WASHINGTON (AP) _ The federal government awarded nearly $1.4 billion in grants to support local homeless programs Tuesday, a slight increase from the amount doled out a year ago.
Local agencies compete for most of the grants, which support more than 5,300 programs across the nation. The grants pay for a range of programs, from emergency and transitional housing to job training and substance abuse counseling.
The goal is to get people off the street and provide them with the services they need to keep them from returning.
``Whether it's a single man living with a mental illness or a family struggling to give their children a roof over their heads, this funding is quite literally saving lives,'' Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson said in announcing the grants.
Local programs for the homeless use the federal grants to obtain more funding from state and local governments and private donors, said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Roman called the grants ``essential,'' but said they are inadequate.
``As important as this is, it's remedial,'' Roman said. ``It helps people after they have fallen over the cliff. We need to keep them from falling over the cliff.''
Roman's group recently used HUD data to estimate that the United States had 744,000 homeless people in 2005. A little more than half were living in shelters, with about 40 percent living on the street.
``It's really the lack of affordable housing,'' Roman said. ``We have a huge affordable housing crisis in this country.''
The bulk of the grants _ a little more than $1.2 billion _ was awarded competitively, based on whether local agencies are able to meet the needs of their communities, according to HUD. In addition to providing shelter, the goal of those programs is to address many of the issues that lead to homelessness, such as mental illness and substance abuse.
An additional $160 million in emergency shelter grants was awarded to state and local governments based on a formula.
In all, the grants awarded Tuesday totaled $1.36 billion, up from $1.33 billion awarded a year ago. President Bush has requested $1.6 billion for the budget year that starts Oct. 1.
The nation's most populous state, California, received the most money, nearly $215 million, followed by New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Sparsely populated Wyoming received the least, a little more than $400,000. Rounding out the bottom five were South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Vermont.