Lawmaker suggests state's 'deal-closing' fund be used for local homeless shelter

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By MICHAEL BARAJAS mbarajas@sacurrent.com George Block has eyed early state budget figures carefully, nervous what current proposals to cut funding to the state’s social safety net would do to his organization. Block’s charity, Haven for Hope, opened its campus last spring, aiming to shelter, rehabilitate, educate and find jobs for San Antonio’s homeless. Block, director of the center, explained that a state grant pays for nearly $2 million of the organization’s $10 million budget. “We’re real new. We’ve still got our training wheels on,” he said. In light of early budget proposals, balanced primarily by cutting deep into education and social services, a crowd of advocates and witnesses from around the state – including Haven for Hope supporters – spoke before a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Austin Wednesday, hoping to put a human face to the budget debate. So far, deep cuts have been the main option floated by Republican lawmakers, who have shunned the idea of any new taxes to help cover the estimated $15 to $27 budget hole. As of yet, Gov. Rick Perry has refused to consider using any rainy-day savings, reported to be somewhere over $9 billion. “Obviously, my first concern is for my organization,” Block remarked. “But more than that, just like everyone else, I get concerned about the state when I look at these cuts to education and higher education.” According to news reports, Senate Finance Committee chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, tossed up a novel idea to help keep charities like Haven for Hope afloat at Wednesday’s hearing – using the state’s Enterprise Fund. Texas has used the incentive fund, created in 2003, to help draw business and industry to the state. The fund has long been seen as one of the state’s most competitive recruitment tools, with Perry’s office calling it a “deal-closing fund.” Referring to Block’s nonprofit, Ogden remarked, “When they’re taking these people off the street, not only are they getting them dried out and getting them off drugs, but they’re also finding them jobs. ... You know, the Enterprise Fund the governor has, that’s supposed to create jobs? I’m not sure why something like this wouldn’t deserve to be considered in that funding stream like brining XYZ Corporation down here.” “I was thrilled to hear that, but surprised,” Block reacted. “I hope (lawmakers) begin to realize our output here is people who are taxpaying citizens,” he said. Each night roughly 2,500 people sleep on the streets of San Antonio, 47 percent of whom are children, according to Haven for Hope. Meanwhile, the organization estimates that jail and emergency care for San Antonio’s homeless account for more than $41 million in taxpayer expenses every year.

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