Archive for August, 2009
I thought I’d share this article because we get this question a lot: Do we support tent cities? What can we do about them? Are there any good ideas/best practices to deal with these communities?
Writer Jennifer Levitz writes about cities’ responses to the ever-rising number of tent cities. According to Levitz, some are not only allowing tent cities to form and persist, but are furnishing these makeshift areas with portable toilets, security, and social services. Nashville, TN is one such city.
In fact, Levitz writes that even cities that had previously had ordinances against tent cities or sleeping in cars are changing their mind. City officials in Lacey, WA allowed a tent city in the parking lot of church; the city council in Ventura, CA revised a law allowing people to sleep in their cars overnight.
But this doesn’t mean that all cities are hopping on this bandwagon.
New York – with its ever-precarious relationship with homeless people – is staying steadfast. New York City recently shut down a tent city in Harlem, the article notes.
Here at the Alliance, we know what the landscape looks like – and we know that between the recession and state budget cuts, resources are scarcer and scarcer as need rises higher and higher.
It seems that any way you slice it – tent cities are a lose-lose for everyone. All parties involved in this push-pull around tent cities are undoubtedly frustrated: residents don’t have any place to go, city officials can’t offer any solutions, law enforcement gets stuck in the middle and ends up the bad guy.
And frankly, there are no easy answers.
While the Alliance doesn’t have a definitive recommendation on tent cities, we remain steadfast that the solution to homelessness is housing. While we recognize that the recent action of city officials is a gesture of compassion and kindness, permitting tent cities to exist is just another way of managing the homelessness problem. Portable restrooms and medical services are important – but at the end of the day, a man in a tent city is still a man without a home.
Affordable housing and/or permanent, supportive housing – these are the approaches that will ensure that we end homelessness for everyone and not just in the short-term.
Study after study and program after program have proven that housing is the right answer. In fact, several studies have shown that providing permanent supportive housing to the chronically homeless – the population most likely to stay homeless even after the recession – not only gets these homeless people safely off the streets, but turns out to be more cost-effective for taxpayers.
As the recession subsides – when unemployment dips to a comfortable number, when jobs start returning to the market – the country will still be home to millions of homeless people. And I wonder if the matter will be so salient then – or if city officials will be as sympathetic to those who don’t disappear with a strengthening economy.
The first is an article in the New York Times about hate crimes legislation. You know as well as I do that Maryland recently enacted a law making an offense against a homeless people a hate crime. This article suggests that other states are considering the same ordinance, as the number of crimes against homeless people rise.
According to the article, our friends at the National Coalition for the Homeless are publishing a report stating that crimes against the homeless are rising as of late. Causes are varied, but the writer points out that the recession, rising unemployment, and foreclosure are pushing more people into poverty and at the same time, law enforcement is cracking down on encampments and other places homeless people might be.
In related news – and another New York Times article – Barbara Ehrenreich writes that it’s now practically a crime to be homeless. The op-ed contributor and author writes that there has been a signficant uptick in states, localities, and law enforcement criminalizing the poor. In heavy-handed language (in my opinion), Ehrenreich points to different ordinances and law that prohibit begging, sleeping in public, truancy, and littering – all, she suggests, discreetly targeting those most vulnerable.
The article is the third in a series chronicling the lives and challenges of poverty in America, by a woman who once went undercover to find out exactly what it was like.
Take a breather, click the link, and let me know what you think!
Afternoon, everyone! Apologies for the break in info – had some family in town and they required by strict attention (and tourist-guiding techniques).
No worries, though, we’re back on the horse now!
A few pieces of business to wrap up:
- Pictures from the Conference (172 of them!) are up on our Flickr account. Check it out and see if we snapped you up!
- We didn’t have a Friday news roundup, but I did notice this morning that there are a LOT of stories about the recession, a decline in services just as there’s increased demand, and – as always – trickling stories about HPRP funds. Keep an eye on those daily clips to stay on top of the news.
- We’d love to hear from you! Tell us what you want more information about – shoot us a comment, follow us on Twitter (@naehomelessness) or shoot me an email with an idea, request, whatever. This is all about you – really! (For me, it’s just an exercise in writing concisely.)
Last week, I got an email from a woman at The Documentary Channel. They’ve created a piece on homelessness in Chicago, specifically looking at the role of addiction in homelessness. A spokesperson wrote to us, “Chicago filmmaker Brian Schodorf takes a raw and real look at the men behind the statistics with poignant testimonies from the streets and expert interviews inside elite university offices.”
It’s a long one – trust me, you’ll have to put aside a solid chunk of time. But it’s a poignant and interesting look into homelessness in one of the country’s biggest cities. Check out Poverty In Chicago and let me know what you think!
It’s pretty crazy. Just now, I’m typing up some of the usability results from the Alliance’s Annual Conference on Ending Homelessness, and I’m remembering that a handful of users suggested that we share fundraising ideas on our website.
And then, I get this email from our Development Director, Beth Roche: Here are some new grant opportunities that do not seem to be a good fit for the Alliance, but that I thought some folks might be interested in knowing more about to pass along to other nonprofits and colleagues.
Well, Beth! I’m sure there are some people who might be interested! Here you go, folks:
- The 14th Annual MetLife Awards for Excellence in Affordable Housing is open for entries. Enterprise Community Partners and the MetLife Foundation have focused this year’s competition on best practices in the area of affordable independent senior living and environmentally responsive housing.
- A program of Civic Ventures, the Purpose Prize annually provides five awards of $100,000 each to people over 60 who are working to address society’s biggest challenges.
- The SEVEN (Social Equity Venture) Fund, a nonprofit organization that works to promote enterprise-based solutions to poverty, has published its second annual open Enterprise-based Solutions to Poverty Request for Proposals. The fund’s Request for Proposals is limited to research in economics, government policy, and business strategy, insofar as the research bears directly on questions in enterprise-based solutions to poverty.
Best of luck if you choose to pursue these funding sources! Thanks for all the great feedback you gave us at the conference, and we’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date if new funding ideas come along.
It’s August 3, 2009 – the Monday after the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, D.C. The staff is back, almost recharged (Mondays are hard), and going over the last few days.
Here’s how it broke down:
- 1200+ participants from across the country;
- Almost 250 speakers sharing about housing strategies, best practices, and the newest data;
- 62 workshops about matters ranging from housing, federal policy, best practices, and communications;
- Six remarkable keynote speakers, including HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, White House Director of Urban Affairs Policy Adolfo Carrion, Jr., Senator Jack Reed, and a very boisterous account from Congressman Al Green.
This was my first conference – and I was overwhelmed with the response of the attendees. I learned a lot, but highlights included:
1. There are a LOT of us!
The fervor and passion and drive of service providers, policymakers, and advocates from far and wide was a moving testament to the goodwill that still exists in all of us – even in these trying economic times. More than once I heard of organizations “breaking the bank” so that their partners could benefit from our conference. We’re very touched – and much obliged.
2. We’re making some noise.
This was my first opportunity to see the new HUD Secretary live and in-person, and his carefully thought-out address may not have alleviated all my worries – but it did let me know that the federal government hasn’t turned a deaf ear to those most in need. Secretary Donovan brought light on veteran homelessness, chronic homelessness, the cost-efficient ways of reducing and preventing homelessness, and the relationship between healthcare and homelessness.
The Secretary said, “I believe that if we can spend trillions of dollars addressing these problems the wrong way – surely in America, with government working in partnership with the private sector, we can summon the strength and the courage to do it the right way and achieve the results we all want for our country. And if I know anything from working with so many of you over these many years, it’s that the experience of homeless housing and service providers is not only ready for prime-time in the greatest public policy debate of our generation – it is absolutely essential to making sure that debate reaches its right and just conclusion.”
Such a impassioned speech gives me hope that we will – despite all – make fruitful progress with the help, assistance, and support of our nation’s leadership. (Full text of the Secretary’s remarks are available here.)
3. It’s all about HPRP.
As a part of our responsibilities, the Alliance staff was required to evaluate every conference workshop (to help inform what we should do the next year). In the second workshop I evaluated – HPRP: Creating and Improving Homeless Prevention Programs – the room was not only full, but it was pretty much standing room only.
It wasn’t altogether a bug surprise that the new federal program was the focus of a lot of buzz – not only was the $1.5 billion prevention program lumped in with must-hyped stimulus efforts, but the funds are reaching communities right about NOW. In the next few months, organizations and states have the responsibility to implement the funds and reap real results.
4. There’s a need to connect.
Each community has their own special set of needs; each stakeholder has their own philosophy, practices, and paradigms. There are countless ways to approach this mired spiderweb of a problem – and each perspective is valid. Once a year, we have an opportunity to come together, learn from each other, and share our thoughts – but this is a conversation that we can have year-round if we put in the effort to connect with each other.
5. We can make a difference.
Which isn’t to say it’ll be easy. We’re facing some tough odds: a challenging economy, rising unemployment, a dearth of affordable housing – the cards seem stacked. But in the face of all this, the need for advocates like us is greater than ever. And the opportunities to make a tangible impact are as great – if not greater – than the challenges out there.
I know it’s corny, but I came away inspired. I hope you did too.
Hope to see you next year!