Archive for March, 2010
Although the $1.5 billion in federal stimulus funds called Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, should help some renters stay in their apartments and move some families from homeless situations back into housing, it’s too little money and distribution networks need to be ramped up. The capacity to distribute funds in many places is stymied by previous staffing cuts. Lest Congress think the slow funneling reflects lack of need, think again.
“Female Gulf War veteran with one minor child; had utility shutoff; landlord had served eviction notice; MACV assisted and she is stable today.”
“Veteran spouse and 5 children were living in a dilapidated old trailer with walls caving in; assisted them into new housing.”
“32 year old single, Iraqi female veteran with 2 children; unexpected medical costs of illness of her daughter; was facing utility shutoff; is now stable.”
These are dispatches from the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), a nonprofit organization assisting women veterans and their families. Kathleen Vitalis, the energetic leading force of MACV, who has been at the helm of the organization for nine years, offered these glimpses into her work.
The plight of women veterans facing homelessness isn’t a new concept here at the Alliance. Not long ago, VP of Policy & Programs Steve Berg offered CNN some thoughts about the depth and gravity of the situation. And as the challenges facing female veterans continues to make play in the headlines and the Veterans Administration works toward ending homelessness among veterans in five years, we look to Kathleen and MACV to get a sense of the realty of the situation. The work of MACV prevented the three women described above from joining the 6,500 female veterans who are currently experiencing homelessness in the U.S.
Two elements seem to set MACV – and their success – apart from more traditional homelessness assistance programs:
- At MACV, programs serve not just individuals, but their families – the focus on families allows them to better serve female veterans, who are more likely to be responsible for children.
- MACV aims to provide a wide breadth of coordinated services. From housing to nutrition to health care to job training to legal services – MACV manages to connect their clients to the wide array of resources necessary to move towards stability and independence.
- Paramount to MACV’s service delivery are outreach and education. Through the creation of a Crisis Intervention Team, MACV has extended it’s outreach to every county in the state and connecting with more veterans needing services.
Their efforts have seen considerable success.
In 2008, MACV provided 887 veterans in Minnesota with direct services – an increase of 58 percent as compared to 2007. To date, MACV has served more than 4,900 veterans and their families in crisis over the course of 17 years. In 2009, the organization won the U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service to Homeless Veterans.
For Kathleen, assisting veterans is a deeply profound and personal mission.
”…taking a break from my for-profit career to have my son…made me realize that I wanted to have more meaning in my work. So when I was ready to get back into the workforce, I kept looking for that elusive meaning.
My mother-in-law’s first husband was killed in Vietnam and she volunteered for MACV. My father fought in Korea; my husband [is] a Vietnam veteran. It was staring me in the face!
So I started as a volunteer [at MACV] and eight years later, I am still finding that meaning and that passion every day I go to work. What an honor to serve this country’s veterans. What an honor to offer hope and a hand up to those in need.
For more information about MACV, please visit their website.
Okay, so this is a little late in coming – the NHC Budget Conference was on Friday, March 12 – but I’m hoping you’ll find this informative nonetheless.
The NHC Budget Forum was, per usual, an extraordinarily well-run event. This year, NHC hosted Raphael Bostic of the Department of Housing and Urban Development as the keynote speaker.
Panelists, covering the different parts of the HUD budget, included Jonathan Horowitz of HUD, Sheila Crowley of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Sarah Wartell of the Center for American Progress, and our own Nan Roman. Her testimony (about 10 minutes) on the proposed McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs and other federal homelessness investments right here.
Opening and closing remarks were offered by the new incoming executive director of the NHC, Maureen Friar. Outgoing executive director and innovative leader in the housing and homelessness fields Conrad Egan was recognized by all the panelists, speakers and several invitees at the forum.
If you’re feeling REALLY die-hard, you can check out the Raphael Bostic’s entire PowerPoint presentation on President Obama’s proposed FY2011 HUD budget here (courtesy of NHC.
Do your part to ensure homeless assistance programs have adequate funding! Take the next step in our McKinney-Vento Appropriations campaign by calling your Congressional Representative right now.
Tomorrow is the last day YOUR federal Representative can sign the McKinney-Vento Appropriations Congressional Sign-On Letter. The letter – already being circulated in Congress – requests that McKinney-Vento programs receive $2.4 billion for the 2011 fiscal year.
As you already know, McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs are the cornerstone of the federal investment in preventing and ending homelessness – funding federal efforts, state plans, and providing financial assistance to your own, local programs. We need the estimated $2.4 billion to keep those local programs working and make the changes outlined in the HEARTH Act.
So here’s what you do:
1) Call the Congressional Switchboard at (202)224-3121.
2) Ask for your Representative.
If you don’t know who that is, you can find out here.35 Representatives are already signatories, and you can find out if yours is one by clicking here. (If your Congressperson has already signed on, call to say thanks!)
3) Ask for the staffer who works on housing issues.
4) Here’s what you can say:
I am calling to ask if your boss will support a funding level of $2.4 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program in FY 2011. Specifically, I would like Representative (______) to sign a Congressional sign-on letter regarding this funding request, which is being circulated by Representatives Moore (D-WI) and Davis (R-KY).
HUD’s McKinney program is the primary federal funding source for local efforts to reduce homelessness and help people move back into permanent housing. Nationally, they helped reduce homelessness by 11 percent between 2005 and 2008, before the recession.
It is critical that Congress provides a funding level of $2.4 billion for the program in order to fully implement the HEARTH Act, as well as provide our community with sufficient resources to continue making progress toward ending homelessness.
The deadline for the sign-on letter is tomorrow, March 17. Can I count on you to get Representative (_______) to sign on today?
5) Thank them for their support and/or ask if you can follow up with them tomorrow.
For more information about our ongoing campaign, visit the McKinney Appropriations Campaign website.
If you were walking down the streets of NYC this week, you might have run into a digital “homeless person” along with a message asking you to donate to Pathways to Housing’s programs. It’s a pretty innovative use of technology, but will it work? Not only for raising money, but inspiring compassion? Check out the video and let us know what you think…
Here at the Alliance, we released the fourth part in our Geography of Homelessness Series this week. You can check out the major findings and download the whole report here.
We’re also gearing up for our 2010 Annual Awards Ceremony. Register here! Recipients include Unity of Greater New Orleans, and if you’ve been following our blog, you know we’re big fans of Signs of Life, where their outreach team reflects on their daily work.
Following last week’s announcement that the federal government is revising the poverty measure, Change.org and Politico posted analyses of the move. There’s consensus on one point: it was a long time coming, and a welcome sign that this administration wants to work on solving poverty.
Finally, there’s a fantastic piece on the Street Roots blog by Heather Lyons this week: it weaves together personal anecdotes and policy goals. She writes:
I wonder when people who lead, politically and bureaucratically, will make the connections and do the right thing and not the expedient thing. When will people start making systemic changes to give chronically poor, un- and underemployed, and unhealthy families opportunities…? If that doesn’t happen, no matter the greater economic issues of our time, we will never prevent future generations of homelessness and chronic homelessness.
Last year, our president – Nan Roman – traveled to Australia to learn about different strategies and approaches to ending homelessness there – and offered insight into the best practices we’ve uncovered here.
One of the people she met was Stephen Nash, leader of an NGO called HomeGround Services, which provides housing assistance services, crisis and outreach support, as well as health-oriented programs: many of the supportive services that are critical to ending homelessness.
Here, he offers the Alliance a guest post about how Australians are working together on solutions to homelessness. Enjoy!
Despite Australia’s national wealth and general high standard of living, homelessness is a persistent problem throughout the country. A severe shortage of affordable housing, including both public and community housing; record low private rental vacancies; access barriers for complex needs groups; and a delayed uptake of new approaches like supportive housing and housing first are contributing to the problem. Increasing numbers of children, families, Indigenous people, older people and newly arrived migrants are experiencing various kinds of homelessness.
In late 2008 the newly-elected federal government of Kevin Rudd took a significant step towards ending homelessness in Australia with its release of the first national white paper on homelessness: The Road Home. This provided much needed national leadership on an issue that does not often feature prominently in national political priorities.
The Road Home created measurable national targets along the road to ending homelessness for the first time. The key targets involve halving overall homelessness across Australia and offering accommodation to all people sleeping rough by 2020. The White Paper also committed to ‘turning off the tap’ — preventing people becoming homeless upon exit from institutions and public systems like health, justice and child protection. It also committed to ‘breaking the cycle’ — helping people move quickly through the homelessness system and into long-term stable housing.
In early 2009 the promises of the White Paper were backed up by significant government investment. $6.4 billion (AUSD) was provided to create new social and public housing. This was the biggest investment in social and public housing in Australia for over 50 years.
Under this scheme, innovative housing models, such as Common Ground Supportive Housing, received funding in a number of states. Many Australian Common Ground housing initiatives and other social housing projects are on track to be completed later this year. HomeGround is a partner in delivering Melbourne’s first Common Ground project, Elizabeth Street Common Ground. This is a partnership between HomeGround, Yarra Community Housing, Grocon, the Victorian Government and the Federal Government.
These initiatives have created much hope that homelessness in Australia can be significantly reduced and eventually ended, provided that planning and implementation of reforms is carried out effectively and that internal government coordination between housing, homelessness, health, justice and other departments is effective.
Establishing the principle that providing a home is not enough for many people has been critical in this movement away from ‘managing’ homelessness and towards ‘ending’ it. The idea that quality housing plus ongoing support is the key to ending homelessness for individuals and families is now well accepted by informed policy makers and politicians. This prescription enables individuals and families to achieve and sustain health, wellbeing, employment and education outcomes and, just as importantly, establish a postive place in their communities.
Many challenges remain on the road ahead, but I remain confident that Australia has the public support, political leadership, community sector expertise and the private and community partners needed to achieve these homelessness reduction goals as part of creating a fairer and more inclusive Australia.
A quick news update: the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) extends the public comment period on the FEDERAL PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS.
Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of USICH offers her thoughts, goals, and perspective in a blogpost on the Department of Housing and UrbanDevelopment (HUD) wesite.
Have you seen the latest in our Take Five Q&A series? It’s featuring Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, where they’ve created 1, 679 units of permanent supportive housing in the last 6 years. What’s below is excerpt of our Take Five piece, and you can read more about SF’s work to end homelessness on his blog and here.
What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
Homelessness among families and children is increasing. We have seen greater demand for our homeless services by families throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Our ability to address this spike in demand has been strengthened as a result of the Obama Administration’s $1.5 billion for the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP).
Using local and HPRP funds we have prevented 1,612 households from becoming homeless and/or entering the emergency shelter system. Our programs are focused on keeping families in housing by both addressing the financial burden they are experiencing, coupled with short term supportive services so they can maintain that housing for the long term.
In addition, we allocated local funds to provide short-term rental subsidies so families could circumvent the shelter system and move directly into housing with supportive services so they can secure employment and take over the rent payment of their new home. We will also continue to build both affordable housing and permanent supportive housing so that families with disabilities, and those that just need a stable home, can avoid entering the emergency shelter system as they move from crisis to stability.
Want to know more? Check out the rest of Mayor Newsom’s commentary on our website.
Before you read on, stop and sign this Change.org petition asking Congress to extend the TANF Emergency Fund. As the recession hits more and more families and states slash budgets, the need for federal funding for Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) becomes more and dire. This assistance is crucial for families at-risk of homelessness. For more background, read this stellar piece from Change.org’s Poverty in America blog about why Congress must extend the TANF Emergency Fund.
We might remember this as the week the federal government finally announced that they’re revising the poverty measure. It’s about time. We’re definitely keeping track of developments, so stay tuned to our blog for more.
From the Huffington Post to the Merrimack Valley Regional Network to End Homelessness blog, seems like the blogopshere is just getting better and better.
And bigger and bigger: National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty launched a new blog, where they’ve been talking about the right to housing and covering the Universial Periodic Review of the U.S.’s accountability to human rights standards this past week at the UN. The New York Times blog also reported on the process.
Speaking of bigger and better, the North American Street Newspaper Association has redesigned their blog and it looks awesome! Check it out here.
Over at the Funders Together blog, Bill Pitkin reports back on a meeting last month in LA, where experts like our own Nan Roman discussed how the private and public sectors can work together to end homelessness. He emphasizes that collaboration and long-term thinking are essential:
Public and private actors each get pressure to provide short-term answers for immediate needs, but long-term, sustainable change can happen only if they work together to provide the right housing and service solutions that will ultimately make homelessness unnecessary.
Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Open House, the National Housing Center’s blog, shared some common sense analysis about why it’s cost-effective to green subsidized housing. The always-excellent blog put out by Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida has a summary of how they serve clients struggling with mental illness.
The online discussion of homelessness and poverty is so in-depth and interesting, it’s no wonder the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness has asked for our feedback on the Federal Plan to End Homelessness. Weigh in here: you have until March 15!
The federal poverty measurement hasn’t changed much in the 45 years since Mollie Orshansky first created it – until now. Yesterday, the government announced that they are experimenting with a new Supplemental Poverty Measure, with a final version to be announced in the fall.
During Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s, Orshansky developed the current criteria, which are based on household size, income and food expenses. The new measure would take into account costs like housing, medical care, child care and utilities.
It has long been accepted that the poverty measure needs updating. While in Orshansky’s day, food may have been the largest cost to a family, it’s now dwarfed by other expenses.
Moreover, a reassessment of the poverty measure is a step toward better data – one of the Alliance’s key principles. In order to move towards effective solutions, we must first have a comprehensive understanding of the problem.
Why is the federal poverty measurement important for services to the homeless? For one, the current measurement determines eligibility for programs – Medicaid, TANF, and food stamps, to name a few – that both help prevent homelessness and help stabilize people who experience homelessness.
According to yesterday’s announcement, the new criteria won’t impact eligibility for these programs; instead, it will only be used by the Census Bureau to more accurately determine the rate of poverty in the U.S.
Still, kudos to the Administration for their brave examination of the poverty measure. While it may be politically unwise to acknowledge much more poverty than is officially measured, it is certainly prudent and responsible to reach out to those most in need of our assistance.
As Pres. Obama has mentioned again and again: change is hard, but together – we can make it happen.