homeless programs ineffective, reports Philadelphia audit FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 23 Jun 1998 20:46:21 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Philadelphia Inquirer - June 17, 1998

     Councilman Kenney had sought the audit as City Council considers a
     bill targeting the homeless.

     By Cynthia Burton - Inquirer Staff Reporter

The city's emergency shelter system is a shambles of "flophouses"
filled with people few care about and programs that do little to break
the cycle of homelessness, according to a preliminary audit released
by City Controller Jonathan Saidel yesterday. At a news conference in
Saidel's office, City Councilman James Kenney, who had requested the
audit, said the city is spending millions of dollars "on programs that
simply warehouse people, recycle people. We're never given an
opportunity to know where they are, who they really are, what their
problems are, what their needs are." Later in the day, the city's
homeless czar, Deputy Managing Director Michael Nardone, said it was
difficult to respond to Saidel's audit because his accounting methods
were "extremely flawed." And the city is already working to solve many
of the problems cited, he said. The audit comes as City Council is set
to finally pass a sweeping bill tomorrow that targets the homeless by
prohibiting sitting and lying on city sidewalks as well as panhandling
near automatic teller machines and banks in Center City and most other
business districts. A companion bill would allocate $6 million on top
of the $63 million in city, state and federal funds already spent on
homeless programs. The new money would be used to create small
shelters geared to people with problems of substance abuse and mental
illness as well as pay for counseling, job training and intensive
outreach programs. The money bill won't be considered until Council
returns from its summer recess.

Kenney wanted Saidel to release his preliminary findings now, so he
could begin framing the debate over spending on homeless programs
before the money bill comes up for consideration. "Maybe there's
enough money," Kenney said. "It's just not being used in the
appropriate way." Saidel found more than half of the people who use
shelters "fail to become self-sufficient and recycle through the

Up to 65 percent of the homeless spend the maximum 30 consecutive days
in emergency shelters before finding somewhere else to go, only to
return within two years, he said. Under a better-run system, only 15
percent would be repeat users of the shelter system, Saidel said,
quoting research on homelessness in New York and Philadelphia.

In addition, Saidel said, half of the families who used city shelters
in 1997, the year auditors studied, really weren't homeless. They
merely checked into a shelter to move to the top of the waiting list
for federal housing grants known as Section 8 vouchers, he said. The
vouchers help pay rent in privately owned apartments.

The city's homeless population shifts from day to day. Monday night,
for example, 800 single men and women and 1,500 people in families
used the city's 2,300 shelter beds. Saidel estimated that between 400
and 1,000 homeless people live on city streets; homeless advocates
estimate there are only 500.

Nardone criticized the report, saying Saidel's auditors used anecdotal
information gathered from a small sample of the city's 50 homeless
service providers instead of a survey of the entire system.

Saidel said a thorough study was impossible, citing "a pervasive lack
of record-keeping in managing cases."

Nardone said his office had been working for six months on a
sophisticated tracking system to follow homeless people and to figure
out what their needs are and whether the system is meeting those

Saidel acknowledged that the shelters that served only a few dozen
people, with their social service programs, seemed to work. Those
shelters lead the homeless to self-sufficiency and are more
cost-effective because they keep people off the streets and out of
hospitals, mental institutions and jail, he said. The city has been
refocusing its homeless funds since 1992, when Mayor Rendell took
office, to do just that, Nardone said. The effort started with 3,100
beds in permanent or transitional housing (a home where a person can
live for up to two years) and will grow to 8,780 by the end of this
year, he said.


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