Archive for July, 2009

8th July
written by naehblog

I noticed an article in the news today from Sawyer County, Wisconsin. Admittedly, I noticed it because they use a statistic from our research (“744,313 people experienced homelessness in one night in January 2005”), but the article was an intimate look into homelessness in a quiet, suburban, all-American town: Hayward, Wisconsin.

Hayward, WI is a city in Sawyer County, Wisconsin. The population of Hayward city as of the 2000 census was 2129 people, including 960 households and 529 families. Hayward is a popular vacation and fishing population due to the many lakes in the area.

But in last week’s Sawyer County Record, the local newspaper, reporter Kathy Hanson examines homelessness in the picturesque city, noting that there is more than meets the eye.

Hanson’s article about Hayward touches on several themes that are being felt around the country: an increased request for social services and housing assistance (including Section 8 housing vouchers, shelter beds, and financial support), an increase in homeless families and the number of homeless students, and more and more people relying on family and friends to get by. Hanson also talks with the growing number of direct service providers and local programs who are overwhelmed by the rise in need.

While the city of Hayward is a unique and notably small example (there are more homeless people in the state of Wisconsin – 5658 as of January 2007 – than there are residents of Hayward), the homelessness challenges that it faces are consistent with those being felt in big cities and small towns alike.

Tomorrow, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to release the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR), which will analyze the homelessness numbers and trends from 2008. The Alliance expects to learn how the numbers have changed since 2007, and what the implications of the recession may be, or will be.

In the meantime, the country continues to work through the added challenges of an economic turndown and the existing problems of homelessness and housing.

Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed.

6th July
written by naehblog

It’s a question that’s surprisingly overlooked – maybe overshadowed by the challenges of homelessness in and of itself.

At the Alliance, we focus on different kinds of homelessness, including:
Veteran Homelessness
Family Homelessness
Youth Homelessness
Chronic Homelessness

Each group comes to homelessness in different ways – and the solutions to that type of homelessness varies as well.

Veteran Homelessness
Veterans often become homeless as a result of some post-war challenges. Emotional or mental distress (including PTSD, emotional trauma, etc.) can manifest in damaging behaviors, like substance abuse and addiction. These behaviors can then lead to the inability to maintain permanent housing.

Recently, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Tammy Duckworth appeared on CNN to discuss the state and health of veterans returning from conflicts abroad. The Secretary expounded upon the increase of suicides, mental illness, and homelessness among veterans from our current conflicts, as well as the VA’s continued efforts to address these ongoing issues.

Family Homelessness
Family homelessness is typically caused by some unforeseen costly event: a raise in rent, medical emergency, or the like. The inability to manage this financial hurdle can push a family into homelessness – an occurrence that’s been felt more dramatically in the current recession.

Despite sensationalized news reports, families that experience this kind of homelessness aren’t typically picturesque, middle-class families. They’re typically families that were already living on the economic fringes of society – often paycheck-to-paycheck – who are pushed off by the big event.

The good news – if this counts as good news – is that families don’t typically require a lot of government assistance to get back on track. If we’re able to identify and assist these families early on – through rental subsidies, cash assistance, or the like – the families can often save enough to lift themselves out of homelessness and go back to maintaining permanent housing.

However, recent media reports from communities across the country suggest that family homelessness is on the rise. Just today, New Jersey reported an uptick in families requesting social services in Hunterdon and Somerset. Check out our media map for counts from your community.

Youth Homelessness
I never understand when this happens to young people, but research shows it happens as a result of some kind of family disruption (divorce, abuse, etc.).

Our foster care and juvenile justice care also contribute to youth homelessness. Those who age out of foster care (once they turn 18) or get out of the juvenile justice system are often without the social support systems of guidance networks and end up highly at-risk of becoming homeless.

Luckily, most young people aren’t homeless for long. They go back home, they find a friend/relative, someone intervenes – they find a way to get off the streets. But those who don’t quickly find a route elsewhere do tend to stay homeless.

The news lately has been abuzz with reports of young people facing homelessness. The American School Board Journal wrote an article about teachers facing the challenge of dealing with student homelessness.

Chronic Homelessness
Chronic homelessness is basically what you think of when you think “homelessness”. Those people on the street, sleeping on sidewalks and bus stops – those are the chronically homeless. “Chronic” means just what you think – that these people are consistently and persistently without permanent housing.

By and large, chronically homeless people have some sort of disability – either physical or psychological. This is usually a key factor in their homelessness, and the central roadblock to their finding a stable home.

Luckily, this is also where we have made the most progress. From 2005 – 2007, the country saw a ten percent reduction in the rates of chronic homelessness.

The solution: it’s called “permanent supportive housing.”. Basically, it’s permanent housing COUPLED WITH supportive services, including counseling, therapy, and other life skills workshops.

The GREAT news is that this solution has proven not only effective, but financially viable. Turns out that the costs of emergency hospital visits, jails, run-ins with the police, and the slew of other reactive social services is actually more than what it would cost to set up, maintain, and provide permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless. Acclaimed writer Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers fame) wrote a great article for the New Yorker called “Million Dollar Murray”, which explains just this concept.

So that’s how people become homeless nowadays – challenging to be sure, but definitely something that we can work on.

Questions? Corrections? Feel free to let me know what you think.

4th July
written by naehblog

I’m really pretty stoked about the 4th of July.

Since my move from the West, it’s been one highlight of life on the East. California just doesn’t celebrate the 4th of July like Washington, D.C.

The fundamentals are the same: fireworks, BBQ, kids in shorts running around with sparklers – it’s all very Norman Rockwell.

But maybe it’s the proximity to the monuments and state buildings, maybe it’s the salience of history in the air, maybe it’s easier to feel patriotism in the nation’s capitol – whatever it is, it permeates the holiday with a spirit not as easily felt 3000 miles away.

This year, the spirit is laced with a bittersweet melancholy, as we celebrate the nation’s independence while American soldiers are abroad at war.

June 30, 2009 marks the withdrawal of a significant number of American troops in Iraq, as reported by the New York Times. While some troops will remain until 2011, the story suggests that soldiers have made major steps to dismantle the American presence in the region.

Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan rages on; earlier this year, President Obama nearly doubled the number of troops in the country. News reports suggest that the conflict continues unabated, and soldiers seem to suffer both physical and emotional consequences.

Moreover, troubles don’t always stop at home.

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times published a story about homelessness among veterans of the current conflicts.

From the Los Angeles Times article: “While veterans and homeless advocates have long grappled with homelessness in previous generations of veterans, Pinto appears to be part of a new, building wave of the problem among those coming back from the latest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The writer goes on to interview shelter providers and one Vietnam veteran who suggest that the number of veterans seeking shelter and support after the current conflicts are not only rising, but that they’re facing the same physical and emotional challenges that haunted the older generation of war veterans.

From the article: “It reminds me of me all over again,” [Vietnam veteran Robert] Hovis said. “I know what they’re going through.”

And just yesterday, I found a CNN transcript of an interview with Secretary Tammy Duckworth in which she described current rates of addiction, homelessness, and PTSD among veterans of our current conflicts abroad.

Approximately one-quarter of the American homeless population are veterans. The difficulty in re-assimilation, war-induced emotional stresses, physical disability – all these are challenges that soldiers face when trying to re-enter civilian life. The journey back is not always easy – but few would say that we don’t owe it to those who have stood to defend the nation to help as best we can.

So as I prepare my cupcakes and snacks for my picnic at Iwo Jima this week, I’ll make certain that I remember those who gave so freely of themselves so that I could feel the spirit of the 4th in the air.

And I’ll make sure to show my gratitude.

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3rd July
written by naehblog

Okay, so every Friday, I’m going to try to have a news roundup of stories that were particularly interesting, or funny, or insightful, or really really awful (I’m kind of looking forward to writing about the last ones!).

Luckily for you, National Public Radio (NPR) and the Associated Press came to your rescue today.

Yesterday, the Department of Labor announced that unemployment had reached 9.5 percent – a 26-year high. The Associated Press and NPR reported that industry sectors across the board were hit fairly hard, with the bright spots being in education and medical fields.

There’s been a flurry of discussion about the recession and it’s impacts on homelessness: news about foreclosures and middle-class families and rising rates of homelessness across the country (check out the Daily Clips section of our website for a listing of related stories). But more troubling than those sensationalized stories are reports like this one about unemployment. While the recession may come and (hopefully) go, the root causes of homelessness – including a dearth of affordable housing, mental illness, and (yup) unemployment – are steadfast in the face of economic sways.

Also in the news today is a story about schizophrenia.

Recent genetic studies, according to reporting by NPR have shed some light on the development of schizophrenia.

Researchers, long stymied by puzzling disease, tried to find difference in the genes of thousands of people – some had schizophrenia; some didn’t.

The researchers found a few interesting leads, one of them linking schizophrenia to the immune system. Some are speculating that the “tendency to develop schizophrenia may have something to do with infections of mothers during pregnancy.”

While this article isn’t directly related to homelessness, there is a sizable percentage of the homeless population that we refer to as “chronic” – meaning that those people experiencing homelessness have a disability of some kind (anyone remember The Soloist? Jamie Foxx?) Moreover, the role of deinstitutionalization has been a part of the history of modern homelessness.

Let me know what you think of the stories, and don’t hesitate to shoot a shout out if you see anything that you might want to share!

2nd July
written by naehblog

So, like most of the world, I’m a little in love with Google.

Not only is it massively awesome in general, but I also happen to be from Northern California – right in the neck of the woods that houses Google, Apple, and some of the other tech-y powerhouses. (Yes, you are correct: I AM a nerd.)

Recently, the Alliance installed Google Analytics on our own website, and I’ve been having a ball checking out the different stats and data, trying to figure out what people like, what people don’t like, what people never see.

So turns out, this is what you guys like (our most visited pages):

Some things that I think are worth a few more hits:

  • The 2009 Counts Media Map
    An interactive map with the latest reports of 2009 homelessness counts. The official report isn’t out yet, but this map tracks news reports from communities that have already submitted their information.

  • Daily Clips
    A listing of homelessness-related stories on the national, state, and local level. (It’s always provided me insight with what people are talking about, and what’s going on in areas that I care about.)

  • About Us
    The Alliance is a leader in homelessness field. Our work includes research, policy analysis, advocacy, and education. We’ve got a lot to offer – and you should know just what you’re missing.

Take a minute, check it out, and let me know what you think.

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1st July
written by naehblog

So, to kick things off, here’s a nice, soft introduction into how we got where we are today:

Homelessness has been around pretty much since there were more people than homes (read: a long, long time). A number of national and economic events (anyone remember the Great Depression?) prompted bursts of homelessness from time to time, but local and federal authorities usually answered the need. Homelessness as we know it today surged around the 1980s.

Why the 80s? Good question.

Perhaps the most sensationalized – and one of the more controversial – cause of modern-day homelessness is deinstitutionalization.

The 1950s and 1960s saw a wave of activism against mental health institutions as reports of neglect, abuse, and mistreatment in such facilities became commonplace. The goal of deinstitutionalization was to move people who are mentally ill and disabled from these institutions into community-based health centers, where they would be fewer restrictions on patients and a lesser financial burden to federal and state coffers. (Popular opinion seems to fault President Reagan for deinstitionalization, but my own research has not validated that opinion.) Many argue that the effort has been unsuccessful, and that people who are mentally ill are now housed in the criminal justice system or are homeless altogether.

As a result, some say that deinstitutionalization, coupled with decreasing availability of affordable housing and economic fluctuations (and a plethora of other factors), caused the homeless population to rise considerably in the late 20th century.

Other populations joined this group later – those with addiction, victims of financial distress, veterans, etc.

As the homeless population grew, places where people were freely allowed to roam became more restricted: churches, public restrooms, libraries, museums – these places all closed their doors, hired security, and/or otherwise made efforts to reduce the number of homeless people in their buildings. This forced the homeless population to bridges, tunnels, parks, sidewalks – many of the places we see them today.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that since the 1980s, there have been efforts – though fragmented – to address, prevent, reduce, and ultimately end homelessness. And the even better news is that these fragmented efforts have started producing real results. Between 2005 and 2007, homelessness fell 10 percent. This is because we’ve finally started figuring out what works. We know how to end homelessness and sometimes how to prevent it altogether.

How, you ask? That’s another post.

In the meantime, let us know what you think about the role of deinstitutionalization on the homelessness population. How has it contributed to homelessness? Was it good/bad/horrible idea? What can we do about it – and the chronically homeless population?

Feel free to let us know.

1st July
written by naehblog

Hi all!

Welcome to the National Alliance to End Homelessness blog!

Today is July 1 – what we are hoping is an auspicious day to start the blog.

Turns out, July 1 is also the day that:


So the outlook looks mixed, but I’m hoping that like the Walkman, the blog will have a nice long reign and a secured place in American pop culture. (And who doesn’t love O Canada??)

So what are we talking about?

We’re talking about homelessness.

This blog will go over some broad themes of homelessness – the different populations, federal legislation, data and reports, etc. But along the way, we’ll talk about related, if tangential bits: specific demographics, new information, the relationship between homelessness and poverty, different advocacy groups and agencies…it’ll be a mash-up of good info.

And if you have any questions or requests for posts on particular subjects, don’t hesitate to comment or shoot me an email.

I really, really hope you like it.

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