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U.S. HIKES AID FOR AREA HOMELESS BY $3.2 MILLION

Homeless people in the Buffalo-area got a huge boost from the federal government Monday when officials, including Vice President Gore, announced a $3.2 million increase in aid for local agencies to provide housing, job training and other services.

The money will go to the Erie County Department of Mental Health, Women for Human Rights and Dignity, the Salvation Army and the YWCA of Western New York. Jessica Christie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the agency increased the aid to the area because all those agencies were able to justify the need for additional spending.

"These funds will allow our area non-profit agencies to develop comprehensive programs to help homeless individuals become reintegrated into our communities," said Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda.

HUD estimates there are about 7,500 homeless people in Erie County, but Ms. Christie said the agency had no projections as to how many people the grants would help.

The grants are part of $865 million that went to 320 communities across the nation.

"We are giving some of the most vulnerable Americans a second chance to reach for the American Dream," said HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, who announced the grants at a news conference with Gore. "Our grants will literally save the lives of homeless people and help them build new lives by getting jobs, becoming self-supporting and moving into permanent homes."

Agencies in Erie County have now received a total of $3.94 million in grants this year, compared with $744,000 last year. The individual amounts are:

$1.3 million -- the largest grant -- to the county Mental Health Department under the Supportive Housing Program, which helps agencies buy, build, renovate and run facilities that provide the homeless with shelter.

$1.1 million to Women for Human Rights and Dignity under the same program.

$302,631 to the Salvation Army of Buffalo.

$323,119 to the YWCA of Western New York.

$926,280 to Erie County under the Shelter Plus Care program, which allows agencies to run support services for the homeless, such as job training, substance-abuse treatment and mental-health services.

HUD also announced that it has started a volunteer drive to collect more than 500,000 books to distribute to homeless children. Some 200,000 have already been donated by Disney Publishing and other publishing houses -- more than one for each of the estimated 175,000 homeless children in the nation.

"Especially in the holiday season, we must all recommit ourselves to helping homeless Americans achieve what most of us take for granted -- a safe place to live and the opportunity to become responsible, self-sufficient citizens," Gore said.

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