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Questions but no answers on mismanaged homeless services grant

The Journey Home director and United Way are asked about $7 million in homeless grants that federal auditors said were improperly dispersed.

jouney home homeless 4 breidenstine

Adrienne Breidenstine, Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano deflected tough questions yesterday about a troubled federal homeless grant.

Photo by: Fern Shen

A “listening session” with the mayor and Adrienne Breidenstine, new director of the city’s “Journey Home” homelessness initiative, went dramatically off-script yesterday when a citizen raised the issue of a homeless programs grant that federal auditors said was mismanaged.

Toward the end of the session, Leo Zimmerman raised his hand and asked about the year-old grant troubles, which the city has said it may have to solve by making a $7 million repayment to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Zimmerman particularly zeroed in on the role of United Way of Central Maryland that managed the bulk of the original $9.5 million grant under a contract approved by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Board of Estimates.

“Why is the money being routed through United Way? They’re taking a 10% management fee,” Zimmerman said, speaking before a group of advocates and service providers meeting at the Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO) on East 33rd Street. “And is United Way liable. . .  for the money that’s been mismanaged?”

“Answer his question!” said audience member Kim Trueheart, interrupting when Breidenstine simply moved on to someone else in the audience.

“I don’t believe he – I think his question’s being addressed right now, but I don’t believe he’s asked a question,” Breidenstein said. Zimmerman began repeating his questions.

United Way of Central Maryland CEO Mark Furst rises to a sharp citizen question about a homeless services grant they administered.

United Way of Central Maryland CEO Mark Furst said he was not prepared to answer questions about the federal homeless grant. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“So, I think there’s a little misinformation in some of your comments, but I’d be happy to talk to you afterwards about that,” Breidenstine said, noting that United Way CEO Mark Furst was also in the room.

Pressed to stand up and address the audience by Trueheart, Furst said, “I’m not prepared to answer,” but added he would be “happy to” do so at another time.

“This was a listening session. It was not to get into a specific set of questions and answers about a specific, in this case, federal review,” Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said, stepping in. “If there are issues that need to be addressed, they will be addressed.”

The Brew has asked city officials about the grant and the highly critical November 2012 HUD audit, and is still awaiting answers.

Following up on yesterday’s meeting, we have asked Breidenstine and Graziano, as well as United Way spokseman Chuck Tildon, when they will publicly address Zimmerman’s questions.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who had listened to the tense exchange, joined the conversation at the back of the room after the meeting. She said Zimmerman “deserves an answer to his questions.” She and Graziano invited him to be a part of a possible “working group” on the issue.

Shelters Filled to Capacity

The audit is just one of the issues faced by city officials charged with addressing homelessness in Baltimore. Their most pressing and immediate challenges have been weather-related.

In the face of the recent record-breaking single-digit temperatures and bitter wind, the city set up additional emergency shelter space this week and took in 65 people. Baltimore’s 275-bed shelter on the Fallsway was filled to capacity, as were the 60 spaces the shelter makes available with pads on the floor in winter months. Emergency overflow space across the city was also at capacity, officials said.

“More than 1,000 individuals were housed overnight in shelters Monday, including additional overflow shelters opened specifically for this event,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake said yesterday in a release updating the Code Blue weather alert she issued this week.

“Overnight Monday, extending into early Tuesday morning, homelessness outreach teams interacted with 87 individuals and transported 54 of those to shelters.”

“We are Re-invigorated,” Mayor Says

But programmatic issues also face the city, which addresses the problem not only through the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services, but also through the quasi-public Journey Home.

The initiative, funded through United Way, has embarked on a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Baltimore. (The name comes from the effort’s “housing-first” philosophy, which places a premium on getting people beyond shelters and into permanent housing.)

Yesterday’s meeting started with a news conference in which Rawlings-Blake introduced Bresidenstine, who took over in October as the group’s director,  and announced the new members of the board.

The mayor with members newly appointed to the board of her Journey Home homeless initiative. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The mayor with members newly appointed to the board of her Journey Home homeless initiative. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Asked about the homelessness problem yesterday, the mayor cited the weak economy, social ills and dwindling federal funds as factors that are “changing the face of homelessness.”

Meanwhile actual progress in Baltimore is hard to gauge since even the numbers of people living on the streets or under highways are unclear.

Estimated at more than 4,000 two years ago, the city has since counted less than 3,000 but has said the actual numbers and trends are unclear because of under-counting.

Homeless people and their advocates have complained that changes in city policy, such as allowing people to stay for 90 days in the shelter (to allow staff to assess them and help them find permanent housing) is resulting in people being turned away, overtaxing emergency overflow shelter providers.

“Many people can point to the problems or can pass judgment on potential fixes but far fewer people are going to take action,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Asked specifically what accomplishments the city could point to six years into Journey Home – the initiative was announced in January 2008 by then-Mayor Sheila Dixon – Rawlings-Blake said, “We are re-invigorated to make homelessness rare and brief in Baltimore.”

Advocates Call for Accountablity

A host of the city’s advocates for the poor and homeless were on hand yesterday to add their perspectives.

In addition to Trueheart, who spoke on the issue of leadership and urged Breidenstine to “just fire” those who are mismanaging homeless services, Christina Flowers, of Belvedere Assisted Living, spoke as well.

She called for more accountability, saying the city needs to do a better job of tracking down homeless people who “are entitled to benefits, but because they are sleeping under bridges they are not receiving it.”

Flowers and Councilwoman Clarke, who worked together last year to find housing for people being ejected from so-called Camp 83 under the Jones Falls Expressway, praised a program at Bon Secours Hospital that they said was effective in helping identify and help the homeless.

“We had a vision of how it could work, during Camp 83,” Clarke said.

Baltimore at Bottom of Housing List

Jeff Singer, former executive director of Health Care for the Homeless, also spoke up.

“I’m sure the housing commissioner would agree that our inclusionary housing legislation is not producing much in the way of inclusionary housing,” Singer said.

For example, there is no inclusionary housing planned at the city-subsidized Harbor Point complex, but developer Michael Beatty has promised to voluntarily contribute $3 million to the city’s housing fund.)

Singer said he has looked at 400 jurisdictions around the country that have inclusionary housing laws. Baltimore, he said, ranks near the bottom of new dwellings produced for low-income residents.

He asked whether the mayor and City Council had any plans to commit more resources to the program.

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  • River Mud

    disgusting…

  • Exoduster

    This city won’t turn the corner until we show Paul Graziano the door and find a true visionary to run our Housing Department.

    • Very Concerned

      not paul. not this time.

  • http://housingpolicywatch.com/ Carol Ott

    It’s ridiculous that Paul Graziano still has a job. There are indeed people who work for Baltimore Housing that would be more than capable of heading the agency, and leading it in a better direction — yet despite scandal after scandal…he’s still running the agency into the ground. I mean…running the agency. It makes no sense whatsoever.

    • Very Concerned

      as i just posted, this is ran through the mayor’s office of human services homeless services program. not sure what ol’ paul was doing there besides wasting space.

    • Dave Troy

      Perhaps using crowdsourcing to put a team of private investigators onto him would reveal enough dirt to forcefully remove him.

      • ham_snadwich

        That sounds like a really awful, sleazy idea.

        • http://housingpolicywatch.com/ Carol Ott

          It does. One that might actually work, especially given his well-documented shenanigans at Brewer’s Art and a couple of other local bars.

          Had it been anyone else, they would have been fired immediately. Yelling racial and/or homophobic slurs in public while drunk should have been the death rattle for his career…yet here he is. Still here. Yep….here.

          The part that kills me is that he HAS an incredibly competent staff directly underneath him, any of whom is more than qualified to lead the agency, preferably in a better direction. Yet…he stays. Absolutely makes no sense to me.

          • ham_snadwich

            It still strikes me as a profoundly shitty thing to do. Being in public service is difficult enough without having to worry about people digging up details about your personal life. His performance is the issue, and that should be the reason he stays or goes.

          • http://housingpolicywatch.com/ Carol Ott

            Had these things not happened in a public place, in front of dozens of people — I would agree with you. However, they did happen in public, and the events were thoroughly reported in the news. Not only that, it happened more than once.

            But if you want to keep to just his job performance — that’s fine. The performance of the agency has been abysmal, at best.

            Look, in person he’s probably a really nice guy who’s doing the best he can — but it’s not good enough for the citizens of this city, who are starting to wake up and realize they’re allowed to raise their expectations beyond “better than nothing”.

  • imariep

    thank you for trying to get facts about the audit of November 2012! Is this unaccessible for this long of a time?

    also, same question, posted a year ago by p johnson to Brew article linked in this one: What consequences are there from this poor accounting? Can city officials . . .be held criminally/civilly responsible for these actions?

  • Very Concerned

    homeless services is ran through the mayor’s office NOT baltimore housing and can tell you that not one is held accountable in that office. everyone who caused the problem is still employed (with kate briddell making up jobs so her favorite interns could stay on board). audit the whole office and you would be disgusted. the culprits and management need to get fired!

  • ushanellore

    Democracy–a satire

    The rich get fat off the land,
    they drop in chests–
    locked and secure–
    coins of silver and gold,
    they count what they purloined when bored,
    globally they go,
    looking for bargains in auctions
    they buy themselves vintage
    paintings, jewels and homes,
    they thrive on the dead
    and the foreclosed–

    They boast they know
    where to nose and find
    a killing on the market–
    always there for the taking,
    they boast–
    the rules they need not tow–
    they only need to make connections,

    Power joins power,
    entertains power, marries power,
    influences power and protects power,
    that’s the game they say they’ll play,
    you don’t like it– tough,
    straight as an arrow you aim,
    you’re bound to have it rough,

    The bumps will destroy your back,
    if you’re unwilling to learn the knack
    of navigating labyrinthine tracks–
    your rise through the ranks it depends
    on how many palms you grease,
    how many thugs you appease,
    how low you bend your knees–
    if you decide that the narrow and straight
    is your morning cup of Joe,
    then you’ve got trouble ahead–

    From your thorny bed you question–
    the thieves–
    You ask, “What happened here?
    Something is not right.”
    You say,”I smell a rat!
    Answer me. The numbers don’t add up.
    Where did the donations, the grants,
    the highfalutin promises fizzle and disappear?
    Who took what’s not theirs to take?
    Who dipped in the cookie jar?
    Who ate up what’s not theirs to eat?
    What do you mean administrative fees?
    Weren’t the ideas big,
    the ambitions noble?
    Was the talk about vanquishing
    poverty, stamping out homelessness,
    making the city a beacon on the hill
    all a lot of empty jingle jangle–
    just another opportunity
    to obfuscate the truth–
    to run with the loot
    when the voters’ eyes are averted
    by the confetti and the balloons
    by the glitter and the glamor
    that festoon– the stampede
    to stamp out poverty–
    was the big idea
    from the very beginning
    a subterfuge?”

    You ask and they ignore
    what you ask,
    they say you will be answered at a later date,
    at a more convenient time
    and in a less public space
    the answer will come to you,
    they say you are belligerent,
    a malcontent, a full time gripe,
    you snipe at the politicos
    because you have nothing better to do,
    ( yet you were taught in school,
    you are the voice of democracy,
    you are told if not for you,
    the show would screech to a halt,
    if not for your participation–
    the “of the people”
    would be “off the people”
    the “by the people”
    would be “buy the people”
    the “for the people”
    would be “far the people”)

    They call their police to remove you–
    suddenly you are a nuisance,
    you are a persistent, trouble making
    troubadour, dour and sour to the core–
    your delusions are grandiose,
    when all you want to know is where the money went,
    how it got spent,
    why there are no accounts in the books,
    and why no one is looking for the crooks.

    They want to get it over with,
    meetings exist to sweep
    the obvious under the rug,
    the gulags are constructed for you,
    in other places they would have you hung,
    for treason they would capture you,
    and put screws into your nails,
    water board you for skewering
    the rulers who flail and fail.

    Be grateful for what you’ve got,
    be sensitive and back off
    don’t embarrass those
    living high on the hog,
    don’t use the Internet to blog
    about the robberies
    that vanish in our bogs
    while top guns
    treat citizens like dogs–

    You are supposed to obey,
    when you’re told, “Pay up!”
    you pay,
    two times they will come for your pockets–
    once to help your brothers and sisters lost,
    twice because the money collected to help
    your brothers and sisters lost–
    is itself lost–
    no use jousting with them–
    no use asking where lost,
    how lost, why lost.

    If you do–
    then three times they could come for you–
    once to help your brothers and sisters lost–
    twice because the money
    meant to help your brothers and sisters lost
    is itself lost and the third time could be
    to get YOU lost–

    They could drop you
    in a chest –secure like their coins
    of silver and gold,
    then leave you by the bulrushes to float–
    in a never to be found reed boat……

    Usha Nellore

  • Marcella

    Applause for Kim Trueheart for not letting Zimmerman’s question be ignored and demanding answers and accountability. Too many times people have jobs because of the people who are in need and just use their disadvantages to their advantage. Example: Sleeping in their warm beds in their homes, not giving a crap about someone sleeping on the street and proudly cash the paycheck that they didn’t earn to continue living their lifestyle. Time for Paul and many others to go. So how do we get them out of office to get people off the street. One thing for sure STOP voting for a name because it is popular, vote for who has the citizens of the cities best interest at heart and not one that pumps cold, but a warm hearted honest person who is concerned and cares!!!

    • ushanellore

      One man’s poverty is another man’s big business.

  • ushanellore

    Paul Graziano doesn’t look a bit troubled. He looks placid, bovine, corpulent and absolutely bored with the proceedings. He looks like he’d rather be eating cake and be ordering the homeless to go eat cake too. He has a pleasantly benign veneer and an avuncular appearance that screams–I found my sinecure, I found my rabbit hole, I found my space–dislodge me if you can.

  • Lizzie 58

    Friends tells me that neither Adrienne Bridenstine or Mark Furst live in Baltimore City. While their concern and dedication for our homeless population may be genuine, the simple fact is that neither of these two individuals pay taxes to the City that will be used to repay the $7 Million
    grant back to the Federal Government. It is easy to be cavalier about the City taxpayers’ money when you are not one of them. It is only the City taxpayers who will lose out on $7 Million of other city services while Ms. Bridenstine and Mr. Furst continue on as usual.

    The City taxpayers are owed an explanation by the Mayor of what happened, why it happened; who was involved, and what steps have been taken to correct the situation. Until the taxpayers receive this explanation, Ms. Bridenstine and Mr, Furst should not get too comfortable. City voters may ensure that they are gone from the Journey Home Board after the city elections in 2016.

    • Very Concerned

      baltimore city: the city that outsources instead of looking local. great example: BCPD, BCFD, do I need to go on?

      what happened? gross oversight of the spending of federal dollars to fund programs. why it happened? because many of the people administering the programs are incompetent, lazy, or fueled by greed.. who was involved? look at everyone who was employed before 1/1/11. what steps have been taken? none. everyone responsible is still gleefully employed (and probably with raises and promotions paid by the mismanaged funds).

    • ushanellore

      Excellent most relevant points.

  • KnowNothingParty

    The “Journey Home Board” lacks diversity.

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