Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Detroit homeless program cuts mean less aid to those with mental illnesses

From Crain's Detroit Business:

Neighborhood Services Organization said it will be forced to lay off 14 people April 30 and to discontinue its part in a program that helped get nearly 900 homeless people off the Detroit streets last year, in the wake of a nearly $1 million funding cut from the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health agency.

The state notified Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health last October that it would see a $20.7 million cut in mental health funding this year, more than half of the $40 million in mental health services cuts across the state.

But NSO learned only last week that its funding for this year had been cut by $949,000, said President and CEO Sheilah Clay.

“The cut came too late,” she said. “That money was spent as of March.”

The county has been implementing cuts to local nonprofit funding for programs since then, said Teresa Bloom, director of communications and community collaboration for Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health.

The $949,000 cut to NSO was among cuts to 14 nonprofits in the latest round of funding decreases and the last of cuts this year unless the state again decreases mental health funding, she said.

The cut to NSO was across more than one program area, but NSO chose to apply the cut to “Project Helping Hand,” a program run jointly with the Detroit Bureau of Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery to get homeless people off the streets and into mental health and substance-abuse treatment programs, as well as permanent housing, Bloom said.

The city plans to continue the program, referring the homeless that it picks up to other mental health service providers, she said.

Between October and March of this year, NSO and the Detroit Bureau of Substance Abuse, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery picked up 518 people from the central downtown business district and surrounding areas, said Joseph Howse, director of corporate affairs at NSO.

In 2009, the program, which began in 2006 when Detroit hosted the Super Bowl, assisted 893 people.

“We're concerned about people dying on the streets of Detroit,” Clay said.

There are people on the street who suffer from severe mental illness and substance-abuse problems, as well as major medical problems, and they need help, she said.

“We know this is probably going to have an impact on tourism in the city of Detroit,” as well, Clay said.

The program regularly picks up homeless people from Hart Plaza, Cobo Center, Belle Isle, under freeway viaducts, the old train station and Greek Town, she said.

“These are human beings who are trying to survive. They are going to solicit people for money. If you have activities going on in your city, and people can't even move around because of the number of homeless people on the street, there's going to be a big impact on your community,” Clay said.

NSO had been operating on a budget of $25 million this year, but Clay said its other revenue is earmarked for other programs such as: services to older adults with mental illnesses and children with developmental disabilities, gun violence prevention, the gambling hotline for the state and in-home early childhood education services.