U.S.

Shutdown finds Catholic Charities agencies working to meet growing needs

By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service
January 23, 2019

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington Jan. 8, day 18 of the partial government shutdown. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON — Robert Archie knows he’d be homeless if it wasn’t for the Rapid Re-housing program run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.

A data specialist with the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Archie has been in the program since mid-2018. He told Catholic News Service it has brought stability to his life: He’s no longer on the streets, has paid off long-standing debt and helps support his 12-year-old son.

While Archie, 40, is set to move out of the program at the end of January — by design — some of his friends benefitting from it are wondering what’s going to happen Feb. 1 when Catholic Charities will no longer be receiving Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to run it because of the partial federal government shutdown.

“In my opinion, it would be devastating for a program like this to take a hit during a time like this when the country actually needs it,” Archie said.

Mosudi Idowu, the program’s director for Catholic Charities in Trenton, said 27 people face questions about their housing situation. He said they are afraid of being forced into a shelter or even the streets in the peak of winter.

He also expressed concern that there appears no end in sight to the nearly monthlong shutdown.

“If it goes on indefinitely, it will affect all of our programs,” Idowu told CNS. “We’re talking to our congressional representative and city officials to let them now of the impact of the shutdown on our program.”

The Trenton program receives funds under HUD’s the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which was established under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act adopted in response to the Great Recession.

The program provides short-term rental assistance and other services to people who are homeless or are facing homelessness. Its goals include helping people find housing quickly, increasing self-sufficiency and making sure people stay housed.

In the short term, Idowu and his staff are providing referrals to other community agencies that may have money to prevent homelessness.

At the same time, Idowu is just as concerned for his own family because he faces either being laid off or working without a paycheck beginning in February.

“We advise the government to open for business,” Idowu said. “They need a plan that will really work for the people.”

Key government-funded programs — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 8 rent subsidies and Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency — are the focus of efforts by Catholic Charities USA to press Congress and the Trump administration to end the shutdown.

“We’re giving them a reminder that this isn’t a Washington problem. We’re reminding people it’s also your local communities that are being affected,” Lucas Swanepoel, vice president for social policy at Catholic Charities USA, told CNS.

Under federal rules, several states have advanced February payments to people enrolled in SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Notices have advised enrollees to properly budget so their allotment will carry through Feb. 28.

But in some communities, Catholic Charities agencies already are offering food distribution to federal employees and contractors and are preparing contingencies to fill other human needs gaps that might emerge should the shutdown last for weeks more.

In the Diocese of Salt Lake City, the shutdown has become a major concern in Ogden, Utah, where more than 5,000 people are employed by the Internal Revenue Service alone.

“A lot of the jobs in this area are some of the more entry-level positions,” said Maresha Bosgieter, director of Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah. “They’re still living paycheck to paycheck. For those families, not knowing when they will receive their next paycheck can be very stressful.”

Catholic Community Services’ Joyce Hansen Hall food bank has seen a 50 percent increase in clients from the usual 100 families a day that come through its doors.

Topics:

  • u.s. government

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