Archive for August, 2010

17th August
written by Marisa Seitz

Today’s post comes from Kimberly Walker, a Capacity Building Associate here at the Alliance.

Kim WalkerHello all! Kim here. As part of the Center for Capacity Building, my job is to help communities improve their homeless systems. As part of that mission, I’m working on the Center’s new Ending Family Homelessness Tool and Pilot Project (or the EFHT/PP). I’ve been told this may be of interest to our blog readers, so I thought I’d give you a synopsis of what exactly it is.

The Tool

This tool turns what the Alliance staff has learned over the years about best practices in ending homelessness, what we’ve learned from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), and the new Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act requirements into a measuring stick for communities. The EFHT will hopefully encourage communities to use these standards to judge where their system is now and where it needs to be in order for them to end family homelessness.

The tool has several different parts (some that are finished, some that are still being developed/considered):

1) A set of three surveys regarding what communities think about their homeless system

2) A data collection worksheet

3) A resource list

4) A planning document

5) A check-in document (after a plan has been made), and

6) A community forum

As a final product, we hope to create a completely web-based version of these documents that communities can use to analyze their data and create an action plan without Alliance intervention. Communities wanting technical assistance, like Lincoln, NE, will have the option of working with us more closely. Speaking of Lincoln…

The Pilot Project

Iain DeJong of OrgCode Consulting, Inc. and I will first be piloting this project with Lincoln, NE. This week is the first of a total of three visits we’ll be paying them. In preparation for it, homeless providers, staff, and consumers are taking our surveys, and Iain and I have been reviewing the data they’ve sent to us about homelessness in Lincoln. On Day 1 of this initial visit we’ll be getting to know Lincoln’s key stakeholders and presenting our findings (based on our analysis of the aforementioned data and surveys). On our second day there, we’ll present the group with a document to help them prioritize which problems to solve, think through next steps, and decide which resources to use in their search for solutions. By the end of our two-day stay, we hope to have the beginnings of a plan that will get our friends in Nebraska confident that they will be able to change their system for the better.

The Trip

I’m Nebraska bound on Wednesday evening – wish me luck! I’m excited to A) have the chance to be working with a community on an issue I’m passionate about, B) put what we’ve done with the tool so far to the test, and C) cross Nebraska off my “States I’ve Never Been To” list. I’ll be reporting back once I return…until then!

16th August
written by naehblog

This week’s news has been full of reports about families in need overwhelming shelter systems. From Baltimore, MD to Springfield, MA, to LaPorte, IN, we’ve seen articles all week about homeless shelters “bursting” with people. Stories about an increase in the number of homeless children and families seem to be the news item of the week.

Shelter programs are struggling to accommodate more families in their existing programs. When they can’t, families are left to fend for themselves. They beg family and friends to let them stay for just one more night, they find well-lit places like train stations or hospital waiting rooms and try to look like they belong, they find retreat in abandoned buildings or quiet corners of parks where their children can rest.

Of course, shelters never want to turn away families in need. They work hard to find church basements that might serve as overflow shelter or to come up with the resources to pay for motel rooms to increase their capacity to serve families. While offering a temporary refuge, homeless providers recognize that overflow shelters and motels cannot provide families the security they need.

But are all the tools that can help shelter programs serve families better being put to use?

The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) was created to curb the expected surge of families experiencing housing crises and homelessness as a result of the recession. It provides flexible resources so that the very families most likely to enter shelter can be stabilized in their own housing instead. It is designed to alleviate the strain on shelter programs so they do not have to turn families away without a place to go. Unfortunately, HPRP is not being fully utilized to assist families with the greatest needs.

Utilizing HPRP resources to rapidly re-house families experiencing homelessness can reduce the strain on shelters – and, in the process – provide permanent housing for vulnerable families.

Too many communities are reluctant to assist families residing in shelter with rapid re-housing. They are serving only a small fraction of the families in shelter because they are concerned that some families will not be able to maintain the housing long-term. They fear that the rental assistance and case management resources available will not be sufficient to allow families to succeed. So HPRP resources are not being mobilized to rapidly re-house families. And shelters are left to struggle the best they can to accommodate families with their own program resources. When all options are depleted, families are turned away and left to fend for themselves.

The fear that families will fail is causing communities to fail these families.

Rapid re-housing emerged in communities like Hennepin County, Minnesota so that families would not be turned away from shelter. Because rapid re-housing techniques allow families to exit shelter quicker, the same number of shelter beds can serve more families. And, more importantly, the families served by rapid re-housing have access to the help they want most of all – assistance getting back into housing.

And rapid re-housing programs do work. Very few families who are placed into housing have a second shelter stay, even during this recession.

We need to make sure that the full array of tools available to respond to housing crises are being put to use so that being turned away without shelter becomes a rare event for families instead of an increasingly common one. Shelter providers critically examine how their community’s HPRP resources are being used and insist that HPRP resources are offered to help families in their shelter programs move back into housing.

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13th August
written by Marisa Seitz

This week, we heard a lot about the troubles people are having in housing. In Boston, we read about how rentals are becoming harder to find and afford, while in Atlanta, we saw the commotion caused by crowds gathered in an attempt to sign up for Section 8 assistance. What a state things are in when over 20,000 brave the heat in order to seek help!

However, we have also heard good news coming out of places like Arkansas, where they are using HPRP funds to help house people in their population who are experiencing homelessness.

In USA Today, they even examined the possibility that home ownership might not be the best thing for the federal government to push.

Finally, in the LA Times this week they talked about Project 50, a pilot program to house some of Los Angeles’ most vulnerable citizens experiencing homelessness. This program, they explain, could be the start of housing not only 50 of the most vulnerable people, but 10,000. Shelter Partnership also wrote a blog, examining Project 50 on a deeper level.

12th August
written by Marisa Seitz

Today I have another installment of our series “Examining the Federal Plan”. In this series, we look at the ten objectives of the new federal plan to end homelessness Opening Doors.

We’re looking at Objective 6: Improve access to mainstream programs and services to reduce people’s financial vulnerability to homelessness.

To learn more about this objective, I turned to Sharon McDonald, Senior Policy Analyst at the Alliance (who will be writing about rapid re-housing as a way to relieve growing shelter populations tomorrow – stay tuned!) .

The first thing I wanted to know was what was meant by “mainstream programs”.

Mainstream programs are those not specifically designed to aid the homeless population or to tackle homelessness issues, but the bigger programs that can help people before they become homeless (and after, if need be), such as those that deal with jobs or income. We’re talking about things like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Unemployment Insurance (UI), and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), which is currently in real danger (we did a whole WEEK of posts about saving TANF.)

These programs are meant to reach large portions of the population with lower incomes. These programs are the first lines of defense for preventing people from becoming homeless by providing cash assistance, job placement aid, and other critical services.

The federal plan aims to improve access to these programs. If these mainstream programs could serve more people, we could stop homelessness before it starts. And, the very specific programs that are tailored to tackle homelessness would be able to serve those people who truly require that aid.

This is a sound strategy. Mainstream are already designed to handle lots of people. So when looking for programs to help end and prevent homelessness, why start from scratch? We can improve existing programs that already serve the needs of low-income individuals and families and make sure that more people can access them before their housing situations fall apart.

It’s not an easy task. With these hard economic times, budget cuts at the state and federal level make it hard to improve and expand these programs. But now is not the time to turn our backs on the most vulnerable people in our communities. If current trends are any indication, those in situations that put them at risk of homelessness will only increase in the future.

Let’s curb the problem before it starts by investing in what works.

See our other Examining the Federal Plan posts:
Objective 8
Objective 10

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11th August
written by Marisa Seitz

Hey guys, today we have Grace here to tell us about the Alliance’s Photo Contest!

Aren’t you excited?! To learn more, you can go to the official blog post for the contest, or you can visit the website.

To submit directly, just go here. We can’t wait to see your pictures! To see what has been submitted, visit our flickr account.

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10th August
written by Catherine An

For the next two weeks – starting on Monday, August 16 – we’ll be seeing new faces and hearing new voices on the Alliance social networks as staff and interns alike take their intrepid first steps into the Twitterverse, blogosphere, and whatever we’re calling Facebook.

Marisa Seitz is already a familiar face and regular contributor on the Alliance blog. She’s largely  responsible for the aesthetic qualities of the new look of the blog and images around the Alliance’s first-ever photo contest. Make her happy and get those photos in!

You’ve probably also heard from Grace Stubee, a returning intern here at the Alliance. She’s hard at work on the advocacy team, helping our hardworking supporters to get their message to their elected officials. Grace will serve as the point person for our photo contest – she can answer all your questions!

From our policy shop, we have Kate Seif, one of the newest full-time Alliance staffers and new assistant to the president. As Nan’s assistant, she triages all the requests, invitations, projects, and papers that Nan receives and handles Nan’s calendar. In addition, she’s a critical element of our policy staff, often serving as point or coordinator on our larger policy publications, including the Policy Guide and upcoming Advocacy Toolkit. She’s also really into vlogging, so look out for videos featuring Kate!

And finally, we have Anna Blasco, social media extraordinaire. Anna is on our admin team and has a strong proficiency – and great enthusiasm – for social networking. You’ll definitely be hearing from her on Twitter, Facebook, and whatever else turns out to be the network-of-the-moment.

Please welcome our newest additions to the Alliance social networks with thoughtful comments, insightful questions, and lots and lots of submissions to our photo contest! We look forward to hearing from you!

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9th August
written by Marisa Seitz

All right folks, we’ve got something new and exciting for you today. The Alliance is launching our first ever – wait for it – PHOTO CONTEST!!

That’s right, we are giving you a chance to use those picture skills and show the world your stuff!

At this seminal moment in our national effort to end homelessness, we want to know: What does ending homelessness look like to you?

We want to see how you envision ending homelessness. The concept of ending homelessness can be hard to visualize – and we want to see your take. Is it services? Housing? An specific individual or story? We want you to capture it in a picture!

What’s a contest without a prize? Yeah, we don’t know either. Considering the community we know reads our blog, we think we’ve got a great one. The winner of our photo contest will receive free registration to our next conference. In addition, the winning submission will be the basis for the design of the conference – the website design, the brochure, the program journal – you name it!

The contest will run from Monday, August 9th to Friday, September 17th. We’re giving our judges a week to decide and contact the winner – the winner will be announced on Friday, September 24. In order to enter, all you have to do is go here and fill out our simple form to enter! Full text of the contest terms and conditions are available on the website. In general , as long as your work is your own and appropriate, you shouldn’t have any problems.

So get going! To enter the contest, please submit your photo here. (Only photos submitted through the online form will be considered.) Photo contest rules can be found on the website.

This is an important year in the national effort to end homelessness and sometime soon, we can anticipate a country where everyone has a place to call home. We want to know – from YOU! – how we’re going to get there.

6th August
written by Marisa Seitz

August tends to be a slow month, what with everyone including Congress taking their vacations, but even now we can hear the sounds of change rattling up the gangway.

On the subject of homeless veterans, new plans are being released. The White House blog talked this week about “10 Ways the VA is Serving Our Vets”, and the Politico featured a guest opinion about the federal strategic plan’s strategy to deal with the veterans at risk of homelessness – and specifically those who will soon be returning from our current conflicts.

Out of Indiana, we heard about new legislation that will help youth who are dealing with homelessness. (It’s always so great when student papers cover homelessness!)

Finally, you’ve already probably seen the first couple stories of a series the Los Angeles Times is running about Project 50 – the controversial local initiative to fight chronic homelessness. The series will continue through the weekend and spotlight one of our organizations own goals: to finish the job of ending homelessness. LA is certainly the place to pilot such a program – the local equivalent of the 100,000 Homes Campaign – as the city is home to a solid ten percent of the national homeless population. Thanks to the LAT for bringing us the series – and here’s hoping that the city turns around on permanent supportive housing.

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5th August
written by Catherine An

I know we’ve been harping on this on the blog all week, but we don’t want you to forget about the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF).

As a refresher, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created the TANF ECF. The fund can be used to reimburse states for up to 80 percent of increased spending for providing:

  • non-recurrent, short-term payments (e.g. four months of rental assistance for homeless families, security deposit and first month’s rent, utility assistance);
  • basic assistance (cash grants to low-income families); and
  • subsidized employment.

TANF ECF has made a difference for states – creating jobs and offering the assistance states may need help providing in this time of tight state budgets. Articles and blogs and policy analysis have noted the significance of this overlooked – and quickly expiring – recovery program.

We want to make sure that you fully understand the program – and then take the next step to call your senate office to tell them what you think. The Alliance has produced a number of articles and policy analyses about TANF ECF – and the importance of keeping the valuable, effective program from expiring. And there’s also information about family homelessness – TANF ECF is sometimes discussed in relationship to preventing and ending family homelessness.

If you have questions or comments about the materials there, feel free to give us a shout on Twitter, Facebook, or drop us an old fashioned email.

Thanks guys!

4th August
written by Marisa Seitz

Today’s blog about family homelessness comes from our colleague Sharon McDonald,  Senior Policy Analyst at the Alliance.

Across the country, families are downsizing their housing, doubling up with extended family or friends, moving into motels, and seeking help from homelessness prevention and shelter programs. The Recovery Act provided new funds including the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) and the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) to help communities grapple with the increased needs of families impacted by the recession.

With so many families facing homelessness, it is critical to maximize all available resources to help families. We must connect with Members of Congress to educate them about the impact of homelessness on families and communities, and – most importantly – the role social programs are playing in meeting the needs of vulnerable individuals and families.

This includes funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs, Housing Choice Voucher Program, and the National Housing Trust Fund. It also includes advocating for an extension to the TANF ECF which is providing rental assistance to help families stay housed and subsidized employment that helps families escape poverty (see yesterday’s excellent post about action needed on the TANF ECF).

Maximizing resources also means making sure that local programs to help low-income and homeless families and children are as efficient and as effective as possible. This means evaluating whether HPRP and other resources are reaching the families they are designed to serve. Are homelessness prevention programs screening out those families most likely to become homeless because they seem unable to pay for housing independently after receiving assistance? Are rapid re-housing programs implemented broadly enough to reduce the strain on shelters and transitional housing programs and reduce the likelihood that families will be refused shelter? Are local programs coordinated around a common vision for ending family homelessness to improve access and efficiency of resources community-wide? Are stakeholders engaged in evaluating data to assess the impact of the local investments in ending homelessness and making modifications to improve performance?

Our new report Ending Family Homelessness: Lessons From Communities examines the promising strategies communities are using to end family homelessness by making the most of available resources. These promising strategies can be replicated, adapted, and refined to improve our communities’ and our nation’s responses to families facing homelessness.

For more information about family homelessness, check out the website.

Don’t forget guys, the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund is an effective, efficient program that plays a significiant role in preventing and ending family homelessness. Act now to keep it from disappearing forever.