A transitional housing and services program for those left homeless by domestic violence is accusing Allegheny County of withholding more than half a million dollars in federal funding.
Shaler Township-based HEARTH has filed suit in federal court, seeking to force the county Department of Human Services to release the U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds. HEARTH Executive Director Judith Eakin said DHS is solely responsible for the hold up; HUD has agreed to support the organization’s designation as a victims’ service provider.
“The Department of Human Services has refused to provide the one item needed by HUD to make this official – a letter of support from Allegheny County continuum of care,” Eakin said.
At issue is a disagreement over federal guidelines. In order to be in compliance and receive federal funds, DHS told Hearth last spring it would have to accommodate anyone in need, not just those left homeless by domestic violence. HEARTH officials argued that in its 20-year history, it is best-suited to focus on those affected by domestic violence. HUD agreed the agency could be designated as a specialized victim services provider, as long as they had a letter of support from DHS.
HEARTH Board Member Barbara Smith said that the organization held several meetings with DHS, in which they were led to believe a letter of support was coming. It was never delivered.
“We learned late last week from a HUD representative that the continuum of care submitted a letter to HUD of non-support back on July 10, more than two months ago. We were never told of this letter, we were never given a copy of this letter, we were never told the reasoning for it,” said Smith.
Smith said she believes the meetings held after that letter had been sent were under false pretenses.
DHS officials declined to comment, but sent the following statement: “The Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) remains committed to meeting our mission. That includes addressing the needs of our community’s homeless residents and those at risk of homelessness through the Allegheny County Continuum of Care Board (as required by HUD).”
HEARTH’s Smith said while the lawsuit is pending, the organization will continue its work.
“We will not be shutting our doors, we will continue to operate,” she said. "We won’t be able to continue to operate forever unless we continue to get support. The HUD funds are half of our operating budget.”
If the $524,000 isn’t released, Smith said the organization would have to increase fundraising efforts to try and sustain the 20-apartment shelter and other services.