bethesda Project, a faith-based Philadelphia nonprofit that serves the homeless, to convert a Center City building into permanent housing for people who have been living on the streets, or rotating in and out of shelters for years.

HUD awarded that project $4.5 million. The building, owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is behind St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church on 13th Street between Chestnut and Market Streets.

Angelo Sgro, executive director of the Bethesda Project, said the partnership still needed to line up further financing, but added that the HUD award was "hugely important."

"The elements you need for getting people off the streets are, you get them help for mental illness or substance abuse, you get them jobs, and you get them a place to live," Sgro said. "If you don't have a roof over your head, you've got nothing."

Sgro said he and Sister Mary Scullion of Project H.O.M.E., the Philadelphia-based homeless advocacy and services network, met with managers of surrounding hotels and buildings to explain to them the critical need for affordable housing for people trying to leave the streets.

He said the business community and Center City District were supportive of the project.

"The people who work in those buildings trip over the same people who ultimately will be housed in our building," Sgro said. "They get it and they get that the building needs to be there in Center City, because that's where the people are and that's where the services are."

Yesterday, HUD announced a total of $1.5 billion in funding for homeless projects to 3,900 cities and counties.

Communities in Pennsylvania received a combined $79 million, while those in New Jersey will share $36 million.

Roy A. Bernardi, a HUD deputy secretary, said this latest round of funding would "reach further and deeper into communities."

"This will allow local communities to house and serve more people than ever before," he said.

Philadelphia has been grappling with an increased number of homeless people on streets and in shelters, according to Project H.O.M.E. During the summer, the number of homeless living in Center City shot up to 621 - a level not seen in a decade, according to a Project H.O.M.E census.

City shelters are exceeding capacity and house 2,800 people on any given night, half of whom are in families with children.

Federal funding accounts for a third of the city's budget for homeless services.

Philadelphia submitted funding requests for 82 projects and got money for 72. Most are programs seeking renewed funding, but three are new projects that would add 96 units of permanent housing for the homeless.

In addition to the Project H.O.M.E. award, the other new housing projects are:

People's Emergency Center received $753,394 to build six homes for homeless families.

The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service and Education Center Inc. received $301,698 to build 10 units of housing for homeless veterans.

In addition to the competitive grants, HUD also awarded Philadelphia a $2.3 million grant for running its emergency shelters.