Archive for July, 2010

30th July
2010
written by Catherine An

House Approves $2.2 Billion for McKinney-Vento, $75 Million for VASH

Last night, the House approved H.R. 5850, the fiscal year (FY) 2011 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations Bill. The bill includes a number of provisions to help people experiencing homelessness.

Although a proposed amendment to the bill would have eliminated funding for the HUD – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, the amendment was eventually withdrawn. As a result of YOUR help in making phone calls to your representatives, the final bill includes $75 million for HUD-VASH.

In addition to funding for HUD-VASH, the legislation includes:

  • $2.2 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants (an 18 percent increase over FY 2010);
  • $17.080 billion for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance renewals (a $740.8 million increase over FY 2010), including:
  • $85 million for 10,000 housing vouchers for the Housing and Services for Homeless Persons Demonstration;
  • $350 million for the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program (a $15 million increase over FY 2010);
  • $4.829 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund (a $54 million increase over FY 2010); and
  • $2.5 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund (no change from FY 2010).

The House approved $2.2 billion in funding for McKinney-Vento programs due to all of YOUR hard work. Although we need $2.4 billion to fully implement the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, we need to let our representatives know how appreciative we are to them for providing an 18 percent increase for McKinney-Vento programs.

Check the House Appropriations Committee website for more information on H.R. 5850.

Again – none of this could’ve happened without YOU. Our federal representatives need to hear what you think so they can do their job of representing our interests and priorities. So thanks for all your hard work!

Up next? The Senate – stay tuned!

30th July
2010
written by Marisa Seitz

As the end date for possible extension of the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund draws ever nearer, we hear more and more pleas for Congress to pass funds for this important program that has done so much in helping end and prevent homelessness.

Related: The Wall Street Journal talked this week about the federal poverty level, an important measurement that helps us understand more about how many people could be at risk for homelessness. We’re pleased to see that notable news organizations and important thinkers are paying attention to the state of poverty and vulnerability of so many Americans.

Especially because it seems like the problem is prevalent: a startling statistic came out of Indiana this week. According to AP writer Ken Kusmer the number of homeless students has increased 26 percent in the state since 2006-07. We saw a string of similar stories in the year – is this a resurgence of that trend?

Which doesn’t mean there’s isn’t help to be had. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette wrote this week about how HPRP funds are being used prevent evictions in Westmoreland County, PA, and the Sequim Gazette wrote about great homeless assistance work in Clallam County – work that was highlighted at the Alliance’s national conference in July as one of five high-performing counties in preventing and ending homelessness. Great work!

And finally – the big news – the danger posed on the House T-HUD spending bill – we called it H.R. 5850 yesterday, has passed. The members withdrew their Amendment so the bill will go through as intended. An advocacy alert is going out shortly (to receive it, sign up) and details will follow today on this blog.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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29th July
2010
written by Catherine An

The saga of the congressional appropriations continues – but today, we’re talking about something other than the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs.

You may remember that we’ve talked about congressional appropriations at length – the most recent post was about the surprising move by the House Appropriations Committee to allocate $2.2 billion to the McKinney-Vento programs – even more than was requested by President Obama or recommended by the HouseT-HUD subcommittee.

But today – there’s a really serious bump in the road.

Today, the House is expected to vote on H.R. 5850, the fiscal year (FY) 2011 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations Bill – the same bill we’ve been concerned about for all these months. The bill includes a number of provisions to help people experiencing homelessness, including that $2.2 billion for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs we’ve been crowing about.

But danger lurked around a different corner. Now, funding for the HUD – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program is in danger of being eliminated.

It’s called Amendment #106 and it cuts a number of programs – HUD-VASH being of particular importance.

Why?

Because HUD-VASH houses homeless veterans by coupling rent assistance from HUD and medical treatment + case management from the VA. This program has shown to be effective at keeping even the most vulnerable veterans housed and safe.

The House Appropriations Committee included $75 million for 10,000 additional HUD-VASH vouchers in H.R. 5850 but four congressmen have filed Amendment #106, which would eliminate this funding.

They say it’s because HUD did not ask for it in its original budget request. But HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan testified to Congress he didn’t ask for the resources in the original budget request because the program was slow to get started. But now, he went on, the program is being rapidly implemented. Thousands of homeless veterans are in apartments, and, as Secretary Donovan said, 10,000 additional HUD-VASH vouchers would be quickly and efficiently put to use to house vulnerable veterans.

Everyone’s concerned about the budget – and with good reason. But we aren’t going to balance it on the backs of homeless, disabled, and vulnerable veterans.

Call your Representative’s office NOW. Ask to speak to the person who works on housing issues (you can find your Congressional office phone numbers by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.) and tell them to make sure their boss votes AGAINST Amendment #106 to H.R. 5850.

And HURRY! The House is expected to vote on these bills today.

28th July
2010
written by Catherine An

Catherine An: Yesterday, my good friend and colleague Amanda and I had the opportunity to attend an all-day conference hosted by the Center for American Progress called Doing What Works.

Doing What Works is a project that aims to improve government. It has three specific objectives (that you can find here) but basically, the project aims to boost government so that it’s more effective, more efficient, and better serves the American people.

Amanda Krusemark: The conference was really fascinating and the thing that struck me most was that what makes government more efficient and effective – as iterated and reiterated by the speakers – are the same things that make nonprofits more efficient and effective.

It’s a focus on solutions and measures and setting goals. We learned from cabinet makers and celebrated thinkers that it’s critical to take some time at the beginning of any process for improvement or change to think through your goals and strategies. And it’s just as important to periodically check in throughout the change process to evaluate how you’re doing. One of my favorite moments was when Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan said that his biggest personal challenge (and the most important thing he does everyday) is to set aside an hour each day to reflect, plan, and otherwise check in on projects.

CA: I want an hour a day.

AK: Your hour a day is at the gym.

CA: True. And what a wonderful hour it is.

I was struck by how common sensical – is that word? – the recommended strategies seemed to be. The speakers – scholars and researchers and government officials alike – laid what seemed to be some elementary steps to improvement: be ambitious, set goals, define success, set measures for that success, monitor and measure progress, re-evaluate, and identify ways to make lasting change.

Doesn’t that all seem, I don’t know, kind of obvious?

AK: I don’t know, but it’s definitely something we need to work on. And actually, I think the federal strategic plan, Opening Doors, is an attempt to do that. It’s got lofty goals (five year goals for ending homelessness among veterans and chronic homelessness, ten year goal for ending homelessness among families, children, and youth), and it defines success (meeting these goals) and it sets measures for being successful (the plan has 10 objectives and 52 specific strategies). What we need to do now is make sure that the next steps – monitoring and measuring progress, re-evaluating, and making lasting change – actually happen.

And – here’s my advocacy hat coming on – our charge in the homeless assistance field is to hold government accountable for these next steps.

CA: Excellent lead-in, Amanda!

Yep, the thing that struck me the most was how much familiar the themes, ideas, and language used in yesterday’s workshop were! “Outcomes-based solutions,” goal-setting, “planning for outcomes”, an emphasis on “data and performance measures”: these are key phrases and concepts in our field.

And thinking about it now, I’m struck by the juxtaposition of the two. I mean, I get comments all the time on our social networks criticizing the Alliance for the “intellectualization” of homelessness. Homelessness is a “heartstrings” issue – tugging on the emotional sensibility of Americans.

But finding solutions isn’t about heart – it’s about head (the heart helps – no doubt). We’re not going to end homelessness by crying about it and holding hands – we’re going to end homelessness by critically examining the problems, setting objectives, and using data-driven, evidence-based practices that we know work.

And that’s what yesterday was all about – doing what works.

AK: And, say hello to the advocacy hat again, (CA: if you’re interested in advocacy, you should email her) the great thing about all of this is that doing what works not only ends homelessness, but also convinces policymakers to invest in those proven solutions. When they have evidence to show something works, they’re more likely to put resources toward it. So we can do more of what works.

CA: There’s tons more that we could go on about, but we’re pretty loopy at this point and our old memories are beginning to fade.

AK: But if you want more information about CAP’s Doing What Works program, or any of the reports, documents, and studies we got yesterday (including a pretty interesting poll on what people want from their government, you should check out their website.

CA: Thanks for your patience on our first creative venture on the blog – we can promise more unwieldy experiments to come!

27th July
2010
written by Marisa Seitz

For a walk on the lighter side of the Alliance, we would like to introduce you to two new members of our staff!

Stephanie Macgill

Stephanie is a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno studying Public Administration. Stephanie says she has been keeping up with the Alliance’s research for a few years, and has wanted to come to DC to engage in real policy research, so she came here to work with us! Stephanie is a Youth Policy Research intern, who will be working on creating Best practices for applying HPRP to youth programs, and is also helping create a baseline for the number of homeless youths. Also, one of her hobbies is welding!

Pete Witte

We are glad to welcome Pete to the staff as our new Research Associate for the Homelessness Research Institute (HRI). Before he was with us, Pete worked with the Montgomery County Planning Department for the National Center for Smart Growth. While he is here, Pete will be helping with HRI’s general goal of disseminating research and data throughout the community, as well as helping to educate people about homelessness. One project he is working on right now is to create Community Snapshots of homelessness. Fun fact, Pete is the 7th of eight children. Also, we are all very excited for Pete and his wife who are expecting their first little girl September 21st!

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26th July
2010
written by Catherine An

Pete Witte
Today’s post comes to us from the newest member of the Alliance staff, research associate Peter Witte.

On Friday, July 23, I had the opportunity to attend the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) summer meeting of the Alliance for Research Progress in Bethesda, Maryland. The Alliance for Research Progress is a group of advocates that represent national organizations (like ours) with an interest in mental health. The group meets twice a year to discuss the mental health field and hear about NIMH research activities and priorities.

About 45 percent of homeless people report that they have experienced an indicator of a mental health problem. Homeless people also report a high level of substance abuse problems. It’s critical that groups invested in ending homelessness – like the Alliance – take part in the dialogue about mental illness and hear about the latest research because so many people experiencing homelessness could benefit the information. (For more information on the relationship between homelessness and mental and physical health, see our “Issues” section.)

Lisa J. Colpe, Chief in the Office of Clinical and Population Epidemiology Research, presented about the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (Army STARRS) project. The project is investigating “factors that help protect a soldier’s mental health and those factors that put a soldier’s mental health at risk.”

As an organization that has worked hard to address homelessness among veterans, this presentation was an illuminating look at what we can do to protect the mental health of our service men and women. It’s promising to note that steps are being taken to ease the transition back into civilian life and alleviate the trauma that can occur during active duty – two elements that can contribute to veterans homelessness.

The last presentation, filled with graphics and stats, provided a view on mental health across the world. Pamela Collins, Director of the Office for Research on Disparities & Global Mental Health, presented, “Mental Health Disparities: A Global Perspective.” One theme in the presentation was that human resources for mental health services in low-income countries are much lower than that of higher income countries. While this may seem obvious, it does reiterate the long-standing notion that more resources are necessary to address and combat mental illness – and that those most vulnerable can be those with the fewest resources.

The meeting also included remarks by NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel, who presented the “State of the NIMH.” Insel noted that mental illnesses and disorders are not currently treated successfully enough and that better treatment is needed in all spheres of remedy (prescription, cognitive and behavioral therapy). For example, he noted, medications for autism and schizophrenia have poor success rates and are rarely sufficient enough treatments. He also emphasized that NIMH has the opportunity to improve intervention techniques and treatments for many debilitating mental illnesses and disorders. Current and future research activities will help lead the way.

We at the Alliance join NIMH in their commitment to improve the lives of those experiencing mental disability or illness – and specifically those also experiencing homelessness. The challenges presented by both conditions are daunting and likely must be overcome with the cooperation and collaboration of experts, advocates, services providers, and dedicated people like you.

23rd July
2010
written by Marisa Seitz

We are certainly worried about our seniors this week. All Voices talked about seniors living below the poverty line who are never even counted, The Signal wrote about the projected rise of homeless seniors, and the Jacksonville Register also commented on the rise in homeless elderly population. While the predictions are of concern, they certainly do reflect the Alliance’s own projections in the first of Demographics series.

Across the country, communities are undertaking efforts to reduce veterans homelessness. The Washington state paper, The Olympian featured an editorial about updating health care for female veterans, while the LA Times published another piece about Secretary Shinseki’s visit to the region. The Department of Veterans Affairs, emphasized the Secretary, is committed to ensuring those who served in defense of the country are not abandoned when they return from service.

And while some wrote about how deficit worries are slowing funding for federal homeless programs, we were happy to find out this week that House Appropriations Committee proposed increasing funding for McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs in FY 2011! In a notable departure from longstanding protocol, the House Appropriations deviated from recommendations from both President Obama and it’s own T-HUD subcommittee and increased proposed funding by $145 million. (Is this news to you? Check out our (rather long) post about it.

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22nd July
2010
written by naehblog

Today’s blog comes from Alison Eisinger, who participated in Capitol Hill Day, working with her members Congress to help advance the homelessness cause. Read below fro an account of her experience.

Our group was made of roughly 20 people from our state at the conference, and about 8 of us went on hill visits on Wednesday. I was very glad to have had a chance to experience hill visits in April, and knew a little bit what to expect. It did feel as though everyone else on these visits was a seasoned veteran, but at least I had some experience to draw on! We had such excellent packets prepared for us by the NAEH staff — everything we needed to be able to carry out the visit was in there.

We spoke primarily about fully funding McKinney, about Section 8 vouchers, and about the fact that we see growing demand for services and shrinking resources at the local level.

We had a nice mixture of people, including someone from local government (City Office of Housing), someone who works with a large local funder of services and housing for homeless families, a woman who runs survival services in a rural part of the state, and the ED of a private social service organization and day labor agency (which does not accept public funds but sees the urgent need for federal funding and policies that help end homelessness), as well as someone from the major homelessness advocacy group in the County (me). Good range of people to offer their take on these issues to the staffers.

I came prepared to invite both Senators and their staff to specific events in our state during the August recess, and I plan to write a thank you note to each of them that repeats that invitation. I surprised myself by doing something I hadn’t planned to do, namely inviting Senator Murray during the Wednesday morning coffee to attend our backpack-stuffing day for Project Cool for Back-to-School. I did not want to put her on the spot, but it seemed like a nice opportunity to let her know that we appreciated her work on behalf of children who are homeless.

What happened really surprised me — two other constituents who were at the morning coffee came up to say that they wanted to help, too — one was a school nurse in two districts in our County with high numbers of children who are homeless, and one was a psychotherapist in private practice with children and adolescents. They were both visiting with their children and husbands (who were at different conventions in town), and both immediately gave me their contact information. The nurse told me that she struggles when a child comes to her with a stomach ache, and she knows she has to ask when the child last ate something, knowing that in some cases it may be two days ago. Her school sends children home with backpacks filled with food for the weekend, but she wants to do more. And, Sen. Murray’s education staffer was standing right there, so they got to hear that it’s not only the people who came for the NAEH conference who care a lot about this issue. Sarah Bolton was very gracious, and asked me to follow up with her about the invitation to the Senator.

Thank you to the NAEH conference folks for helping to offset the costs of registration for me. It made a big difference for our small organization to be able to afford to send me to my first NAEH conference.

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21st July
2010
written by naehblog

Update: This morning, the Senate T-HUD subcommittee ultimately agreed with President Obama’s FY 2011 budget proposal and recommended $2.055 billion for McKinney-Vento programs. Stay tuned for more!

This morning, we made a big hullaballoo about the House Appropriations Committee’s decision to allocate $2.2 billion to McKinney-Vento programs. Departing from long-standing tradition, the House Appropriations Committee decided to increase funding levels to $2.2 billion – $145 million more than proposed by both the House T-HUD subcommittee and President Obama.

While the federal budget process could hardly be described as riveting, this particular action is truly unique. Rarely do the Appropriations Committees on either the Senate or House side depart from the recommendations of their subcommittees. And – of all the programs and initiatives and projects the Appropriations Committee considered (and there are a lot – members decided to give just the McKinney-Vento programs an extra monetary boost.

What does this mean? If nothing else, it means they’re paying attention – to YOU.

The Alliance has a small but mighty advocacy force – an elite group of superadvocates who work with our mobilization team to engage in year-long, ongoing, regular campaigns to inform, educate, and persuade federal lawmakers. It’s not glamorous – and it’s not always easy – but calls, emails, in-person visits, and persistence is what it takes to make changes like the one we saw today in the House Appropriations Committee.

And it’s not just action – it’s informed action. The Alliance arms our friends and colleagues with data-driven, evidence based information. From the policy we support, to the best practices we propose, to the statistics we present – we make sure that advocates have the facts when they meet with local, state, and federal leaders. Over time, this builds the reputation and credibility of our partners – establishing them as reliable and prudent actors in the homelessness and housing fields.

Moreover, our partners are willing to collaborate and compromise. Homelessness has long been a bipartisan issue with leaders on either side of the aisle – from Senator Kit Bond to Representative Maxine Waters. Ending homelessness is socially responsible, economically prudent, and improves the lives and livelihoods of all Americans. A thorough understanding of the issue from all angles – as well as an enthusiasm to make real progress – has moved this issue forward.

All this to say, we couldn’t do any of the work we do without the fervent support and relentless work of our advocates! Thank you so much for your letters, calls, energy and – most importantly – your commitment to ending homelessness.

For more information about our mobilization team or to get involved with ongoing Alliance advocacy efforts, please contact us.

21st July
2010
written by naehblog

A special blogpost today because the House Appropriations Committee proposed bumping the FY 2011 McKinney-Vento budget from $2.055 to $2.2 billion!

If that first sentence made no sense to you, you’re not alone. But we’re hoping this post helps you wrap your mind around the federal budget process.

We’ve written about fiscal year 2011 (FY 2011) funding a few times now on this blog – usually asking YOU to contact your members of Congress to ensure that homeless assistance programs (McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants primary among them) receive adequate funding.

And we’ve been asking you to do that because RIGHT NOW – right this very moment – Congress is making decisions about the federal budget.

From February (when the President releases a proposed budget) to whenever-Congress-gets-around-to-deciding, the House and the Senate meet in their committees and subcommittees to decide how much money should go into federal programs, agencies, and departments.

And as you can imagine, this is no small task. President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 is $3.8 trillion dollars – you try deciding how that money should be spent! For their part, Members consider a wide breadth of factors, including the President’s proposed budget, their own legislative priorities, issues of interest to home districts and constituents, national concerns (like the economy!), and a wealth of other things.

So it basically goes down like this:

Subcommittees (12, to be precise) review portions of the bill pertinent to them. In our case, the House and Senate Transportation – Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) subcommittees review the housing and transportation portions of the federal budget, including funding for the McKinney-Vento programs.

Once the T-HUD committees finish examining and revising (we call it “marking up”) their bill, it goes to the House and Senate Appropriations committees. The Appropriations committees collect the bills they received from the 12 subcommittees, marks them up, and passes them on.

Those bills then go to the House and Senate floors where they can be amended, and then members vote.

(A quick note to keep in mind: the House and Senate do not coordinate their schedules. So while the House T-HUD subcommittee and Appropriations committee have already marked up their bill, the Senate T-HUD subcommittee is just meeting today.)

So here’s a little secret: usually, the Appropriations committees let the subcommittees make the big decisions. In both the House and the Senate, it’s the subcommittees that comb through the portions of the federal budget and determine how resources should be allocated. In fact, it’s usually the case that the budget bills don’t change much once they’ve left subcommittees.

Got it?

But this is exactly why this change to McKinney-Vento funding is such a big deal! The House Appropriations committee broke with tradition and changed the budget bill, allocating $2.2 billion – an extra $145 million – to McKinney-Vento programs!

And McKinney-Vento was the only program to receive a boost in the House Appropriations committee. Of all the things members of the House Appropriations committee were concerned about when examining the T-HUD budget, of all the programs and agencies and departments and initiatives they could’ve funded or not funded, the only program they gave more money to was the McKinney-Vento programs.

So it’s a pretty big deal.

This morning, the Senate T-HUD committee convened to mark up the Senate’s version of the budget bill. Once we get the numbers from the Senate T-HUD subcommittee, we’ll have a better grasp on what might be in the actual budget bill that’s signed by the president.

Budget news – and certainly the federal budget process – can be dry and tedious, but it’s events like this that make it interesting. The House Appropriations committee bumping up the number at this point in the game has upped the ante – and really made the Senate T-HUD subcommittee meeting more interesting.

Because – let’s not forget the wide-angle view – the money that’s allocated to McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs is the money that gets sent to communities. It’s the money that funds prevention and rapid re-housing initiatives, permanent supportive housing programs, social and supportive services, and other activities instrumental in reducing and ending homelessness in our own neighborhoods.

Through that lens, you can see why it’s a pretty big deal to us.

So stay tuned – we’ll keep you updated all day long what’s to come!

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