Archive for July, 2010

19th July
2010
written by naehblog

Today’s blog post comes from our Federal Advocacy intern, Sumeet Singh.

Every year, Capitol Hill Day offers a time for advocates of ending homelessness to sit down with their Senators and Representatives and discuss pressing and pertinent issues regarding homelessness. In doing so, it also provides another great opportunity – a chance for these passionate advocates to come together and have their voices heard. This year, those voices were heard as loudly as ever before – advocates from 40 states and Guam held over 215 meetings with Congressional offices, and the results are still pouring in! With every additional meeting, the value and effectiveness of Hill Day 2010 increase that much more. We’ll do a follow-up blog post in a few weeks once we have finalized all of the results. In its decades-long existence, Hill Day’s track record of spreading knowledge, creating awareness, and igniting political movement clearly demonstrates just how powerful a tool it has been.

This year, Hill Day became even stronger.

Take the story of our advocates from Maine as an example. Six years ago, before our current group was involved, the Maine Congressional Delegation was largely unaware and unconcerned with homelessness issues. However, in the years since the Maine advocates have been active in Hill Day events, several Members of Congress from the state, including both Senators, have become champions of the issue. Thanks to our State Captains and Hill Day Participants, stories like this one are becoming more common across the nation with each passing year. Given the similar stories from other states and the great numbers from this year, Hill Day 2010 is proving to be an historically successful year.

At a personal level, my experiences as a first time organizer of Capitol Hill Day were both memorable and educational. To see weeks of coordination and planning with State Captains come together was special, as was the chance to see so many hours of work translating into influence on federal policymaking. Moreover, getting to meet, in person, the men and women whom I had been e-mailing and calling incessantly (we called it “gentle nudging”) in the lead-up to the conference was wonderful. It is not often that I get to meet people so passionate about a cause as unselfish as ending homelessness. Thanks in large part to the efforts of these advocates, Capitol Hill Day 2010 was a great success.

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16th July
2010
written by Marisa Seitz

In the policy realm, PETRA (Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act) has been rapidly introduced and pushed into Congress, with mixed support. TANF, though, is still being praised, but the effort to have it extended is ever in need of support. (So show yours by calling your members of Congress!)

Many people still struggle with high rates of homelessness, particularly female veterans. However many programs that have been underway for years in places like Washington, D.C. are proving to be effective at reducing and ending hoemlessness.

Also, the Washington Post is doing it’s part to change the ways Americans see homelessness. Last week, the Post published an article entitled “Five Myths About America’s Homeless”, which was written by our Research Council co-chair Dennis Culhane. The acclaimed scholars refuted some of the major misconceptions about homelessness – and people experiencing homelessness, shedding light on the realities of the experience – and the solutions to the social problem.

Lastly, with our conference this week and all the great new federal efforts supporting the fight to end homelessness, one has to wonder, where do we go from here? Our President Nan Roman offers her view.

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15th July
2010
written by naehblog

So it’s all over.

The 2010 National Conference on Ending Homelessness is behind us.

And – even from a non-expert standpoint – I have to say that it was a pretty incredible experience. From the industry luminaries that graced the stage at plenary sessions to the incredible workshop speakers to the [really outstanding] hotel staff, I really felt that the last three days were both educational and inspiring.

Alliance staff are all encouraged to attend [and staff] workshops, so I had the opportunity to learn about a lot of things that I don’t encounter in my communication-and-social-media-days in the office. I learned about the role rapid re-housing can play in the life of domestic violence survivors, I learned about the implications of the HEARTH Act in ending family homelessness, I learned how much interest there was in communications and social media, and I learned a lot – a ton! – about the federal plan to end homelessness and HPRP.

I learned a lot about people! Our field is full of such wonderfully different, quirky, and committed practitioners and advocates! Walking around with an Alliance nametag gave me an avenue to introduce myself to folks – and every time I turned around I had the opportunity to meet direct service providers, advocates, government employees, and real, true experts in the field. And every so often (I think I mentioned this before), I got a chance to meet Twitter friends and Facebook buds that I had chatted with online but not in life – and that was an exciting if surreal experience.

But most of all – cue the violins – I got to learn about ending homelessness. It’s a tough concept to wrap my mind around – ending homelessness. Even as a dedicated employee of the Alliance, it can still be hard for me to really visualize a time without any individuals or families in shelter or on the streets.

The conference righted all of that. After hearing from Nan, from Secretary Shaun Donovan, from Barbara Poppe, from Secretary Eric Shinseki, from Delegate Charniele Herring – and all the experts in workshops in between – over and over and over again, the message rang through.

Not only is ending homelessness possible – we’re doing it right now. With the reform of health care, with the implementation of HPRP, with the provisions in the HEARTH Act, with the outlines in the federal plan. With an investment in housing, with an eye towards infrastructure, with best practices and good policy, and with the hard work and dedication of every single person who attended this year’s conference, we are ending homelessness as we speak (or rather, I type).

It’s a message that lifted my spirits and reminded me of what our common mission is, what brings us together year after year.

I hope it did for you too.

Thanks to everyone for attending – please don’t hesitate to pass along your thoughts, critiques, and notes here or on Twitter or on our Facebook page, where you can find pictures from the conference!

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15th July
2010
written by naehblog

Hi all. We’ll write a conference wrap-up post later today, but in the interim, we thought we’d share Secretary Eric Shinseki’s remarks on Wednesday, July 14 to the conference attendees. His thoughts on ending veterans homelessness – and his apparent commitment and dedication to the goal – were truly inspiring words on which to end our event! The Secretary’s remarks are below.

Remarks by Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Conference on Ending Homelessness
Grand Hyatt, Washington, DC
14 July, 2010

Nan, thank you for that kind introduction and for your leadership of the National Alliance. Your work on behalf of the homeless is well-known and much-respected. Our thanks to you and your staff for your diligence in supporting all the rest of us, VA included, in our commitments to end homelessness amongst our populations. Your address at our Summit on Veteran Homelessness, last November, resonated with attendees then, and still does today at VA.

I am honored to be here today. From your modest beginnings in 1983, this alliance has grown into a powerful organization of more than 10,000 public and private sector partners. Along the way, you’ve succeeded in housing hundreds of thousands of Americans, a tremendous record of service and achievement. VA is very proud to be one of your partners.

Sometimes, we say that caring for those who cannot care for themselves is a longstanding tradition in this country, that threads of selflessness are woven into our national character. Yet, roughly 643,000 Americans remain homeless on any given night. We also say our Veterans, who come from every town and village in this great land, are a vital part of the national landscape. In fact, VA says that in honoring their service, we keep faith with Abraham Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have borne the battle, and for their families. Yet, nearly one-in-six of America’s homeless is a Veteran—107,000 of them.

Nowhere is our obligation to our citizens, and to our Veterans who have defended our Nation, more important, more visible, or more necessary than in our commitment to end homelessness.

You see, at VA, we wrestle with harmonizing two very distinct, yet incongruent, images of those who have served.

The first image is this, and it is one familiar to most Americans. Each year, roughly 60% of all high school graduates go on to a college or university. Of the remaining 40%, some enter vocational training; others immediately enter the workforce. Fewer others, still, join the less than 1% of Americans who volunteer to serve in our Nation’s Armed Forces.

These young men and women enter basic training or boot camp, and a few short weeks later arrive at their first units, where they immediately become valued and trusted members of high-performing teams—tough, motivated, and extremely dedicated. And with superb leadership, they stand ready, each day, to perform the complex, the difficult, and the dangerous missions. On some days, they are asked to do the impossible—and they do, with unwavering commitment and without complaint.

But, there is a second image; Veterans suffer disproportionately from depression, PTS—Post Traumatic Stress—substance abuse, joblessness, homelessness, and suicides.

Why these two disparate images? To be sure, there are far fewer Veterans in the second image than in the first, but the same youngsters populate both images. Why weren’t we able to help those in the second image continue the kinds of successes they achieved in the first image? How did they enter the downward spiral of depression, substance abuse, failed relationships, and joblessness that too often leads to homelessness and, sometimes, to suicide? Let me repeat—the same kids populate both images. So this is not about them; it’s about us.

At VA, our goal is to never allow the youngsters in the first image to fall into the second, and to return those in the second image to lives as productive as possible. If you wonder what the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is working on for the next several years, this is it. Ending homelessness among Veterans is a critical part of transforming VA for the 21st century. You see, to end Veteran homelessness, we have to address all the other reasons that cause the second image. To do that, we must work in collaboration with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, with the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Education, and with other federal, state and local agencies and organizations. We will not be successful without a coordinated, united, collaborative effort.

VA will end Veteran homelessness in five years. Our role, in this regard, is largely strategic and logistical. The hard, tactical fight is being waged in the streets by many of the good folks in this room.

For over 20 years, VA has been involved in street outreach, residential and transitional housing services, vocational rehabilitation, access to primary and mental health care, counseling for substance abuse, and assistance with benefits to those who qualify. While noble, these efforts lacked synchronization or focus on objective outcomes; we were committed to better managing homelessness, not ending it.

We now have the resources and support to end Veteran homelessness in the next five years. President Obama’s 2011 budget requests a homeless funding increase of over 23%, from $3.4 billion in 2010, to $4.2 billion next year. Eighty-five percent of the dollars go to health care, including mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention. Housing and specialized counseling will go from $500 million this year to $799 million in 2011, a 60% increase. Thanks to the President, we have a plan and we have resourced it.

But this isn’t just about money. More is not better; better is better. We have to be smarter about how we employ those resources and put in place the relationships, the procedures, and the disciplines that get 99 cents of impact out of every dollar we spend. Goodness here is not any one organization’s agenda, but what best serves our homeless.

Last year, we held a National Summit on Ending Veteran Homelessness; Nan and a number of you were there. Following that conference, we wrote a detailed five-year plan to end Veteran homelessness, a plan that emphasizes prevention rather than rescue and ensures a “no wrong door” philosophy for Veterans in need of help.

Veterans at risk of homelessness or who have just become homeless must have immediate access to our programs and services, regardless of which facility, which door, they enter seeking assistance. Any door—a medical center, a regional office, a Vet Center, a shelter or a community organization—must be open, welcoming, and capable of helping.

Over the next five years, our efforts to end Veteran homelessness will emphasize these six initiatives:

  1. Outreach and education to Veterans who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless.
  2. The strategy of prevention—controlling growth, even as we reduce the homeless population.
  3. Strengthen the availability of primary, specialty, and mental health care, including substance-use disorders—which is why we are opening five new domiciliary residential programs to assure access to treatment.
  4. Increased housing opportunities and appropriate supportive services tailored to the homeless Veteran.
  5. Greater financial and employment support as well as improved benefits delivery—everything from increasing the number of Veterans working in the federal government, to improved placement of Veterans in private sector jobs, to growing the number of high-performing Veteran-owned and service-disabled Veteran-owned small businesses competing for government contracts. Veterans hire Veterans because they know what they’re getting, so this will create churn in the job market.
  6. And finally, expansion of these critically-important community partnerships; VA’s success in this venture is not possible without you. We’re going to be working on the same issues with you for a long time, even after we end homelessness amongst Veterans.

Today, VA partners with a number of community and faith-based, non-profit service providers—including some of the Nation’s largest like Volunteers of America, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army—but also many excellent, smaller, local groups in towns and cities all across America.

HUD, VA, and the Department of Labor will soon announce a new effort—a HUD-VA At-Risk Pilot—to work with recently discharged and at-risk Veterans and their families. Prevention is the key to ending homelessness. When we begin this initiative, VA will provide comprehensive health care and benefits assistance, and HUD will provide continuums of care, including housing, child care, and other supports to keep Veterans’ families together.

Another initiative we will work, together, is providing supportive service grants for low-income Veterans and families—comprehensive assistance for those at risk of slipping into homelessness; this is a new step for VA in preventing homelessness among Veterans with families. We hope to offer $50 million in funding for this initiative by the end of this calendar year. This program will fund non-profit organizations that target very low-income, Veteran families for services spanning case management, child care, financial counseling, credit restoration, and job training, among others, to those most at risk of becoming homeless. I know that many in this room will join us in keeping families together, employed, and housed.

For these families and for the chronically-homeless Veteran, who is “hard-to-serve”—those who may have refused care in the past, failed to complete previous programs, have a history of disruptive behaviors, or who don’t fit easily into existing programs—the most effective option is HUD-VA Supportive Housing—HUD-VASH. VA will address all Veterans’ needs, no matter how difficult. We will not leave Veterans homeless while they seek treatment, but will house first, and then provide comprehensive treatment and services. In May, HUD announced that another 8,000 HUD-VASH vouchers had been allocated, and we expect another 1,500 vouchers shortly.

Before the end of the summer, we will have enough resources to help roughly 30,000 homeless Veterans and families live in permanent housing. HUD-VASH has dramatically changed our program. And nearly 11% of HUD-VASH units are occupied by women Veterans. In filling the first 20,000 HUD-VASH units, nearly 4,000 children of Veterans will have been kept with their Veteran parents.

We are expanding the participation of homeless and formerly-homeless Veterans in helping to design our programs. CHALENG—Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups—invites homeless Veterans to tell us how VA can better deliver the services they need; it’s about giving voice to our clients. In the past year, over 10,700 homeless or formerly-homeless Veterans participated in CHALENG, a ten-fold increase over three years.

Each year, 40,000 Veterans come out of prisons. Today, 931 of the Nation’s 1,300 prisons have a VA re-entry specialist working with Veterans well before their release. And I cannot emphasize enough the good work of Judge Robert Russell in Buffalo, New York, who originated the concept of Veterans’ Courts, where Veterans can be remanded to treatment rather to prison, giving us a chance to prevent homelessness and even bigger problems later. Again, prevention is the key.

Last month, we announced a new telephone hotline for homeless Veterans—1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838)—to help Veterans find food, shelter, clothing, and assistance. It’s staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by the same people who staff our suicide prevention hotline, cross-trained responders able to serve both populations. We’ve found that many homeless Veterans who may be considering suicide, won’t call our suicide hotline, but they will call our homeless hotline. Either way, we are there for them. Once again, there is no wrong door to help.

Last year, we partnered with more than 25,000 volunteers who provided outreach and services to more than 42,000 homeless Veterans and more than 6,000 family members at 190 stand down events. We will continue to proactively reach out to the homeless.

VA is a member of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, chaired by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who spoke here yesterday, and directed by Barbara Poppe. We are working closely with HUD, with all members of the Interagency Council, with members of Congress, with many of your organizations, and with thousands of other stakeholders and community organizations.

Our newly-established Center on Homelessness Among Veterans works with community partners and university affiliates to develop new treatment models and best-practices for specific homeless Veteran populations. The center has developed training for VA staff and community partners for working with hard-to-serve Veterans. Some VA medical centers have also developed specialized clinics—low-demand, low-barrier programs delivering health care, mental health evaluations, and social work strategies.

As we navigate our five-year campaign to eliminate homelessness, we expect the path will become steeper; at the end, we will be left with the most difficult cases to address, the hardest to serve. We must accept that and begin preparing now for the steepness of that climb; we didn’t sign on for just the easy cases. We signed on to end homelessness for all Veterans.

Let me end with the words of something called The Soldier’s Creed. In part, the creed makes four, simple, declaratory statements:

  • I will always place the mission first;
  • I will never accept defeat;
  • I will never quit;
  • I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Now, to some, these lines come off as just words, words that roll easily off the tongue. But for those who endeavor to live by them, these are promises made to one another about being able to be counted upon when fear, stress, and danger reign. Think about the demands, the hardship, and the stress incurred by those who choose to live the creed in service to our Nation. We owe every man and woman who has worn our Nation’s military uniforms, a level of courage and determination that matches their own.

Thank you for the invitation to join you today, and once again, for your advocacy, devotion, and outstanding leadership on behalf of homeless Americans. We are all indebted to you.

God bless each and every one of you. God bless the men and women who serve, and have served, in uniform, and may God continue to bless this great, wonderful country of ours. Thank you.

13th July
2010
written by naehblog

Hello everyone, I’m so excited to be blogging from my first Alliance conference! Already it has been such a wonderful two days, I have been overwhelmed meeting so many people who are all committed to ending homelessness!

Undoubtedly the highlight of the day was the keynote address by none other than Secretary Shaun Donovan of Department of Housing and Urban Development. Sec. Donovan has been a force in advancing the goal of ending homelessness. In his speech, Sec. Donovan went into greater detail about the new federal plan to end homelessness, Opening Doors, and the ways he envisions turning the goals outlined in the plan into action.

But first, the Secretary generously offered his thanks to the National Alliance to End Homelessness and, specifically, to our president Nan Roman, for her leadership in bringing the movement to end homelessness where it is today. He announced that Nan has worked with five (5!) HUD Secretaries and that he intended on being the very last one that Nan works with to end homelessness – as he intends on finishing the job!

Then the Secretary expressed how excited he was about the new federal plan. He offered a feeling of optimism and achievement, comparing the fight to end homelessness to America’s landing of a man on the moon. Like the moon landing, many people see the goal of ending homelessness as impossible or unrealistic, but also like landing on the moon, we enter this challenge armed and ready to conquer our goals, the Secretary said. We have data and new strategies, a new collaborative vision, and countless resources that we are learning to effectively share with each other. It will not happen overnight, but with hard work and planning, these tasks show themselves to be very possible.

The federal plan workshop that followed featured deputy director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness Jennifer Ho and executive director Barbara Poppe, who went over the goals and details of the federal plan and how they might affect local communities. (No worries – we’ll put up the presentation on the website as soon as it’s available.)

It was an uplifting day, hearing directly from the Secretary himself and about something that has the potential to fundamentally change the way communities address homelessness (as Sec. Donovan specifically noted). We’re hoping that the address – combined with the workshops that we’re hosting right here – will help make that happen.
And on a social note, tweeters all over the conference were proposing a meet-up either later (perhaps tomorrow?) of all interested parties for a quick and casual meet-and-greet. Anyone out there interested? Please let us know!

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13th July
2010
written by naehblog

So it’s important to note: I’m not an expert.

I tinker on the Alliance social networks, blog, and website – and I’ve learned a ton during my year here – but when it comes to homelessness, housing, policy, and practice – I’m the greenest girl you’ll meet at the Alliance.

Which is why coming to the National Conference on Ending Homelessness – this is my second! – is such a moving experience. For three days out of the year, I’m surrounded by nearly 1300 people from across the country who devote their time, energy, and passion to ending homelessness in the United States.

From the perspective of an outsider, it seems outlandish. It seems impractical and impossible. My own skeptical eyebrows shoot up to my hairline.

But, as I’ve learned – day by day at the Alliance – ending homelessness is no dream.

This year, the Alliance is hosting almost 80 workshops and three plenary sessions over the course of three days featuring experts and practitioners who have learned what ending homelessness looks like. Direct service providers, researchers, elected officials, and community activists from across the country are here in D.C. to tell us exactly how to do it.

Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind of a first day.

After a morning of usability testing (our own small contribution to the movement!), Alliance president Nan Roman kicked off the opening plenary. She went over the state of the national movement to end homelessness. She covered our triumphs, our accomplishments, and the incredible work of all those assembled who have fundamentally changed the conversation about homelessness.

But what was heaviest on Nan’s mind, it seemed, was the anniversary of the Alliance’s own Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Almost ten years ago – to the day – Nan stood on a very similar podium at the Washington Hilton and unveiled A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years . She stressed what we all know today: we can end homelessness – one community at a time. With a concerted effort to implement best practices, utilize data effectively, and build an infrastructure focused on ending homelessness and not just managing it, we can all strive to reach a time when all people in the United States have a place to call home.

The bottom line, she said: homelessness still exists – that’s clear. But the upside is that we’ve made critical, systematic, and deliberate progress. The application of policy, proven strategies, and persistent, hard work [by you all] has reduced homelessness significantly over the past few years and paved the way to end homelessness.

“Ten years ago, the focus was on building a bigger homeless system to accommodate the problem. Today, the focus is on solving a growing problem – on being better and smarter rather than just bigger. It’s a solution, not a band-aid. It’s housing, not shelter. While there is still plenty of skepticism about ending homelessness, I think that today the idea of planning to end homelessness is well accepted, and indeed that we are all pulling together in that direction.”

After Nan, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty dropped by to welcome participants to the nation’s capitol. There’s no question that homelessness is of critical concern in the District – a territory that has a surprisingly high rate of homelessness. It was fitting that Mayor Fenty come to by to address a community of people intent on helping so many of the Mayor’s own vulnerable residents. Here’s hoping that – next time around – he shares a little more about the city’s plan to address the problem.

Then after two workshops (I sat in on “Rapid Re-Housing for Survivors of Domestic Violence” and “Permanent Supportive Housing for Families”), we took a little time to mingle.

Maybe the most exciting highlight of conferences like this one is the opportunity to put a face to the name (or handle!). As the social network girl at the Alliance, I get to interact with so many people online. I hear stories and requests and comments and critiques and every once in a while, I get to answer a question. But sometimes I feel like the contacts I make online flit through cyberspace and never manifest into real connections (a common fear, I think, of social media aficionados – we talked about in another post.

So it’s always a delight when I get to see and meet the names and pictures I see on our Facebook fan page and dancing across the twittersphere. Which is what I got to do during our post-workshop reception on Monday night.

In case we haven’t already connected, come by and see me sometime!

9th July
2010
written by Marisa Seitz

This week we’ve seen a lot of love for TANF. We have talked about it a lot, and this week CNN Money and the New York Times both noted how important the program is, and why it’s important to keep it funded. LaDonna Pavetti from the Center on Budget on Policy Priorities also offered her perspective for the continuation of the program.

CNN also put out an interesting piece this week about a group of homeless teens, which helped illustrate the hardships homeless youths experience. (In case you missed it: we talked about homeless youths just yesterday.)

Out of Austin, TX we are unfortunately seeing more of one of the main causes of homelessness: a lack of affordable housing. However, in Western Massachusetts and Asheville, NC, programs intended to reduce homelessness are proving effective.

Finally, the new federal plan is still a hot topic, and many critical reviews of the plan are circulating around.

And there’s no doubt that the plan is exactly what Secretary Donovan will be discussing during his keynote speech at our own – you got it – Annual Conference! Next time we blog, we’ll be live-blogging from the Hyatt!

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8th July
2010
written by Marisa Seitz

The new federal plan to end homelessness has set 10 objectives to guide us on the path to ending homelessness.

And the bait was just to good to pass up.

On the blog, we’ll examine each goal, what’s known, what isn’t, and what we’re going to do moving forward on that goal. We’ll call the series, “Examining the Federal Plan.”

This week we will be looking at objective eight, “Advance health and housing stability for youth aging out of systems such as foster care and juvenile justice”.

I myself am still learning a lot about the different kinds of homelessness, but the Alliance is chock full of people who are each a wealth of information and more than willing to help me learn. Since this objective has to do with youth homelessness, I thought this week I could do a post about youth homelessness in general, since it is an area of homelessness that often goes unseen.

To learn about youth homelessness, I talked to LaKesha Pope, Senior Youth Policy and Program Analyst.

Here are some of the questions I asked her and what I learned:

What causes youth homelessness?
Youth can become homelessness for many different reasons, many of them the same factors that cause other groups to experience homelessness. However, the major factors that usually contribute to youth homelessness are family dysfunction and breakdown, specifically family conflict, abuse, and disruption. Many youth enter a state of homelessness as a result of:
• Running away from home,
• Being locked out or abandoned by their parents or guardians,
• Running or being emancipated or discharged from institutional or other state care.

Another reason youth often become homeless is because of systems failure of mainstream programs like child welfare or juvenile corrections. These systems fail to address the needs of those leaving the programs, and consequently the youth end up homeless because they are not able to secure housing by themselves.

What does youth homelessness typically look like?
There are four general groups that homeless youth fall into, and it possible for them to move between groups.

• First-Time Runners – Youth in this group can usually be returned to their families or guardians.
• Couch Surfers – Very hard to identify. They use their social networks to find couches of friends or relatives to sleep on for one night or longer.
• Service Seekers – Those who seek shelter services, easier to identify since shelters are where counts are done. The most visible of homeless youth.
• Street-Entrenched Youth – youth who are on the street for six months or more.

There is no research to support the notion that homeless youths often come from homeless families.

Are there groups within the youth homelessness population that are particularly affected?
In urban settings, African American youth are disproportionately represented, and in rural communities, Native American youth are disproportionately represented.

LGBTQ youths increasingly make up a portion of the homeless youth population as well, often due to parents or guardians kicking the youth out due to their orientation, or due to abuse at home for said orientation.

Why is it hard to count youth homelessness?
Homeless youths are particularly difficult to count because they can blend in well. They often appear as students in most public places. Many youths also don’t consider themselves homeless, such as those who couch surf.

Why do youths aging out of foster care and other systems tend to become homeless?
Poor discharge planning.

Youths “aging out” of systems are disconnected and do not have social networks to rely on for assistance in finding housing or employment. They lack self-sufficiency skills and can often be affected by an emotional condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Systems are also ineffective at checking to make sure pre-arranged housing accommodations stick.

This is the group the new federal plan hopes to target specifically in an effort to end this problem.

How do we try and solve youth homelessness?
First, the same way we try and solve all types of homelessness: housing.

Beyond this, youth also need to be connected with adults that will help them, and given life skills development. One way to administer this is through youth housing continuum. To learn more about this and other applied solutions, take a look at our policy ad practice brief.

These were just a few of the question I asked, but already I could see a new side of the homeless population that needs to be addressed just as much as any other. If you want to know more, LaKesha gave me a great document that gives lots of information on youth homelessness. It’s a brief but illuminating read – four pages can tell you a lot of great information about youth homelessness. You can find it on our website, here.

If you have a question about youth homelessness or homelessness in general, or about the Alliance, ask us at our formspring, where you can see the answers to your question and many others. One of our goals is to help disseminate information about homelessness, so we are more than eager to answer any questions you might have.

Coming up next in Examining the Federal Plan – Systems Change.

7th July
2010
written by naehblog

A couple weeks ago, I gave a brief, casual presentation about our organizational social media networks over a lunch meeting.

The Alliance has been online for about a year now, on Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and YouTube.

Not surprisingly, Twitter and Facebook are our most active networks; the blog averages a few thousand readers per month.

And as we invest the time and manpower it requires maintaining these networks (and sometimes it takes quite a bit!), we’re constantly asking ourselves the following questions:

1. What is the goal of our social networks?
2. What do people want from our social networks?

So to answer the second question, we put out a social media survey in May/June of this year. We asked people who they were, what their roles were in the homeless assistance community, how they followed the Alliance, and what content they preferred (Reports? Advocacy updates? Federal policy information?)

And we came up with some interesting results.

  • The majority of our Twitter users say advocacy updates and opportunities to take action are most useful, followed by media clips about housing and homelessness.
  • Community members on Facebook, blog, and our weekly newsletter were all most interested in learning about permanent supportive housing; Twitter users were interested in learning about HPRP.
  • The policy advocates, grassroots advocates/activists, housing/service providers, and interested citizens who follow us all preferred Facebook updates to updates on other outlets.
  • 50 percent of the survey respondents either collaborate with Alliance staff or use our website for work.
  • News about Alliance events is generally the least interest/useful material we put out. (That being said, we’re still going to pepper you every so often with news about our upcoming conference!)

The first question, as many in the field will tell you, is a harder nut to crack. And it’s something that I, as the social media girl at the Alliance, find myself asking a lot. Is the time and energy I invest on these social networks worthwhile? How am I advancing my organization’s goals by tinkering on our organization’s website?

And for me, I find my answer in our mission. As a member of the Homelessness Research Institute, part of my mission is to “build and disseminate knowledge”, to “educate and inform” people about ending homelessness. (I’m guessing that a lot of people in my role have similar mission statements.)

And to that end, I find, these social media tools are instrumental. Social networks offer a place where a critical mass of people has gathered with the explicit purpose to connect to friends, colleagues, and organizations. The platform offers a way for us to dispense information about our organization and issue – and provides supporters a means to interact with us in ways not have available to them before. Social networks are an avenue that we can walk every day to educate and update people interested in the small piece of the world we investigate.

And the growth of our networks seem to suggest that the portion of the population interested in our work is sizable.

Since January:

  • Our Facebook audience has grown from 280 fans to 1644 fans. The growth in fans has been accompanied by a growth in activity on the site, with an increase in the number of comments and “likes” on our updates.
  • Our Twitter fanbase has grown from 686 followers to 1205 followers. Hot topics among our Twitter friends in the last six months included Alliance reports, Awards Ceremony, TANF/family homelessness, and HUD products and reports.
  • Our blog has also grown in readership, averaging about 3000 readers per month. Top referring sites have included our own website, Facebook and twitter accounts.

Just this morning, the Alliance research director and I wondered if the seemingly endless stream of data now readily available and at our fingertips is making us better-informed citizens (or not). What we concluded was that there was a clear and distinct divide between data and information – and that while the availability of data may have surged, it may not have been accompanied by an increase in available information.

It now occurs to me that perhaps my goal through our social networks is to provide information. In a field as fraught and misunderstood as homelessness, the onus lies on nonprofit groups like ours to correct the misgivings of the well-intentioned and grow the community of citizens that are committed to reducing and ending homelessness in the United States.

Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself for now.

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6th July
2010
written by naehblog


Everyone here at the Alliance is so excited for our conference next week!

So in an effort to get everybody else pepped-up, we thought we’d share ten great things (among hundreds!) that you should look forward to at this year’s conference:

1. The anniversary of the Ten Year Plan
This conference marks the ten-year anniversary of the Alliance’s Ten Year Plan to end homelessness. Our president Nan Roman will discuss what we’ve done so far – and what next steps lie ahead.

2. Secretary Donovan’s keynote
There’s no doubt about it: HUD Sec. Shaun Donovan will discuss the new federal plan to end homelessness and how it can potentially change the whole field of ending homelessness.

3. Capitol Hill Day
Representatives from at least 44 states will be visiting their representatives in Congress to discuss the importance of a federal commitment to end homelessness. Learn more about it here.

4. Secretary Shinseki’s keynote
The VA has committed to ending veteran homelessness in five years and we hope Sec. Shinseki will share their bold new plans with us!

5. Launch of the 100,000 Homes Campaign
Common Ground of New York is committing to housing the hundred thousand most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. You can find out more here.

6. Tracks
This year’s conference offers several tracks – giving you an opportunity to focus on a specific subject or area. Tracks themes include: domestic violence, HPRP, and HEARTH.

7. Expert Roundtables
Wednesday morning, the conference will offer breakfast roundtables with experts in a variety of fields. A great way to meet a leader in the homelessness field.

8. Advocacy Institute
Find out how to turn information into action. The Alliance will offer a half-day Advocacy Institute on Tuesday.

9. Evening Monument Tours
(If you can stand the heat!)

10. YOU!
The conference is a once-a-year opportunity to meet and mingle with experts, providers, and advocates in the field. We can’t wait to see you!

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