Archive for April 8th, 2010

8th April
written by naehblog

Greetings from Atlanta!

The National Alliance to End Homelessness is attending the Nonprofit Technology Network Conference (NTEN) for the very first time – on the year if the conference’s own 10th birthday!

NTEN is a community of nonprofit organizations committed to using technology to help fulfill our missions. In their own words:

“We believe that technology allows nonprofits to work with greater social impact. We enable our members to strategically use technology to make the world a better, just, and equitable place.”

What that means in practice is a lot of sharing: online workshops to learn about the latest gadgets and tools, local gatherings in cities across the country to swap skills, online and off-line forums for people with similar interests and jobs to trade challenges and solutions, and – drumroll – the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference.

This year, there are about 1350 people in attendance, all buzzing around to learn what’s new and effective. And while there are plenty of people here who do what I do (communications!) there are plenty of other jobs represented here too – IT folk, webmasters, fundraisers, executives, organizers. And there are lots of different kinds of organizations here too – I met Melissa from Free Range Studios, ran into Michaela from Forum One Communications, saw old friend Stacy from See3 and caught a glimpse of the Google kiosk.

It’s been quite whirl – and we haven’t even started workshops yet!

But sitting here – just for a minute to catch my breath – I’m a little-tiny-bit-cheesily-inspired by what brings us all here. Together, we’re a collection of mission-driven organizations, all trying to do our part to make the world a better place. And we’re trying to apply the technology that makes our personal lives just a little bit easier (hello, iPhone!) to create real, substantial social good. It’s an idea that’s still (still!) being debated, but here at the NTEN conference, people really belive it’s possible.

And I totally buy that.

So starting tomorrow, I’m going to workshops to find out how I can do my part to make that happen.

I’ll keep you posted!


8th April
written by naehblog

At our Annual Awards Ceremony on April 22, we’ll honor Unity of Greater New Orleans, a nonprofit organization leading a collaborative of 63 agencies providing housing and services to the homeless in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. In 2009, UNITY provided housing or services to 19,468 homeless children and adults – nearly twice the number of people served annually before Hurricane Katrina.

Executive Director Martha Kegel will accept our Nonprofit Achievement Award on behalf of UNITY. Read on to learn more about Martha’s story and UNITY’s work.

1. What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?

As climate change leads to more disasters of great severity here and around the globe, a sustained commitment is needed to ensuring permanent housing solutions for the poorest and most vulnerable victims of disasters.  Here in New Orleans, nearly five years after poorly designed levees broke, several thousand of the most vulnerable victims of Hurricane Katrina – most of whom have serious disabilities but were stably housed before the disaster — are living in Third World conditions, squatting in New Orleans’ 61,000 abandoned buildings filled with mold, rotting debris and gaping holes in the ceilings as though Katrina just happened.  
 The Mississippi Gulf Coast too is seeing widespread homelessness as a result of massive loss of housing stock and dramatic increases in rents since Katrina.  The lion’s share of attention is given to emergency relief when disasters happen, but a strong and sustained partnership is needed between nonprofits, government and philanthropies in order to ensure that the most vulnerable victims of disaster — especially children, the elderly and extremely poor people with mental and physical disabilities — are a top priority in designing and implementing long-term recovery programs.  
No one should stop working on behalf of the most vulnerable until they are all stably re-housed.  In the devastated areas of Louisiana, innovative programs have been launched.  But we and our partners still need help to finish the job of rescuing and rehousing vulnerable people.
2. What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
 Homelessness kills people, plain and simple.   Research shows that homeless people are at increased risk of dying because of the rigors and dangers of having to live on the street. People forced to live for many months or years on the street or in abandoned buildings tend to see their health dramatically deteriorate.  
Conversely, housing can save lives.  Fortunately there is a new movement to prioritize housing resources for the most vulnerable people with the greatest need for housing.  As people in the HIV/AIDS community have long understood, housing is truly a form of health care.  It’s tragic that people with disabilities in this country do not yet have the legal right to housing.  Of course, housing should be recognized as a fundamental human right for everyone.
3. How did you start working in this field?
I have been involved in civil rights and affordable housing advocacy for many years, first with the ACLU and later as a Skadden Fellow working in some of the poorest communities of Louisiana.  In 1997, I began directing a homeless legal advocacy project at New Orleans Legal Assistance Corp.   I found my clients’ struggles profoundly moving.   They were the people who had fallen through what I discovered were gaping holes in the social safety net.  I realized that as a lawyer I could file appeals and lawsuits to obtain disability benefits and unpaid wages for my clients, and I could challenge unlawful arrests resulting from the criminalization of homelessness, but legal action was never enough – in good conscience I could not close a case until my client’s homelessness was ended.  I realized that it often took a bunch of people and organizations working together to actually pull my clients out of their homelessness.  
In 2003, I eagerly took on the challenge of leading a network of organizations which now provide housing and services to nearly 20,000 homeless people annually in New Orleans.  Since Katrina, we work hard to advocate with government at all levels for the resources our clients need, work with the news media to increase awareness of homelessness and what is needed to solve it, and seek to involve the entire local community – as well as the many people around the nation who deeply care about New Orleans’ recovery – in ending homelessness here.
4. Where do you draw your inspiration?  
Our outreach team – the brave and deeply compassionate people who spend their nights rescuing vulnerable people from the abandoned buildings of New Orleans – provide daily fuel for my determination to end homelessness.   One morning a video snippet sent to me by an outreach worker — showing him trying to comfort a woman who had been sleeping on a bedroll heaped on piles of garbage in an abandoned house — left me in tears.  One afternoon the team took me to meet an elderly man whose gutted home was filled with thousands of aluminum cans he had collected in a desperate attempt to raise the funds to make it livable.  And one evening they led me into a flooded abandoned hospital occupied by homeless people, including a severely mentally ill man.   As long as our outreach workers continue to find elderly and disabled people living in these conditions, I will not give up this fight.   
Love for New Orleans – my adopted hometown with its unique culture and beloved hodgepodge of people and neighborhoods — drives me.  Like nearly every New Orleanian, when I evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, I suddenly found myself and my family, including my 20-month-old toddler, homeless.  It was a transformational experience.  I got a tiny inkling of what it’s like for my clients. In six weeks’ time, my family and I slept in five different places.
For the first time, I had the humbling experience of accepting public and private charity.  For the first time, I did not know where my family would sleep the next night.   For the first time, I experienced the mental confusion, the physical disorganization, the fear and hopelessness that people experience when they do not have a stable permanent home.  Because of our prolonged displacement, New Orleanians understand as never before the importance of home.  We cannot rest until our most vulnerable neighbors have one, too.
5. Why do you think ending homelessness is possible? 
 Because we now know full well what the solutions to homelessness are, and they are cost effective compared with the cost of keeping people homeless. Here’s what  we learned in New Orleans, when we re-housed 457 people, mostly ill, from two large squalid homeless camps in eight months (despite the fact that we had no housing or services resources in hand when we began):     You can achieve permanent housing solutions for large numbers of people quickly, if you have a sense of urgency, if you use evidence-based practices, and if you call on the entire community and your government partners for help.
8th April
written by naehblog

I am happy to share that the Alliance’s Annual Awards Ceremony is two weeks from today! This exciting event, taking place at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, will celebrate solutions to ending homelessness and the people that make those solutions a reality.

We are happy to honor the following individuals and organizations for their great work:

Virgin Mobile USA and Virgin Unite for their focus on youth homelessness, introducing ground-breaking initiatives to raise awareness, increase volunteerism, and provide critical resources to local agencies throughout the United States.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) who has been instrumental in securing much-needed funding for homeless programs at the federal level. She has also spearheaded countless efforts to help homeless veterans as well as provide rapid re-housing for families experiencing homelessness.

UNITY of Greater New Orleans for being a leader in the battle to end homelessness in New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, the organization has reached into the streets and hurricane-ravaged buildings of the city to find and house thousands of the community’s most vulnerable residents.

Maurice “Mo” Vaughn who is building affordable housing and strengthening communities in New York. The former MLB star is the co-founder of OMNI New York LLC, a development company that has built over 3,000 units of affordable housing.

Other highlights: Senior PBS Correspondent Judy Woodruff will serve as the night’s emcee and Grammy-nominated musician Mighty Sam McClain will provide entertainment.

And aside from the highlights – this is an important event. It brings together so many people – federal lawmakers, local officials, grassroots activists, direct service providers – everyone involved in the grand scheme to bring assistance to our nation’s most vulnerable residents. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on the mission that brings us together: to end homelessness for all in our country.

It promises to be an important evening – so mark your calendar and plan on joining us at the Kennedy Center on April 22nd at 7:30pm. For full details and to purchase tickets, check out the event website.

I hope to see you there!

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