Archive for June, 2010

30th June
written by naehblog

So – apologies in advance. With the release of our 2009 Annual Report (AR), we’re going to take a moment to tell you about the awesome stuff that the Alliance has done (and is doing!).

To skip all this and just check out the report, find it on our website.

So, to begin – the Annual Report is a summary of Alliance activities, projects, and achievements over the course of a year. We highlight some our greatest triumphs, describe the work of the different departments, and outline our financial reports.

In sum, it’s the Alliance – in a colorful, shiny snapshot (see right).

A few highlights:

I’m sure it comes as no shock that the Homelessness Counts report, which shows changes in homelessness from 2005 to 2007, was featured prominently in the AR. The Counts report is accompanied by a cool web-based interactive map, which illustrates the report’s finding at a state level. It’s consistently the most visited page on the website and a continuing source of attention from media, colleagues, and advocates – it’s also a great example of the innovative work of the Homelessness Research Institute, the research and education arm of the Alliance.

Also included in the Annual Report is information about the major legislation that was passed in the last year, including the HEARTH Act and the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). HPRP and HEARTH are not only great tools for homeless assistance advocates and direct service providers but they can help fundamentally change the way we approach homelessness – moving from managed care to a framework that promotes ending homelessness. The Alliance is proud to have been an important part in both passing the pieces of legislation and in helping communities utilize these new programs effectively and efficiently.

And that’s the work of the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building – helping communities on-the-ground. This year, the Center assisted 48 communities in 19 states implement best practices and launched a virtual discussion series giving community leaders a way to share their experiences and connect with each other.

There is a special mention of the Alliance’s Leadership Council (LC). The LC includes leaders in the homelessness assistance field from 13 communities – including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and D.C. – and represents 14 percent of the national homeless population. The Council comes together to share information from their respective cities and is currently engaged in a review of HPRP implementation.

Check it out for yourself! Read the Alliance’s Annual Report, and let us know what you think!

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29th June
written by Marisa Seitz

The Alliance blog has talked before about what is formally known as the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (HR 4213), but is often called the “tax extenders bill”.

The bill would include funding for a number of programs, but there are two that interest us: the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) and the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF).

The TANF ECF is this extra pool of money helped TANF support more families during the recession and we were looking to have it renewed so that more support would be available. For more information about the TANF ECF (and family homelessness!) check out yesterday’s blogpost.

The second is the NHTF, a program created under President Bush to create affordable housing. Unfortunately, when the program was created, no money was allocated to it (it’s pretty hard to develop affordable housing with no money, FYI). The tax extenders bill would fund (we call that “capitalize”) NHTF – and more affordable housing means fewer people experiencing homelessness.

Unfortunately, last Thursday, June 24th, the House-approved bill was shut down in the Senate, with a 57 to 41 vote (60 votes were needed to pass it). Republicans and some others claimed to have withheld support because portions of the bill remained unfunded. No timeline was set as to when the tax extenders bill would be picked back up.

All in all, this means that we don’t know if the programs we mentioned will be receiving funding or if these program that help people experiencing homelessness will be able to serve as many people as they would like.

But we’ll have another chance to make a difference around the corner. Next week, the House subcommittee in charge of the HUD budget will be marking up their FY 2011 budget. So while we’ve lost this battle (for now), we can still make a difference for people experiencing homelessness and for our communities. Stay tuned to find out how YOU can help!

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28th June
written by Marisa Seitz

When I came to the Alliance, I really did not know anything about homelessness, or those who were experiencing it. I think, like many people, my experience with people experiencing homelessness was only of those collecting change on the streets.

However, since coming to the Alliance and being exposed to the community dedicated to ending homelessness, I have come to understand that this is not a comprehensive picture of homelessness. I think I thought that all people who were experiencing homelessness fell into that category of what I now understand to be chronic homelessness. Turns out I was wrong – there are so many different types of homelessness, most of which aren’t chronic. One type of homelessness that I had not considered before was family homelessness.

Family homelessness has been in the news a lot lately, especially because of the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) which found that the number of families seeking shelter has increased in the last year. Also, the new Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness, called Opening Doors, set a specific goal of ending family homelessness in 10 years. These developments have pushed the issue into the spotlight so, in an effort to educate myself more about this group, I asked around the Alliance and did some research to get a clearer picture of family homelessness.

So what is family homelessness? It’s exactly what one would think: families who are not able to afford housing, and as a result experience homelessness. Roughly 30 percent of those experiencing homelessness are families.

What do families experiencing homelessness look like? In truth, families experiencing homelessness aren’t different than other poor families. So what usually happens is this: there’s a poor family that’s just getting by and then something happens – an injury, a job loss, a car crash – and some unforeseen cost derails the family’s hard-strapped finances. At some point, they’re unable to make rent and fall into homelessness.

The majority of families who experience homelessness are homeless for fewer than six months. Chronic family homelessness – though it happens – is rare, because in those situations (repeated homelessness or in the case of illness or disability), children are usually removed from the situation.

So what are we going to do about it?Ending family homelessness is really contingent on investing in homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing – which is why we’re really happy with the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded federal program. The program was intended to curb homelessness resulting from the recession by quickly getting families back into housing (that’s the rapid re-housing part) or by connecting families with resources with they become at-risk of losing their housing (that’s the prevention part). It’s being implemented in communities across the country right this very second – and some communities are showing results already. We’re tracking progress in 13 communities across the country – you can see our latest report here.

There are several resources that families can use to help them acquire housing. Unemployment Insurance is available for those who qualify, as is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for people with disabilities.

But the one program you’re going to hear about most when talking about poor families is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

TANF – sometimes called welfare – is intended to provide poor families with temporary cash assistance as they work towards independence. And this program has been the focus of some legislative action.

In February 2009, Pres. Obama signed into law the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) which was meant to help states continue their TANF program. At the height of the recession, it was projected that more families would be turning to public benefits and states would struggle to meet the needs of their residents. The federal government created TANF ECF and allowed states to use the fund to cover up to 80 percent of their TANF expenditures (the states had to come up with the other 20 percent on their own).

The Emergency Contingency Fund is set to expire – but a renewal is being considered in the Senate as part of the Tax Extenders Bill.

But more on that tomorrow!

For more information about family homelessness – including what you and I can do to help out, check out our website.

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25th June
written by Marisa Seitz

This week marked a big step in the fight against homelessness. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, a new federal strategic plan geared toward preventing and ending homelessness today. Everybody has been talking about it all week.

Melody Barnes, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, offered her positive review, while the National Coalition for the Homeless took the seemingly more common reaction of cautiously optimistic. Goals were praised all around, but the question of where funds would come from seemed to be on people’s minds.

Our own President Nan Roman offered the Alliance’s take on the new plan. Tony Pugh of McClatchy and Ileana Morales of the Associated Press also offered their analysis of the plan.

With the advent of this new federal plan, we’re hoping that there will be a renewed national interest in eliminating homelessness – and this piece examining the link between housing problems and policy is keeping our hopes up!

On a more local level, we’re still seeing stories about the implementation of HPRP. Detroit seems to be having trouble distributing funds efficiently and effectively, but there seems to be light in Boston as communities embrace one of the principles of ending homelessness: housing first.

And last but most certainly not least, TANF takes the stage. As legislators continue to dwell upon the passage of the Tax Extenders Bill (which we’ve discussed on this blog) LaDonna Pavetti, Director of the Welfare Reform and Income Support Division at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, discusses the huge positive impact that the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund has had since it was extended – and why we should do what we can to keep it around.

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23rd June
written by Marisa Seitz

The office here at the Alliance is abuzz lately with activity concerning our upcoming National Conference to End Homelessness. And a big part of the conference is what we call Capitol Hill Day.

As a newbie with the Alliance, I wasn’t exactly clear on what the purpose of Capitol Hill Day – so I sought out Sumeet Singh, intern for our Program and Policy Associate Amanda Krusemark, who’s helping to make Capitol Hill Day happen.

So the bottom line of Capitol Hill day is to affect policy.

On Capitol Hill Day, people who are working to end homelessness meet their members of Congress. Meeting Senators and Representatives is a direct way to talk about homelessness and face-to-face meetings are particularly effective. It’s not always with a Member him or herself; sometimes it’s someone on their staff. That may seem less effective, but staffers are extremely important in influencing Members, so it works either way.

Capitol Hill Day offers a chance for people to talk directly to the officials who have the power to make decisions that affect the funding and creation of programs that help end homelessness. Sumeet also noted that Capitol Hill Day offers people a chance to establish a relationship with their Congressmen.

And the great news is – anyone can do it.

Anybody can come and participate in Capitol Hill Day. Groups are often lead by State Captains, people chosen to target the members of each state and to take the lead in organizing meetings. The number of State Captains is proportional to the state’s population.

For a lot of people, the experience can seem intimidating, but participants settle in quickly. Capitol Hill Day shows that officials in the government do not need to be seen as an unreachable power, but as real people serving their constituents.

This year there are 40 states represented at Capitol Hill Day, more than ever before! Registration has been strong and this year’s Capitol Hill Day promises to be successful for all our local advocates looking to make a change in the way their communities address homelessness.

Check out the website to learn more about Capitol Hill Day and to get involved, contact Amanda or Sumeet.

22nd June
written by naehblog

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released a new federal strategic plan geared toward preventing and ending homelessness today.

And it was quite the production. Not quite presidential, but the Secretaries of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (Shaun Donovan), Health and Human Services (Kathleen Sebelius), Labor (Hilda Solis), and Veterans Affairs (Gen. Eric Shinseki) all showed up to unveil Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness at a White House briefing this morning.

And right they were to make a to-do. Opening Doors is the first comprehensive federal plan developed to prevent and end homelessness, laying out specific goals and clear timeframes. The plan even identifies the data sources (point-in-time homeless counts, to be exact) by which they’ll be measuring progress, allowing for real accountability.
Opening Doors sets four major goals:

  • Finish the job of ending chronic homelessness in five years;
  • Prevent and end homelessness among veterans in five years;
  • Prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children in ten years; and
  • Set a path to ending all types of homelessness.

(Any of this sound familiar?)

And while we’re very excited at the prospect of having a federal partner to help achieve our mutual goal of ending homelessness, we know that it’s not going to be easy. We know that the process of moving from plan to action will require more than good intentions.

How do we know?

Because this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of a plan. In 2000, we launched the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. After releasing, A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years, we asked communities to take the charge and develop local plans to incrementally, systematically, end homelessness in their communities.

And the results were remarkable!

From 2005 to 2008, we saw a ten percent decrease in the total number of homeless people in the United States. In the same timeframe, there was a nearly 20 percent decrease in homeless families and a nearly 30 percent decrease in chronic homelessness. (For the full report on progress, check out Homelessness Counts: Changes in Homelessness from 2005 to 2007.

But progress didn’t come easily. To date, over 266 communities have developed their own community plans to end homelessness and those plans that have shown real progress have harnessed the political will and public support to invest real resources into the cause. Hard work, financial resources, and plenty of community investment were the keys to success. (In fact, the Alliance identified the four components critical to ensuring community plan success in this report.)

So all we’re hoping is that the plan can be turned into action. Implementation is the key to progress (as Nan notes) – and if this plan is implemented well with the heft and resources of the federal government, it promises to be instrumental in ending homelessness in the United States.

As a next step, federal agencies are meeting to prioritize which strategies should be implemented first and to develop implementation plans. USICH will report annually on progress toward implementation and achieving reductions in homelessness.
The plan was required by the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which was enacted into law in May 2009. For the full, 67-page plan, check out the USICH website.

21st June
written by Marisa Seitz

After a week of reports and federal policy – and more to come, undoubtedly! – we thought we’d share a lighter side of the Alliance! Marisa (see below!) went around to chat up our summer interns and find out what brought them to the Alliance.

Here at the Alliance, we have recently had a number of new interns join us on our mission, and now we would like to introduce them all to you!

Mindy Mitchell

Mindy has just completed her first year at CUNY, where she is working on her law degree. She used to be a case worker in Mobile, Alabama, which she says is the reason why she wanted to pursue her law degree, because as she says, “Kids should not be homeless.” It is also one of the reasons why she wanted to work here at the Alliance. Mindy says she wants to work on a structural level to change why families become homeless. While here, she is researching house states and helping get the word out to people in government about extending TANF ECF, part of HR 4213. She is also a bibliophile!

Stephanie Wege

Stephanie is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where she minored in inequality studies, an area that affects a lot of people experiencing homelessness. Stephanie has been looking for full time employment, and believes that this internship at the Alliance will give her an edge in the workplace. She was drawn to the Alliance because, as she says, it deals with a comprehensive approach to many of the things people experiencing homelessness deal with, such as health care, education and employment. Stephanie is a Capacity intern, who will be helping with web based training materials, HPRP case management, and a HPRP provider survey. She also has an identical twin sister!


Sumeet Singh

Sumeet is a rising Junior at Birmigham-Southern College. Last summer he worked for a congressmen in Alabama, and for Conservation Alabama, where he learned about grassroots movements at the state level. His next logical step was to see how things work at a national level, which is why he is here at the Alliance! Sumeet says he is really enjoying seeing how grassroots movements work through different organizations, all the way up through government, and begin to have actual effects. He is a Federal Advocacy intern, and at the moment is mostly working the upcoming Capital Hill Day. He also gets his lunch every day from CVS!

Marisa Seitz

And last but not least, me! My name is Marisa and I’m the new Social Media intern here at NAEH. I am a military brat who attends James Madison University during the year, enjoys traveling around the world with her family and loves dresses. I am very excited to be working here at NAEH. Although I have not had a lot of experience with homelessness before, I knew I would be working on a great cause here. As far as social media goes, being plugged in is hardly an option anymore if one wants to stay informed, but I am fascinated with the new ways social media can be used to create communities, and the way that mobile online communities can intertwine and begin to affect real change. I hope in my time here I can learn more about the fight against homelessness, but also to help strengthen and expand the community of people who care about ending homelessness.

18th June
written by Marisa Seitz

It was a week of big news in the homeless assistance field this week…

The 9,000 lb gorilla in the room was definitely the release of the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. The HUD-authored study is a compilation of everything we know about homelessness in a given year. Headlining this year’s report is a) homelessness is marginally down overall but b) there are more families seeking shelter, which both we and HUD believe is an indication of the recession’s impact on homelessness.

Also making headlines this week – but probably more next week – is the long anticipated release of the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness, which is due to be released in full on Tuesday, June 22. While there’s little news to be covered yet, Executive Director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness Barbara Poppe does offer a few sneak peeks.

As if that weren’t enough – and it is – let’s not forget that Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard came out with their State of the Nation’s Housing this week, which took over our attention for a couple days.

And other people are thinking about the state of affordable housing and poverty too. Just today, Stateline released an analysis about the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund, which is still being kicked around by the Senate as part of the Tax Extenders Bill. Also, the state of low-income housing seems to be floating around on the Center for American Progress (CAP) blog.

Hope you enjoy!

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17th June
written by Marisa Seitz

Hello all! My name’s Marisa, and I’m the new social media intern here at the Alliance (there’s actually a LOT of new folk here this summer – but more about us later).

On June 14, I was given the opportunity to attend a series of talks on social media and media in general, as part of Digital Capital Week, an event focused on technology, innovation, and all things digital in Washington DC.

I was sent because, as the Alliance has noted on this blog before, the use of social media tools in poverty and homeless assistance organizations continues to drag behind as compared to other movements.

So we’re studying up!

In a discussion about the use of social media tools in news organizations – “Social and Traditional Media: How News and Media Organizations Are Getting Social and Why They Need to Do It” – panelists were all quick to agree that there is no longer an “if” as to whether businesses and organizations should use social media. Andy Carvin, who works for NPR, noted how people have been “social” with the organization for years, even since the late 1970s when people would send self-created audio files to local stations. Today’s social media platforms – including Facebook and Twitter – are only newer, faster ways for an audience to interact with organizations.

The panelists also agreed that the beauty of social media is that it acknowledges the power of the people. According to Carvin, when NPR seeks to add something extra to a project, they often turn to their social media outlets and ask people who follow NPR to help out.

And you know what? It works.

Listeners have submitted complex Google maps that explained Hurricane Gustav or analyzed trends of an election. The listener base that NPR had fostered online offer their skills as a way to get involved. Fellow panelists agreed with Carvin, noting that social media was a powerful tool that allowed their audiences to become interactive communities.

Jeff Pulver, founder of Vonage and VoIP industry leader, elaborated on this concept. The digital social media we use today, he argued, is serving an important function: to connect people.

Pulver talked about social media’s ability to take a single voice and amplify it, a phenomenon often seen on Twitter through the use of re-tweets. Change comes from ideas – and social media affords new ways of spreading ideas and affecting change. Pulver also stressed that the way to best use social media like Twitter was to be genuine, to try and establish connections to people, to care enough to reply directly back to them, to thank them when they pass along information.

Lee Rainie, Director of the acclaimed Pew Internet & American Life Project brought a data-based perspective to the conversation he discussed their latest survey on the Internet.

Rainie showed the difference in Internet consumption in the last decade.

Rainie talked about previous surveys, what they had correctly predicted (such as online security becoming a problem) and what they had thought would happen that did not (such as change in classroom structure). He then went on to discuss the results from their most recent survey, explaining some of the questions they asked and how their group of experts responded.

  • Will Google make us stupid?
    Most experts said no, saying that cognitive sentiments will shift. New literacies will emerge, there will be the rise of “extreme googlers”. That people are people, and any characteristics that people seem to be gaining from the Internet were there before, and the Internet is only giving people a chance to express them.

  • What is the future of online anonymity?
    Either online sharing will be sharply curtailed or information will still be pretty easy to get in 2020, but experts are split as to which it will be. They believe that new laws will emerge, but perhaps people will realize that it is really confidentiality and autonomy (the ability to choose who can see your information) and not privacy that they want.
  • What will be the Internet’s impact on ready and writing?
    Experts agreed that writing will mostly improve. The Internet encourages participation, often through writing and reading, and as there is more writing and reading, skill will improve. It was also noted that with younger generations where there is concern over writing skills because of the way people write in things such as texts, it is mostly unfounded because teens don’t see texting as writing, but as a conversation, and know to write differently in the classroom.

It’s a big social media world out there – and the promise of their utility is overwhelming. It’s up to us, it seems, to make sure that we capitalize on the opportunities that our foray out into the digital landscape offers.

Nowhere is that promise more important than in serving the most vulnerable communities among us. We’ve been doing a lot of finger-crossing lately – lots of planning and thinking, too – and now we’re transferring our best wishes to our best efforts.

Wish us luck!

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16th June
written by naehblog

Big, big news. (It’s been a big news week).

Aside from the now-announced but still-anticipated release of the federal strategic plan to end homelessness – called Opening Doors – there’s even more news to digest!

Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR).

And it’s pretty wild.

Headlining the report is the fact that homelessness is marginally down. Despite the worst recession this country has seen since the Depression, we’ve managed to avoid an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness. That may seem like a little thing, but persistent unemployment rate and the erosion of housing affordability we talked about on Monday, it’s a pretty great thing.

Among the highlight is a ten percent reduction in chronic homelessness(!!). There’s little doubt that the hard work of communities to implement housing-based strategies and prevention practices was key in that that reduction. For decades, the Alliance has lead the way analyzing research and best practices around chronic homelessness – and we’re so excited to see the results!

Such speculation is only further validated by the dramatic shift in the inventory of shelters beds in the United States. For years, emergency shelter and transitional housing beds dominated the supply. This is the first year that permanent supportive housing beds have topped the charts – and we hardly think it’s a coincidence.

But the news isn’t all good. As was noted this morning in the papers, there was a slight increase in the number of families seeking shelter this year.

And we think it has a lot to do with the recession. As job losses hit families, we imagine that they’re moving through their available resources and then finding themselves in shelter. In fact, our own Doubled Up report indicates that more families are staying with others as they work their way through financial hardships. This is the first AHAR that gives us an indication of what’s happened as a result of the recession – and it looks like families are being hit pretty hard.

That being said, it’s still a waiting game. As Nan’s pointed out before, “homelessness is a lagging economic indicator” and we haven’t even begun to see the effects of the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.

So keep those fingers crossed. But in the meantime, take a look at the full report.

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