To Prevent or Not to Prevent Homelessness – That is the Question, Philadelphia!
Rachel is a single mom of 3 children, all of whom have disabilities. She owed five months of past-due rent and was being taken to court in three weeks for eviction when she reached out to PEC’s Homelessness Prevention Program. She lacked the ability to pay back all that debt and was preparing to be evicted and enter emergency shelter.
Rachel is an essential worker with the City of Philadelphia – she cleans health department clinics and labs where COVID testing takes place. She has been working throughout the pandemic. But her children’s childcare programs shut down in March last year and didn’t reopen until September. During that time, she couldn’t use the state support that was granted to her for use at those programs and had to pay out of pocket for substitute childcare. This drained her budget and she fell behind on her rent. PEC’s Prevention Program was able to pay for three months of her past-due rent and a past-due water bill. In exchange, her landlord agreed to cancel her eviction court date.
Funding for homelessness prevention has been exhausted, not only at PEC, but at the other agencies who provided prevention support. Some agencies distributed all remaining funds six months ago, in January.
In addition, eviction filings are increasing - in 2021 there were 6,873 landlord tenant cases filed in Municipal Court. To date in 2022 there have been 4,202 filed, according to Community Legal Services. In addition, more than 2,000 households are homeless today, and Philadelphia has reduced the number of emergency housing units for families and youth. Waiting lists for prevention services are climbing higher every day -- just two prevention programs have more than 1,500 households on a waiting list as of May 1, while other prevention programs stopped using a waiting list because of lack of funding. Finally, over a seven-month period between July 2021, and January 2022, more than 13,000 households have approached the Office of Homeless Services for either emergency or prevention services.
The crisis is still with us. Families like Rachel’s are not being helped.
However, Philadelphia is to receive $42 million from the American Rescue Plan for homelessness and has a plan it calls HOME-ARP. The City plans to use 55% of those funds ($23 million) on housing production and 12% ($5 million) on prevention. Philadelphia says the $23 million will produce an estimated 345 new units two to five years from now when the reality is that, today, there are more than 2,000 homeless households in the City, and many on waiting lists for anti-eviction/prevention and Philadelphia Housing Authority affordable apartments.
People like Rachel and her children need help today. City Council needs to choose.
TAKE ACTION: Contact City Council right now. Not tomorrow; not the next day; NOW! They are expected to vote on HOME-ARP over the next few days. Email them and urge them to increase prevention funding in the American Rescue Plan to $15 million.
Katherine Gilmore Richardson
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