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Scott puts $90.4 million in federal relief toward homelessness services

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Emily Sullivan/WYPR
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From left to right: Mark Council of Housing Our Neighbors, Mayor Brandon Scott, Chief Recovery Officer Shamiah Kerney and Deputy Mayor Faith Leach stand at a news conference Tuesday. Scott announced he will put $90.4 million in federal relief money toward homelessness services.

Baltimore’s homelessness services will receive $90.4 million in federal relief funding to be put toward the purchase of two hotels and creating a housing crisis relief fund, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Tuesday.

The Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services (MOHS) will receive $75 million from Baltimore’s $641 million allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding and $15.4 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

“If we are going to follow through on our commitments to our residents and make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, we have to make more dollars available for people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity to access essential housing,” Scott said at a news conference.

MOHS successfully pitched five programs to the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs, which oversees the ARPA distribution. MOHS Director Irene Agustin said each program represents critical points within Baltimore’s homelessness response system.

About $45 million of funding will go toward the acquisition of two hotels, which the city will renovate and operate as non-congregate emergency housing. 

“We learned in response to COVID that congregate [sheltering] is not the safest way to have people in shelter during a public health crisis,” Agustin said. “Non-congregate shelter is a best practice that we're seeing throughout the nation, and we know this is going to be an intervention that's going to work within the city of Baltimore.”

Scott declined to name the hotels that MOHS would like to purchase, saying the process will be detailed before the city’s spending board.

Speaking at a meeting with the city council after the news conference, Agustin said the hotels will create 275 beds and will replace temporary shelters at the Greenspring Men's Shelter and the Pinderhughes Women's Homeless Shelter.

Mark Council, an organizer with Housing Our Neighbors who was previously homeless, said the program will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the city’s homeless population.

“The only effective way that we can do this is to stay six feet apart. You cannot do that at congregate living, especially if you have something like 300, 400 or more people in one place,” he said.

Nearly $6 million will go toward assisting residents at the hotel shelter sites to move into permanent housing. Those efforts will include helping residents gather paperwork required to obtain housing, enrolling residents into wraparound support services such as mental health treatment and providing short-term rental subsidies. Agustin told the council that the funds will support up to 155 households.

“This is medium-term rental assistance in case management so that we can get individuals into housing and to help support them as they begin to transition and rebuild their lives on their own,” she said.

About $4.5 million will go toward housing navigation and landlord recruitment programming, which Agustin described as efforts to identify suitable housing units and working with city landlords to house people experiencing homelessness.

“By creating efficiencies in the housing search, this reduces the length of time that people are experiencing homelessness,” she said, adding that the money will cover access to safe, affordable housing units for 200 households.

Another $17 million will go toward the Housing Accelerator Fund, which will increase the city’s supply of permanent housing for residents with long-term disabilities in need of long-term rental support and access to wraparound services.

“While many people are able to resolve their housing crisis with short-term or medium-term support, some people cannot,” she said. “Studies have shown that this intervention is more cost effective than having chronically homeless, unsheltered individuals. It's less traumatic and costs less to the community to keep that person in housing versus to have an individual languish on the street.”

The Housing Accelerator Fund will create 250 new units of permanent, supportive housing, she said.

About $2 million will go toward another new fund. The Flexible Fund for Diversion and Rapid Resolution will provide short-term rental assistance to prevent residents from entering a shelter or help them rapidly leave a shelter.

Agustin said the money will serve up to 70 households, adding there is not yet a set method to calculate how much assistance each participant will receive.

“What we want to do is make sure that we're not clogging up our shelter system and getting people into permanent housing as quickly as possible,” she said. “We will be working with the continuum of care and our providers to come up with more details in terms of how this needs to work within our community.”

Scott said he will make another ARPA funding announcement on housing affordability and vacant properties this month.