In coming months, the Housing and Urban Development Department will oversee at least a tenfold increase in spending on programs designed to prevent homelessness, officials said Thursday.
Tucked within the economic stimulus bill recently signed by President Barack Obama was $1.5 billion to help families pay rent, make security deposits, pay utilities and cover other housing expenses.
To put that spending increase in perspective, HUD's largest grant program to help the homeless will allocate about $1.6 billion this year to 6,300 projects around the country. That money, announced Thursday, funds a variety of programs, such as emergency shelters and support services for the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems. Most of HUD's spending on the homeless focuses on helping people once they have become homeless rather than on prevention.
Federal officials have estimated that the stimulus funding could prevent 300,000 families or individuals from becoming homeless.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said he is confident that community groups will spend the stimulus money wisely, even though it will represent a huge increase in funding for many of them. He said the agency receives far more applications for grant money than it can approve. Most local projects will be able to ramp up with little trouble, he predicted.
"I'm quite confident the $1.5 billion will be put to very good use very quickly," Donovan said.
Officials could not say when the stimulus money would start going out. Donovan said many experts were gravely concerned that the economic downturn would trigger a major spike in homelessness.
National data on homelessness is dated, with HUD's latest report to Congress noting that grant recipients counted about 672,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people on a single night in January 2007.