The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development prevented or ended homelessness for 750,000 Americans through its Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program, the department's secretary Shaun Donovan said Thursday. The $1.5 billion project, instated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, provides money to local and state agencies to help people on the verge of or dealing with situational homelessness. Situational homelessness is, as described by HUD, a short- to mid-term financial incapability brought on by sudden events, such as illness, death or job loss. HUD explicitly states that HPRP is not a mortgage assistance program. Instead, borrowers can use the funds for short-term rental assistance (three months), medium-term rental assistance (four-18 months), security deposits, utility deposits, moving costs, motel/hotel vouchers, and legal services for housing issues. "It's the little bit of help that might make all the difference between housing [borrowers] or making them homeless," said Brian Sullivan, head of corporate communications at HUD. Agencies distributing the funds can use them for administrative costs, such as preparing reports, obtaining program audits and staff training. The agencies, also called grantees or continuums of care, keep track of people assisted by the program by registering them in a Homeless Management Information System. The agencies report their numbers to HUD on a quarterly basis, which allows HUD to keep a total of people helped through the program. Sullivan said about two-thirds of the fund goes to prevention efforts, that is, keeping borrowers in imminent danger of homelessness in the home. About one-third goes to the re-housing of individuals. Sullivan said the break down occurs because most of the people helped through the fund are renters. "Homeowners don't usually go from ownership to homelessness," he said. Agencies normally require an eviction notice or some form of documentation of imminent homelessness, he added. According to HUD's informational packet on HPRP, the funds go to "households that are most in need and that are most likely to achieve stable housing." Sullivan admitted, "it is a triage, no doubt," but said it's up to the local agencies to decide who qualifies. HPRP is a three-year program and is expected to use the allotted funds by 2012. A request for information on how much of the fund has been distributed was not immediately answered for this piece. Write to Christine Ricciardi.