By Rachel Libelo
Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator, YWCA Greater Baltimore
To end the government shutdown, Congress will have to pass a Continuing Resolution that extends funding levels from the last fiscal year long enough to agree on what the funding levels for this upcoming year should be. During these negotiations, one of the spending bills in question will be the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) bill, which includes funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and other programs that support services for people struggling with poverty and homelessness. Countless organizations across the country rely on CDBG funds to provide lifesaving services such as emergency and transitional housing for homeless families, economic assistance programs, and services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
At the YWCA Greater Baltimore, CDBG funding helps provide permanent housing and therapeutic services for chronically homeless women with disabilities. For residents like Sherrie, the YWCA’s program offers the stability needed to realize lifelong dreams. Sherrie’s dream is to support the healing of others. She came to the YWCA with a history of severe mental illness, a chronic health condition, and many traumatic experiences. Sherrie became homeless after she reported gang activity on her block, and her home was firebombed in retaliation. “You forget that you are valuable and worthwhile,” Sherrie tells of her experience with homelessness. “You lose hope and you lose a little mentally.”
Since arriving at the YWCA in 2011, Sherrie’s primary goal has been to increase her ability to live independently and be financially self-sufficient—not only for her own sake, but also so that she would be able to give back to the community that supported her during tough times. Shortly after moving in, Sherrie went back to school to earn a medical assistant certificate. She successfully earned her certification, along with a perfect attendance record and 4.0 grade point average, but Sherrie didn’t stop there. When she learned about an opportunity to apply for a full scholarship to the University of Maryland’s School of Nursing, she took it. Sherrie was not at all optimistic about her chances, but submitted an essay telling her personal story and explained why she wanted to do better for herself and others. She had long wanted to become an RN, but her struggles with poverty and her disabilities seemed to have put a nursing degree beyond her reach. Now that has changed— Sherrie was accepted by the University of Maryland’s nursing program and approved for the scholarship. “I was given a new lease on life,” she says. “I have grown in so many ways and I am still making progress.”
Life-altering achievements like Sherrie’s are possible because of vital funding sources like the Community Development Block Grant. Since the program began in 1974, CDBG has funded critical community and neighborhood development needs across the country, becoming integral to the budgets of thousands of programs such as those the YWCA operates. Over the years, it has made significant differences in the lives of people across the nation by funding economic development, affordable housing programs, and anti-poverty initiatives.
According to the national CDBG Coalition, between 2005 and 2012, the grant program has created or retained 302,622 jobs and funded public improvements that benefited over 30 million low- and moderate- income individuals nationwide, including but not limited to senior centers, child care centers, health clinics, and shelters for homeless veterans and survivors of domestic violence.
Despite the positive changes we have seen as a result of CDBG funded programs, Congress is considering devastating cuts for the next fiscal year. CDBG has already suffered cuts of over $1 billion since 2010, making it increasingly difficult for the YWCA to keep its programs running. Further cuts will continue to have detrimental effects on services that help to meet the needs of vulnerable residents in Baltimore and across the nation.
The YWCA is honored to support women like Sherrie in their efforts to escape the cycle of poverty and homelessness— a cycle that prevents so many people from achieving their full potential. Not all residents have the same trajectories as Sherrie, but all have a great deal to contribute to our community and economy if we are willing as a society to invest in their strengths. Congress has a powerful opportunity to be an ally in this effort by making funding for CDBG and other homeless assistance grants a priority in the 2014 budget. As Sherrie says, “In a country as great as the United States, we need to take care of our own.”
Cross-posted with permission from the YWCA Greater Baltimore