Oct 24, 2022 - Energy & Environment

First look: Federal program tackles post-Ian homelessness

Illustration of a dollar sign made of wood

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new Department of Housing and Urban Development program is allocating $6.8 million to Florida to fight post-disaster displacement following Hurricane Ian, officials told Axios.

The big picture: The Rapid Unsheltered Survivor Housing program is a response to gaps in disaster federal funding distribution, which typically leaves populations already experiencing homelessness displaced and under-resourced.

Driving the news: Florida will receive $3 million from the program, with the remaining $3.8 million divided between the seven localities impacted by Ian.

  • The funds are targeted to support the storm recovery process for residents experiencing homelessness — including those living in emergency shelters, transitional housing and those at risk of becoming permanently unhoused.
  • "For some of these folks, it's going to be assistance to get them housed, yes, but get them stable," Joseph Carlile, senior advisor of budget policy and programs at HUD, told Axios.
  • "They may have had all of their possessions washed away in the floodwaters, they may have lost all of their identification."

The backstory: Operating under HUD's Emergency Solutions Grants program, RUSH was created to address the unequal impacts of the housing crisis that follows disasters for the unhoused, as well as the newly displaced.

  • Officials say the program is also indirectly a response to growing climate change impacts on extreme weather events.
  • "This program is a response to the inequities in a system for people who experience homelessness and have natural disasters," Carlile told Axios. "But let's be honest here, natural disasters are getting more frequent because of climate change."

State of play: Ian left Florida with an estimated $67 billion in insured losses, making it likely to be the costliest storm in the state's history.

  • Before the storm, Florida had the third-largest unhoused population in the U.S., with an estimated 27,487 residents experiencing homelessness in 2020, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
  • As of last week, 476 people displaced from Ian still remained in temporary housing shelters in Lee County, with FEMA paying lodging costs for almost 1,200 displaced residents in Lee and Collier counties, as reported by Naples Daily News.

Of note: Noah Patton, housing policy analyst for disaster recovery at the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told Axios there's a need for increased, more accessible federal recovery aid for unhoused populations.

  • After a disaster, people experiencing homelessness are largely ineligible for FEMA short-term housing assistance — plus they face discrimination in emergency shelters as well as a loss of access to resources, according to Patton.
  • "Once the storm strikes, it can really decimate the services that they've come to rely on," Patton said.

Between the lines: $6.8 million doesn't promise to make much of a dent in the demand following a multi-billion dollar disaster.

  • Jemine Bryon, HUD's acting general deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development, told Axios that the funding is expected to serve over 1,000 individuals across the state.
  • This is the new program's first allocation. A second round, based on further Ian damage assessments and subject to appropriation, is likely by the end of 2022.

Yes, but: Funding limitations mean the new program won't be accessible to all populations across the country after a disaster event — only in cases where there are high levels of displacement and housing damage.

  • "It's not endless," Bryon told Axios. "But we're not FEMA. We don't have an endless pot."
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