Rescue mission seeks probe of homeless funding

Karen Bouffard, Christine MacDonald, and Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The president of Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries called for an investigation Thursday into how federal funds for providing emergency shelter are distributed, saying the city’s homeless population is unfairly served by an “unethical” funding process.

The issue involves millions of dollars received annually from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that are distributed among 27 agencies providing help for the homeless in Detroit. This year’s pot totaled $26.9 million.

President Chad Audi on Thursday said members of a community-based board that allocates the money have inequitably funneled funds to their own organizations while trimming the amount received by the 105-year-old Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

Audi said the rescue mission is not represented on the board, despite numerous requests for a seat — a contention the board, called the Continuum of Care, denies. According to Audi, the rescue mission cared for 52 percent of 6,719 Detroiters who received emergency shelter last year.

“They’re not being transparent on who should get money— it’s more, ‘You get on the board and you get money, if you don’t get on the board, you don’t get money,’ ” Audi said.

“We have been asking to get on the board and they say, ‘We don’t have an opening.’ Then you find out somebody got on the board.”

Historically, each of the 27 agencies filed an individual funding application with HUD, which ranked the plans and awarded funding. But in 2013, HUD allowed city boards to take over the allocation process.

As part of the federal changes, each city was required to set up a Coordinated Assessment Model or CAM, to administer the program. The Homeless Action Network of Detroit or HAND, solicited proposals from agencies interested in running the CAM, which currently is run by the non-profit Southwest Solutions.

The CAM accepts phone calls about people who are homeless and directs them to emergency shelter. Audi said the system isn’t working, and he’s heard complaints from police and community members who say some homeless people aren’t getting their needs met.

Southwest Solutions did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the CoC, HUD in 2013 started reducing the amount of funding they could award for emergency shelter services. Much of the help the rescue mission provides no longer is covered by grants.

Gina Rodriguez, in public affairs for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, would not comment.

Tasha Gray, executive director of the Homeless Action Network of Detroit, said her group “has been dedicated to ending homelessness in Detroit for more than 20 years.”

“The HAND staff works with the Detroit Continuum of Care, service providers and funders to administer Housing and Urban Development CoC programs,” Gray said. “As an organization, we are committed to operating in a manner that is fair, transparent and data-driven."

In a news release Thursday, Audi called on “Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Housing and Urban Development secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, to act swiftly in the interest of Detroit’s homeless population.”

Arthur Jemison, director of Detroit's Housing & Revitalization Department, said his department will investigation the claims made by Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.