Archive for December, 2009
If you in the DC metropolitan area over the weekend, you know that conditions were snowy , to put it mildly! The nation’s capitol was hit with it’s first big blizzard in about a decade – leaving up to two feet of snow and both charmed and frustrated residents in it’s wake, according to the Washington Post.
It’s days like Saturday – which I spent safely in the tenth floor of a residential high-rise – that I really take time to wonder about the lives of those experiencing homelessness. As the wind picked up and temperatures plummeted and the ground was covered in white, I wondered what people experiencing homelessness were doing to protect themselves. I wondered what people could do to protect themselves.
In the spirit of learning a first-person perspective, we offer you another HPRP success story. Karen was the second winner of our Story Bank challenge and she won registration to our next conference of her choice. Her story doesn’t have anything to do with snow, but she narrates her struggle to overcome homelessness with the help of existing assistance systems in Maryland.
My name is Karen and I was considered chronically homeless. My last episode of homelessness lasted for 11 months and during that time I lived in a tent in Salisbury. Md.
I became homeless for the first time in 2003 and hopefully for the last time from 2006-2007. I am now in recovery from chronic alcoholism. I lost my job, my home and my child from alcoholism. I was no longer employable due to the drinking and the end result was not only living in a tent but accepting it as though people did it every day.
My life wasn’t always this way. I grew up with loving parents and I had a great childhood. The alcohol was my downfall. I have been drinking alcoholically since I was fifteen. Alcohol robbed me of everything. I had been in treatment many times and nothing seemed to work. So the streets is where I ended up, panhandling money for alcohol and cigarettes like it was my job. I depended on the local churches and food banks for survival whether it was a warm meal or a blanket. A therapist I was seeing applied me for housing through Tri-County Alliance for the Homeless. They had a waiting list so I continued to live in my tent through the winter literally drinking myself to near death. I had actually forgotten about the housing mainly because I never really believed that it would ever happen. I was spending all my time surviving in the woods instead of how I was going to get out mainly because there seemed to be no way out. It is a lot harder to get out of the woods than it is to get in.
Then one day a man I knew approached me about getting back into treatment for mental health since I also suffer from depression. I could go to the mental health clinic because a wise woman from a local non-profit had had the foresight to apply me for state insurance while I was in the woods just in case I needed insurance, I thought she was crazy at the time but in the end it saved my life.
That mental health clinic also dealt with addiction and before I knew it I was in treatment again. At this point in my homelessness there were probably around six agencies involved with me and my predicament and there would be at least six more before it was all over. Every agency had there own part in my story and every part that they played was vital to my becoming successful. It started with the local shelter and ended up with the housing agency over the course of those 11 months. I am still grateful today that all those agencies cared enough to work together to get me where I am today. I have an apartment through housing, I am coming up on 23 months of sobriety, I went back to college and was reunited with my daughter.
I currently volunteer for a non-profit agency that helps the homeless and the near homeless. My continued wish for communities is that they work together to end homelessness because I believe they can move mountains as a team. In my time of being homeless I never met anyone who wanted to be homeless when they grew up and there isn’t anyone out there that isn’t worth saving. The odds were against me in succeeding but people cared enough to give it a shot.
“There’s that disconnect from the community when you’re homeless, and it’s a big leap to get back to that connection,” Deborah Beste, executive director of Phoenix Programs told the Columbia Missourian this week. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Funds from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) allow Phoenix Programs to do just that: keep the community together by preventing homelessness. In addition to Beste in Missouri and Zamora in Salt Lake City (who we featured earlier this week), folks in California, Minnesota, and Illinois are using HPRP to help stem the rising tide of homelessness in their communities.
However, we’re starting to see some of the issues that arise at the local level when organizations start to use federal dollars. One example is the Keller Community Storehouse in Texas: although they’re glad for the funds, they’re struggling to keep up with increasing demand while trying to negotiate the complexities of paperwork and deadlines.
We’ve covered homelessness among veterans extensively at About Homelessness, but this week, news came from a slightly different angle: female veterans often face some unique obstacles–responsibility for children, sexual trauma, to name a few–in addition to those that male vets deal with. Check out this AP story, which tells former Army Pvt. Margaret Ortiz’s story and describes how Veteran’s Affairs is re-structuring some of their programs to better serve homeless female veterans.
It’s that time of year and Change.org’s End Homelessness blog urges you to celebrate by helping fight homelessness. They’ve got 12 fantastic suggestions about how to do it: donate clothes, toys, food, and your time at a shelter. We’ve got one, too: donate to the Alliance through our Change.org page.
And today is National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day. If you’re in DC, join the National Coalition for the Homeless and others for a candlelight vigil outside Union Station tonight.
I hope you had a chance to read Liz Whitehurst’s entry on the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).
More than that, I hope you liked it – because here at the Alliance communications department, it’s gonna be all HPRP, all the time.
We’re taking advantage of HPRP as a platform to take about the issue that we hold most dear. With this new federal assistance – coming at a time when need is growing so rapidly and community, state, and local services are being [sometimes dramatically] curbed as a result of the recession – we have a chance to share success stories. Stories of men, women, and families being successfully and permanently re-housed. Stories of ending homelessness.
With our ears to the ground, we’re hearing promises of real change during such a difficult time. We’re hearing stories of this Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program being used in innovative new ways – used to transform homeless assistance services to focus on prevention and housing, moving away from shelters and soup kitchens.
Which isn’t to say that we’re blindly starry-eyed. We know that no federal program is perfect – we know that there are communities experiencing roadblocks along the way, communities struggling to figure out the best way to use these critical new funds to make the most impact on their neighborhoods.
But we’re hoping we can help. We’ll be sharing HPRP stories on this blog regularly from here on out, hoping that we can all learn from the experiences of our colleagues across the country.
Please (!!) don’t hesitate to get involved. The Alliance is collecting these stories for our Story Bank, and soon we’ll be starting up a little campaign on our Facebook page – sharing links of HPRP news from community newspapers. Please don’t hesitate to share yours.
If you want to get involved, but have questions, don’t hesitate to contact Alliance staff.
We’re looking forward to sharing our stories with you – and hoping you’ll share your stories with us!
Michelle Zamora of The Road Home in Salt Lake City shows us just how quickly rapid rehousing can work. Using Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) funds, her organization moved a family from a tent to a stable apartment in under 2 weeks. Instead of getting stuck in a shelter or out in the cold, HPRP helped this family of six to stay safe, healthy, and together.
The Road Home launched our Rapid Rehousing program on October 1, 2009. With funding contracts from the State of Utah, the County of Salt Lake and Salt Lake City, we invited homeless families to be assessed for Rapid Rehousing participation.
A family came to us on October 8. Dad, Mom and four little kids were disheveled, scared and cold. Mom told us she is seven months pregnant and couldn’t stay where they had been for several months before. When we asked for further clarification we learned that they had been sleeping in a tent west of Salt Lake City.
The family was assessed for Rapid Rehousing on that day. Dad is employed making $9.00 an hour. His job seems stable and he is very proud of being employed. He was nervous that his boss might find out he was homeless and that he could be terminated.
The family was welcomed in to The Road Home for crisis shelter. Their assessment for Rapid Rehousing participation was approved soon after and they started looking for employment.
Today is October 20, and the family will move into a nice apartment tomorrow. They worked hard and experienced some stress in the process, but the program worked. It took 12 days to get them housed, sheltered (staged) and moved out.
The first time I heard about the Alliance, I was poring over years’ worth of case notes as an intern at a homeless services agency in Boston, compiling and analyzing data to support the organization’s efforts to provide more permanent supportive housing. Today, I’m excited to continue working on these issues as the (new) New Media Intern at NAEH. I’ll be helping keep us all connected, informed and active through Facebook, Twitter, and this blog.
Along with introducing myself, I want to introduce Chuck Rifae, a Housing Broker at Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston, VA. He sent along this story, an example of how HPRP funds are being used to get people out of shelters and into their very own homes. His clients names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Sandra and Sally found themselves in the singles homeless shelter program at Embry Rucker Community Shelter for two different reasons. Sandra had a long history substance abuse and domestic violence. Sally came to the Embry Rucker Shelter from an abusive family and job loss.
Both women were able to find work and the mental help they needed at ERCS; however, they were unable to find independent living they could afford. Knowing their challenges, the caseworkers and the Housing Broker spoke to each client individually and asked if they would be interested in sharing a two bedroom apartment. Both agreed that having a roommate is much better then being homeless or living at a shelter. With the financial assistance of the new Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program(HPRP) funds with the first months rent, both clients were able to move into a two bedroom apartment in a nearby apartment complex.
Thanks in large part to the availability of the HPRP funds for the first months and security deposit, both clients were able to move into market rate housing.
The Alliance is collecting stories of rapid re-housing, homelessness diversion, and HPRP application through our Story Bank. Please feel free to submit a story about your program and your successes! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Alliance Staff.
So I guess the homelessness news of the week is that the U.S. Conference of Mayors came out with the Annual Hunger and Homelessness Report, suggesting that family homelessness is on the rise and that hunger has reached record rates.
Specifically, the Mayors Report says:
In the area of homelessness, nineteen cities (76 percent), reported an increase in family homelessness, while homelessness among individuals decreased or stayed the same for 16 of the 25 cities (64 percent). Most of the cities that experienced drops in individual homelessness attribute the decline to a policy strategy by federal, state and local governments of instituting 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness among single adults. Not surprisingly, the recession and a lack of affordable housing were cited as the top causes of family homelessness in the surveyed cities.
While there’s no doubt in my mind that the recession has impacted homelessness on all fronts, I hadn’t been made aware that family homelessness was definitively up. In fact, I think I stumbled across just this quandary earlier this year when the Department of Housing and Urban Development released their Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) in July of this year.
But while we may not have any definitive data, Alliance staff are hearing reports from our friends in the field that need is undoubtedly up. From programs and shelters and advocates across the country, we hear stories of both individuals and families who are nearly that precarious edge of stable housing. With unemployment and poverty rates at the highest they’ve seen in decades, we know that those people who are most at risk of homelessness – those people on the economic fringes of society – are face more and more dire circumstances and making harder and harder choices.
There is a note of hope on the horizon, in the form of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP): the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded initiative that is helping communities prevent further increases in homelessness as a result of the recession.
The Mayor’s report asked representatives in communities how HPRP money was being utilized, and whether or not it was achieving its intended ends. Cities reported that they’re not only using this money, but utilizing it to transform their approaches to homelessness, focusing on prevention and rapid re-housing instead of shelter and disjointed services. We’re delighted by this news! We know that if utilized strategically and effectively, HPRP can change the way we approach homelessness nationally – shifting our focus from a shelter-driven system that only manages the problem to a housing-focused strategy that works to prevent and actually end homelessness.
This was easily our favorite highlight in the Mayor’s report!
And while we’re on the subject, we are trying to collect information about how HPRP funds are being used to prevent and end homelessness – especially for families. We’re collecting stories and posting them online (we haven’t started posting yet – no worries, be patient!). If you’re interested in contributing, please take a look at the Alliance Story Bank!
This morning, we’re thrilled to host Perla Ni, former publisher of the the Stanford Social Innovation Review and founder of GreatNonprofits on our blog! She’s writes today about our partnership to promote awareness of great organizations benefiting the poor and homeless.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was the publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and we wanted to write a story about how nonprofits were helping the victims. Even though we had access to far more information than the ordinary donor or volunteer, we found it difficult to find out which nonprofits were doing a good job of helping those in need. We only started to get a clearer understanding of which nonprofits were actually rising to the challenge when our former managing editor, David Weir, flew out to Biloxi, Miss., and walked up and down the streets, asking people which nonprofits had been out there helping them. The locals told him about several excellent small, local nonprofits that provided supplies and help. One guy told him how he had broken his leg and had been living in his car until volunteers from a local nonprofit came and found him and took him to the doctor. The local nonprofit in that case was unknown to the larger world and received little public attention or funding. . It struck me, as I struggled professionally to find great nonprofits for our magazine to write about, that there needed to be an online Yelp, or Amazon Reviews-type site, where clients, volunteers, donors, and others with first-hand experience with a nonprofit can share their experiences. . Fast forward two years. An average of 56,000 people per month are now coming to GreatNonprofits.org (and GuideStar, where the reviews are mutually shared), to write reviews about nonprofits and to find nonprofits based on these reviews.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was the publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and we wanted to write a story about how nonprofits were helping the victims. Even though we had access to far more information than the ordinary donor or volunteer, we found it difficult to find out which nonprofits were doing a good job of helping those in need.
We only started to get a clearer understanding of which nonprofits were actually rising to the challenge when our former managing editor, David Weir, flew out to Biloxi, Miss., and walked up and down the streets, asking people which nonprofits had been out there helping them. The locals told him about several excellent small, local nonprofits that provided supplies and help. One guy told him how he had broken his leg and had been living in his car until volunteers from a local nonprofit came and found him and took him to the doctor. The local nonprofit in that case was unknown to the larger world and received little public attention or funding. .
It struck me, as I struggled professionally to find great nonprofits for our magazine to write about, that there needed to be an online Yelp, or Amazon Reviews-type site, where clients, volunteers, donors, and others with first-hand experience with a nonprofit can share their experiences. .
Fast forward two years.
An average of 56,000 people per month are now coming to GreatNonprofits.org (and GuideStar, where the reviews are mutually shared), to write reviews about nonprofits and to find nonprofits based on these reviews.
But we don’t consider our job to be done. We know there are still thousands of nonprofits out there doing important work that no one has heard of, and it is our mission to find them and give them, and those involved with them, a voice.
Right now, during the holiday season, we’re focusing on nonprofits that provide food or shelter to those in need. Teaming up with the Alliance seemed like a natural thing to do- and we are lucky to have such a great partner for the 2009 Food and Shelter Awards.
The campaign will highlight nonprofits making a difference in this sector and give them exposure to potential donors.
Are you trying to get your stories of impact out to donors and supporters? Well here’s a free and easy opportunity. You can encourage your volunteers, clients, and donors, to write reviews about your nonprofit.
If your nonprofit has at least 10 positive reviews (four or five stars), you’ll get included on the Top Charities List promoted on GreatNonprofits as well as on GuideStar, the premier site for philanthropic research on the Web.
Plus this is a great opportunity to engage your stakeholders. Your clients, volunteers, donors, and board members who write a review about you are likely to become more ardent supporters. You’ll gain powerful, authentic stories of your impact that you can use in your internal and external communication. Your stories of impact will inspire your staff and inspire your supporters. Here some examples of nonprofits and how they’ve used their reviews:
- North Hills Community Outreach, which provides food to the needy, has seen more online donations after they gathered reviews.
- Project Homeless Connect has used their reviews to recruit more volunteers
- DC Central Kitchen shows its supporters and donors through its reviews that it is committed to transparency.
It’s quick and easy to encourage reviews. Send out an email, post it to your Facebook fan or group page, or tweet it out. You can get started at on our website.
The Alliance would like to congratulate Rachel Lynch with New Haven Home Recovery in New Haven, Connecticut for winning the Story Bank drawing for a free registration to the Alliance’s February Conference on Ending Family Homelessness.
Ms. Lynch shared the story of a mother with two small children who experienced a housing crisis while overcoming several hardships. She was able to move into permanent housing by working with New Haven Home Recovery.
The Alliance is collecting stories of rapid re-housing, homelessness diversion, and HPRP application through our Story Bank. You can read more about the collection on our website. Please feel free to submit a story about your program and your successes! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Alliance staff.
One Woman’s Story
Sasha: The fire destroyed everything
Sasha’s life changed in the time it took for a fire to flare up in her house and spread through her apartment. She was working the cash register at her job at a dollar store in downtown New Haven when her mother, who was babysitting Sasha’s 4-year-old son, called to tell her that smoke was billowing into the rooms.
The news took a moment to sink in. Then, tears streaming down her face, Sasha jumped on the bus and made it home to find her mother and son on the street, watching flames shoot out of the apartment windows. The fire had started in another part of the house, but it was destroying Sasha’s furniture, her clothes and all of her photographs. “My body was numb,” she said. “I had two kids. What was I going to do? Where were we going to live?”
Sasha, who is 26, had fallen and picked herself up at least twice already. She had completed a drug rehabilitation program to clean up a habit she picked up with an old boyfriend. Another boyfriend beat her up, smacking her face and bruising her arms, landing her in the hospital three times. Once when he was in the bathroom, she ran out of the house and called the police. She got a restraining order and breathed a giant sigh of relief when he was later deported. She thought she was getting back on her feet.
The night of the fire, the Red Cross provided Sasha, her son and her infant daughter with a hotel room, and clothing, food and toiletries, but only for two nights. They spent a few nights at her mother’s apartment across town, but it was so small Sasha and her children had to share a twin bed. Finally Sasha found her way to Life Haven, which provides shelter for women who are pregnant or have young children. “That was hard. I’m not used to living with a bunch of people I don’t know,” she said. But while she was there, she began working with New Haven Home Recovery, which found her a spacious subsidized apartment in Hamden.
Now NHHR case manager Liz V. visits Sasah once a week. Sasha is working part time, looking for a full-time job, planning to go to school for nursing, checking out new doctors and dentists, and getting her son settled in school and her daughter into daycare. She has furniture, bedding, a television set, beautiful old-fashioned china from The Furniture Coop, and lots of toys scattered about. On Easter Sunday, she hosted dinner for family and friends with ham, potatoes and seven desserts, and Easter baskets for all of the children. “I’ve never done anything like that before,” she said. “It made me feel good to have my whole family in a nice place.”
So today, the Alliance had a Congressional Briefing on Family Homelessness.
It was a reasonably packed room – no place to sit for the whole staff, and we invited speakers from all over the country to discuss state, community, and local solutions to end homelessness among families.
So here’s where we start: family homelessness is a problem.
That’s been clear for a while now. News reports have (as of late) fixated on student homelessness – and while youth homelessness is nothing less than a critical problem – there’s usually an entire family there that deserves our attention. Authors of the latest Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will argue that family homelessness is up 4 percent from 2007 – 2008 (that’s the latest data we have).
The numbers are fuzzy, but between unemployment and poverty rates, enrollment in social services, use of food stamps, and other indicators – it’s pretty clear that need is up.
At our briefing, I had the privilege to listen to three representatives from three states:
The experience was tremendous. At the state (Bob), county (Kay) and community levels (Kathy), a housing-centric solutions is what made the difference for families. Stable, permanent housing is a critical component to overcoming other challenges that may be inhibiting families from getting back on their own feet – Leida noted that housing was important to provide a sense of home for her two young children. Not only that, but providing permanent housing freed up room in emergency shelters, decreased the length of stay in shelter, and – as Bob noted – was even cost-effective in the state of Massachusetts.
Which isn’t to say that this seemed easy and dandy. All three community representatives touched upon the economic woes troubling us today, and how that has presented some challenges – especially in the way of increase demand – for housing providers. And while not everyone who needs housing is necessarily receiving it, the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program (HPRP) funds have provided some much-needed assistance in the financing area.
As someone who is (still) relatively new to the idea of homelessness and to the solutions to the problem, this briefing was incredibly beneficial. To learn first-hand from people in the trenches of a community how rapid re-housing really works was so enlightening – and to hear from a consumer herself was all the evidence that I’ll really ever need.
Check out pictures from the briefing on our Facebook page, and let me know what you think. Is your community using HPRP funds? Have you noticed more homeless families where you are?
My Name is Elizabeth Doherty and I am the Admin + Development Associate at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
I would like to tell you about one of our recent and very exciting development ventures! The Alliance has partnered with Great NonProfits on their 2009 Food and Shelter Awards Campaign. What that means is for the month of December, Great NonProfits is featuring Food & Shelter nonprofits (like us!) and asking YOU to share your experiences and rate the organizations.
Have you ever attended an Alliance conference? Received a scholarship or technical assistance from the Alliance? Donated to support our work? If you answered yes to any of those questions or others, we want to hear from you! Tell us what you think and rate the Alliance on Great NonProfits.
I also invite you to share your experience with local, state or national organizations that do great work but might not get the attention they deserve. This campaign is all about highlighting the great work that organizations in our field do to fight homelessness and hunger.
A little background info on Great NonProfits: It’s kind of like GuideStar meets Yelp. They’re looking to provide information about charities and nonprofits from the point of view of consumers, volunteers and donors – that is, they want YOU to rate charities based on your experiences with them.
Other cool features include:
So as the holiday season is upon us, please take a moment to make sure the Alliance and your other favorite nonprofit organizations get the limelight they deserve and participate in the 2009 Food and Shelter Awards Campaign!