Archive for February, 2010

26th February
written by naehblog

In the homelessness headlines this week, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom reported on his city’s progress toward the goals set in their 10-year plan to end homelessness. Since 2004 – when the plan was initiated – the city has created 1,649 units of permanent housing. Although advocates have pointed out that the city still needs more services for the homeless and a stronger emphasis on helping homeless families, San Francisco shows why it pays to have local political support for your ten year plan. Mayor Newsom – a reputedly charismatic and persuasive political leader – and his support of the Ten Year Plan has created momentum in addressing homelessness in his community.

In Waco, the VA office has started hiring homeless veterans to help them get back on their feet. Combined with housing, this sounds like a recipe for stability. Three cheers for the Texas city for NOT just talking the talk, but walking the walk to end homelessness!

Also in the news this week was this piece from northeastern Minnesota, which has some useful analysis of how to better serve people experiencing homelessness in rural areas.

There’s all kinds of exciting things happening in the blogosphere this week. For one, our McKinney-Vento Appropriations got picked up by the End Homelessness blog! (If you haven’t already, it’s time to write Congress! Now!)

I’ve also been really inspired by some of the amazing stuff coming from service providers, including Calvary Women’s Services here in DC. Kris Thompson writes:

Hearing another person’s story – their experiences, challenges, and successes breaks down the barriers we create between us. We move from seeing someone as the “other ” to knowing that our lives have commonalities and that we all strive for the same basic things in life.

Speaking of stories, the Unity of Greater New Orleans blog, Signs of Life, excels at sharing theirs. This week, they describe how it feels to get their clients housed:

I’ll speak only for myself here, but seeing the sparkle in a man or woman’s eye when you tell her that she’ll be housed next week is…a glimmer of hope. It is like magic. It is something that a lot of us have less and less of these days. It is in seeing their hope and thankfulness at times like this that my waning faith and hope in this world are bolster if only by a bit.

‘Nuff said.

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24th February
written by naehblog

People of the blogosphere, we need your help!

Our McKinney-Vento Appropriates Letter-Writing campaign is rapidly drawing to a close and we need you to be part of our final push!

Our goal: to convince Congress to raise funding for the McKinney Vento programs to $2.4 billion dollars.

So we need YOU to write letters to your legislators.

And if your state is on the list below, you’re even MORE important. Your legislator is on a key committee discussing this very issue: homeless assistance funding.

$2.4 billion is a steep price – we know that – but we’ve done the math. And $2.4 billion is what’s necessary to continue to the existing homeless assistance programs in your local communities AND implement the HEARTH Act (the reauthorization of McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs that modernize and streamline the system).

So have a heart. Check out the list and the sample letter below, and if you’re so inclined, email the letter to us. We’ll collect the letters, disseminate them to the right offices, and make sure that our government knows we care.

Check out the sample letter below, feel free to edit as you see fit, and click “send.” And don’t hesitate to shoot us an email if you have any questions. (You can also find us on Twitter – @naehomelessness – or our Facebook page.)

Sample Letter
Dear Senator:

I would like to thank you for your commitment to ending homelessness and for enacting the HEARTH Act last year, which reauthorized HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. Please continue to show your support for this program by asking the leaders of both the Budget Committee and the Appropriations Committee to provide the necessary funding level of $2.4 billion—a 28 percent increase over last year’s level—for HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants in FY 2011.

The HEARTH Act changes the way funds are allocated and increases funding for homelessness prevention, assistance to families with children, and rural programs. However, without a funding level of $2.4 billion to pay for these activities, my community will likely get little to no funding for new projects in FY 2011.

HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants are critical to our ability to make progress in preventing and ending homelessness. We hope we can count on you to sign a Congressional letter regarding this appropriations request, which we expect to begin circulating in early February.


24th February
written by naehblog

Okay – so we’re going to take some time to talk about something a tad bit boring…and pretty important. That’s right: Congress.

This just in: the Senate just passed the first piece of the Jobs bill (recap: once upon a time, there was one giant Senate Jobs bill. But some people thought it’d be better to break it up into a bunch of little bills). This $15 billion bill is focused primarily on providing tax credits for employers who are hiring – and especially hiring the unemployed.

More, similar legislation will be coming down the pike, but no where in the distance is one key element that we – the Alliance and homeless asisistance providers and advocates – are looking for.

Additional funding for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). As a part of the Jobs Bill, we at the Alliance are hoping for $1 billion. Here’s why:

The unemployment outlook has worsened significantly since HPRP was created last year, which puts more people in danger of becoming homeless. It was designed to help 600,000 people, but communities are finding there are more people who need assistance than we’d planned for.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), communities from states – including California, Michigan, Nebraska, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, and South Carolina – have reported that there are far more families who are homeless or at-risk than there is money to help them get back on their feet. An additional $1 billion to extend HPRP would prevent and end homelessness for an estimated additional 200,000 households.

What’s more, HPRP is creating jobs. According to our analysis, current allocations create one full-time, three-year job for each $600,000 of HPRP funding allocated – this means 2,500 jobs through the existing funding. The remaining money provides temporary rent subsidies to landlords, funding more jobs in the rental housing industry and helping with historic high vacancy rates for rental housing.

I know it’s not the easiest concept to wrap around, but the moral is this: providing more prevention and rapid re-housing assistance not only helps individuals and families stay out of homelessness – but it creates jobs in the process. As we move toward creating legislation to improve the economy, let’s make sure to keep an eye on those who need the most.

It’ll be an uphill battle, but help for the homeless belongs in the Jobs bill. Let’s make it happen.

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24th February
written by naehblog

I just finished watching this audio slideshow about a homeless family living in a hotel in Wentzville, Missouri. The specificity of the images struck me: the picnic in the parking lot of the Budget Inn, the can of food pantry carrots, the parents’ hands holding.

But it’s a story that’s more and more common: a lost job, a downward spiral, desperate phone calls to service providers, kids learning to cope. In fact, according to HUD’s third quarterly Homelessness Pulse Report, the number of people accessing services for the first time increased by 26% from July to September 2009. Says one homeless outreach worker from Lincoln, NE:

They are the new poor, only homeless because of the economy. These are the people who at the beginning of the 2000s might have been on the edge or middle class. These are people who never thought they’d be in the position they’re in today.

The report is intended to assess the impact of the current economic crisis and determine how unemployment and foreclosures affect homelessness. The seven Continuums of Care that participated – including New York City, Richmond, the state of Kentucky and Lakeland, FL – represent about 12 percent of the country’s overall shelter and transitional housing capacity.

In particular, HUD’s data shows that like the Tranthams in Wentzville, the newly homeless tend to be families: while the total number of newly homeless people accessing services increased by 26%, the rise for newly sheltered families was 38%. In Phoenix, there was a 51% increase in the number of homeless families accessing services.

Here at the Alliance, we’re hard at work on solutions. To learn more, check out the materials from our 2010 Conference on Ending Family Homelessness, now available here.

22nd February
written by naehblog

In case you missed it – the Alliance is extending our McKinney-Vento Appropriations Campaign! So for all of you out there who are looking for ways to get involved and do something about homelessness – this is your chance.

Recap: This month we’ve talked a lot about the President Obama’s budget proposal, and specifically about the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs. The McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance programs represent the largest federal investment and homeless assistance funding, and President Obama requested a ten percent – or $190 million – increase in his budget proposal.

The ten percent bump? Great step.

But here at the Alliance, we know that much more money is going to be needed to sustain McKinney-Vento programs all the while implementing the new HEARTH Act, the reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento programs that are making the first significant changes/updates to the program in nearly 20 years. The HEARTH Act does a LOT of great things: allocates millions more to homelessness prevention, rapidly re-housing homeless families, and providing permanent supportive housing for homeless people with disabilities. It also modernizes and streamlines housing and services to more efficiently meet the needs of people seeking assistance.

But it’s all gonna cost more money.

So we launched a our McKinney Vento Appropriations Campaign. We’re asking local, engaged activists (like you!) to write letters to your member of Congress, urging them to raise McKinney-Vento funding to $2.4 billion. We know it sounds like a lot – but according to our calculations, it’s exactly what we need to continue our existing McKinney-Vento programs and implement the HEARTH Act provisions.

And that’s not all! We’re extending the deadline for the letter writing campaign to Monday, March 1! The recent snowstorms that hit Washington, D.C. closed Congress all last week – delaying the usual Congressional calendar. So you STILL HAVE TIME to get involved!

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Find out who you’re Congress member is (and his/her address). You can do that here.
  • Write a letter to your Member urging them to increase McKinney-Vento funding to $2.4 billion dollars.
  • Send the letter off to Congress!
  • MOST IMPORTANT: Send us a copy! You can email your letter to Amanda Krusemark.

And don’t forget! Whoever gets the MOST letters to Congress will win a special invitation to a Capitol Hill Day in late March, courtesy of the Alliance. See the website for contest details.

(For more homeless assistance budget highlights, check out our budget blogpost. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities published a great explanation on the entire federal budget process which you can find here.)

19th February
written by naehblog

It’s that time again – Friday!

And this Friday, we’re not snowed in by the great snowpocalypse of the east. In fact, it’s pretty nice here in Washington, D.C.

Which is good news for our beleaguered Alliance staff, who made it back this week from beautiful southern California and the 2010 Conference on Ending Family Homelessness. Amanda Krusemark, program and policy associate at the Alliance offered dispatches from the conference, covering her own workshops, keynote speeches, and the transportation trials due to snow.

We’ve also posted the keynote addresses from Nan Roman, president of the alliance and Barb Poppe, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Also in the news this week was an article from the AP, penned by Frank Eltman, that discussed the posited rise in homelessness among suburbanites, specifically a rise in the number of homeless women and families. Eltman cited last year’s HUD survey, which suggested that suburban homelessness rose from 23 to 32 percent over the course of the year. This question – about the geography of homelessness – seems to be gaining more traction. Luckily, we’re prepared for the speculation! Check out the Alliance’s own Geography of Homelessness – a four part series examining where homelessness exists.

What you’ll find in that study is that Detroit – oh, Detroit – tops the lists of both communities that have the highest number of homeless residents and the highest rate of homelessness per 10,000 people. There was a quick piece in the Detroit News about the city “straining” to help homeless people as rampant unemployment and job loss meet frigid temperatures and declining services. Writer Catherine Jun chronicles the rapid rise in demand for services and the increasing number of those “on the verge” of homelessness.

And it wouldn’t be a week of news without a celebrity citing. Prince William posed with a formerly homeless person for a British magazine to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness. Check out the story from CBS.

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19th February
written by naehblog

Good afternoon. It is an honor to return to this conference and present my first official speech in my new capacity as Executive Director of United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. I cannot imagine speaking anywhere else since there are so many wonderful people in the audience who have inspired me and have poured their souls into ending homelessness. I would like to thank the National Alliance to End Homelessness for putting on another exceptional conference. I want to especially thank my dear friend, Nan Roman for her friendship and her tremendous leadership over the years on an issue we all so dearly care about. I would also like to recognize Mark Johnston the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs Assistance Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and a member of the USICH Policy Group, as well as Ann Oliva, Director at the Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs at HUD.

For those of you who do not know me, I look forward to meeting you and engaging with you over the months and years ahead. I have more than two decades worth of non-profit experience working on homelessness with housing-related organizations. As a former board member and advisory group member of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, I’m very proud of the work they have achieved over the years and have been impressed by Nan and her team’s commitment to seeing our ultimate goal of ending homelessness come to fruition.

Since 1983, I have continuously been involved in the movement to end homelessness – it is my work and my passion. It is a movement that seeks to ensure that all Americans have a right to safe and affordable housing. Too often, this basic human need – the need for a place to call home – is not met.

As you know, widespread homelessness was not part of the American landscape when I, along with many of you, was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s a phenomenon that came to our consciousness in the early 1980’s. Other than during the Great Depression, homelessness did not occur on any scale in our country. What a sad state that our current generation – my son and daughter’s – believe that homelessness has always been with us.

As I have labored alongside you and many others in this movement, I have met thousands of persons – men, women, and children — who have directly experienced homelessness. For many, it’s a simple economic situation – they don’t earn enough to pay the rent. For others they have also experienced racism, sexism, classism, and prejudices related to their diseases of AIDS/HIV, mental illness, alcoholism and addiction. For some they have the further burden of a past criminal record. Each of them deserves a home.

It is their faces, their courage, and their struggles that inspire me to continue as their advocate. And that was what brought me to my current role as executive director that I assumed just three months ago. The mission of the Council is to coordinate the Federal response to homelessness and to create a national partnership at every level of government and with the private sector to reduce and end homelessness in the nation while maximizing the effectiveness of the Federal Government in contributing to the end of homelessness. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan is chairman of the Council, which includes 19 Federal agencies.

As many of you know, Secretary Donovan is very passionate about our mission and is tireless in his advocacy for resources and strategic approaches to make housing affordable and available to all. In fact, it was his speech at last summer’s Alliance conference that inspired me to seriously consider the opportunity to lead the Council. He said, “Our job now is to house everyone – to prevent and end homelessness. All homelessness.” I’ve met with him frequently over the past few months and he brings this passion, vision, and expectation of excellence to every meeting.

During my tenure at the Council, we will be focusing our work in these seven areas: They include:

  • Leading the development and implementation of the the first ever Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness that was mandated by the HEARTH act. This plan is due to Congress by May 20.
  • Establishing and maintaining effective, coordinated, and supportive relationships with each Federal agency
  • Organizing and supporting state/local/communities to effectively implement local plans
  • Developing means to provide an effective portal to federal programs and initiatives
  • Establishing and maintaining effective communications with Congress
  • Aggregating and promoting research/evaluations and manage accountability/results
  • Establishing effective partnerships with the public and private sector stakeholders

In order to accomplish these goals, I assembled a senior management team as of the first week of February 2010. The Council has three Deputy Directors who come with a complimentary skill set and areas of expertise. Two of the three are here with us today and I would like to introduce them to you:

Anthony Love is the Deputy Director for National Programs. He coordinates the state and local work of the council, overseeing the work of the Regional Coordinators. He also will be the lead on Veterans issues. Anthony most recently served as the President and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County. He recently served on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the
NAEH also recently honored his previous organization and leadership with their Non-
Profit sector award in 2009.

Jennifer Ho is the Deputy Director for Accountability Management. She will lead the coordination of the Federal Strategic Plan process. She also will be the lead on health and human service related issues. Jennifer most recently was the Executive Director of the Hearth Connection since 1999. Hearth Connection is an innovative statewide non-profit intermediary that builds relationships, resources, infrastructure and public awareness to end long-term homelessness. She also recently served on the national board of the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Sharon Price, who unfortunately can’t be here due to the inclement weather back East, is the Deputy Director for Policy. She coordinates the Senior Policy Group, the relationship with Congress, and National Advocates. Sharon previously served as the Director of Policy for the National Housing Conference. From 2001 – 2002, she was a Presidential Management Fellow at HUD, Office of AIDS Housing. She then worked in OMB, Housing branch (2002 – 2007) before joining NHC.

When the President took office, the economy was on the brink of a depression. The economic crisis required that we take immediate and extraordinary steps to prevent a further collapse. Not all of these steps were popular, but the President did what was right for our country’s future.

Without them, we faced the real prospect of a second Great Depression. A year later, the economy is back from the brink – and is growing again. But as every American family and business knows, we have much more to do so that every American who wants to work can find a job.

There is a significant correlation between the economic downturn and an increase in family homelessness. That is one of the reasons why the President has made passing a jobs bill a top priority. An increase in job growth will go a long way towards reducing homelessness.

Since the beginning of his Administration, President Obama has a made strong commitment to ending homelessness. In fact, he set a lofty but achievable vision of preventing homelessness across all populations, with Veterans as a priority. As a down payment on that vision, President Obama included $1.5 billion in the stimulus bill for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program. Then last May, the President signed into law the HEARTH Act which re-authorized the McKinney Act – it was a day that I was beginning to think would never come. And the President has now devoted significant resources toward that vision even during a tightening of not only the federal government’s budget, but among all of us including families who have been hardest hit by the economic downturn. Highlighting the importance of ending homelessness to the President and despite the non-security discretionary funding freeze, President Obama’s recent FY 2011 budget request for targeted homeless assistance programs is an 11.5 percent increase over FY 2010 and the largest ever by a President. The Budget proposal reflects a strong commitment by the Administration to prevent and end homelessness.

This Administration intends to forever change the way our country addresses homelessness. The Federal Strategic Plan will serve as a roadmap for joint action by Council agencies to guide the development of programs and budget proposals towards a set of measurable targets. The Federal Strategic Plan will reflect interagency agreement on a set of priorities and strategies the agencies will pursue over a five-year period.

The Council is centering its plan on the belief – the moral foundation – “no one should experience homelessness – no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.”

The Council has charged the planning process to align federal resources effectively and appropriately toward four key objectives: 1) finish the job of ending chronic homelessness; 2) prevent and end homelessness among Veterans; 3) prevent and end family, youth, and child homelessness; and 4) set a path to ending all types of homelessness.

Solving homelessness will require that people at risk of or experiencing homelessness are able to access mainstream resources effectively and sufficiently to meet their needs. To date, the “federal plan” to address homelessness is by default defined by targeted programs. Today we are embarking on a “strategic plan” that will put at its center prevention of homelessness and bring mainstream resources to bear to prevent and end homelessness.

As we move forward with the Federal Strategic Plan, we are committed to collaborative solutions, smart investments, and leveraging mainstream resources. The effectiveness of the Federal Strategic Plan and ultimately its success is dependent upon all of us. It will take all of us … no one can stand on the sidelines. That is why we are involving so many in the work of developing the Plan. Not if, but when, we are successful in implementing the Federal Strategic Plan, I believe it will be an agenda that not only the Obama Administration can rally around, but the entire homeless advocacy community.

I want to take a moment to explain the process of the Federal Strategic Plan to all of you since your involvement is vital, our timeline is short, and I’ve only had a full staff for literally one week. Ultimately, the 19 member agencies of the Council will be responsible for ratifying the final plan. In the meantime, there are a number of steps that must be taken prior to ratification:

  • The members of the USICH Senior Policy Council who are guiding the process have so far approved the working framework and development process for the plan. Research is being conducted to assess needs as well as current federal policies and known best practices.
  • Workgroups of federal agency staff are meeting together to focus on goals and strategies for specific populations and areas to be addressed by the Plan.

  • External stakeholders are engaged in the discussion, offering ideas, feedback, research, and best practices. Over 250 consumers, advocates, providers, state and local governments, and representatives from ten-year planning bodies will be involved through online input, regional forums, and meetings held this week. We envision having nearly 1,000 participate by the end of the FSP process.
  • In late March, workgroups will make their preliminary recommendations to the Senior Policy Council.
  • Final recommendations will be made in mid-April. The Senior Policy Council and Office of Management and Budget must approve the Plan before it is forwarded for ratification by the full Council and delivered to Congress.

The May 20th submission to Congress is only the first step in what will be a challenging implementation process. The key will be the implementation from stakeholders ranging from the advocacy community, state and local, government, and the non-profit and private sectors.

Initial Wins

So why am I so hopeful that this plan will be successful? I have six reasons:

  • We are building on a foundation of recent success in reducing chronic homelessness.
  • We are learning about effective strategies to prevent homelessness and rapidly re-house people at risk of and experiencing homelessness through HPRP.
  • HEARTH implementation combined with significantly increased targeted homeless assistance funding is a strategic opportunity to strengthen and strategically re-align community systems of care.
  • President Obama’s Budget proposal includes new vouchers which are linked with services through HHS and Education that will not only provide critically needed housing with services – it will give us the chance to align three agency’s resources in a strategic manner and learn how to apply this more broadly.
  • VA Secretary Shinseki has established a bold mandate – end Veterans homelessness in 5 years.
  • We have not only the White House behind us, we have four Cabinet Secretaries who are committed to the vision that no one should be homeless. I’ve experienced their passion for this issue first-hand and have seen how their staff are working with the USICH and across “the silos” to make this happen. I’d like to put a little more substance to “my six reasons to believe” so that you too might become a ‘true believer’.

Point 1: As we all are well aware, in the last decade, our country made great progress in developing new approaches to tackle chronic homelessness. We focused our energies on combining housing and supportive services, which in turn has led to reducing the number of chronically ill long-term homeless by nearly a third. And despite the economic crisis, a recent report by the US Conference of Mayors showed that the number of chronically homeless individuals has remained stable and even declined.

Point 2: The same US Conference of Mayor report found that 18 cities—or 72 percent 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’. This was an important validation by our nation’s mayors since they are on the front lines every day in the battle to prevent homelessness and understand how critical a stable home can drive other outcomes such as savings in health care to the short and long-term effects homelessness has on children. I recently took an informal survey of how HPRP is being implemented – I applaud all the communities that have used the funds strategically. I encourage the rest of you who are in communities that are not using HPRP for strategic transformation to go back and push for it. We cannot squander this opportunity.

Point 3: Implementation of HEARTH will enable communities to better manage federal resources to prevent and end homelessness through more streamlined funding sources, more local control and creativity, and increased federal investment. The old school “ESG – aka Emergency Shelter Grant” will become the new school “ESG – Emergency Solutions Grant” which can be used for prevention and rapid re-housing as well as emergency shelter. There will be a new rural program and a broader definition of who can benefit from these resources. Smart communities will re-tool their crisis response systems and continue to prioritize permanent housing solutions. These investments in prevention and housing will create long-term savings in the costs of addressing homelessness.

As I mentioned earlier and it is worth repeating, President Obama’s recent FY 2011 budget request for targeted homeless assistance programs is an 11.5 percent increase over FY 2010 and the LARGEST ever by a President. There are a number of highlights in the President’s budget worth noting and they include:

  • To support implementation of the HEARTH Act, the Budget proposes a nearly $200 million increase in homeless assistance funding compared to FY 2010 to increase investment in evidence-based practices, support the shift of local homeless assistance systems to a performance-based orientation, and to better meet the unique needs of rural communities.
  • HUD has requested $2.055 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants in its FY2011 budget.
  • The President’s budget proposal also includes $4.2 billion in 2011 to reduce and help prevent homelessness among Veterans. That breaks down into $3.4 billion for core medical services and $799 million for specific homeless programs and expanded medical care, which includes $294 million for expanded homeless initiatives.

Point 4: There is a new proposal in the President’s Budget for HUD and HHS to combine 4,000 Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and $16 million in HHS funding to serve chronically homeless individuals who are enrolled in certain Medicaid programs. The second component of this interagency collaboration consists of HUD, HHS, and Department of Education implementing a housing and services program for 6,000 families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. These two initiatives will not only provide critically needed resources, we will be able to acquire the knowledge necessary to bring mainstream HHS services resources into alignment with a mainstream HUD housing resource – we’ve talked about this for years – here’s a real opportunity to “knit” the services with the housing.

All of you working at the local level are essential to making this work. We will need service agencies including — State and County mental health, substance abuse and Medicaid agencies, State and County TANF agencies, as well as local school districts to step to the plate to be part of the HHS HUD voucher initiative. The Continuum of Care and Coordinating Committees for local plans to end homelessness are one of the few places in local communities where Housing Authorities – the agencies who will administer the new vouchers — regularly meet and work with these services agencies. I’d expect that intensive intervention and advocacy by people working to end homelessness will be needed to get these local agencies to start talking about how housing vouchers combined with services can be used to help families and individuals with the most difficult situations out of shelters, off the streets, and back into housing for good.

Actually there’s no reason to wait for the collaborative vouchers to become available, which best case scenario wouldn’t happen until well into 2011 – use turnover vouchers, use rehabilitated public housing units, use FUP and HUD-VASH vouchers, along with TANF, Medicaid, new SAMHSA grants for homelessness, new Health Care for the Homeless funding to put these collaborative local efforts into effect in 2010.

Point 5: In November, Secretary Eric Shinseki unveiled his five-year plan framework to end Veteran homelessness. It calls for leveraging the full range of VA housing, service, and benefit resources and expanding collaborations with other federal agencies, State Directors of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Service Organizations, and national, state and local social service providers and community groups. His goal is to have a “no wrong door” approach so that Veterans who seek assistance directly from VA’s programs, or from community partners or through contract services will be able to access the needed services. It will also include preventive measures like discharge planning for incarcerated Veterans re-entering society, supportive services for low-income Veterans and their families, a national referral center to link Veterans to local service providers, and the plan calls for expanded efforts for education, jobs, health care, and housing.

Secretary Shinseki’s plan, along with his and the President’s desire to put an end to a decades-old problem should be applauded. Moreover, I can report that after speaking with Secretary Shinseki that his Department is in full swing to make this plan a reality and he is very serious about our moral obligation to be successful.

Point 6: There is collective will within the Administration to bring the vision to reality. I nearly missed this conference due to remaining in Washington at the beginning of the week where we held our Council meeting despite the Federal Government’s closure on Monday. I am excited to report that three Secretaries – HUD Secretary Donovan, VA Secretary Shinseki, and HHS Secretary Sebelius – along with representatives from the other Council agencies attended. What was even more impressive in my eyes, than the dedication of the Secretaries to attend despite the snowstorm, was an incredibly productive meeting and a challenge by the Secretaries to ensure that the Federal Strategic Plan is as comprehensive as possible. I’ve been instructed to carry this charge to the Workgroups that are developing the plan. The order is clear – figure out how we can prevent and end homelessness. And figure out how we can do it sooner, not later.

A few years ago, I read an essay by a student that was posted on a bulletin board at Fifth Avenue Elementary School in Columbus. The assignment was part of the school’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day and a reflection on “I have a Dream”. While other students dreamed of big screen TV’s and new toys, she wrote, “I dream of living in a beautiful home where people don’t shoot at each other.” The simplicity of her dream took me aback. Every time I hear a discussion revolving around equal opportunity and equal rights, I’m always reminded that fundamentally we must include the right to safe, decent and affordable housing among those rights we hold most dear. The vast majority of us have worked hard to see this become a reality.

To quote my new big boss and the President of these United States, “It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today, but we have just begun. Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today.”

In all of my years working to end homelessness, I have never been more hopeful of the possibility to put an end to it. Many of us have made sacrifices over the years and toiled many long nights to assist those who so dearly needed our helping hand. Many of you know my husband, Bill Faith who heads COHHIO, a statewide housing advocacy group in Ohio – is one who has labored for housing and economic justice. This dream and hope of ending this vicious cycle is within our grasp and that is why my family made the personal sacrifice to have me venture from Ohio to Washington to help the President see this vision through. It comes down to commitment – not just by the President, the Administration, nor Congress, it is up to each of us – it is up to you. We can only achieve this longstanding goal that all of us have labored for years on – by working together to achieve it.

I’m excited to work with all of you in the weeks, months, and years ahead as we seek to make this dream a reality.

On behalf of the Obama Administration, thank you for all of the hard work you do day after day to make this country a better place for all of us. Thank you very much for listening today. And thank you again to the National Alliance to End Homelessness for inviting me to be here.

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18th February
written by naehblog

The Alliance is back from sunny LA and back at work since the 2010 Ending Family Homelessness Conference ended. We’re working on getting you those presentations – and feel free to let us know if you need anything else! – but in the meantime, check out Nan’s keynote remarks from Thursday, Friday 11, 2010.

Nan Roman
Thursday, Friday 11, 2010
National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness
Los Angeles, CA

Welcome everyone to our conference on ending family homelessness. It is a pleasure being with you today and my colleagues and I appreciate so much your continued efforts to end homelessness. I know that this has been a challenging year for all of us and the effects of the recession have really kicked in. Unemployment is currently hovering around 10% nationally, in some places even higher.

A year ago, the Alliance estimated based on projected 9% unemployment, that homelessness would increase 34% by the end of 2010. Two things have affected this prediction in the past year. First the bad news: unemployment has reached considerably higher levels than the previously predicted 9%. It is not hard to glean that this high rate will result in more poverty, more deep poverty, and more homelessness. Governors around the country are in the process of proposing their 2011 budgets, and the news is grim. As predicted, state and local governments are cutting their budgets as the country enters its third consecutive year in a recession. States face budget shortfalls of $300 billion per year; most will look to cut this amount from their budget. Human services are often early targets when states tighten their belts. At least 29 states have already cut access to health care for low income children or families. Welfare faces the same fate: the governor of Arizona has proposed eliminating cash assistance to 10,000 poor families; in California the governor has proposed eliminating the welfare reform program. Substantial cuts are also being made to education, workforce development, and more. State and local government workforces are also being affected, so we face losing many of our leaders at the state and local levels who are deeply committed to ending homelessness, and to staff who make the programs that we care about work. Cuts like these will not only cause more families to face homelessness, they will severely hamper our ability to address their problems.

The outlook is not entirely grim, however. We have made some significant strides this year, including implementing HUD’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) program. If HPRP is well used, it can help counter increases in poverty and homelessness. If it’s not well used, then we face a much more difficult battle ahead. Though still precarious, the housing market is showing some positive indicators. Rental housing costs are going down. HUD reports that the rental housing market was softening as of 2009, with a nationwide increase in the vacancy rate. This rate varies greatly, however, across regions. More vacancies were reported among higher priced units, while vacancies for public housing and LIHTC properties remained low. Vacancies in assisted housing units were slightly higher than those for public housing.

Still, HUD reports that rents remain high. Based on 2008 data, the most recent, the number of households paying more than 50% of their income for housing is 8.7 million, up 5% from 2007. The continued rise in foreclosures and bad economy may have also increased doubling up, which rose 25.3% from 2005 to 2009. These vacancies and doubling up figures do not only reflect low income households, but they do indicate that the affordable housing crisis has not gone away. In short, things remain terribly difficult. We face tremendous challenges in our future.

We must be strategic in our use of resources if we are to help the greatest number of families as efficiently, effectively, and expeditiously as possible. We will need careful foresight: to predict the needs of vulnerable families and to calculate the resources and systems we will have available to us to help those families. I want to talk to you today about where we stand, what has happened since our last families’ conference, what challenges await us, and how can prepare.

One year ago at our conference in San Diego, we were still absorbing the news of HPRP’s funding. The HPRP experience has been an instructive one from several perspectives. In terms of HPRP implementation, I have to extend my sincerest thanks to all of you from around the country who implemented this program in record time, and to HUD. This was an entirely new program, and therefore requires building from the ground up. HUD had to create a regulatory system, NOFAs, applications, etc. They did a terrific job assessing how the recession was affecting communities and how to shape the program accordingly. Those of us who work on homelessness are extremely fortunate that the staff of the SNAPS office is the best office at HUD. They got this program quickly out the door and in good solid form.

The real heavy lifting was done by all of you, who built capacity for prevention, diversion, and rapid re-housing, often without prior experience or proper resources. You found new partners, created new systems, devised new programs, all in an extremely short period of time. While to some it might seem slow—certainly to the families who were or were threatened with homelessness—but it is still amazing that in less than one year, a brand new 1.5 billion dollar program is up and running and helping prevent and end homelessness.

Now it is necessary to fine-tune HPRP based on our experiences over the past year. Because the HPRP funds went out in October of last year, jurisdictions have only just begun to use them. We don’t yet know what the full impact of HPRP has been or will be.

I want to share some preliminary thoughts on HPRP’s impact nationally and what we recommend you should be thinking about for local programs as you move forward. We previously predicted that, if nothing were done, homelessness would go up 35% from January 2009 to January 2011 due to the recession – 1.5 million more people would be homeless. Certainly, HPRP was never going to be able to help that many people – at best, if perfectly targeted, it would help less than half. We do not yet have the national data for 2009, and certainly not for the January counts this year, so we do not know what the impact of the recession was a year ago, much less now, in terms of the overall national number of homeless people. We do, however, have some information on the impacts of the recession.

First, we know that in the 2009 counts, some places saw increases—fairly significant increases—in homelessness, but many places did not. We know that homelessness tends to be a lagging indicator and that counts can be imprecise. But still it is interesting that the picture is quite varied. We are working with a group of 9 cities, most of which have the highest homeless counts – about 150,000 PIT. For these cities, between 2007 and 2009, homelessness overall went down slightly. Family homelessness, on the other hand, increased 10%. The AHAR findings for 2008 reflect similar numbers, sparking a particular concern that families are being affected adversely by the economy.

Although there is no national data yet on HPRP, we have some data from these 9 cities, and we have an anecdotal sense of what is going on from our intensive contact over the past 12 months with jurisdictions all around the country that are implementing HPRP. In those 9 cities (DC, NYC, LA, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Portland, Columbus, New Orleans, Miami), which participate with us on a Leadership Council, twice as much money is being spent on housing services as on financial assistance to families. Our first sense is that there is more prevention being done that rapid re-housing, and that prevention dollars go out the door faster than rapid re-housing dollars. This concerns us somewhat, because it is much harder to properly target prevention activities than it is to target rapid re-housing or diversion activities. The closer you get to the door of the shelter, the more certain you are that a family will actually become homeless if they do not have the assistance – with the only certainty being, or course, when the family is already homeless.

It is definitely the case that we want to prevent homelessness, and definitely the case that we need to learn a lot more about prevention. But we are very concerned that a lot of prevention resources are not being very well targeted. We hear from many communities that they are targeting prevention assistance to people who just lost a job or just got foreclosed upon, or they’re only giving it to people who will quickly be self-sufficient again. Or they’re giving it to people at 50% of Area Median Income. However, very few people who have just lost their jobs or just had their houses foreclosed upon, or whose incomes are at 50% of AMI are going to become homeless – in fact, almost none. Data shows us that only a small fraction of people who are living at half the poverty level and receive an eviction notice become homeless. Most people having a housing crisis will never become homeless. If you give HPRP money primarily to families that have very little likelihood of becoming homeless, despite the fact that they may have needs, you will not prevent any homelessness.

Why is this happening? Sometimes it’s because of local politics. Sometimes we hear that HUD is the cause, because HUD insists that the money go to people who will be self-sufficient when after assistance, and that HUD wants to see good outcomes. And of course HUD wants you to strive for good outcomes. You want good outcomes, we want good outcomes – everyone wants good outcomes. The good outcome we want is preventing homelessness. Just succeeding in giving the money away is not a good outcome. HPRP money has already been distributed. You can afford to take some risks and do good prevention without jeopardizing future funding from HUD. HUD is not going to be asking for money back because you tried to focus more on prevention and some of the families became homeless again. We are spending a lot on prevention and we could probably be doing a better job of targeting it. If your prevention activities are 100% successful—no one you give money to ever becomes homeless—you are probably not preventing any homelessness. You may not be reaching the people who are likely to become homeless.

I will further say that the closer you move prevention to the front door of the shelter system, the more successful your program is going to be. In other words, the more imminent homelessness is, the more successful you will be in preventing it. I know this is difficult, because none of us want to put families through the terrible experience of approaching homelessness. But the farther we move away from the shelter door, the less success we are going to have at preventing homelessness. If you are spending a lot of prevention funds, and your shelter census is going up, you should certainly think about whether at least part of the problem is that your prevention program is just not preventing homelessness, and make the proper adjustments.

On rapid re-housing, this is of course helping the families after they become homeless, and as such it is extremely effective. Spending out on rapid re-housing is slow. Data from our Leadership Cities shows that only 8% of the households that they expect to serve with rapid re-housing have been served, versus 10% of the prevention households. Our anecdotal sense is that the disparity is even greater in other cities, and that prevention is spending out much faster.

Communities doing rapid re-housing often have concerns about the ability of families to do well when their rent assistance has expired. They are concerned about sustainability. In fact, the vast majority of families that become homeless currently leave the homelessness system with no rent subsidy and no appreciable increase in income. They figure out some way to address their housing, they leave, and they do not come back. Any rent subsidy, first and last months rent, etc. would be a huge boon to the vast majority of families that exit homelessness. Would a Section 8 be better? Yes, it would. But since we don’t have enough Section 8’s I am perplexed as to why we think that giving the families more than they are currently getting is such a risky proposition.

We do need to think, however, about the families for whom this doesn’t work. It is incumbent upon us to create a system that will catch those families for whom a less than permanent rent subsidy is not sufficient. While data indicates that the majority of families will be OK with less than a Section 8, there are some who will not. We need a system that catches these families before they fall back into homelessness, and gives them a second, a third, a fourth, fifth and sixth shot at assistance.

All in all, then, despite the fact that we don’t have a lot of data regarding increases in homelessness due to the recession, or the impact of HPRP, we have been in touch with a great many communities and HUD. And we feel that we can say that the implementation effort has been exceptional. You have created a system and built capacity very rapidly, and the money is starting to flow. Now we can kick that feedback loop into gear to try to improve our efforts: consider your data; look again at your prevention targeting; and check the success and follow-up of your re-housing efforts. Re-set your HPRP program.

This leads us to considering what lies ahead in the next few years in terms of homelessness, because what we learn from HPRP will be important. Looking first at the big picture, we all know that although the recession has ended, unemployment remains through the roof, especially among poorer people and in poorer communities. Since homelessness is a lagging indicator, we still expect it grow. This will be exacerbated by cuts to state and local governments, which will continue. It may be additionally exacerbated by federal government cuts, which loom.

I am sure that you know by now that the Obama Administration’s budget requested a 10% increase in the Homeless Assistance Grant program at HUD, plus an exciting new proposal for 10,000 new collaborative vouchers to link up housing with services from the VA and HHS. Other homeless programs also faired well in the President’s budget. This increase is really the result of all the hard work you have done to continually improve your programs.

You may also know that overall the HUD budget was cut, and that there is discussion of a freeze on discretionary spending, which could result in many other cuts to social programs. The federal spigot may soon be shut off.

It’s not likely that there will be a lot of outside relief or improvements in the underlying economy or federal government investments. Several federal developments will certainly have an impact in the future. One is the sunset of the HPRP program, and its morphing to the implementation of the HEARTH Act. Another is the creation of the Federal Plan to End Homelessness.

The Alliance is striving to obtain an additional $1 billion for HPRP in the upcoming jobs bills. We have made a strong case for these funds not only because of their impact on homelessness, but also in terms of the jobs they create, and the fact that stable housing is a platform that is necessary for people to obtain and retain employment. It’s going to be a difficult struggle and certainly not something we can count on.

The HPRP focus on prevention and rapid re-housing match up perfectly with the HEARTH Act, which has an additional focus on outcomes and data. It is essential, then, that we use the relative flexibility of HPRP to fine tune our prevention and re-housing systems and build our capacity for the HEARTH Act. This is particularly important in several areas:

The first is assessment; it’s about getting smarter and more consistent in how we assess people’s needs and how we direct them to the programs or interventions that meet those needs. Our community-wide system should be less about what program door someone happens to walk in; and more focused on being strategic across the community.

The second area is targeting. Because resources are so scarce we need to use them wisely. We cannot afford to deliver services or subsidies to people who don’t absolutely need them to end their homelessness.

Having a system that catches families that don’t succeed with lighter interventions is the third area. If we have the ability to follow up with families to make sure that what we provided has worked, we will have less anxiety about giving them something less than the most intensive intervention at the outset.

Partnership is key. In addition to HPRP and other homeless funding, there is a great big pool of federal resources that should be helping prevent and end homelessness for families. I am talking about TANF, Head Start, child welfare, WEA, Medicaid and Medicare, social security, and much more. Some jurisdictions have successfully used HPRP to create bridges to these other programs. The new federal collaborative vouchers attempt to do this. We will not end homelessness without these bigger resources.

Finally, the capacity you have built around prevention and rapid re-housing will be critically important. The federal plan is also an opportunity to have a reliable federal partner besides SNAPS, move across cylinders, implement your local Ten Year Plans. Over the next few days, from keynote speakers and at workshops, you will hear much more about these issues: HPRP, HEARTH, prevention, re-housing, targeting, partnership, and assessment.

I will summarize by again thanking those at the federal, state and local levels who have used HPRP to create lasting change. You have brought plans to end homelessness to life and have allowed our communities to finally do prevention and get people back into housing faster. You have used HPRP to leverage new funds and relationships from programs like the TANF emergency contingency fund, and Early Head Start.

I encourage you to continue using HPRP funds to get outside of your safety zone – not stay inside it. You have some flexibility – use it. You will have to target your prevention and other efforts more tightly if you are to succeed in HEARTH.

I also encourage you to continue to challenge old “truths” – that there is no affordable housing; that without permanent subsidies families cannot be housed; that prevention should only be targeted to families that look very likely to succeed in order to avoid “wasting” resources. Of course these “truths” come from a base of real problems, but community after community has found that even where there is no affordable housing, families find places to live; that while permanent subsidies are great, almost all homeless families get housed and stay housed without them; that families are a lot more resilient than we think and prevention programs can help those who look hopeless pull together the most amazing things with only a little flexible money.

This is a good time to be bold in risk taking and experimenting, and indeed many of you are pushing the envelope on prevention and rapid re-housing. This will stand you in very good stead as we move forward.

I applaud the new models and collaborations that are necessary for the long term sustainability of your efforts to end family homelessness. Partnerships with mainstream programs like Early Head Start, TANF and child welfare will prevent and end homelessness for families into the future. More innovation and creativity is needed. Much more remains to be done, because the years ahead will be difficult for the families that we care about and for our programs. Our conference has an absolute wealth of resources and examples to give you from the communities across the country doing the most exciting work.

Thank you all, so much, for coming. We look forward to learning more about what you are doing, and to working together toward our goal of ending homelessness among families.

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12th February
written by naehblog

Greetings, folks. Thanks to my trusty, awesome colleague Liz Whitehurst, I haven’t been around but it’s nice to be back!

We have a few dispatches from LA and the Families Conference, which is currently in it’s last day in sunny California. After 3+ days of speakers, workshops, keynotes, and plenty of weather/travel trouble, Alliance staff will be returning from the land of beachy sunshine to the snowy aftermath of our east coast blizzards.

Which isn’t to say that they haven’t had their share of troubles. Turns out, weather troubles on the east had a noted impact on the west! Stranded speakers led to some creative thinking for the staff!

Amanda Krusemark, our newly-promoted Programs & Policy Associate – shares her dispatch from the conference after a long couple first days…

Waiting for…airplanes…

I’m lucky I didn’t have any trouble with the airport. I spent frantic hours on Monday trying to change my flight on Tuesday so that I wouldn’t get stuck in the snowstorm. I ended up leaving Dulles at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and made it out with no problems whatsoever. I’m lucky I was able to get out so early, ahead of the storm.

Our colleagues, though, – Sharon, Sarah, and Steve – ended up getting in a car and DRIVING to Richmond chasing a flight! It turns out they were able to get on the plane, make a connection, and got to Los Angeles by 1 a.m. Tuesday night.

I think it was a VERY long day for them.

BUT despite escaping the snow in DC, we landed in LA only to find rain and wind! FAIL. It was kind of disappointing, actually. That was Tuesday, though, but it has been sunny every day since, and I think it will be nice tomorrow, too. Thank goodness for the small blessings.

One the ground and working it out…

My moderator, Andrea White, got stuck in NYC and wasn’t going to be able to lead an advanced rent assistance workshop. She was going to lead a really deep discussion about targeting rent assistance. Luckily, our colleague Sharon was able to step in and fill her spot. Unluckily, though, I managed to misplace (or maybe even leave in the office on Thursday before the first of the snow hit?) my notes for the workshop. So, I couldn’t find my notes and I/we had to brief Sharon on what the workshop would be about, what her role should be, some of the key questions we planned to ask, etc. Luckily, Sharon is really knowledgeable about this stuff and she and the other speakers (who are all true experts) and me were able to recreate and slightly modify the plan.

It worked out pretty well, actually. But that was AFTER I spent 30 minutes running around the hotel asking everyone if they had seen my notebook and spending another 30 minutes trying to jot down notes from memory!

Keynotes & Highlights…

Mercedes Marquez, Assistant Secretary for community planning and development at HUD – the department that oversees all the homeless programs – was the keynote, and I thought she made some great points.

She really highlighted some key parts of the president’s budget and how HUD is working to increase intra and inter-departmental coordination and collaboration. She pointed out that most programs were NOT designed to work together when they were created. HUD is working to change that, though. They are trying to be really intentional in incorporating coordination and collaboration into the program design for some new and current programs.

I also met some really interesting folks today!

I really think that’s one of my favorite parts of the conference – seeing who comes and hearing all of the interesting things that people are doing and what their perspectives are on the issues and the solutions.

That’s really the purpose of Alliance conference in the first place, you know? We create a space where people who work in our field are able to come together, learn from each other, network and collaborate, and meet our collective ends. It’s what makes me feel so good – even if we’re exhausted! – after our conference. This is a key part of the Alliance’s contribution to the conversation.

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12th February
written by naehblog

“Never has there been a more salient time to discuss the pressing issue of family homelessness,” said Nan Roman. “We’re faced with economic instability, rising unemployment, and an anticipated rise in homelessness. At the same time, we see increased attention to the crisis, both from the mainstream media and from the federal government. Now is the time for a serious conversation about systematic change; now is the time to face our challenges head-on.”

There’s a tidbit from the Alliance’s National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness, going on now in LA. PATH Partners’ Joel John Roberts reports on the event here.

As we gathered in LA, some leaders in the field of permanent supportive housing got some much-deserved press this week. Jennifer Ho, who recently joined the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness, discussed the transformation of services in Minnesota. In an interview with Good Magazine, Roseanne Haggerty says: “Communities willing to work on getting people housed instead of letting the homeless drift between shelters, hospitals and jails can solve homelessness.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

And while we’ve been focusing on the federal this week, folks at the local level have been making some major progress: with youth in Worcester, for veterans in Utah, for chronically homeless people in Alaska (great analysis in this piece), with housing in South Dakota.

There’s also been some significant research findings out this week. One finds that despite an increase in public aid programs – TANF and SNAP benefits, for example – for struggling families, many still lack access to assistance they need. Another examines the impact of rising unemployment on NYC’s families and the programs designed to mediate it.

In the blogopshere, the Coalition for the Homeless Central Florida posted a moving piece on their clients’ New Year’s resolutions, while on the End Homelessness blog, David Henderson talks about homeless service providers working themselves out of business.

Here in DC, business is slowly returning to usual after this week’s snowpocalypse, but I’m still thinking about the impact the snow had on the District’s most vulnerable residents. Reports from NYC and Philly describe a shelter system stressed to the breaking point. Here’s to a weekend that’s safe and warm for all.