Archive for May, 2010

19th May
2010
written by naehblog
We tweeted it our and we posted it on our Wall and now we’re ready to chat about it further.

As you already know, we found a paper called “Reducing Family Homelessness in Massachusetts.”

Noted homelessness scholar – and co-chairman of our Research Council – Dr. Dennis Culhane was commissioned to investigate ways to improve the Emergency Assistance program in Massachusetts. The goal was the identify ways to more effectively and efficiently help families experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness – without investing more budget resources in the program.

And you know what? Dr. Culhane and his research assistant Thomas Byrne managed to do just that. The pair recommended two primary ways to improve the performance of the Emergency Assistance program:

1. Increase flexibility in both eligibility and levels of service based on individual need.
2. Focus on reducing the time families spend in emergency shelter, by requiring a shelter exit and self-sufficiency plan as a condition of receiving services.

Dr. Culhane and Byrne also prescribed a number of shifts in thinking and practice to help guide the work and efficiency of the EA system.
What’s interesting about Massachusetts is that the state is already making considerable headway towards ending homelessness – and is doing so in a comprehensive way. As the writers point out in their paper, Gov. Deval Patrick’s Special Commission Relative to Ending Homelessness has already developed a plan to end homelessness in the state, and a special interagency commission exists to implement that plan. The special interagency commission has created partnerships with regional networks in the state, to ensure that services and systems are coordinated and reaching vulnerable areas.

Emphasizing this idea, Byrne noted, “One of the most interesting things about Massachusetts is that some providers in the state are already having great success in implementing some of the strategies that we present in the paper as effective alternatives to emergency shelter.  This is just one of several reasons why Massachusetts is in a particularly good position to adopt some these strategies on a larger scale and truly change how it approaches family homelessness.”

Still, Massachusetts also demonstrates that even the most advanced of states often require guidance to refine and strengthen their existing systems.
Byrne adds, “However, to craft a new approach that is better at meeting the unique needs of families, a number of challenges facing the current system need to be addressed.  The existing system offers limited alternatives to families beyond emergency shelter, which, as we suggest in the paper, is not always necessary or effective in terms of helping families resolve their housing crises.  Instead, families need to have access to more flexible forms of assistance.  The key is figuring out how to assess a family’s need and provide them with just the right amount of assistance—not too little and not too much. Fortunately, in talking with some of the people in Massachusetts who are working hard every day to end family homelessness, it is clear that they are committed to figuring out how best to make progress towards that goal.

Now, when we initially introduced this paper to our social networks, we got a few comments and concerns about the recommendations.

Pulling from our Facebook page:

We had the rare opportunity to send those thoughts to the authors of the report. And Byrne, very graciously, emailed back!

I think the commenter raises some valid points.  It is true that there are not enough permanent subsidies to go around.  Regrettably, in Massachusetts and in much of the country, the long waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers suggest that the will and/or resources to provide everyone with a housing subsidy are not there.  Nonetheless, it is cheaper to provide a family with a subsidy for a year than for them to stay in shelter for a year.  There is a telling graph in our paper that plots the dramatic increase in expenditures on shelter in Massachusetts and the corresponding dramatic decrease in funding for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program.  As we suggest, if there is a shift in Massachusetts away from a reliance on shelter, it could free up resources that could potentially be used to reverse this trend and dedicate more resources towards permanent and short-term rental subsidies.  On the other hand, if no changes are made to the current system and its cost continues to grow, there will likely be even fewer resources for permanent subsidies.

The commenter is also correct that not all families will be able to transition off of a short term rental subsidy.  Indeed, some, although likely not the majority, will require longer term and more intensive support.  This underscores the importance of assessing family need and appropriately calibrating assistance to meet that need.  When resources are finite, it is important to provide the most intensive interventions like permanent subsidies to families with the greatest needs and the less intensive interventions to families with less intensive needs.  In the paper we discuss different models for doing so, including establishing multiple eligibility criteria for different levels of assistance.”
As part of their solutions, Dr. Culhane and Byrne offer some basic principles to help communities focus on ending homelessness through their homeless assistance programs:
What do you think of these suggestions? What do you think of these principles? Don’t you think it was awesome that we were able to ask your questions to the researchers?
Let us know what you think,  here, on Facebook, on Twitter – whatever works for you!
17th May
2010
written by naehblog

You’ve been asked before – and no doubt you’ll be asked again.

Yes, the Alliance is asking you to participate in an online survey. (We’ve gone to great lengths to try and ensure it’s as quick and painless as possible – I promise.)

Here’s the thing: like all nonprofits navigating our way through an increasingly social, online world, we’re trying to figure out where you’re finding us online – and then move in that direction.

Like I mentioned in last week’s post about social media in the homeless assistance field, we’ve been trying to make the best use of these great new online tools. Our own personal social media journey has been a pretty rewarding one. We launched social networks in June 2009 and with our one-year anniversary around the corner and a slowly-but-surely-growing audience of supporters, friends, and colleagues, we want to make sure that we’re meeting your needs and expectations.

  • What do you want to hear from us?
  • What do you find most helpful, least helpful?
  • Where do you connect with us – and what forum is most useful for you?
  • Where do you see the Alliance in the homeless assistance field? How do we fit into your efforts?

These are all important questions – questions that will undoubtedly inform the way we do our work. And only you can help us find the answers.

So please, take a moment to fill out our social media survey. It should take you a scant 10 minutes at most – and the data will be invaluable for us.

You can take the survey here.

Thanks for participating, everyone. I really appreciate it.

-Catherine

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14th May
2010
written by naehblog

As Catherine pointed out yesterday, many in the homelessness field have been slow to embrace using social media tools. As the New Media Intern at the Alliance, this hesitance has sometimes created challenges, but it has also made for some happy surprises.

As I’ve explored the social media landscape, I’ve been impressed and inspired over and over again by the homelessness blogosphere. Advocates, policy organizations, service providers and concerned citizens are using this new medium to share stories and information, to engage supporters and investigate new ideas.

So straight from my Google Reader, here’s homelessness in headlines this week – from the blogopshere:

1) Just this week I started reading the Housing for Families blog out of Massachusetts and Healthcare for the Homeless: both are super useful and informative.

2) for those who can’t afford free speech, the blog of Portland’s street newspaper Street Roots, consistently shares a wide variety of great content. This past week, they published an interview with Liesl Wendt, CEO of 211info in the Portland area. It serves as a handy introduction to 211 services, as well as the recession’s impact on the people of Portland.

3) The Homelessness Law blog is thoughtful and timely. This week, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty Human Rights Program Director Eric Tars shared a success story from Salt Lake City.

4) Unity of Greater New Orleans’ Signs of Life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: read it!

5) Inforumusa is updated daily with news and analysis about homelessness in LA and across the U.S. This week, they covered the Our Faith Matters Conference, which featured an appearance by HUD Deputy Director Anthony Love. He’s talking about the federal strategic plan on homelessness – due out next week!

6) Change.org’s End Homelessness blog represents a wide range of perspectives: service providers, advocates, formerly homeless people – and us! Plus, it’s updated 2-3 times every day, so you can stay up to date.

7) Open House, the blog of the National Housing Conference, keeps us informed about affordable housing and housing issues.

8) It’s brand-new and not specifically focused on homelessness, but Off the Charts makes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ complex analyses easily readable and with great infographics, easy on the eyes.

9) Assistance providers like the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, the Road Home Utah and Calvary Services in DC use their blogs to share client stories and keep supporters up to date.

10) And then there’s the Homelessness section on the Huffington Post, which just this week included a post from Maria Foscarinis of NLCHP connecting Arizona’s new immigration law SB-1070 and homelessness. If you stay tuned, you’ll also catch posts from Invisible People, which lets people experiencing homelessness share their own stories.

This is by no means an exhaustive list! What blogs about homelessness do you read? What did am I missing?

14th May
2010
written by naehblog

One of my responsibilities at the Alliance is to manage our social networks, and in the era of furious blogging and even more frenetic tweeting, it can get chaotic. Often times, I find the need to stop, take a breath, and evaluate exactly how all this social media frenzy contributes to the Alliance’s goals and mission.

Which isn’t to say I don’t see the value in the mediums. I’m the lucky product of a world full of information technology and social media tools. I grew up with high-speed internet at my fingertips and an iPod on my hip; I was an early adopter of Facebook and yes, I have my very own Twitter account. And while I would hardly call myself a pusher or an expert, I do truly believe in the potential of social media tools to cultivate change, progress, and conversation.

It’s is why I’m so excited to be doing it in this field. While nonprofits are often slightly behind the curve to pick up new technologies, it’s been my personal experience that my own field has been particularly slow to adopt new media platforms. At this years Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), I found a small cohort of colleagues in the homeless assistance and housing field to swap stories with – and a major theme of those stories is our missing presence among nonprofits utilizing these new tools.

And many of us are.

At NTC, I took a workshop analyzing the way nonprofit organizations use social media. The numbers are staggering – more and more nonprofit organizations are stepping into the world of social media. A few highlights of the 2010 Nonprofit Social Media Benchmarks Report:

  • Facebook dominates the field with a staggering 86 percent of nonprofit organizations reporting some kind of Facebook presence, up from 74 percent last year
  • 60 percent report a Twitter presence, nearly doubling last year’s number.
  • A few nonprofit sectors have stronger social media presences, those sectors including international, environment, animal welfare, and education nonprofits.
  • Marketing, fundraising, and advocacy are among the intended goals/uses of nonprofit social networks.

I’d like to do a similar study, surveying only my colleagues in this industry, to gauge how active a strong a presence we have on social networks. I’m sure the data would suggest another picture entirely.

Which strikes me as curious. If the intent of social media networks is to build communities, share information, and open another portal of communications (which I posit are some goals of social media networks), then I can’t think of a industry better suited for those networks than human and social services. Our industry requires as much communication as possible – we’re working to directly better the lives of some of the most vulnerable of our friends and neighbors.

Or am I entirely wrong?

Don’t hesitate to comment and let me know – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And, if you feel so inclined, you can call me out on Twitter, Facebook, or shoot me an old-fashioned email.

-Catherine

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12th May
2010
written by naehblog

Maybe you read in USA Today that the number of calls to the National Runaway Switchboard doubled in 2009. Maybe you’ve heard that running away from home puts young people at risk of violence, crime, prostitution, drugs and health problems. Maybe you’re an outreach worker who hears these stories every day.

If, for these or any other reasons, you’re concerned about youth homelessness, you should know about the Runaway Homeless Youth Act (RHYA). Along with the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Act, RHYA is one of two federal programs aimed at helping homeless youth.

There are 3 main RHYA programs:

  • The Basic Center Program, which helps meet immediate needs of runaway and homeless youth and their families including providing emergency shelter, reunification when possible, food, clothing, counseling, and access to health care;
  • The Transitional Living Program, which provides funding long-term residential services to homeless youth ages 16 to 21 for up to 18 months;
  • The Street Outreach Program, which funds outreach efforts designed to move youth off the streets.

Particularly in these tough economic times, these programs are crucial. Not only do they prevent victimization on the streets, but they are more cost-effective than foster care or a correctional facility. And still, current programs do not meet the need: in 2009, RHYA programs served less than 41,000 with shelter services and less than 4,000 received transitional housing. Over 7,500 youth were turned away and denied shelter and housing.

We at the Alliance are now looking to Congress to appropriate $165 million to these vital programs. With our youth in crisis, the $116 million in the president’s suggested FY2011 budget is simply not enough. The increase would assist about 18,000 additional homeless youth with shelter and housing services and provide for over 300,000 additional street outreach contacts and crisis intervention.

For more on ending youth homelessness, check out the Alliance’s Federal Youth Policy Agenda.

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11th May
2010
written by naehblog

As we’ve talked about the McKinney-Vento Appropriations Campaign on this blog, we’ve often mentioned the impact that that federal funding has on homeless assistance in your community. Today’s blog post is from Leah Bradley, Director of Housing and Program Development at Community Health Link, and one of the winners of our 2010 Letter Writing Contest. She knows first-hand how crucial McKinney-Vento funding is for Worcester, and along with our advocacy team, she traveled to Washington DC to tell her members of Congress.

Why is it important for your community to fund McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance programs at $2.4 billion? Can you give an example of a program that might be affected?

The McKinney Vento- Homeless Assistance programs have been the primary programs in our community to reduce chronic homelessness. According to our 2010 Point In Time survey, chronic homelessness in the City of Worcester was reduced by 38% from 2009 to 2010. The majority of those were housed in McKinney-funded permanent supportive housing.

In addition, our community has used HPRP funds to transform our emergency shelter system to a rapid re-housing system. The components of this are a triage system where anyone seeking emergency shelter must see a triage worker first. No one is denied shelter; however, through this system we have been able to divert 67.4% (622 out of 923) of those seeking shelter from staying at the shelter.

In order to maintain this new system and house those individuals who become chronically homeless over the next year, we need to maintain the existing resources and increase the number of units available for chronically homeless individuals. Funding the HEARTH Act at $2.4 billion will assist us in continuing to decrease the number of chronically homeless individuals in Worcester. Without this funding level, we would most likely have to eliminate the new triage system that has shown to be very effective.

Diverting individuals from homelessness and housing chronically homeless individuals also saves money. A recent report from the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance shows that permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals saves about $9,000 per year per person in public resources – mostly Medicaid and corrections – after accounting for housing and case management costs. Our newest McKinney-funded Housing First Program – Home Again – had an evaluation that was a randomized control trial with a group who received housing and a group who did not. This evaluation showed that over 95% of chronically homeless individuals can maintain housing with this model and the number of emergency room visits reported by individuals was less than those who remained homeless during this same time period.

How did you go about collecting letters to your Congressional Representatives? Describe the response in your community.

We sent emails to our Continuum of Care and our Advisory Council for our Home Again, made a presentation to our Health Care for the Homeless Consumer Advisory Board and made personal phone calls. We were able to collect 71 letters for the campaign. After the campaign, I was also informed of several other individuals who wrote letters and some of our program participants who sent emails. We had many participants who were willing to share their stories so that others can have the same housing opportunity they had through this additional funding.

What were your Congressional visits like? Do you think this year’s McKinney-Vento campaign will be successful?

The Congressional visits were empowering and inspiring. Although we are in a tough budgetary environment, they all seemed to understand that homelessness should not exist.

They were all quite different. I met with Congressman McGovern personally who has been supportive of the Home Again program since its inception and spoke at our press event to release our evaluation results in November. I also met with Sarah Bontempo from Congressman Neal’s office who was also very supportive of our efforts to end homelessness and I met with Congressman Olver and Laura Hogshead. He seemed appreciative of knowing how the funding that is allocated works on the ground level and the impact it is making in his home state.

I spoke with Sen. Brown for just a minute and then met with his aide. I was disappointed he did not sign onto the letter that was circulating, but I was able to let him know about the cost benefit of housing first and the family homelessness crisis in the state.

It was just an amazing experience that really showed me the work that NAEH does every year to maintain/increase this funding and the importance of informing legislators of the impact homelessness has on their constituents and the communities they serve. We will be inviting our congressmen and senators to visit our programs as seeing how they work will be the most impactful. I appreciate the opportunity NAEH provided me. I also understand the work it takes to get on the schedules of our elected officials – but it is worth it in the end!

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10th May
2010
written by naehblog

Happy Monday, everyone! We have big news today – really really big news! And after months and months of planning, preparing, and posting, we’re finally ready to share it with you all.

In case you haven’t already noticed (and I’m hoping at least some of you already have!), the Alliance has made some significant changes to the website: a wider format, bigger pictures, links to our new media networks, and an awesome new library (if we do say so ourselves).

The new design wasn’t just an aesthetic improvement – we had some specific goals in mind. In particular, we wanted to:

  • improve access to content
  • improve search functionality
  • improve navigation.

(And okay, making the website cleaner and prettier was an added bonus.)

As we got started on this effort, the website team did some website evaluation – our expert consultants called it “user testing.” We asked our friends and colleagues about their experience using the website, and among the many suggestions and critiques we received, we heard one comment repeated over and over again: “your website is full of really great content – but I can never find what I’m looking for!”

So we definitely wanted to change that.

Among the many changes we’ve made to the website, we wanted to highlight just a few that we think you might find most helpful:

  • Check out the About Homelessnesssection.
    As the new media and communications girl at the Alliance, I get a LOT of questions about homelessness – how many homeless people are there? Why are they homeless? What’s the rate of mental illness among the homeless population? What the heck are we doing about it? For these general overview questions about the homeless population, you should check this section first.
  • Notice how we’ve changed around the focus areas.
    For those of you more familiar with the work of the Alliance, you know that a lot of our work focuses on four major population groups: families, veterans, youth, and people experiencing chronic homelessness. Once upon a time, we kept all our information about those four groups on four pages – now we’ve divided all that information into three distinct categories. Under Issues, you’ll get an overview of that subpopulation. Under Policy, you’ll get information about federal policies addressing that particular subpopulation. Under Solutions, you’ll get information about best practices for that particular population – what the Alliance has observed as the best way to reduce and end homelessness.
  • And while you’re in the Solutions section, take a look around. In that section, we outline all the most effective, most efficient, proven strategies to reduce and end homelessness. Find out more about the Housing First approach, prevention and rapid re-housing strategies, and the Alliance’s Ten Year Plan to end homelessness.
  • And don’t leave without checking out the Local Progress section. This new section highlights the efforts and successes of communities across the country. It features community snapshots, underlining the methods and tactics that have measurably reduced homelessness in a variety of localities.
  • And after learning all about homelessness, consider doing something about it! Check out our Advocacy section. At the Alliance, we work with state and local leaders to inform federal policymakers about the state of homelessness at the grassroots level. If you really want to make a difference – if you really want to reduce and end homelessness in your community – connect with the Alliance’s advocacy team to have your voice heard.

We’re really hoping that you find that the new design makes it easier for you to use the Alliance website and find the information you need. We had a wonderful, crazy, very enlightening time making the updates – and we hope you like it!

Let us know your thoughts, critiques, comments here or on any one of our Alliance social networks!

Thanks,
Catherine.

7th May
2010
written by naehblog

It’s been another seriously busy week at the Alliance. Not only did we recognize the formation of the new Congressional Caucus on Homelessness and launch a brand-new website, we also put out the latest Community Snapshot, which highlights the progress in Alameda County, CA. They’ve reduced homelessness by 15% since 2003. Find out how they did it here.

This week on the Change.org End Homelessness blog, blogger Jessica Rowshandel also discussed news about the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness briefing. Plus, they featured a post by our very own Catherine An!

On Off the Charts, the Center on Budget names yet another reason for Congress to extend the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund: it’s helping create jobs for more than 180,000 people across the U.S. That’s in addition to preventing families from ending up homeless by providing income and short-term rent assistance. (Read our latest on the Emergency Contingency Fund here. The Center for American Progress was also talking TANF this week – check out what they have to say about changing TANF asset tests.

And let’s end on some good news: Memphis, a city where 1600 people experience homelessness each night, just announced that they’ve created a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Hats off to Memphis! Plus, Cape Cod’s Point in Time Count showed a 10% decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

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6th May
2010
written by naehblog

It’s been a tough recently for California. The state of sand and stars has been plagued by political controversy and economic troubles leaving state and local leaders with some very tough choices.

Still, there are nuggets of good news coming out of the Golden State.

In Alameda County, for instance, we’re seeing some marked and measurable decreases in homelessness. In spite of the recession, in spite of the housing crisis, in spite of the state’s budget troubles – the county of Alameda is managing to reduce homelessness for their community.

In 2003, Alameda County identified over 5,000 people who experienced homelessness on a given night – 43 percent of those people were persons in families with children.

But over the last few years, the city has implemented some best practiced that have yielded real results.

Among those best practices was Housing First, an approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing homeless people with housing as quickly as possible – and then providing services as needed. Between 2005 and 2009, the county created 512 permanent housing units and carefully targeted those units to those who needed them most.

The city also developed the Priority Home Partnership (PHP) using funds provided by the federal governments Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). PHP is an integrated, multi-agency approach to preventing homelessness that involved centralized screening at intake and an innovative assessment tool that aims to provide households and families the right mix of housing and services to prevent homelessness from occurring.

The county also created a Homeless Outreach and Stabilization Team (HOST) and strategic working committees that represented a diversity of community interests and were tasked with creating new permanent housing units through increasing awareness, capacity, and resources.

Alameda County was one of the first communities in the country to create a collaborative, multi-system plan to end homelessness, including the city of Oakland, city of Berkeley, the Alameda County Social Services Agency, Housing and Community Development Department, Behavior Health Care Services, and nine other sponsoring agencies. This partnership initiated the Alameda County Countywide Homeless and Special Needs Plan, known as the EveryOne Home plan.

The county’s collaborative, dedicated approach has created real results. From the initial 2003 survey, homelessness in Alameda County has declined by 15 percent overall. Family homelessness has decreased by 27 percent; chronic homelessness has decreased by 20 percent. Homelessness among children has decreased by 33 percent.

For more information on the great work of this community, please check out the 2-page snapshot on the Alliance website.

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5th May
2010
written by naehblog

Nearly everyone in the office is already hard at work preparing the program for our National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness Alliance to End Homelessness.

We know that funds are hard to find right now, but we also know that our conference is far better because of participants who don’t have the money to attend. That’s why we’re offering scholarships to individuals who are experienced or have experienced homelessness, as well as people who are part of organizations who working to end homelessness.

And we’ve just extended the deadline for applications! Scholarship applications are now due May 23. Apply now.

Scholarships are granted based on the following:

  • financial need,
  • geographic distribution,
  • targeted population(s) served, and
  • the leadership skills the applicant will be able to bring back to his/her community.

For more information and the official rules, visit the conference website.
You can submit your application in via fax, email OR mail to:
By fax: 202-638-4664
By email: dklingle@naeh.org
By mail: National Alliance to End Homelessness 1518 K Street, NW, Suite 410 Washington, DC 20005

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