The North Dakota House of Representatives is poised to eliminate state funding for homeless programs, ultimately, jeopardizing the entire system of care for homelessness.
Over the past two biennia, the North Dakota Homeless Grant has provided vital funds for service providers across our state. These dedicated service providers are not just meeting the immediate needs of those in an emergency housing crisis, they are working to prevent, reduce and end homelessness.
These programs work. For example, one program demonstrated an 87 percent success rate in helping prevent homelessness in the first place.
Since shortly after the NDHG was put in place (2014), we’ve seen at least a 50 percent reduction in those experiencing homelessness. Yet, most of our homeless programs remain at or near capacity today. It is clear these cost effective programs work and they are needed.
Eliminating the NDHG is the wrong direction for North Dakota. The NDHG provides federal match dollars for a federally mandated database (HMIS) used to track homeless numbers, demographics, services provided, program usage, and inventory. Without NDHG, we lose the federal match and, subsequently, the HMIS database. If we lose HMIS, North Dakota would be out of federal compliance and we lose all federal support for homeless programs, threatening the existence of homeless programs statewide.
The NDHG was not included in the new state budget, however, the North Dakota Senate recognized the value of the grant program and restored $300,000 as a line item for NDHG in the Commerce budget. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee eliminated the Senate’s amendment. Committee members argue they are not eliminating NDHG, just leaving it to the discretion of the Commerce commissioner. They are well aware, however, that the proposed amount for the commissioner’s discretionary fund will not meet the needs of the programs being jettisoned.
Cutting this $300,000 could result in the loss of $1.9 million in federal funds that help women, children, veterans, domestic violence survivors, and those dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues regain stability in housing and have an opportunity for a better life.
The changes proposed by the House would have widespread and devastating consequences for some of the most vulnerable in our state. We implore the Legislature to restore funding to ensure the great work being done across North Dakota to end homelessness is not lost due to these unwarranted budget cuts.
April Fairfield is executive director of the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People.