Archive for April, 2010
During his tenure, Rob has been a valuable contributor to the efforts of the Alliance and an important ally in our fight to end homelessness in America.
Most recently, Rob had served as co-chairman of the Alliance’s Leadership Council – a group of eleven leaders in the homeless assistance field from across the country. The Leadership Council has been instrumental in pulling together information about effective work around the country, most notably in the implementation of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded effort to prevent and curb homelessness resulting from the recession.
Rob also served as frequent speaker at Alliance Conferences, sharing his experience as a leader in our homeless assistance community and offering lessons from the field. He has been an important source of information, for people working at the local level and for policymakers.
He also made important strides in his work at the city-level. As DHS Commissioner, Rob was committed to innovation – he expanded the HomeBase program in NYC, which was the inspiration for the existing federal HPRP program. He worked to reduce street homelessness and focused his efforts on homelessness prevention for families. He also brought thoughtful, empirical data to the problem – integrating data into prevention efforts and emphasizing outcomes for street outreach.
His leadership on this issue will continue as he transitions into his new job with the Doe Fund. We look forward to future opportunities to draw on his wisdom and experience.
What a week!
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released the findings of their listening process – the result will be the very first Federal Plan to End Homelessness! Keep an eye out for the plan on May 20.
Along with other policymakers and advocates, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan showed up for the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Annual Policy Conference was this week. Find out more about the event on the National Housing Institute’s blog Rooflines, which I just discovered this week.
From the headlines:
- From California, the Ventura County Star published a surprisingly detailed story about their community count on homelessness. While similar stories tell a sparse story of the numbers, this story examined deeper issues, including the role of housing, services, and detailing the strategies that local stakeholders thought caused the decrease. Perhaps the most resonating message in the story came from the executive director of the Ventura County Homeless and Housing Coalition: When you write and follow a plan – it works.
- Robert Pear of the New York Times offered a story on the eligibility requirements of welfare. Pear noted that even in the tough economy, old limits to the program remain – sometimes to the detriment of the community’s more vulnerable citizens.
- Another story from the Times caused some conversation in the office – the Bloomberg administration has announced that a work requirement to the city’s “Advantage voucher” – a rent subsidy. The idea has gotten some negative feedback from those in the homeless assistance field. Still others have noted that as long as those who don’t qualify for the subsidy are eligible for other – likely more intensive – interventions, the new work requirement may be a good way to target the resource.
- And finally, some personal news in this week’s clips: Jamie Van Leeuwen of Denver’s Road Home has resigned to work as the policy director for Mayor Johhn Hickenlooper’s gubernatorial campaign. During his tenure, the outgoing executive director made significant strides in implementing the organizations’ 10-year plan to end homelessness.
From the ever-expanding, ever-exciting blogopshere:
- The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities just launched a new blog: Off the Charts. Check out the awesome infographics!
- On the, Change.org End Homelessness blog, Neil Donovan of the National Coalition for the Homeless breaks down the problems with the U.S. Census’s attempts to count people experiencing homelessness.
- The Portland Rescue Mission blog looks at youth homelessness from the perspective of a school bus driver.
- I also just discovered The Road Home blog. It does a fantastic job of keeping us up to date about their work, which is definitely a national model.
(Careful readers of this blog might notice that we promised a post on youth homelessness this week: please stay tuned! We’ll feature the Runaway Homeless Youth Act next week, plus more on our Annual Awards Ceremony).
It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about the McKinney-Vento Appropriations campaign on this blog, but our advocacy team has been hard at work behind the scenes to make sure homelessness assistance providers have the funding they need.
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs is the largest portion of the federal government’s investment in ending homelessness. McKinney-Vento (for short) funds critical federal and state programs, and – maybe most importantly – provides financial assistance to the local programs in your own neighborhoods. This funding couldn’t be more important to our community’s most vulnerable citizens – especially now.
What we need is $2.4 billion: $2.4 billion will help keep all those funding streams alive and kicking, while making the changes outlined in the HEARTH Act.
So we’re asking you to reach out again! PLEASE call your senator today and urge them to sign the “Dear Colleague” letter asking the Senate T-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee to include $2.4 billion for the McKinney-Vento programs in FY 2011.
The deadline is April 22!
Here’s what you can do:
Call the congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121.
Ask for your senator.
If you don’t know who that is, you can find out here. Did your senator sign-on last year? Find out here.
Ask for the staffer who works on housing issues.
It’s helpful to start something like, “Hi, I’m Jane. I live in STATE and I’d like to speak with the staff member who works on housing issues.”
Here’s what you can say:
- I am calling to ask if the senator will support a funding level of $2.4 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. Specifically, I would like the senator to sign a Congressional sign-on letter regarding this funding level, which is being circulated by Senators Jack Reed, Charles Schumer, and Olympia Snowe. McKinney-Vento programs are the primary federal funding source for local efforts to reduce homelessness and help people move back into permanent housing. These programs work. Before the recession, these programs helped reduce homelessness by 11 percent between 2005 and 2008 across the country.
- Last year, your boss helped Congress pass the HEARTH Act – the first time the program has been reauthorized in nearly two decades. It will provide more resources for important programs – particularly those that focus on preventing homelessness – but a one-time large increase in funding is needed to pay for those changes in FY 2011.
- It is critical that Congress provides a funding level of $2.4 billion for the program in order to fully implement the HEARTH Act while continuing to provide our community with the necessary resources to make progress toward ending homelessness.
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.
We’re gearing up for our 2010 Annual Awards Ceremony next week, and we’re so excited to be honoring Virgin Mobile USA and Virgin Unite for their commitment to the fight against youth homelessness through their RE*Generation project.
In what follows, CEO Dan Schulman describes their work and why it’s so important to end youth homelessness.
When we looked to establish a charitable initiative for Virgin Mobile, I felt it was important that we involve our customer base by supporting a cause that would resonate well with them. At the time, we were exposed to the issue of youth homelessness and were moved by the lack of awareness for the issue in general throughout the country. The decision to focus on this cause seemed natural especially because we had a high population of teens and young people as customers.
The Re*Generation was established in 2006 with the support of Virgin Unite, Virgin Group’s charitable arm. The Re*Generation is Virgin Mobile USA’s initiative to address the issue of youth homelessness and empower a generation to help its own. In June 2007, we worked with legislators from both the House and Senate to have Congress officially declare November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month with the support of singer-songwriter and former homeless youth, Jewel.
Over the past three years, Virgin Mobile has continued to expand its efforts in this area. When we decided to make our annual Virgin Mobile Festival free this past summer, given the terrible economy, we also introduced our “Free I.P.” program. It gave people the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter in order to upgrade to a V.I.P. ticket at the concert. Through this program, more than 30,000 hours of community service were donated by volunteers throughout the country, more than $80,000 was raised, 1,000 pairs of sneakers were donated to homeless youth organizations, and 7000 hygiene kits were produced for distribution to homeless youth organizations. The Free I.P. program was an acclaimed success and we are continuing to integrate it into various branding programs including our sponsorship this year of the Lady Gaga tour.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I grew up in a family that valued giving back to the community. One of my attractions to joining Virgin was the brand’s, and Richard Branson’s, commitment as well to businesses giving back and contributing to important social causes.
When we first got involved, we worked with some key non-profit partners including StandUp4Kids. They had a program that put supporters out on the street to get somewhat of a taste of what it’s like to live on the streets. There I was, dressed shabbily with no money, no cell phone, trying to get a dollar for a cup of coffee. I can never fully understand the difficulties that homeless people experience, but I did feel what it’s like to be invisible to people walking by, and feel completely minimized. It was a very profound experience for me, and only heightened my commitment to the issue.
With more than 1 million children and teens living without a home, it is more essential than ever that broad-based awareness complement significant private philanthropy and government support toward solving this pressing social issue.
Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
Through our efforts and the work by so many, we have made incredible strides to date and I’m hopeful that our work to raise awareness will continue to gain momentum for the issue and help to lessen the impact over time.
We’re very excited about partnering this year with the National Association to Educate Homeless Children and Youth NAEHCY. They provide liaisons within school districts to support homeless youth onsite at school. These and other innovative programs will help make a difference.
And the efforts we started with programs like TXT2CLOTHE and TXT2DONATE were early examples of mobile giving which has exploded over the past few years. By making giving accessible and easy, people are more likely to contribute and then hopefully get involved as well. Lady Gaga has a PSA about homeless youth that appears during each of her concerts – she starts touring again in July – with a direct appeal to Text to Donate.
Through our programs, more than 200,000 items of new clothing have been made available to homeless youth through partner organizations. Virgin Mobile has provided more than $3,000,000 of its own money to support awareness programs, and generated close to $500,000 in donations.
The triggers of youth homelessness- poverty, family instability, mental illness, homophobia and abuse- are societal issues that are complex and have followed our human experience for hundreds of years. Virgin Mobile believes that there is more that can be done on both a national and local level to appropriately respond to these breakdowns. We are one organization working to make a difference with a handful of partners. We will remain passionate and committed to moving closer towards the goal of ending homelessness, and empowering people to help make a difference for some of the kids living on the streets.
The 2010 NTEN Conference is officially done and over – we all said our goodbyes to lovely, friendly Atlanta, the gorgeous Omni Hotel, and all our new friends and colleagues.
And after six sessions, two keynotes, three receptions, and endless networking – followed by a plane ride and a night to sleep on it – I’ve finally come up with some official lessons from the NTEN conference.
- We are not alone!
Nearly 1500 people descended on Atlanta, GA to take part in the conference – communications officers and IT professionals and fundraisers and executives and a host of other non-profit stakeholders. It was incredible to see the role that technology played in the professional lives of such a diversity of people and positions.
- Technology = tools.
A lot of times, I think we get deluded and think that these new gadgets and gizmos are the answers to our problems. What resonated loudly to me, at least, are that all these innovations in technology are tools – they’re instruments presenting new ways an strategies to make us more effective at what we’re ultimately trying to do – and not the answer in and of themselves.
- Technology can be small and intimate…
Andrew Sullivan’s take on the intimacy of blogging and the social media platform was a new idea for me. Of course I was familiar with the idea that social media is all about relationships, but the idea that blogging, in particular, is a one-on-one discourse moved me. With the seemingly infinite reach of the web, it can seem that we’re screaming into the vast abyss, so it’s remarkable to think that when we make contact, we’re making small, personal, intimate contact.
- …and technology can be grand and profound.
On the other hand, I see the remarkable lesson that Asi Burak’s theory of utilizing video games for the social good (who I met personally in the lobby on the last day of the conference!) can teach. Harnessing the utility and engagement of video games to explore the ideas of hunger and war and charity seems so far-fetched, but he’s showing us how effective and powerful it can be.
- We really really really like penguins.
- Goals + planning = success…
In every session that I went to, each presenter seemed to emphasize the importance of goals and planning. Sometimes, it seems like we’re drowning in a sea of possibilities: do we need a Facebook page? Should we be on Twitter? Is it time to blog? Do we redesign our website? How can we increase online donations? And as newer and shinier toys and tools come at us faster and faster, that panicky threat of getting behind is only more salient. But before jumping on ever bandwagon, it’s critical to examine how these new instruments fit into the overall goals of the organization, and how they contribute to the the mission.
- …and in that same vein, think strategically – act tactfully.
I stole that from a speaker in my last session, Demetrio Maguigad, who had it rolling across his iPhone screen in front of his name tag. It’s another theme I heard over and over again in my sessions – think in the long term. Consider how each new tool, each new idea, each new strategy fits into the long-term plan. Consider your mission. Approach each task from different angles, consider every perpective, analyze every approach. It’s easy to get carried away with the motion and fervor – but success is earned with deliberation.
- There really is such a thing as southern hospitality! It was ALL over the conference and city!
- We can learn from each other…
You know what there was a lot of during sessions? Case studies. Case studies about SEO in my first session, case studies about testing landing pages in my third. Case studies about communications strategy in my last session and case studies about leadership skills in my fifth. In every session I went to, I heard story after story after story about the trials, foibles, and successes of people who had tried it before me and failed – and people who had tried it before me and succeeded. And not only was it very entertaining to hear the stories of others, it was reassuring to note that I was the first and I will certainly not be the last. I learned there is a wealth of experience out there, experience willing to share an insight and lend a hand.
- …and we’re in it together.
On the last day of the conference, I took a picture with David Krumlauf, Becky Trombley, and Mark Horvath. We’re an odd bunch – to be sure – but we were the small homeless assistance cohort at the conference. As Holly Ross told us again and again, we are a community of people coming together around the idea that we can make the world a better place – and we can help each other do it! – using new and innovative ideas. What brings us together is our commitment to that idea, and our commitment to achieving that goal.
So that is the moral of my story for now. But more later soon!
Day two of the conference and my first day of workshops!
Ever the eager beaver, I was ready; I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. After a day of mixers and games and socials (complete with slideshows and singing and a science fair!), I was ready to get what I came for: the tools, skills, and knowledge to make my organization more effective at doing what we’re aiming to do – end homelessness.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Three workshops into the afternoon, I learned how to optimize my website to help people find content faster, I learned how other organizations were using social media; I learned that we could test our landing pages to see what elements make them the most effective, and I learned how important it was for all organizational departments to contribute to making the website more user- and search-friendly.
And I learned a lot about the people here too. Over lunch, I was lucky enough to meet Ed Doolittle of AID Atlanta and Pam Gaston of Health Mothers, Health Babies Coalition of Georgia – both here with the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, a collaborative partner for this year’s NTEN Conference. Ed and I swapped stories about how difficult it can be to find housing for people with chronic, high-maintenance illnesses like HIV and AIDS – and how difficult it can be for people to successfully manage chronic illnesses like HIV and AIDS without stable housing. Similarly, it’s difficult for mothers to raise healthy, happy children without safe, permanent housing and access to health care – which is harder and harder to come by for people of fewer and fewer means.
I also got to meet Jessica Dally of Community Voice Mail National – a really interesting organization that provides voice mail services to people experiencing homelessness. I had honestly never considered how important voice mail service might be to people without permanent shelter or regular access to a telephone, but 20 minutes into the conversation and I was thinking about voice mail in a whole new way!
Some colleagues and partners have observed that the homeless assistance community can seem a little behind in utilizing existing technology to advance our common goals (in fact, the moderator in my social media benchmarks session noted that international, environmental, and animal rights groups were at the top of the pack in using social media – homeless assistance services didn’t even show up on his list!). And admittedly, it’s a thought that’s crossed my mind more than once. But being here at the conference, meeting these great people and hearing about their work, it’s amazing to see how many issues and ideas and projects could intersect with our own. I heard myself saying over and over again today: “Here’s my card. I’m sure we can find a way to work together.”
[Pause for the cheesy moment.]
Which, of course, is one of the points this conference is trying to make. That point being that we are one community of like-minded, mission-driven, well-intentioned do-gooders, with the potential to collaborate and support each other and work together using all the neat tools that technology as to offer.
[Pause for cheesy moment 2].
At the moment, I’m settling into bed to sleep off the lingering buzz of the day and prepare for the third – and last! – day of he conference tomorrow. I’m hoping – no, I’m sure! – that it’ll be more of the same: learning, mingling, listening…it’s possible there’ll be more singing.
But I’ll let you know either way.
Good night, all,
I like good news. As I read our daily media clips and search the blogosphere for news about homelessness, what I find is mostly infuriating, depressing, or somehow deeply upsetting. While that’s the nature of the beast, I also think we’re making progress, and I want to highlight it. Here’s a few bright spots in homelessness headlines from the week.
- Boston’s WBUR reported on how funds from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program helped a mother fleeing from an abusive boyfriend find housing. (I interned for Heading Home, the organization profiled, in summer of 2006, helping out in their drop-in shelter and helping pave the way for their transition to providing permanent housing. I think they’re amazing – and that’s where I first learned about the Alliance!)
- Folks broke ground on a new housing development for veterans experiencing homelessness outside Seattle
- As part of their ongoing series on youth homelessness in FL, the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida posted some adorable pictures of the children at their Early Child Development Center.
- This is a pretty incredible story: despite struggling with homelessness, this LA teen has totally conquered his high school and is moving on to West Point with the help of their alumni association.
- A new permanent supportive housing development called Florence House opens this week in Portland. For more on progress toward ending homelessness there, check out this post from HUD’s blog.
Speaking of frustrating news, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty posted this week about insurance companies that consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition, which is apparently legal in DC, my adopted hometown:
DC has the dubious distinction of remaining among the handful of states that permit insurance companies to regard a history of domestic violence as a pre-existing condition for purposes of denying coverage . As outrageous as this fact might seem in isolation, it is particularly disturbing when viewed in tandem with such additional barriers to stability as housing and employment discrimination.
Despite these barriers, organizations like the District Alliance for Safe Housing are working to keep survivors We put out a best practices brief on their work this past week.
I’d also recommend checking out this persuasive argument for permanent supportive housing on the new and improved Inforum.
Hearing from Campus Progress that a recent panel on youth homelessness offered “no definitive remedies” makes me glad we’re covering policy updates on the Runaway Homeless Youth Act on our blog next week. A new study shows that the situation for young people who age out of foster care is often pretty dismal – which makes policy solutions all the more critical. Stay tuned!
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!
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.
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!