Archive for November, 2009
The time has rolled around again for us to give thanks for all our blessings, and the Alliance thought it might be helpful to take a sharp look at those who are less fortunate. Thanks for reading our wandering thoughts – and have a happy Thanksgiving!
It’s that time of year again.
Pumpkins retreat as the mercury plunges, and we’re seized with the charitable desire to be kind to those less fortunate. Suddenly, those on the economic brink of society – those just “one paycheck away” from homelessness – have taken center stage in our national conscience.
It’s a shift as sure as the season – and this year, it’s one that resonates all the louder. While homelessness has long been the exclusive plight of Americans living in poverty, its reach is climbing up the socioeconomic ladder. Increasingly, middle-class Americans are seeing the distance from one paycheck to the next get shorter and shorter while their incomes – and savings – dwindle. Combined with cash-strapped states cutting back social services and a continued rise in unemployment, the reality of homelessness comes sharply into focus.
This holiday season, there will be far more families living just “one paycheck away.”
The good news: this is not news. The ravaging effects of the economy and it’s impact on those living in poverty has not been wholly overlooked. An important federal stimulus initiative known as the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) is one of the few Congress-funded programs to address the recession by helping the poor rather than the rich.
HPRP does exactly what the name suggests: it gives families money to stay in their houses, or if they do become homeless, quickly gets them back into homes. It has been effective, but is not large enough to protect all those who will be threatened. (In fact, the Alliance predicts that as many as one million more Americans will experience homelessness as a result of the recession.)
This holiday season, the stakes are precipitously high. As politicians and pundits across the cable shows have said, this is the worst economic turndown that the country has seen in decades.
Now is the time to gather as a national community and make sure that our well-intentioned hearts espouse a sense of urgency. Let’s call upon our national leaders and make sure they don’t forget what we’re enduring now. This holiday season, let’s truly make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
Let’s make sure that the legacy of this recession is not a new generation of homelessness.
Two days out from Thanksgiving and the Alliance staff held it’s last pre-Thanksgiving 2009 staff meeting to go over what’s happening around the house.
The Alliance continues it’s preparations for the February Families Conference in Los Angeles, California. As the Alliance lines up advocates, practitioners, community leaders, and experts to speak at the Conference, we encourage you to sign up soon! Early registration ends Friday, December 7.
The Homelessness Research Institute’s Quarterly Newsletter went out last Friday, November 20. In it: an emphasis on veterans homelessness, a Q+A with Robert Rosenheck, and research on affordable housing – don’t miss out!
The Alliance will host a Congressional Briefing on ending family homelessness on Friday, December 4. We’re encouraging partners and interested parties to call upon their members of Congress to attend of send staff, and all interested parties are welcome to attend. More on this next week!
Funders Together, a collaborative of philanthropists dedicated to providing leadership and strategic funding to end homelessness in America, launched their brand new site! You can find out more about them at http://funderstogether.org/.
Last night, around 7 p.m., I found myself in a brightly painted community room surrounded by camera operators, photographers, and a bunch of boisterous, energetic young people (alarmingly nonplussed by the presence of all the media).
It was quite the motley crew.
I was at the Sasha Bruce House in Washington, D.C. The homeless youth shelter was playing host to legendary rap band Public Enemy, who – with the assistance of Virgin Mobile USA – was paying a visit to the shelter to raise awareness about youth homelessness.
The Alliance – as a leading authority on homelessness policy, trends, and research – was invited to attend and give a few remarks.
In preparation to attend this event, I tried to brush up on my facts. How many homeless youth are there? Who are they and where do they come from? How do they become homeless? What can we do about it? What are the best strategies to make sure that our youth remain safe and housed?
Turns out, there’s some discord about this particular topic in the homelessness field.
There’s a noticeable dearth of information about youth homelessness and upon giving it some more thought, it’s not hard to understand why. Some of the most accomplished advocates and researchers gathering data on homeless people will testify to its trying difficulty. Collecting data on homeless youth, then, is likely only harder, as youth are even less likely to seek out or be aware of social services available to them. Between that reality, and the fact that the definition of the term “youth” tends to vary widely by organization, the picture of youth homelessness is a bit fuzzy.
But here’s what we do know:
There approximately 50,000 street-dependent youth in the United States every year, and are up to two million youth experience an episode of homelessness during the course of a year.
Youth typically become homeless because of some kind of family disruption – divorce is one example, abuse is another. Youth also tend to become homeless after they exit state-run programs, namely the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Young people discharged from those programs rarely have access to a transitional program that provides them the skills and knowledge necessary to secure employment, find housing, and become productive members of society. As such, young people coming out of these programs often fall into homelessness.
While most youth who experience homelessness quickly return to family or friends, some do experience long-term homelessness. For those that do, street-dependent life presents great dangers. Homeless youth encounter a high incidence of violence, exploitation, and sexual assault while living on the streets.
Another something we know: there are things we can do. The Alliance advocates for three distinct tracts to prevent and end youth homelessness: 1) an increase in early intervention and family reunification services for homeless youth, 2) an expansion of long-term housing options consistent with young people’s developmental needs, and 3) after-care support to end homelessness for youth exiting foster care and correctional settings. These are strategies that show success in preventing and ending youth homelessness.
Surrounded by the cheerful, bright young residents of Sasha Bruce House, it’s easy to forget that they all somehow found themselves in a homeless youth shelter. Hopefully, with the help of private sector partners, the hard work of community leaders, and the energy of the young people themselves, we’ll find a way back home.
In recognition of Homeless Youth Awareness Month and the work of Virgin Mobile USA – the Alliance’s 2010 recipient of the Private Sector Achievement Award – a few words from Dan Schulman, CEO of Virgin Mobile USA.
All of us at Virgin Mobile USA are honored to accept the 2010 Private Sector Achievement Award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, recognizing the strides that Virgin Mobile has made over the years to raise awareness for the issue of youth homelessness. The Re*Generation, established in 2006 with the support of Virgin Unite, Virgin Group’s charitable arm, is Virgin Mobile’s initiative to address the issue of youth homelessness and empower a generation to help its own. http://www.virginmobileusa.com/regeneration.
Virgin Mobile has been a consistent voice in raising awareness of this issue by fundraising and implementing easy ways for the public to engage and show support since the launch of The Re*Generation. In June 2007, we worked with legislators from both the House and Senate to have Congress officially declare November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month with the support of singer-songwriter and former homeless youth, Jewel.
Over the past three years, Virgin Mobile has continued to expand its efforts in this area and, in light of the current economic situation in the U.S., we decided to make our annual Virgin Mobile Festival free this past summer. The energy surrounding FreeFest was inspiring and we expanded on this positive energy by announcing the Free I.P. program in which we asked people to volunteer in order to upgrade their FreeFest ticket to a V.I.P. ticket. Through this program, more than 30,000 hours of community service were donated by volunteers throughout the country, more than $80,000 was raised, 1,000 pairs of sneakers were donated, and 7,000 hygiene kits were produced for distribution to homeless youth organizations. The Free I.P. program was an acclaimed success and we hope to continue this program at future festivals and other events.
We have also provided the public with simple and direct ways to get involved in the movement to help homeless youth with our short code mobile campaigns Txt2Clothe and Txt2Donate. More than 200,000 items of clothing have been made available to homeless youth through our Txt2Clothe initiative and $35,000 through our Txt2Donate program. To date, Virgin Mobile has committed more than $3,000,000 of marketing and direct investment support to our charitable partners including $180,000 from Virgin Mobile Festival ticket sales.
To celebrate the three-year anniversary of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, we hosted a special concert by Public Enemy on November 18th at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium with all ticket proceeds benefiting Sasha Bruce House, a non-profit shelter for homeless youth in Washington, D.C. Working in conjunction with the “One Warm Coat” initiative, led by Serve DC – The Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, fans were encouraged to bring new or gently used coats to receive V.I.P. seat upgrades the night of the show. All coats collected were provided to the Sasha Bruce House.
We are very grateful to the Alliance for recognizing the work of Virgin Mobile, our dedicated staff and partners, and everyone who has helped to raise awareness for this issue along the way. This has been an incredible journey and one that still has many steps to accomplish. Virgin Mobile and Virgin Unite are passionate about moving closer toward the goal of ending youth homelessness in the United States. Our thanks go out to the Alliance for all you do and for your generous recognition of our work.
Happy Monday, everyone!
Here at the Alliance, a bunch of us are coming down from our big push of the new Data Update to the veterans report (see Sarah’s post). We had terrific time working with local leaders and direct service providers, hosting our very own press call about the release of the report, and – over the course of the last week – seeing the fruits of our labor. There’s nothing that can take away the fact that there are 131,000 homeless veterans in the United States on any given night – but thanks to the hard work of our partners, community members, and some very dedicated reporters, hopefully you have a better idea of what the problem is and what you can do about it (again, see Sarah’s post).
It’s one of the perks of working in the research department of the Alliance – we get to put out data and watch as people consume that information. Occasionally, we’re privileged to see how our work inspires action – action that can make a tangible difference in the lives of people across the country: an improved rapid re-housing program, federal legislation expanding homeless services, a well written, thoughtful perspective on solutions to homelessness in your local paper.
In that spirit, the Alliance has engaged in two new partnerships this year that I hope you notice:
This awesome new site follows in the footsteps of standard-bearers like Guide Star and Charity Navigator. CEO Perla Ni, the founder of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, offers an engaging and user-friendly approach to searching for nonprofits by location, topic, even needs.
The Alliance is proud and delighted to join with Great Non Profits to host a week on Food & Shelter organizations. As Thanksgiving brings the holiday season ever nearer, we’re reminded – especially in this economic climate – that not everyone is blessed with the hearth that some enjoy.
Share your review of programs and places that you’ve encountered. Your review will direct traffic – and ultimately, funding – to the different organizations featured on the website.
Through its RE*Generation program, Virgin Mobile USA has introduced several marketing initiatives to raise awareness, increase volunteerism, and provide critical resources and funding to local homeless agencies.
For its leadership and innovation in motivating the public to play a more active role in confronting the issue of homelessness, Virgin Mobile USA and Virgin Unite will receive the 2010 Private Sector Achievement Award.
This Wednesday (yep, WEDNESDAY), Virgin Mobile will host Public Enemy in a reception at the Sasha Bruce House in Washington, DC to bring awareness to the existing and persisting problem of youth homelessness. A concert featuring the rap band will follow at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University.
For more information about the Public Enemy concert on Wednesday, please visit An Evening With Public Enemy.
Check out the RE*Generation website to find out more about the campaign to end youth homelessness.
In honor of Veterans Day, the Alliance rallied our troops to engage in a national media campaign! We encouraged all our partners to reach out to local press to share their community efforts towards ending homelessness for veterans, as well as to announce the Alliance’s release of a data update to the veterans homelessness report.
Sarah Kahn, Director of Field Mobilization, lead the charge on this campaign. She writes about it below.
Great work everyone! Last week’s media campaign was a great success!
Thirty-two Alliance partners from across the country participated in the media release of the 2008 Data and Policy Update to Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness Among Veteran. So far, our collective media outreach efforts have achieved around 100 national and local press hits, including published articles, editorials, and TV and radio news segments. What’s more is that many of these articles went beyond the regular data post – several articles made references to policy solutions, explored the causes and effects of veterans homelessness, and called on elected officials to take action to attack this problem.
So, what’s next?
We now have an opportunity to leverage our accomplishments as Congress considers key policy issues in the coming weeks.
How do we do that?
Show them that homelessness is an issue that’s important to your community; show and send them the articles about veterans homelessness in your state. Email the Senate offices pointing them to the veterans media coverage, and urge them so co-sponsor the Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act, S. 1547, which is currently being considered in the Senate.
Veterans homelessness is something that we can end together – encourage your elected members to be a part of the solution to this national tragedy.
Send letters to Senate offices and attach veterans articles from your state.
Call and follow up with staff to ask your Senators to co-sponsor S. 1547.
Contact Sarah (email@example.com / 202-942-8259) to report on any follow up you’ve done.
So what was in homeless news this week? That’s right: veterans.
On Wednesday, the nation celebrated Veterans Day, – a moment to remember, recognize, and honor those who have served in defense of the country.
Data shows that an alarming number of these soldiers face homelessness after their service; the most recent data suggests that veterans are twice as likely to experience homelessness as someone who has not served. Veterans often experience a host of emotional, physical, and psychological issues that prevent then from successfully acculturating back into civilian life.
These key issues were explored in the last week of news clips, with old, new, and alternative media outlets covering the different aspects of veterans homelessness.
New America Media included the story of David Harness, a veteran experiencing homelessness in San Francisco. Using his experience as frame in the a story about the administration’s commitment to ending veterans homelessness and the findings of the Alliance’s recent Data Update, writer Aaron Glantz highlights the reality of the problem that exists today.
The Christian Science Monitor offered a roundup of federal steps being taken to address veterans homelessness – these include a national summit on ending veterans homeless, several bills in Congress, as well as an executive order establishing a new Interagency Council on Veterans Employment.
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times brought attention to the rate of mental illness among veterans, and specifically veterans of our current conflicts. The article points to a Rand Corp study last year that found almost 20 percent of veterans from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan report PTSD or depression; the same study suggests that suicide rates of these veterans is 11 percent higher than those from Vietnam.
And finally, we come to an article that was published last week, Homelessness in America: Finally Glimmers of Light in Citiwire.net. Neal Peirce, of the Washington Post Writers Groupoffers a thoughtful, comprehensive, and informative piece about veterans homelessness – and all homelessness. Peirce finds the relationship between homelessness and the health care debate, between chronic homelessness and veterans homelessness, and the ultimate solution to homelessness:
“It’s starting to dawn on more people that the best cure for homelessness is shockingly simple: provide the homeless with a home.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
You can find the official report on our website, and check out our (very first!) social media release on the report, complete with links to the older reports, a video explaining data, and a couple of pictures, too!
So what does the report say?
Well, the headliner is the number: 131,000 homeless veterans on a given night in the United States. At first glance, that’s good news – last year the number was 154,000. But the decrease is being mostly attributed to methodology, and not an increase in effective programs, prevention, or intervention. In fact, community counts of homeless veterans as well as the numbers kept by VA medical center of homeless veterans served both show increases.
The report also highlights some interesting demographic data: as we’ve all seen in news coverage of veterans, we’re seeing an increase in homeless women veterans, as well as difficulties in handling the specific needs of the female homeless veteran population. And here’s something else I learned yesterday: The veteran population is 85 percent Caucasian and 10 percent African American. The homeless veteran population is 46 percent Caucasian and 45 percent African American. The other races and ethnic groups that make up the rest of the population – around ten percent – show marginal difference between the veterans and homeless veterans groups, but not enough of a different to make a whole lot of hay. It’s the black/white number that really stands out.
So what are we going to do about it?
There’s good news and there’s – challenging – news. The good news is that we have the tools and resources to fight veterans homelessness. The Alliance staff here has spent weeks and weeks preparing for the release of this report and I have learned in that time that we know how to end veterans homelessness. Also good: Secretary Shinseki and the Administration have publicly committed to ending veterans homelessness in five years – in fact, they just hosted a big national summit addressing just this very issue.
But (and this is the challenging part), as with all things, ending veterans homelessness is going to take more than just talk. Veterans make up roughly one-fifth of the entire homeless population, and homeless veterans tend to have emotional, behavioral and physical disabilities.
But we have to start somewhere. And this is what the Alliance recommends up front:
In an address he gave on April 9 of this year, President Obama assured American soldiers that, “When you come home to America, America will be there for you.”
Let’s make good on our promise.
Veterans Day is just around the corner and we at the Alliance are furiously working on issues related to veterans homelessness. There’s been some jabber about new numbers of homeless veterans, activity on the hill, proposed legislation – it can all be difficult to digest. So the Alliance’s own intern – Grace Stubee – thought she’d shed a little light on the issue.
Veterans are over represented in the homeless population. In 2005, a report by the Homeless Research Institute concluded there were 194,254 veterans living on our nation’s streets on any given night. Not only that, but according to the same report, homeless veterans accounted for 26 percent of the total homeless population While veterans on the whole only represent 11% of the civilian population.
New data shows that the situation seems to have improved. The latest numbers – representing data collected in 2008 – suggest that there are now 131,000 homeless veterans accounting for about 20 percent of the overall homeless population. While that might seem like good news, the decrease is being largely attributed to methodology, and not a real decrease in the number of homeless veterans. This rings especially true when you consider that community counts of homeless veterans and the number of veterans served by VA medical centers has gone up.
The good news: This is not an inevitable problem plaguing our country.
Experience with promising community programs and evidence-based research has given us the know-how we need to address this problem to scale. We have been able to identify some of the pathways which lead people into homelessness, pathways which are alike for civilians and veterans, including: health issues, economic hardship, lack of affordable housing, and access to support networks.
Veterans also face a separate set of obstacles that increase their likelihood of falling into homelessness. Prolonged separation from traditional supports such as family and friends, and highly stressful training and occupational demands during service can deter a veterans self-esteem and communication skills. Furthermore veterans confront challenges associated with re-entry into civilian life, a transition that can be very jarring. All these challenges are compounded for the veterans returning home from our current conflicts given the depressed economy, high unemployment rates, and lack of jobs.
Today, the nations programs addressing veteran homelessness are effective but they lack funding and none are comprehensively based in prevention. Prevention based initiatives are required to fulfill the administration’s vow to end veteran homelessness within the next five years.
So how should we help our nation’s heroes? We, at the Alliance, have identified some initiatives that require immediate congressional action:
We ask Congress to seize this opportunity today and end the era of homeless veterans. Please commit to embracing our returning soldiers with the support, honor, and dignity they deserve.
Last week, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley highlighted his plan to increase funding for programs aimed at ending homelessness by $1.4 million next year. This funding would be in addition to the approximately $40 million in federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) funds expected to spent over the next three years in Chicago.
The January 2009 point-in-time count found that homelessness has fallen 10 percent in Chicago from 2007, but Mayor Daley noted that there has been a recent increase in the number of people presenting at shelters – indicating that despite the decline, there is no shortage of Chicagoans requiring assistance.
The new funds are expected to come from parking meter lease proceeds. They would be used to increase capacity at homeless shelters, provide homelessness prevention services, and provide other supportive services to people experiencing homelessness. His budget proposal is currently being debated by aldermen.
Our best to Mayor Daley and the City of Chicago in their continued efforts to prevent, curb, and end homelessness.