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State Won't Fund Supportive Housing Plan

Mental Health

MONICA POLANCO

December 12, 2008

The state Office of Policy and Management, which was expected to pay for 14 supportive housing projects across the state, has withdrawn the funding because of the state's economic troubles, an OPM spokesman said.

Representatives from the agencies that were counting on the money, which was approved by the state legislature, said they were flabbergasted by the state's about-face.

On Thursday, they called Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office one after the other to try to get her to release the money $35 million for the construction of about 150 apartments and $6 million a year for mental health services and debt service payments.

"We are very hopeful that the governor will in fact change her mind about the funding," said Heather Gates, president and CEO of Community Health Resources. "If she does not change her mind about that, we will seek other methods for financing the development."

But Jeffrey Beckham, an OPM spokesman, said the state is facing a $6.1 billion deficit for the next two years and cannot finance new programs or program expansions.

"In a time of a budget crunch, we have to make some choices ... and this is one of the ... decisions that we're having to make right now," Beckham said. The projects, which had been selected through a competitive bid process, would provide permanent housing for people with mental health problems, and the services they need to remain independent.

Supporters say such an arrangement, called supportive housing, saves the state money because it takes homeless people off the street and helps reduce the need for such services as emergency room visits.

The state has supported similar projects for the last 15 years, including the creation of about 650 supportive housing units during Rell's tenure.

Gates, whose organization wants to build a 20-unit apartment building in Manchester, said the projects would put construction workers, plumbers, electricians and architects to work. She wondered why the project isn't being considered among the "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects that could benefit from a federal stimulus package.

Chris Cooper, a Rell spokesman, said details of a stimulus package are still unclear, and that the Next Steps project's operating costs of $6 million a year are "a big stumbling block."

"We don't know exactly what is going to be approved by the Obama administration or Congress when the stimulus eventually comes on line," Cooper said. "We certainly don't know that operating costs would be factored into that."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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