Archive for August, 2009

31st August
written by naehblog

Earlier this morning, Mark Horvath came over to interview Alliance VP Steve Berg on the landscape of homelessness.

In a short conversation (maybe about 15 minutes), the two discuss the recession, housing, and the future of homelessness – both best and worst case scenarios.

If you missed the live broadcast, you can watch it here! Please let me know if you have any reactions, questions or thoughts!

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28th August
written by naehblog

It seems to be that there’s been quite a hullabaloo about veterans and homelessness lately. Has anyone else noticed that?

Just this week, there were two articles about Secretary Shinseki’s commitment to ending veterans homelessness – one from the AP about veteran homelessness in rural areas and one in the Argus Leader as well.

The Secretary’s message has be gaining momentum this month. Since early August, Secretary Shinseki has promised the American Legion that the country “will end vet homelessness.” He discussed homeless veterans issues in Oregon and in his home state of Hawaii. Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth also carried a similar message on Fox News this week.

The attention is certainly welcome and warranted. Veterans account for approximately one-quarter of the homeless population, and the group exhibits a high incidence of mental illness, substance abuse, and other behavioral disorders.

We at the Alliance are heartened by the renewed commitment to addressing and ending veteran homelessness – and we wholeheartedly agree that it’s not only a social ill long overdue for transformative action, but one that we can fix as a nation.

27th August
written by naehblog

Can homeless assistance be dramatically improved in a time of crisis?

Nine years ago, the Alliance launched A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years which charted a course for ending homelessness in the United States. The central idea, grossly simplified, is this:

As a nation, we do a lot to address homelessness—build shelters, distribute food and blankets and the like. What we don’t do is prevent homelessness or help people exit homelessness.

Since then, the Alliance has been working on changing policies and programs to focus more on prevention and re-housing.

Right now, we spend a lot on shelters and other emergency homelessness programs. And any effort to shift to a more prevention and solution-based approach could divert resources away from these existing shelters and programs. It’s a great idea in theory, but one that will take time and patience and there are people that need shelter tonight, and it’s pretty cruel to take that away, even if there’s a long-term benefit.

So progress has been slow.

And there’s a big barrier to making this change – money.

In the spring, Congress passed an economic stimulus bill that included a $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). One and a half billion isn’t a lot compared to the size of the stimulus, but it’s a lot for homeless assistance. And what’s important is that HPRP will fund rental assistance, housing search assistance, and other activities that prevent homelessness or help homeless people quickly move into permanent housing.

Many communities are using HPRP to transform their homeless assistance programs.

For example, here’s an excerpt from Dayton, Ohio’s HPRP plan, “The City, working with Montgomery County, will use these funds to begin the transformation of our system from an emphasis on sheltering to an emphasis on prevention and rapid re-housing.” Michigan is distributing HPRP funds to local nonprofits who can demonstrate …”how these funds will be used to transform your current homeless delivery process to reflect your community’s commitment to end homelessness in 10 years.”

It’s too bad that it took a crisis of this magnitude, but the investment in prevention and re-housing is a very big deal. We will hopefully use this opportunity to transform homeless assistance, putting us on a path to ending homelessness for good.

26th August
written by naehblog

Like so many others today, the Alliance mourns the loss of the esteemed public servant, Senator Ted Kennedy. His leadership, courage, and conviction will undoubtedly ensure his place in our collective memory.

It’s fitting that the Alliance first had the opportunity to host Senator Ted Kennedy ten years ago – the same year that the Alliance introduced the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. At our 1999 annual conference – The End of Homelessness: Blueprint for New Millennium – the senator joined Mrs. Tipper Gore in addressing the conference of 500 homeless advocates, providers, and community leaders.

The senator had not always been in the plan. In fact, the Alliance had initially invited a staff member (presumably because we figured that the senator had prior engagements) from the senator’s office to discuss mental illness among the homeless.

And then luck intervened. Another staff member, who noticed the Alliance invitation and conference materials, thought that the conference would be a fitting venue to debut the senator’s new language on mental health. And so, in July 1999, the senator joined the Alliance staff and conference attendees at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Senator Kennedy – the ‘lion of the Senate’ – spent his entire adult life in service to his country. The Alliance joins the nation in honoring the legacy of the great public servant.

26th August
written by naehblog

It’s an interesting time to be working on ending homelessness.

The economy is terrible and creating havoc for a lot of people. Rising unemployment tends to lead to more homelessness – and this recession has had a lot of unemployment.

At the same time, there are some opportunities to make progress. Congress passed an almost $800 billion economic stimulus bill in the spring: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It includes $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).

This summer, HUD gave HPRP grants to all 50 states and about 500 cities, counties, and territories. The three-year grants ranged from about $500,000 for smaller cities to $74 million for New York City. These local governments will pass on most of their funds to nonprofit organizations to provide several types of financial assistance and services with the goal of preventing homelessness or helping somebody who has become homeless move into an apartment. Here are some examples of what HPRP will be funding:

Financial Assistance:

  • Up to 18 months of rental assistance, including up to six months of overdue rent;

  • Up to 18 months of utility assistance;

  • Moving costs; and

  • Rental or utility deposits;


  • Housing search assistance including help finding apartments and negotiating with landlords;

  • Case management;

  • Help applying for and coordinating other services such as employment, child care, etc.

  • Legal services; and

  • Credit repair services.

There is strong evidence that when done smartly, these kinds of programs can reduce homelessness. You can see some examples in this nice little video about the HomeBase program in New York City and this short summary about Rapid Exit in Hennepin County, MN.

21st August
written by naehblog

On Friday, April 14, McClatchy Newspapers published a story about the economy’s affect on the number of students receiving free or reduced cost meals at their public schools.

Since the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released their Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) outlining the rates of homelessness over the course of the last year, the media has paid noticeably more attention to both family and youth homelessness. In fact, in just the last 10 days, the Washington Post ran three pieces about homelessness, including a story about the “new face of homelessness,” profiling an African American single mother and her children. (To be frank: not really a new story.)

The McClatchy story presents the family homelessness dynamic from a new angle – looking at the relationship with schools, and the rate at which students are enrolling into nutrition programs. In his article, writer Tony Pugh projects record enrollment – which he interprets as a sign of rising homelessness and financial pressures on families. Nan Roman, president of the Alliance, echoed the writer’s thoughts and agreed the family homelessness may very well keep rising. In fact, the Alliance projects that approximately one million more people may experience homelessness before the economy fully recovers.

Pugh also presented the side of the schools – already struggling under tightened state budgets and trying to accommodate the needy children in their classrooms. Pugh notes that schools receive federal government assistance for nutrition programs servicing children in need, but also noted that the average cost of a school meal was more than the government subsidy per meal. While haggling with the federal government to increase funding for nutrition programs, the schools are trying – in the meantime – to figure out how to keep the nutrition budget in the black and provide for all their students.

You can read the whole article online.

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18th August
written by naehblog

After holding out – for months! – I’ve succumbed to the awesome power of Facebook.

As you can see, we’re brand new to the site and we need your support! Please use the link below to become a fan of our organization on Facebook, and get updates on new homelessness research, legislation, and Alliance activities!

Thanks all for your continued support!

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17th August
written by naehblog

Happy Monday, everyone!

We have a GREAT treat today! Maria Foscarinis, of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), sent us a piece on her organization’s stance on the health care debate and the homelessness.

No doubt you’ve heard a thing or two about the raging controversy over health care. All the national papers, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today are a-buzz with recent criticisms, potential changes, and the likelihood that the administration will concede to the hysteria of the general public.

In our little corner of the world, we wonder what the health care debate will mean for the homeless population. We wonder if reform – should reform pass – will make a tangible difference in their lives: will the chronically homeless get the medical attention they need? Will improved coverage curb the number of costly emergency-room visits? Will the poor and very poor be assured health care coverage under federal programs like Medicaid? And since the Post brought it up, what about the families?

Here at the Alliance, we know what we’d like to see. Check out senior policy analyst Peggy Bailey outline the Alliance’s goals for improving health care.

And a slightly different perspective from our friends at the NLCHP. Many thanks to Maria Foscarinis and Ashley Shuler at NLCHP for their invaluable help in getting this piece posted today.

Tale of two health crises

By: Maria Foscarinis

Twenty two years ago, I received shocking news: I had Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

I was lucky: I had good health insurance, access to top doctors, and friends and family with the wherewithal to help. I also had a good education that helped me navigate the health and insurance systems and also to remain employed.

I had a home to go to after each round of chemo and, three years later, after hospital treatment for a recurrence of the cancer.

“Scott” is not so fortunate. Twenty-seven years ago, at the age of 21, he lost his left leg after a car hit him. A month earlier, he had lost his job as a forklift operator, and with that, his health insurance. Unable to afford his own home, he was living with his mother. The money he recovered from the driver of the car that hit him barely covered hospital expenses and the lawyer’s fees.

Through his state’s department of rehabilitative services, Scott was able to get a prosthetic leg. Finding work was challenging. For a year he had a job—and health insurance—with an office supply company, but when the company went bankrupt, he was out of work again. He worked as a migrant laborer for a while—with no insurance. When a relationship ended and he moved out, he had no place to go. He’s been homeless on and off ever since.

His family is too poor to help. He is bright and personable, but lacks the education that might help him get a job. He is on multiple waiting lists for housing but, for now, has no place to live but the streets. He is searching for work, but with a disability and without a home, he has been unable to find one.

And now his other leg is showing signs of problems.

What would have happened to me had I been in his place when I was diagnosed?

I doubt I would be alive today. Without health insurance, I would probably not have gotten the early intervention that helped save my life, or access to top doctors, or the latest treatments. Without a home to live in, I doubt I would have survived the depressed immune system and consequent infections that followed my treatments. And if I were alive, I’d probably have had a much harder and longer time recovering physically and emotionally from the rigors not only of disease but of treatment.

The consequences of lack of access to health care are devastating. The average life expectancy of homeless people in the U.S. today is 30 years less than that of the rest of the population. Homeless people suffer disproportionately from both acute and chronic disease, such as diabetes, arthritis, and lost limbs. Disability benefits are extremely difficult to apply for and receive: Except for about a one-year period long ago, “Scott” has never received them, despite his obvious disability.

Health care reform is now on the table in Washington, D.C., and it’s long overdue. But to be meaningful, it must include people like Scott. Medicaid, the federal health care program for poor people, does not currently cover all low-income people; in fact, 70% of homeless people are currently uninsured. The program must be reformed and barriers to it eliminated to cover all homeless and poor people.

  • It must include primary and preventive care for people like Scott, and not just because they need it desperately. Right now, emergency room care is the primary medical care available to homeless people – but this is the most expensive care, costing an estimated three to four times as much as preventive measures or a doctor’s visit, and the most burdensome for all involved.

  • It must include reasonable access to disability benefits for those who are disabled. Currently, about 40 percent of homeless people suffer from mental or physical disabilities, or both. Yet only 11 percent receive federal disability benefits, due to barriers including address requirements, missing identification documents, or lack of funds to obtain birth certificates and other records required to apply.

  • Perhaps most importantly, it must include access to housing. Without a home, virtually no treatment will be effective—for the person or for taxpayers. A 2004 study of nine cities compared the cost of providing supportive housing to homeless persons, including those suffering from mental illness and addiction, to the cost of allowing people to live on the street. In all nine cities, supportive housing was significantly less expensive, and the health care costs were much less expensive. Supportive housing reduces health costs by reducing expensive emergency department visits. For example, the study found that San Francisco hospital costs were over $2,000 per day, while supportive housing was under $50 per day.

We all need health care and we all need housing. It’s part of being human.

It’s time to recognize that these are also basic human rights.

17th August
written by naehblog

Happy Monday, all!

We here in the research arm of the Alliance are kicking around an idea for a podcast series.

We’re thinking about profiling social innovation leaders in the homelessness field. Recipients of social innovation awards, or just organizations and community heavyweights who are leading the charge in looking at homelessness in a new and different way.

Would you guys be interested in something like that?

And would you prefer it live (calling into an audio conference) or would you prefer it taped (posted to our website with maybe some materials)?

Please let me know! I’ll hold out for about a week for feedback!

Thanks all,

13th August
written by naehblog

Okay, I’m a little excited! Yesterday, our friends at The Nation published an editorial we wrote for the “Ten Things” series. You can access the article, “Ten Things You Need to Know to End Homelessness,” on the Nation website but – if you’re feeling lazy – you can just read it below!

Ten Things You Need to Know to End Homelessness

In July 2009, The Nation published a “Ten Things” piece titled “Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets.” The provocative and thoughtful piece elicited quite a response. We, however, respectfully disagree with the premise of the piece. Before submitting to the idea that there are things you need to know to live on the streets, we suggest that you consider whether living on the streets is necessary at all.

We’re no strangers to the issue of homelessness–rather, we’re quite well-versed in the subject. Homelessness, as we know it, began in the 1980s and has persisted through the decades. Some see it as an inevitable byproduct of a diminishing affordable housing supply, a lack of well-paying jobs, tumult in the economic sector, and both globalization and urbanization. Many see it as an unavoidable social nuisance. Some don’t see it at all. But here, at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, we see it as a problem with a solution.

The causes of homelessness are many and complex–but the solution to homelessness heads toward one straight goal: housing.

Here are ten steps you need to know about–and to take–to end homelessness:

  • Plan. It’s simple: our problem is homelessness, and this complex, multifaceted problem requires a thoughtful, carefully concerted plan of attack. The most successful plans are built with the input and support of community leaders, elected officials, lawmakers, business leaders, service providers and residents.

  • Collect and examine the data. You can’t know what you’re doing until you know what you’re dealing with. Most communities already have a way to count the number of homeless people in the area; some communities also collect information on how people become homeless, how long they stay homeless, how homeless people interact with agencies of care (it’s called HMIS). Examine these data and learn the characteristics specific to their homeless populations–good data will inform which strategies are enacted, how much those strategies will cost, and how the plans can be implemented and carried out.

  • Strengthen emergency prevention. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most communities have in place an emergency homelessness-prevention program–usually including rent, mortgage, and utility assistance; case management; landlord or lender intervention; and other programs that pull people back from the brink of homelessness. By expanding, strengthening and improving access to these emergency prevention services, communities can curtail homelessness when people come precariously close to the edge.

  • Systems prevention. Similarly, we also have a set of systems that help the low- and extremely low-income households. Most people and families who fall into homelessness were already engaged in programs that provide low-income people care and assistance (as most families and people who fall into homelessness are low-income to begin with). Others who fall into homelessness are “graduates” of various state institutions: foster care, incarceration, mental health facilities. If we can strengthen the existing assistance programs and create effective transition programs for those exiting state institutions, we can ensure that those most at risk of experiencing homelessness are kept from it.

  • No-strings outreach. A key component of ending homelessness is reaching out to people who live on the street and encouraging them to embrace housing. But it’s often no easy task. Those who live on the street often suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Persuading this population to accept housing requires an availability of “low-demand” housing–that is, housing that doesn’t mandate participation in treatment programs. While this “no-strings” approach may seem controversial, housing minimizes the ill-effects of street living (including both mental and physical distress), and stable housing creates a sense of safety and security that encourages participation in recovery treatments. While this step may seem distasteful to many, low-demand housing does encourage those needing help to seek it out.

  • Shorten homelessness. Shelter living is not the answer to homelessness, but it is an existing tool that can assist people temporarily. One of our goals is to shorten shelter stays as much as possible and move people quickly into housing. Strategies to shorten homelessness include incentivizing quick placement in permanent housing and holding shelters and similar service providers accountable for their past and present clients.

  • Rapid re-housing. One of the hardest parts of a housing-focused strategy is finding affordable housing that low-income or very low-income families can access. As affordable housing becomes a rarer and rarer commodity, fewer and fewer landlords see cause to rent to people with lower incomes, little savings, credit problems or spotty rental history. But there have been success stories–even in the most difficult areas (like LA and NY). What success requires is an investment from community leaders and a talented group of dedicated personnel to forge relationships with stakeholders, meet with prospective landholders and lay out the case for housing everyone.

  • Services. Once households are successfully re-housed, families and individuals should have rapid access to services: therapy, medical support, family assistance and other, similar services. These services can help families stabilize, promote individual and family well-being, and encourage self-sufficiency. Luckily, these services already exist through mainstream government programs–including TANF, SSI, Medicaid – and many others. The key is to link housing services with these existing social services.

  • Permanent Housing. Permanent housing comes in two forms: affordable housing and supportive housing. Most people–especially families–need only the former. Some homeless people–especially the chronically homeless – require supportive services along with permanent housing. While housing challenges will persist for those with low and extremely low-income until the supply of affordable housing increases substantially, local communities and neighborhoods are making concerted efforts to spur the development of affordable housing and to encourage state and local participation in securing affordable housing for the homeless.

  • Income. The last step to achieving self-sufficiency. As with services, there are government programs that can assist the formerly homeless, especially those with disabilities. Many formerly homeless people can benefit from longer-term, career-based employment services as well as cash-assistance programs. The faster that people can access those kinds of programs, the shorter their route to permanent stability.

As always, we want to know what you think! Anything you think we left out?