Archive for March, 2010

31st March
written by naehblog

This is an excerpt from a longer report by HRI Research Associate Megan Henry. Big hat tip to her!

In honor of the 2010 Census, here’s a few interesting facts about the way the census has included people experiencing homelessness over the years:

  • The first Census occurred in 1790, and consisted of just four questions. Since then, the United States has increased efforts, changed methods, altered principle criteria and time frames, and expanded the survey considerably.
  • In 1850, for the first time, “pauper” was included on the Census questionnaire alongside deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, and convict. Paupers were considered poor beyond a failure to meet an income threshold, and the word indicates a sort of dependency on government or private assistance to survive.
  • By 1854, when the Census results had come out, the New York Times was contesting the numbers. An articled identified, quite specifically, that the “outdoor paupers” were not included in the U.S. Census, and asserted that the Census’ number of paupers (134,392) was deficient by 50 percent.
  • Between 1870 and 1920, anywhere between 40,000 and 75,000 people were counted living in poorhouses.
  • While some Censes of the 19th century included populations similar to those we consider “homeless,” only Census operations beginning in 1970 identified specific efforts to count the homeless population.

Obviously, the way the Census counts people experiencing homelessness has changed. As we speak, census workers are counting: today, they’ll count those staying outside; yesterday they counted people at soup thkitchens and mobile food vans. They started Monday at emergency shelters.

For the 2000 census, Census Bureau implemented “Service-Based Enumeration,” counting people at emergency shelters, transitional shelters, shelters for unaccompanied youth, hotels, motels, soup kitchens, regularly scheduled mobile food vans, and targeted outdoor locations.

In 2000, 283,898 people were counted as homeless in 14,817 locations. Approximately 50 percent of the locations were shelters. 62 percent of people were counted at shelters, 28 percent at soup kitchens/food vans, and 10 percent outdoors.

There were numerous issues associated with the 2000 count: the limited number of outdoor sites included in the count, shelters that were not open during the day were not included, and shelters that were only open for two days a week were not included.

Since the last census, the Census Bureau has worked with local government and advocacy organizations to create a more comprehensive list of shelters and homeless service providers. Also, a “Be Counted” questionnaire has been developed for people who do not believe they were counted in the census effort. Questionnaire assistance centers (QAC) will be set up in libraries, post offices, community centers, gas stations, etc. and will provide people with assistance in filling out the questionnaire.

What about the census in your community? Do you think it will be accurate?

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30th March
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post is from Maureen Friar, the new President and CEO of the National Housing Conference. We asked her some of the most pressing questions in the field. Here’s what she said:

Where do we – as a national community – stand on the issue of affordable housing? Where should we go from here?

Our country still faces a huge affordable housing problem. Housing is not affordable for many segments of our society, including low-income households and working families. In addition, when the cost of transportation is combined with the cost of housing, households are finding it even harder to make ends meet.

With the recent downturn in economy, collapse of the financial markets, and the overextension of credit, the number of foreclosures continues to rise, affecting millions in our communities. According to our research affiliate the Center on Housing Policy’s newest Paycheck to Paycheck study, between 2008 and 2009, home prices rose or held steady in 90 (44 percent) out of 207 metropolitan areas. Over the same time period, the income needed to purchase a median-priced home decreased in 193 of these metro areas (93 percent).

As well known to NAEH, we have made great strides in ending chronic homelessness, but many still are without a home. People are also living in substandard housing and families often are doubled- and tripled- up, which adds to the affordable housing crisis.

We must work with the Administration and Congress as one national community to implement measures to halt foreclosures, increase and expand new and affordable housing options, and fund the Housing Trust Fund. We must also continue to attack homelessness, which is the most visible sign of our housing crisis. It is essential that we raise our voices together to highlight the need for safe, decent and affordable housing for all Americans.

What is the most important innovation or development in the field of affordable housing that you’ve seen in the last decade?
I have seen extraordinary commitment and increased capacity from the nonprofit community to develop quality multifamily housing projects that integrate private and public financing. These developments, financed with private equity, primarily through the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit, show that public private partnerships are effective and create solutions that work for our neighborhoods.

There are wonderful examples across the country – in rural, urban, and suburban settings. They incorporate mixed financing, as well as green and sustainable initiatives, and ultimately create high quality, affordable housing that is viable in the long-term. I also applaud the housing solutions that help successfully integrate people with disabilities and special needs into neighborhoods and affordable housing developments. As a result, we are moving away from housing people in isolated communities and making a variety of options available like never before.

What are a few of your most important policy priorities for the year?
NHC’s policy priorities for this year include, first and foremost, preventing foreclosures and stabilizing impacted neighborhoods. This includes developing better tools and improving the implementation of federal policies to stem foreclosures. We have been particularly active on this front through the NHC-sponsored National Foreclosure Prevention and Neighborhood Stabilization Task Force.

In addition, NHC is focused on helping low- to moderate-income working families meet their housing challenges through rental preservation, employer-assisted housing and workforce housing. NHC also plans to help improve the coordination of housing, transportation and energy. Specifically, through NHC’s advocacy at the local, state and national levels we hope to create incentives to preserve and expand the availability of housing that is permanently affordable to low- and moderate-income families near transit, job and retail centers, and develop the incentives necessary to improve the energy-efficiency of existing residential dwellings.

What brought you to NHC and what do you hope to accomplish there?
I am tremendously excited to be the new NHC president and CEO after 14 years of building the Supportive Housing Network of New York into an effective advocacy organization at the state and local levels. I am very interested in working on federal policy because it is the foundation on which most housing policy is developed.

With its nearly 80-year history, NHC is the oldest housing advocacy organization in America. Our membership comprises every segment of the housing industry. Given that we have just experienced the most dramatic housing crisis since the Great Depression, NHC has a tremendous opportunity to make an impact in helping fix this crisis and developing creative solutions to address future housing needs.

Known as the United Voice for Housing, we plan to build on our role as a convener by collaborating with our membership and drawing upon their strengths to craft and promote ideas for improving government programs, financial opportunities, and expanding the dialogue on housing solutions.

In addition, NHC will be increasing the presence of affordable housing as a first-tier national priority through our new Center for Housing Communications (CHC). The primary mission of the CHC is, ultimately, to improve collaboration between the housing and related industries in order to better communicate the need for, and benefits of, affordable housing.

NHC is also actively engaged at the state and local levels through its regional forums. We act as a clearinghouse to provide information on best practices for preserving affordable rental housing, foreclosure issues, and the connection between housing and transportation. I am delighted to be working in partnership with our research affiliate the Center for Housing Policy and our other national partners to be an effective and proactive voice on these issues.

I truly believe that by working collaboratively and diligently, change is possible. We can make affordable housing a first-tier national priority.

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29th March
written by naehblog

In January, New York City counted 3,111 people experiencing homelessness. That’s 783 more – or 30 percent more – than last year’s count.

Some background: In 2005, New York City conducted their first Homeless Outreach Population Estimate – known popularly as their HOPE count. That year, the city counted 48,155 homeless people.

In 2006, that number shot up to 55,507 – but has decreased steadily since then. New York City took some innovative strides to help the residents of their city experiencing homelessness, including implementing a unique “right to shelter” mandate, offering all homeless residents a place to sleep. As of 2008, the city’s homeless population was at 50,261.

Could the increase be the result of difficult economic conditions? That’s what Robert Hess, NYC Homeless Services Commissioner, suggested at a press conference last week, but we’ll know more when other cities share their information and we’re able to compare and contrast the increases and decreases in homeless populations nationwide.

Some other groups in NYC think the increase has less to do with the economic climate and more to do to with city policy. The Coalition for the Homeless wrote on their blog this week:

“Overall, these newly released numbers continue to add to the crisis of homelessness in New York City. The numbers show that DHS’s decision to close 6 drop-in centers over the past year has been a complete disaster for the street homeless population, who continue to need specialized services.”

A couple of other important factors to consider:

• The rate of homelessness in NYC is actually pretty low compared to other cities. According to the New York Times, there is one homeless person for every 2,688 people in the general New York population, compared with 1 in 154 for Los Angeles, 1 in 1,810 for Chicago and 1 in 1,844 for Washington.

• The 3,111 figure we started with is the number of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness. There are also 38,000 people living in the city shelter system.

• NYC uses a unique methodology for their HOPE count that utilizes decoys in order to estimate how many people aren’t counted.

New York’s numbers illustrate the incredible difficulty in understanding – and, in turn, assisting – the homeless population in the country. Such a wide variety of variables – from the economy to geography to transportation – factor into these data collection efforts. The situation in New York does emphasize the need for more and better information about homelessness and remind us to keep vigilant in our own efforts to end homelessness for all.

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26th March
written by naehblog
This week, HUD released a study that supports this argument we’ve been making for years: emergency shelter is actually more expensive for society than providing permanent housing. Along those lines, the latest in our series of seriously neat interactive tools, which we launched this week, illustrates the cost savings to communities with permanent supportive housing. You can read more on the new HUD study on’s End Homelessness blog or in USA Today
As this week began, a historic piece of healthcare legislation was passed in the House and signed by President Obama. While kinks get worked out and the fight continues, we’re focusing on how reform will impact people experiencing homelessness. On Monday, we talked about why healthcare matters in the fight against homelessness and in the Huffington Post, Deborah De Santis of the Corporation for Supportive Housing made a convincing case:
The administration’s proposal includes expanding Medicaid to everyone who earns below 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently, permanent supportive housing projects across the country are constantly trying to find funding to pay for mental health services, substance abuse treatment, primary health care and intensive case management services. Expanded Medicaid insurance coverage will allow supportive housing providers to focus on providing services, rather than chasing after funding.
The full article is definitely worth a read. 
Speaking of healthcare, the Street Roots blog published a stellar interview with Jim O’Connell, one of the founding physicians of Healthcare for the Homeless in Boston. It makes clear exactly how urgent the healthcare crisis is for people living on the streets. O’Connell says:
I think that we need to do everything we can to raise awareness of what I would call the public health emergency of people living on the streets. Their mortality rates are so high. The outcomes from their illnesses are so appalling. If this were any other population, we would have major programs to address health disparities.
Here at the Alliance, we published an new brief on chronic homelessness, which emphasizes the importance of housing for treating people like the ones O’Connell works with. Check it out here.
Before the week is out, check out the Open House blog: it’s chock-full of information about the National Housing Center’s Housing Solutions week.
While you’re in the blogosphere, check out the Coalition for Central Florida’s Top Ten Myths about Homelessness and this post from Jason Small, Policy Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which discusses the disconnect between working on big ideas and talking to people day to day.
Whew! What a week. Stay tuned til next week, when we’ll discuss the rise in street homelessness in NYC. 
25th March
written by naehblog

We’re happy to share the latest addition to the homelessness blogosphere. Today’s guest post is by Dhakshike Wickrema at Shelter Partnership.

In an attempt to expand our role as a community resource on homelessness in LA County, Shelter Partnership just started a new blog! We hope that it will get the word out to those looking to learn more about homelessness policy and programs in LA County and City.

Our goal is to inform not only the general public, but also homeless service providers and public agency staff so that they can stay abreast of important policy decisions and programmatic changes that may affect their clients.

Thus far we have covered topics such as the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, LA County’s initiative to provide rental subsidies to 10,000 recipients of General Relief (Assistance) and a program that links homeless older adults to subsidized housing. The contributors to our blog will include Ruth Schwartz, our Executive Director, and the planning/technical assistance staff, Nicky Viola, Steve Renahan and Dhakshike Wickrema.

Established in 1985, Shelter Partnership is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to alleviating, preventing and ending homelessness in Los Angeles County. We carry out our mission in several ways: providing policy and planning advice and technical assistance to community-based organizations and public agencies and conducting research and publishing analytical studies to inform public policy regarding homelessness. We also operate a warehouse where large-scale donations of merchandise are stored and redistributed to frontline homeless service providers such as short-term and permanent supportive housing projects.

We look forward to any feedback and suggestions on how to improve our blog!

24th March
written by naehblog

Yesterday, the Alliance, along with the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and some of our other partners, hosted a congressional briefing on chronic homelessness. We hosted Nan Roman (the president of the Alliance) representatives from permanent supportive housing programs from Worcester, MA and Seattle, WA, and Katrina van Valkenberg from CSH.

Turnout was great, with about 30 to 40 staffers from Congressional offices, and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness made an appearance as well. It was a terrific event with an appearance by Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina, who gave some very thoughtful remarks on chronic homelessness and what the federal government could to do further invest in ending the problem.

Nan opened with a description of chronic homelessness and the progress we’ve made so far – there were nearly 30 percent fewer people experiencing chronic homelessness in 2008 than there were in 2005.

Paul Lambros with Plymouth Housing Group, a large permanent supportive housing provider in Seattle, talked about their efforts to serve medically fragile homeless individuals. They’ve had incredible success housing people with long homeless histories and improving their health and well-being, resulting in dramatic reductions in the need for emergency room care and hospitalization.
Worcester, Massachusetts was well represented by Tom Gregory, who directs the cities supportive housing. Between January 2009 and January 2010, they reduced chronic homelessness by 38 percent! That’s in one year! Not only that, but because of their success housing people, they are closing a shelter that has always been controversial and is not well liked by the city, the neighbors, or even by the residents of the shelter.

People who experience chronic homelessness often cycle in and out of jails. Katrina, with CSH’s Illinois and Indiana offices, described a Chicago initiative that focuses on homeless people who are frequently incarcerated and frequently use mental health services. They’ve been able to reduce the need for jails and mental health facilities dramatically by providing permanent supportive housing.
But the real showstopper of the event was DC resident Phillip Colbert, who described his journey from a difficult childhood to homelessness – and ultimately into permanent housing. It was an inspiring story that ended with a plea to the people gathered to do everything they could to help Phillip’s friends who are still living on the streets.

Check out this video of Nan presenting the case for affordable housing.

Visit the Alliance website for more information about the congressional briefing on chronic homelessness, and visit the Alliance Facebook page for pictures and more video from the briefing.

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23rd March
written by naehblog

Anthony first worked on housing policy at the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) in New York City, where he was a Senior Policy Analyst in the Policy and Planning Department for two years.

“I got very involved very quickly at DHS,” says Anthony. He knew what he really wanted to do was analyze policy, so for him, “DHS was a good fit.”

He dug right in. In addition to serving as co-chair of NYC’s Continuum of Care, he dealt with issues related to implementation of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP) and the McKinney Vento Homelessness Assistance program.

He’s continuing his work on continuums of care (CoCs) with Alliance Senior Policy Analyst Norm Suchar, focusing on communicating HEARTH Act changes to CoCs.

“I’m looking forward to getting more familiar with CoC system in Washington and to learning more about the legislative process,” says Anthony.

Before arriving in DC, Anthony was also an adjunct professor of public policy at St. John’s University, where he found he really enjoyed teaching. “When I was teaching at St. Johns, they suggested I get my PhD in order to make it a career,” he says.

Which leads us to today: Anthony came to DC to pursue his PhD at Catholic University of America, and his research focuses on – surprise! – continuums of care. In particular, he plans to focus on their effects on homeless populations with special needs.

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22nd March
written by naehblog

Although people often argue that ending homelessness is impossible, the truth is we’ve already made real progress. Consider chronic homelessness: between 2005 and 2007, the number of people experiencing chronic homeless dropped by 30 percent – 30 percent! – and this population tends to have serious, often debilitating disabilities.

Since then, progress has slowed and the economy has stalled. But in that time, we’ve learned a lot about what works.

And now is the time to finish what we started.

At our Congressional Briefing on Ending Chronic Homelessness tomorrow (Tuesday, March 23) at 10 a.m., we’ll advise and educate Congressional staff, local and national stakeholders, and others about chronic homelessness: what it is, how we fight it, and what the federal government can do about it.

Alliance president Nan Roman and Katrina van Valkenburgh of the Corporation for Supportive Housing will be joined by Thomas Gregory of the Office of the City Manager in Worcester, MA, and Paul Lambros of the Plymouth Housing Group in Seattle, WA. Plus, a DC resident and former client at Pathways to Housing – a DC homeless services program – will share his story.

Moving forward will require a serious federal investment, particularly through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs. President Obama’s FY2011 budget recommendations also include an exciting collaboration program between HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services. This integrated approach – housing + supportive services – is one of the key strategies to helping people out of homelessness.

Our latest research shows this approach – also known as permanent supportive housing – not only gives people a place to live, but provides significant cost savings to the public. That idea – the idea that permanent supportive housing is more cost-efficient than a system of emergency shelters – is one that never fails to compel and surprise those new to the issue. Not only is homelessness a problem with a clear solution, but that solution is both morally and fiscally sound.

If you’re in DC, you’re welcome to join us! The briefing is at the Capitol Visitors Center in Room HVC-200. You can RSVP to Amanda Krusemark, at

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22nd March
written by naehblog

Yesterday marked an important moment in American legislative history.

Last night (so late it was almost early this morning), the U.S. House of Representatives passed health care reform legislation. The hotly-contested legislation endured fierce debate up to the very end, and the final bill passed without any Republican support.

While it may not be readily apparent, the health care reform bill has a significant effects on the homeless population. Among many other things, this legislation expands Medicaid eligibility to include people with incomes of up to 133 percent of the poverty level, covering nearly all people experiencing homelessness.

Moreover, the legislation will also provide approximately $10 billion for community health centers for Fiscal Years (FY) 2011 through 2015. Typically, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allocates 8.7 percent of total community health center funding toward the Health Care for the Homeless program, which can be used to provide services to people in permanent supportive housing. The health care legislation also expands early childhood home visitation programs, which provide parent education, child development, and support services to low-income, at-risk young children and their families.

President Obama has said he plans to sign the legislation on Tuesday, March 23.

P.S. We made the video above last summer, when the healthcare reform debate was just heating up, but it still does a pretty adequate job of wrapping up how the two are related and why health care reform matters to homelessness. Let us know what you think…

19th March
written by naehblog

In our effort to end homelessness through a wide-angle lens – focusing on federal policy, best practices, capacity building, and the like – sometimes we lose sight of the human impact of our work. Even on the streets of DC, where the impact of poverty and homelessness is often in plain view, it can be a struggle to put two-and-two together.

So it was a refreshing reminder when a colleague of mine from the National Housing Conference (NHC) showed me some on-the-ground efforts from her alma mater, the University of Georgia. There, students are shedding light on homelessness in their community by hosting an event called “Southern Hospitality: A Recipe for Ending Homelessness in Athens.”

The event will bring together students, faculty, and staff to learn about homelessness and the effects of poverty and housing in the college town and focus on solutions and methods to curb, prevent and end homelessness in the city. They put together a little teaser video to attract participants:

In big cities and in small towns alike, it can be easy to forget about homelessness or to dismiss the issue as an insurmountable, inevitable part of modern society. But efforts like the one hosted by UGA – and yours and ours, too! – remind us why our work matters.

If you’re in Athens or can swing on by to show your support, please do!

Or you can always check out the local efforts: the Georgia Law Center for the Homeless and the Georgia Coalition to End Homelessness.