Archive for January, 2010
As America counted it’s homeless population this week, the media came out to cover it. The following quotes, pulled from this year’s coverage of Point in Time counts, provide a useful summary.
Beth McKee-Huger, executive director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition: “With the economic situation getting worse, we know that there are a lot more people losing their housing than there used to be or about to lose housing.” From the story “Homeless survey also notes who is nearly homeless” in Greensboro’s News-Record.
Robert Hess, commissioner for NYC’s Department of Homeless Services: “We know where folks are living on the street. Hopefully, they will move into their own homes as 3,000 have done so in over the last 3 years.” From Boonsri Dickinson’s comprehensive account of NYC’s HOPE count. Check out the photos too!
Michael Ferrell, chairman of the Homeless Services Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments: “There is no way you can count every single person who’s homeless. We give our best representation of what the homeless population is in our area . . . from one year to another.” From the Washington Post’s piece on counts in the DC metro area. Our very own Bill Sermons and Meghan Greenwell were out counting in DC!
Jarome Watts, resident of the Salvation Army shelter in Tuscaloosa, OK: “I think there are a lot more people,” people who may live outdoors and don’t want to be counted. From the Tuscaloosa News piece on their Point in Time counts.
Alliance President Nan Roman: “These counts are a reminder that homelessness is a problem far from solved – and there has never been a more urgent time to address this great American tragedy. As all Americans struggle through this recession, we must not forget those most vulnerable to the instability of the economy.” From the Huffington Post.
Here are some other highlights from homelessness coverage this week:
Alliance President Nan Roman’s piece After 10 Years, Plan to End Homelessness Has Way to Go was featured on the Funders Together blog and in the Huffington Post.
Change.org’s End Homelessness blog included a stellar article on the federal plan to end veteran homelessness.
And we’re excited that Time.com was talking about the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), calling it a “a small, unheralded federal program” that “some experts believe have helped an estimated 600,000 Americans avoid homelessness.” Check out the article to find out what Nan says!
What’s more, attendees at the Alliance 2010 Conference on Ending Family Homelessness will be able to give input on the plan. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness will host a forum for audience members to offer comments and suggestions about what should be included in the Federal plan on Friday, February 12 from 7:30am-8:45am.
“It’s a great chance for people to stand up and say something,” says Norm Suchar, Alliance Senior Policy Analyst.
The HEARTH Act, passed in May of 2009, requires that the Interagency Council develop a plan to end homelessness, which is scheduled to be submitted to Congress in May of this year. The conference forum is one of many listening sessions that the Council is conducting with service providers and advocates.
The plan will be comprehensive, covering all federal agencies, particularly HUD, and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Labor, and Education. It will pay particular attention to solving homelessness among four populations: the chronically homeless, veterans, families and youth.
According to Suchar, in order to be successful, the federal plan must include measurable outcomes and goals, as well as accountability, so that people and departments know whether they are meeting those goals.
What would you like to see in the federal plan to end homelessness?
The Alliance is mobilizing to put pressure on Congress to provide $2.4 billion for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in FY 2011. Due to changes in the HEARTH Act, it is CRITICAL that the McKinney program receives a large boost in funding this year.
Without a funding level of at least $2.4 billion—a 28 percent increase over last year’s level—there will be little to no funding provided to your community for new projects in fiscal year (FY) 2011. Yesterday’s webinar explains why more funding is so important.
Get involved! Enter the Alliance’s Letter Writing Contest: organize your friends and colleagues to write letters to Congress asking for a $2.4 billion dollar increase for the McKinney-Vento program The person who gathers the most letters will be invited to DC for a special Capitol Hill Day event! The contest runs Feb. 1 through Feb. 22.
To get on board, please email Director of Field Mobilization Sarah Kahn at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Monday, Feb 1, you will receive and email with a sample letter and action alert. You’ll also receive regular updates with information about upcoming advocacy opportunities.
Your advocacy efforts allow us to make progress on federal policy, and we are grateful for your partnership in this critical campaign.
Visit the McKinney Appropriations Campaign Webpage for campaign materials.
The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program is making good news throughout the U.S. We’re keeping track of the media coverage on this interactive map, and we’re also highlighting some of the common themes we’ve seen in the implementation of the program. (Hat tip to fellow intern Grace Stubee for her help with this post!)
Many groups have used funding from HPRP to create a one-stop shop, or centralized point of access, for services to people experiencing homelessness. One example comes from Cowlitz County, WA, where the center is the office of Lower Columbia Community Action Program. Making services easily accessible is particularly important because many people seeking assistance through HPRP don’t know how to navigate the social services system, because they have never needed government assistance before.
Elsewhere, the one-stop shop isn’t a physical space, but folks can connect with numerous services through an HPRP hotline, which Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh worked together to start up.
In Columbus, OH, it’s not just about having a central location, but also a common way of doing things: “For the community and for the homeless population, there will be one point of contact, with a common language, common process and a hot line,” said Dave Davis, director of programs and planning at the shelter board.
In Las Vegas, the federal money has encouraged more than 35 social service agencies to coordinate. The county designed a three-tier network of assistance, but as the program’s name – “No Wrong Door” – indicates, staff at any of the organizations in the network will attempt to connect clients with all the programs they are eligible for.
Essentially, the aim is to “prevent participants from having to run between agencies and potentially fall through the cracks,” said Eileen Leir, regional services director for Volunteers of America, Dakotas.
In Durango, CO, one single dad reaped the benefits of coordination and centralization by his city’s agencies. Through one case manager, he was able to access not only an apartment, but Medicaid and food stamps, programs he didn’t even know existed. He’s also enrolled his son in childcare, which will allow him to return to work as a mechanic.
His is a great example of how centralized, streamlined services move people from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
Speaking of media coverage, have you read Time.com’s feature on HPRP? Alliance President Nan Roman is featured: “People need the stability of a home.” she says.
I’m Caroline Wagner, and I’m the newest addition to the Alliance staff – Nan Roman’s new assistant. This is my very first blogpost – and it’s about something that I’ve been interested in since I started working in the housing and homelessness field.
As anyone on the Alliance staff will tell you, accurate, comprehensive data about homelessness is both critical to creating effective policy and hard to come by. And one of the most reliable, most regular pieces of data mandated nationally is the January point-in-time counts.
In the last week of January – read: this week – communities across the country conduct a count to gauge the number of people experiencing homelessness in their area. This information, mandated every other year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is a prerequisite to receiving homeless assistance funding. Counts data is aggregated and analyzed by HUD and local governments across the country. The Department releases a national report of their findings based on these counts in late summer.
So the question plaguing me was this: how exactly are these extensive, seemingly impossible counts conducted?
The answer is surprisingly simple.
It’s a lot like you’d expect – heavy legwork by community officials, local leaders, and service providers. Volunteers comb sidewalks, shelters, and soup kitchens counting each and every person experiencing homelessness.
For many larger cities, methodology gets even more sophisticated in an effort to ensure accuracy.
Los Angeles, California – which alone accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s homeless population – is a good example.
In 2009 , the city took 10 days and 3,200 workers to cover the 4,000 square miles of Los Angeles County. LA officials worked with bio-statisticians to ensure the process would yield the most accurate results.
A street count was conducted by volunteers – these volunteers were given a randomized, predetermined route to ensure that no two volunteers would accidently cover the same space. The survey itself took about 15 minutes per individual counted, and participants were given a $5 food voucher as an incentive. A similar system was used for counting and surveying individuals in shelters. Los Angeles has also employed volunteers to man phone banks, counting individuals living in backyards and garages who might otherwise be homeless. Cities like New York and Toronto, have even utilized decoys, organizing volunteers to feign homelessness and note how often they’re counted to evaluate the accuracy of the count.
As difficult as these counts can be, the data is essential for determining federal and local funding levels for homeless services, tracking effective programs and policies, and accurately illustrating the scope of the homelessness problem to the public. Good data is the cornerstone of good policy, as it’s impossible to find an answer for a question that isn’t accurately defined.
This is just one question that I’ve answered in the first two weeks of my tenure at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. I’m confident that it’s the first of many more answered to come.
If you have a question – however seemingly simple – don’t hesitate to give us a shout here, on our Facebook page fan page, via Twitter, or through old-fashioned email.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan spoke at the Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting this past Friday and as he discussed stimulus programs, he celebrated the success of the HPRP program:
“With the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program in the Recovery Act, we have begun reorienting the Federal government toward preventing homelessness as cities across the country have been doing for years.
In your own recent report, you found that 18 cities—or 72 per cent of respondents—reported that the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program will ‘fundamentally change the way [their] community provides services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness’.
Indeed, no one understands better than our mayors on the front lines in the battle to prevent homelessness just how much the platform of a stable home can drive other outcomes – like savings in the area of health. And it’s time the Federal government recognized that as well.”
The rest of his remarks are available here.
Organizations across the country are looking to fill their volunteer rosters for annual Point in Time counts next week. Volunteer in your area and look forward to a more detailed look at counts on this blog next week.
Otherwise, a variety of interesting, important research pieces have come out this week. Here’s a handful of highlights:
Results of a study on youth homelessness in Oregon came out this week. While we’re always glad to see data on youth homelessness, it looks like numbers of youth experiencing homelessness are increasing pretty dramatically, service providers say.
A University of Birmingham professor Jeffrey Michael Clair spent two years interviewing Birmingham’s chronically homeless. His conclusion? “Public policy should be oriented more toward enabling people to work and to secure a dwelling.” Agreed. (Found this one through Inforumusa.)
The Corporation for Supportive Housing’s Richard Cho was featured on the Funders Together blog this week with research from the Frequent Users Forum. Their work shows why permanent supportive housing is a cost-effective solution to chronic homelessness: case management combined with permanent housing for those stuck in the “institutional circuit” reduces time and public money spent in hospitals, jails and shelters.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs recently reported on the ways they’re shifting medical systems to better serve veterans who are homeless, including integrating health care and other services, like job training and housing. Though many of the 131,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. struggle with addiction or mental illness, researcher Robert Rosenheck emphasizes that “homelessness is clearly a function of two things: low incomes and high rents.”
If you haven’t already, check out this in-depth piece in New York Magazine about Cedar Bridge, a tent city in the woods in New Jersey. And don’t miss the photos!
I’m still seeking – and finding – new places in the homelessness blogosphere. This week, I’ve found the Cleveland Homeless blog has a great mix of news and commentary and the Street Roots blog For those who can’t afford free speech had fantastic coverage of the action on housing in San Francisco. And I’ve still got goosebumps from my first visit to Signs of Life, the exquisitely written blog by Unity of Greater New Orleans.
$1.5 billion in Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) dollars are finding their way into struggling communities and we’re following them across the country through our interactive HPRP media map. Here are a few trends that are beginning to emerge:
Direct Impact: Put simply, HPRP is having a significant impact on people who are on the verge of homelessness: 65 in Shelby County, NC, 150 in Osceola County, FL, 372 in Mesa, AZ, and 5,200 in Tennessee to name a few.
New Population: Media coverage has shown that in particular, HPRP funds are helping families hit hard by the recession. Many never dreamed they’d be homeless, but because of extraordinary circumstances – a death in the family in Dallas, job loss in Phoenix – some have found themselves facing eviction or searching for space in a family shelter. HPRP funds are flexible: they can be used to help keep families in their homes by assisting with rent and keeping the heat on or they can be used to help families move by covering down payments and moving expenses.
Because so much hinges on housing – a parent keeping her job, a teenager staying in school – HPRP has been crucial for recession-struck families.
Systems Change: Although HPRP was designed specifically to deal with the recession, we hope it’s part of a permanent paradigm shift from temporary fixes to long-term solutions. Currently, HPRP is causing systematic changes in homelessnss services in certain communities. For example, Kevin Finn, executive director of Cincinnati’s Continuum of Care, says, “The fact that we have this money allows us to take a whole new approach.” Instead of shelter, they’re focusing on prevention.
In Charlotte, $2 million in HPRP dollars has allowed the city to make a groundbreaking shift in the way it provides services. Not only are providers moving toward a Housing First approach, they’re emphasizing other services like counseling and job skills training as well.
Incredible demand: It’s becoming increasingly clear that more federal funding for the program is neccessary. Hundreds of people lined up outside the Salt Lake Community Action Program on the day the funds became available. Even as funds were allocated, demand for assistance increased in places like Anoka County, MN and across the country.
To help meet the incredible demand, we’re hoping another $1 billion in federal HPRP funds this year.
(Big thanks to fellow intern Grace Stubee for her help with this post!)
How is your community using HPRP? Share your experience through the Alliance Storybank.
The agenda for the Alliance’s upcoming National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness is packed: speakers will cover performance measurements, prevention strategies, program implementation and more, but some of our conference attendees will speak from personal experience. Valda Brown, a formerly homeless single mother of four, is one of our 2010 conference scholarship recipients. Here, she describes the lived experience of homelessness and the lessons she’s learned.
My car broke down and from that point on it was like a domino effect: I lost my jobs, my rent was behind and before I knew it, we were evicted.
My four boys and I became homeless, with nowhere to go. We had no family here, so we were pretty much on our own. I went into a state of depression, but I couldn’t act upon it as I had to be strong for my children. It was eating me up inside.
I couldn’t tell the children as they thought mommy could do everything. I had to deal with what I thought was my failure to them. I was constantly telling them to go to school and get good grades. They looked at me like “You have a college degree with no job and on top of all of that, we are homeless.”
It was a rough road. I knew I had to stay strong for my children and keep encouraging them to do well in school. My children and I both had to learn how to be more humble and grateful for what we had. During that period of homelessness, we had to depend solely on each other. I was constantly in prayer for guidance and help.
My prayers were answered by Decatur Cooperative Ministry. They provided a transitional home for me and my children and provided me with a program to talk to others going through the same situation as mine. They were very supportive and helpful. We are extremely grateful to them as they helped me heal physically, spiritually and mentally. They provided me with all the tools I needed to get back on my feet.
I learned to talk more with my children about our circumstance instead of trying to hide the struggle I was going through from them. I used to shield them so much that they were not able to recognize when I was hurting, struggling and the pain that I had to endure being a single mother.
It was an experience that we all deeply learned from and it has shown me that homelessness has no respect of person, distinctions, race, nor class. Anyone at anytime under difficult situations can become homeless. It was extremely hard going through the experience, but I am grateful of the lessons that I’ve learned from it and what it has done for me. It has made me a more humble person, open with my children, strengthened my faith, and changed what I thought of homelessness.
It has put me on the path of helping to end homelessness as I have experienced it and can empathize with others as I have gone through it.
The Alliance’s 2010 National Conference on Ending Homelessness is on February 11-12. For more information, visit the conference homepage.
Annual Point in Time homelessness counts are in the news again this week, as cities like DC, New York, and Kansas City recruit volunteers for their efforts. NYC is one city that’s also hiring decoys to help estimate how many people they’ll miss. For more on why we count, read about HUD’s Continuum of Care and check out our 2009 counts map.
There’s been a bit of buzz this week about affordable housing, including this story about moving families out of motels and into homes. Alliance president Nan Roman points out that this strategy works: 80 percent of homeless families who find housing don’t become homeless again.
Over on Inforumusa, Joel John Roberts asks: Do politicians use housing first as an excuse to only invest in the bare minimum? What do you think?
In other homelessness news this week, the Toronto Sun ran a heartwrenching story about Suburbia’s hidden homelessness, the New York Times covered the story of a California rancher arrested for housing the homeless – albeit in substandard conditions – on his property, and the San Francisco Library hired a social worker to reach out to its homeless patrons. (Thanks to Change.org’s End Homelessness blog for sharing such interesting stuff!)
I’ve followed blogs like Change.org’s End Homelessness blog and Poverty and Policy for awhile, but since I became the New Media Intern at the Alliance, I’ve been scouring the blogosphere for more good reads about housing, homelessness, and poverty. This week’s finds include the WRAP blog, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness’s HPRP Q&A blog and the 13th juror.
Any other reading suggestions?