Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist

(This is part of an ongoing series on the positive impacts federal community development funds have on local communities.)

An elderly man was dropped off at a homeless shelter after expressing concerns with his care at a nursing home facility – and VOICES stepped in to fight his eviction.

The Evansville non-profit provides advocacy services for residents of nursing homes and licensed assisted living facilities. Vital to the services is the $17,000 the group received in 2016 in Community Development Block Grant funding. The funds constitute about 20 percent of the organization’s budget, and without them, the small staff could not help as many people, said Michelle Motta, executive director of VOICES.

“We would not be able to reach nearly as many people as what we need to,” Motta said of her organization that covers 20 facilities and more than 2,220 beds for long-term care residents.

Any cuts in federal funding would leave more nursing home residents without a place to go for help, Motta said. In the case of the man, VOICES appealed his eviction, so he could return to the facility – even to the same room.

“(Community Development Block grants) are a huge benefit to our community,” Motta said. “It helps the local government tackle very serious challenges facing their communities. Whether it’s crisis intervention, disabled services, food and nutrition, senior services or youth services, it helps pick up the slack that is needed.”

Evansville receives about $3 million in Community Development Block grants and other U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants a year. And a portion of those dollars go toward helping approximately 30 community agencies – from Motta’s organization to services for the blind and a backpack food program for area youth.

An elimination of the funds would be a “disaster,” said Kelley Coures, executive director of the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development. Emergency home repairs would go undone and the shortage of affordable housing for low-income residents would widen. Currently, Evansville needs nearly 3,000 units to help residents in either substandard housing or whose housing costs take up more than half of their income.

“Many times, we provide the largest gap funding in affordable housing,” Coures said.

A continuation of the program is important because the funds help a community’s most vulnerable citizens. And the wide-ranging uses of the funds mean a drastic reduction would cut into the heart of cities and towns.

In Evansville, the community development funds also replaced the cold storage unit at the Tri-State Food Bank, which services nine counties in Indiana.

“Until that happened they were not able to stock frozen food, which is a real strong component for people who have to use a food bank,” Coures said. “The inability to get frozen food meant a lot of the meat products they couldn’t get and a lot of the frozen vegetables they couldn’t get.”

In another project, the funding went toward building a firewall in a homeless shelter in Downtown Evansville. On an average winter night, the facility can serve upward of 150 men, and the shelter also houses a medical respite unit for homeless men who are released from the hospital but have nowhere to heal.

Before the installation, the building didn’t have an adequate fire buffer between the basement where mechanical equipment is held and the above floors where clients stay.

“The idea is not to necessarily give a handout to people,” Coures said. “These go to fund needed services for people who are low income in order to do or solve problems. They receive food. They receive home repairs.”

They also receive access to jobs. The funds help Evansville run a bus route from the city’s center to jobs in the suburbs, allowing residents who struggled with reliable transportation to secure employment.

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