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Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Programs


Posted Date: December 12, 1995

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Supplemental Assistance for Facilities to Assist the Homeless Program

Evaluation of SAFAH was completed in September 1993 by the Urban Institute's Center for Public Finance and Housing. Information used in the analysis was drawn from grant applications, discussions with grantee staff, and onsite interviews at 21 SAFAH-funded projects. The analysis covered only the first two funding rounds of FY87 and FY90; Congress did not appropriate funds for FY88 or FY89. Grants from subsequent rounds in FY91 and FY92 were not included for review. After the fourth funding round in 1993, the program was incorporated into the Supportive Housing Program.


Authorized by the McKinney Act of 1987, SAFAH was intended to supplement assistance provided under other Federal homeless programs and to support innovative local assistance initiatives. In its first two funding rounds, FY87 and FY90, HUD awarded 65 grants, totaling $25.8 million.

Two of SAFAH's distinguishing characteristics were flexibility and innovation. Its flexibility allowed program funds to be used for a full array of homeless initiatives, including emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing, and supportive services, whether or not participants were in a residential facility. It also supported property acquisition, rehabilitation, and operating expenses. SAFAH encouraged innovative projects that were defined as those that forged linkages, integrated services, improved service delivery, facilitated outreach and followup, and built a sense of community within homeless facilities. The Urban Institute deemed 54 percent of grantees' projects innovative and 35 percent potentially innovative.

By far, nonprofits constituted the majority of grantees (70 percent), while public agencies accounted for the second largest group. Most nonprofits possessed considerable capacity and were clearly adept at needed skills, nearly 85 percent had some experience with homeless residential facilities, and 62 percent had provided homeless shelter or services for more than 5 years.

More than one-third (38 percent) of all SAFAH grantees operated facilities that included combinations of emergency shelters, day shelters, child care centers, and transitional and permanent housing. Besides providing shelter alternatives, all SAFAH grantees furnished or arranged supportive services for their clients.

During the first two funding rounds, SAFAH grantees usually sponsored transitional or permanent housing projects. Adaptive reuse of formerly nonresidential buildings was most often the method used to bring housing alternatives into being; they included converted convents, schools, unused public buildings, and warehouses. Rehabilitated buildings comprised 44 percent of the emergency shelters and 38 percent of transitional and permanent housing projects. Half of service-center-only projects with no residential capacity were also established in old buildings. Few impediments to successful completion of projects were reported. Of problems grantees did cite, the most frequently mentioned were delays in site acquisition or building rehabilitation, staff turnover problems, and difficulty in raising matching fund commitments.

SAFAH was a model for a block grant program in that, although funds were competitively awarded, it allowed grantees wide flexibility in the use of funds and emphasized local innovation in meeting the many shelter and service needs of the homeless. Grantee uses of SAFAH were evidence of the potentially positive aspects of employing block grants for homeless shelter and service needs.


The average grant size in FY87 was $172,000, compared with $472,000 in FY90. The average grant size in FY90 was considerably larger than in FY87 because there were a larger number of multiyear grants made in FY90.

Although a matching grant was not required, 20 percent of project selection points were awarded if applicants had secured local matching fund commitments, and significant leveraging ratios were thereby achieved. Grantees raised roughly $2 for every SAFAH dollar awarded. Overall, SAFAH funds represented 33 percent of all project costs, while the balance was comprised of other Federal funds (15 percent), State funds (24 percent), local funds (32 percent), private funds (26 percent), and other sources.

SAFAH program applicants were able to seek funding for a variety of homeless activities and services: (1) acquisition or rehabilitation of property; (2) project operations, including operating and staff expenses; and (3) supportive services. Two-thirds of the SAFAH funds supported transitional or permanent housing projects.

In the first two funding rounds, most project sponsors, whether providing emergency shelter beds or transitional or permanent housing, were able to allocate funds primarily for "soft" costs. Forty- three percent of SAFAH grant funds were used to pay for supportive services, another 23 percent for operating costs. Overall, only about one-third of SAFAH funding supported capital costs. Interestingly, several grantees noted that because of SAFAH's funding flexibility, funds were effectively used to provide support for the often difficult-to-cover expenses that freed matching funds to be used for capital costs often favored by corporate and foundation donors.

The most frequently offered services by grantees were housing referral (98 percent), food assistance (65 percent), case management (58 percent), life skills (49 percent), child care (40 percent), and health services (40 percent). In addition, between 28 percent and 37 percent of all grantees also offered mental health and substance abuse treatment, English as a second language, and vocational training. In nearly 55 percent of all projects, services were provided onsite.

Most grantees reported they were able to implement their projects efficiently and without major delays. The two most common implementation problems reported by grantees, however, were site acquisition or rehabilitation and difficulties created by high staff turnover and replacement. Each of these problems was encountered by 20 percent of SAFAH-funded grantees.

A primary objective of the SAFAH program was to support local innovation in management of homeless shelters and service delivery. A review of the projects sponsored by the 65 SAFAH grantees identified 35 SAFAH-funded projects as having "potential innovative significance." More than half (54 percent) of all grantees funded by SAFAH in FY87 and FY90 sponsored a project considered potentially innovative.


Annually, SAFAH-funded projects served an estimated 11,500 homeless individuals and 10,200 homeless families. Disaggregated by project type and expressed as actually reported numbers, emergency residential facilities reported serving 2,700 individuals and 2,800 households; transitional and permanent housing reported serving 2,400 individuals and 5,100 households; and nonresidential centers reported serving 6,400 individuals and 2,300 households.

Families headed by a single woman represented 51 percent of all clients served by SAFAH-funded projects. Most female-headed families were helped through either emergency shelter or transitional housing, while single men, who represented 20 percent of total clients, were primarily served by service-only centers. Sixty-one percent of all persons assisted through projects receiving SAFAH funds were given both shelter and supportive services.

In terms of race and age, non-Hispanic whites accounted for nearly half of all individuals and family members served. In numbers that corresponded closely to national homeless surveys, African Americans represented nearly 39 percent of all served, and Hispanics, 10 percent. Most clients in SAFAH projects were under 30 years of age -- younger on average than the national homeless adult population.

SAFAH clients presented disparate needs. Project sponsors reported that 43 percent of their clients had experienced domestic violence, with as many as 66 percent having experienced spousal or child abuse. Other noteworthy characteristics included a number of clients found suffering from mental illness (25 percent), drug abuse (18 percent), and those with a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse (14 percent).

An important, overriding goal of McKinney Act programs is to help homeless persons achieve stable, independent living within and as part of a community. Just over half of all SAFAH clients in residential projects obtained stable, permanent housing after leaving an emergency shelter or other TH facility. Nineteen percent moved in with family or friends. Of all families assisted through SAFAH-supported projects, 59 percent were able to find their own permanent housing after leaving a SAFAH-funded facility. Individuals did so at the slightly lower rate of 42 percent. For families in transitional housing projects, 71 percent were able to move into their own permanent housing unit. Overall, project sponsors reported that families that had completed an emergency shelter or TH program were able to find permanent housing 60 percent of the time.

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