It is ironic that in a time when the Obama administration talks so much about income inequality and the plight of people at the bottom that regulations - something the administration also is very fond of - end up putting homeless people back out on the street.
But that is what has happened in Paducah, as new federal guidelines affecting public housing ended up shutting down a homeless program operated by Paducah Cooperative Ministry.
PCM has operated an emergency shelter for women and children for 24 years. It is a transitional program designed to help people eventually secure adult housing and become independent. As part of that program PCM rented seven units from the Paducah Housing Authority.
However in May PCM received notice that it can no longer operate the shelter using the housing authority units and that the tenants - eight single women, four mothers and nine children - will have to leave by October.
Housing Authority Director Cal Ross said the disruption is occurring because the seven units PCM was renting do not fit the government's definition of "special purpose units", which are defined as units not occupied by low- or moderate-income tenants eligible for public housing. Ross also said that under HUD regulations, the housing authority can only designate two units out of every 100 for special purpose use and it has already exceeded that amount.
We find the effect of the regulation bizarre and certainly not consistent in this case with the purpose of public housing. It's as if the regulation is saying that because these people are poor enough to qualify for public housing, they cannot get assistance from a group that seeks to help them get on their feet enough to successfully transition into it. We suppose the intent of the regulation is to prevent abuse of the "special use" exception, but in this case, it produces an absurd outcome.
A further irony is that the people being displaced by the regulation, although they qualify for public housing, cannot get in immediately. That's because there's a waiting list and the process of just getting on the list can take weeks or months, according to PCM Executive Director Heidi Suhrheinrich.
Meanwhile, in just the first week since receiving the notice they would have to leave, PCM turned down 11 women and 13 mothers with a total of 29 children seeking to get into the shelter, underscoring the need for the program.
PCM now is trying to secure replacement housing for its program at an estimated cost of $800,000 to $1 million, and to that end Suhrheinrich was before the McCracken County Fiscal Court Monday seeking $50,000 toward that goal.
The PCM shelter is the only shelter in western Kentucky for single women and the only one in the region that accepts women with teenage children, and as such, the agency's request received a sympathetic ear from the fiscal court. Judge-Executive Van Newberry told Suhrheinrich the court takes the request very seriously, but wants a legal opinion as to whether the county can make such a grant. PCM plans to make a like $50,000 request for funding to the city in the near future.
We wish PCM success in its efforts and hope the city and county are able to provide the support they request. It is a bitter pill however, that PCM and the community face this level of expense to try to maintain a program that has worked well to serve this need for more than two decades. It's just one more example of federal regulations run amok.
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