Archive for September, 2010

30th September
2010
written by Catherine An

So, here’s the update.

Today, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) expires.

You’re read all about it on our blog. You know what the program does. You know that it’s an effective, affordable initiative that not only gets results but helps thousands of vulnerable Americans by providing financial assistance and creating jobs (and if you don’t, check out this post).

So it’s a low down dirty shame that the U.S. Senate has decided to let this program fold. Worse still that as a result of the expiration, 240,000 people could lose their jobs tomorrow, even today. Articles in both Mother Jones and Campus Progress explain the consequences of the end of this program, including the effect it’ll have on people in poverty, vulnerable families, and 99ers.

It’s worth noting here that there are some senators who stepped up to the plate. Senator John Kerry (D- MA) tried to circulate a sign-on letter urging his colleagues to support an extension of the program. Senator Dick Durbin (D – IL) also noted that the program had been critical in his state of Illinois.

And we can’t underestimate the gratitude that we owe you – for calling on your senators to ask them to support this important program.

But you win some, you lose some. And at the end of the day, this social safety net program will expire leaving thousands of Americans with even fewer resources in this time of economic turmoil. We can and must do better. As need will inevitably continue to rise, we can make sure that we take an even more active, engaged approach to helping the most vulnerable of our neighbors.

We may have lost the round, but there are plenty more legislative battles ahead. Stay tuned to the blog for more opportunities to get involved. And in the meantime, take a moment of silence to mark the passing of TANF ECF.

29th September
2010
written by Catherine An

Today’s post comes from Tiago Russo Pinto, the winner of the Alliance photo contest. He shares with us the origins of the beautiful photograph and how he came upon the opportunity to take it.

The Run Home photo was part of a 2007 Bay Area Foundation Advisory Group to End Homelessness. It was a group effort to create the right image for the cover of the publication entitled, “Repairing Lives, Preparing Futures: Philanthropy’s Role in Supportive Services to End Homelessness.”

During the development of the project, the team had a concept in mind for the execution and look of the image; however, we were not sure if it would translate into what we wanted without looking staged. When I met the family featured in the photograph I knew that they would materialize our message – they had just been approved for housing and they were ready to move in a couple of months.

It was a great experience for me as a photographer because I had the chance to capture a scene that had meaning. The family in the photograph was truly feeling what the image portrayed as in real life they had conquered and fulfilled their dream. I was there just to capture their success story.

To see all the great photos submitted to the contest, check out our Flickr page. To keep up with other Alliance activities, events, or just to learn more about homelessness, join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

28th September
2010
written by naehblog

Yesterday, my colleague Anna and I attended a workshop hosted by Ogilvy on the role of social media in government, “OGILVY 360 DI GOV 2.0 EXCHANGE: How Social Media Tools are Shaping Government, the 2010 Elections and Issue Campaigns.”

(Long, I know).

I’ve been to a number of workshops that discuss the ways different sectors can use social media: how to use social media for nonprofits, how to use social media for companies, how to use social media for yourself, and on and on and on.

For me, the central debate in these workshops is not the different way that the tools can be utilized (because really, that’s what these social media applications are, right? New communications tools?) but the principles guiding their use. Is the central goal of social media tools is to engage the public by giving them more access?

Put another way, I find myself asking “is more information better than less information?”

For me, the answer to the question is yes. When confronted by different philosophies of communications, I always hear C.J. Cregg’s (Allison Janney played White House Press Secretary turned Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg in the epic teleivion series, West Wing) immortal words ringing in my ears, “information breeds confidence; silence breeds fear.”

(And sometimes frustration.)

It’s the way it’s been here at the Alliance. As we cautiously make our way into the online universe – taking up only what we know we can manage – we have found a small but enthusiastic audience with which to share information. Larger still is the audience that cares about homelessness but has much more difficulty understanding the nuances and complexities of solving such a fraught social problem. And even larger is the audience that we miss – a recently usability test administered at our annual conference found that of the 15 randomly selected people who took our test, only 2 followed us on our social networks.

Social media is an art, it seems, and not a science.

The panelists at the Ogilvy workshop – including Ari Melber of Politico, Alexander Howard of O’Reilly Media, Gwynne Kostin of the GSA, Mark Murray of NBC, and Micah Sifry of Personal Democracy Forum – seemed to agree. Social media is a powerful tool – but one that we’re still figuring out how to use.

Some critiques the panelists brought up:

  • we haven’t found great ways for people to engage online in a meaningful way (see Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on social media and social change)
  • we haven’t found a good way to collaborate online

So we have a ways to go – but that shouldn’t dampen the potential that lies vibrant in this new way to disseminate information.

Tell us about your experience! Do you find social media helpful? Personally? Professionally? What are your goals for these new networks? Let us know!

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27th September
2010
written by Catherine An

We are delighted to announce that Tiago Russo is the winner of the Alliance’s first ever photo contest!

Tiago submitted the photo “Run Home,” a heartwarming picture of a young boy running up the stairs towards with his family in the background. Alliance staff, judges, and friends all agreed that photo evoked an enthusiasm, joy, and energy around the concept of housing and home.

The contest was a close one and we’re so appreciative of all the people who took the time to submit photos and share their thoughts on what ending homelessness really looks like. The photos you’ve shared will find their ways into Alliance reports, products, and web pages – in fact, some staff favorites will cycle through the slideshow on the Alliance’s website this week (take a look!).

Thank you so much for your participation – we couldn’t have done it without you! This was the first time the Alliance engaged with supporters and advocates online and your participation ensures that this certainly won’t be the last! Please keep your eyes out for more contests, discussions, and other requests for feedback!

Congratulations again for Tiago and many thanks to you all!

24th September
2010
written by Catherine An

In truth, it’s been a quiet week on the news front. No big surprise. With 38 days until midterm elections, it seems like voracious news cycle has bigger and juicier fish to fry that handle homelessness and housing.

But we know better.

First up, we got the poverty numbers. Last week, we wrote about the numbers coming out of the Census Bureau showing that the number of people living in poverty went up by 4 million people this year. This week, there were some noteworthy pieces floating around about the reaction to those numbers. The good people at NPR wrote about how the numbers are creating some (much needed) stir about aid programs. An editorial in the Detroit Free Press echoed sentiments that growing poverty numbers indicate a need to extend relief efforts to those most vulnerable. Yet the Washington Post observed that – even in the face of such important news – the numbers got a “muted reaction” on the Hill.

There was also some buzz at the local level – both good and bad news.

There’s was a flurry of news coming out of Oregon when the state released a report that homelessness among students was on the rise. Education Weekly also hit upon the affect of schools on homeless youth just yesterday, noting that the school system can offer resources and stability that such students don’t get elsewhere.

There’s some buzz in California about homeless youth too. The State Assembly is considering a piece of legislation, AB 12, that would assist youth aging out of foster care with the transition to adulthood. Also in Sacramento, there’s an effort to shift homeless services from government officials to a nonprofit organization. Without the constraints of state bureaucracy, the argument is, people would be able to access services more quickly and efficiently.

And across the country, as always, communities are acknowledging the importance of ending homelessness and moving forward in their own ways. Baltimore, western Massachusetts, and Pasco County, FL are moving forward with plans and initiatives to reduce and end homelessness in their neighborhoods. And two leaders in the field out in Washington reiterated the message we all know to be true: that a plan – with a dash of hope – is what’s necessary to fight and end homelessness.

Happy Friday, all.

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22nd September
2010
written by Catherine An

Seriously, this is your LAST CHANCE.

We’ve been beating the issue – we know – but TANF Emergency Contingency Fund (TANF ECF) will expire in 8 days. And there’s just no time to dawdle!

Urge Congress to save TANF ECF by calling your senator now.

  • Call your senators and ask to speak to the person who works on welfare issues. Don’t know the number? Call the congressional switchboard to find out: 202-224-3121.
  • When the staffer who works on welfare issues picks up, ask him or her to urge their boss (read: the senator) to call Senate leaders and tell them that they support extending TANF ECF.
  • If you can, report back! We want to hear what happened – what they said, what they promised, if they had any objections. Learning about your efforts can help us make a more concerted try with ours. Call (202-942-2856), email, or drop us a note here or on Facebook.

Remember: The ECF was created as part of the Recovery Act, intended to help states support the increasing number of people receiving TANF due to the recession. Since it passed, the program has:

  • provided cash assistance to low-income families;
  • provided short-term rent assistance to families experiencing a housing crisis; and
  • created 250,000 subsidized employment opportunities nationally, many of which will end on September 30 if Congress does not act to extend the funding.

For more information, check out a great piece from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. You can also see a state by state breakdown of TANF dollars here.

21st September
2010
written by Catherine An

A while back, the Alliance released the third Quarterly Leadership Council HPRP Report.

This report – like the two before it – illustrates how 13 cities across the nation are implementing the HPRP. Data from the following cities are included in this quarterly report:

  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbus and Franklin County, OH
  • Denver, CO
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Miami-Dade, FL
  • Minneapolis and Hennepin County, MN
  • New Orleans, LA
  • New York, NY
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Portland, OR
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Seattle and King County, WA
  • Washington, DC.

Overall, the cities have spent $28.4 million (through June 2010) on homelessness prevention for 57,220 people at risk of homelessness and $12.5 million to rapidly re-house 35,135 people experiencing homelessness.

Of the over 92,000 people have been served by rapid re-housing and prevention programs in the Leadership Council cities, 45,205 people have exited to permanent housing. This includes at least 18,033 who have exited from prevention programs and at least 27,172 who exited from rapid re-housing programs.

The report highlights spending by strategy (prevention and rapid re-housing), by categories of those strategies (financial assistance, case management, outreach and engagement, motel vouchers, rental assistance, etc.), and by city. Both Washington, DC and Miami, FL have spent almost 75 percent of their prevention allocations. Minneapolis and Los Angeles are unique among the cities in having served more persons with rapid re-housing resources than with prevention resources.

You can read the entirety of the two-page report online. There, you can also access the first and second quarterly HPRP reports.

The Alliance has done a great deal of work around the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) and continues to examine the strategies and results of the program. Only be examining the performance, outcomes, and data of the program can we determine if we are indeed making progress toward ending homelessness.

For more information, please check out our website or leave us a comment here!

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20th September
2010
written by Catherine An

Thanks to all our wonderful fans and supporters who submitted photos for the Alliance photo contest. Our judges are reviewing all the excellent entries and while we wait for the results, we have a very special guest on the blog. Steve Berg, Vice President of Programs and Policy at the Alliance, speculates on what a country without homelessness could look like .

She’s not going to be homeless, even though her boyfriend beat her and disappeared with her money. Even though her job disappeared next, she and her babies had to move in with her mom, and now her mom’s boyfriend wants them out.

She’s not going to be homeless because the domestic violence counselor sent over a woman who mediated, found some places that were hiring, contacted a new day care center, connected her with a different landlord, and paid the security deposit and her storage bill.

She’s not going to be homeless.

She’s going to unwrap the dishes. On one of the newspapers she’s using there’s a story about The Last Homeless Person in America. She laughs, thinking, “That could have been me.” She’ll have to read it later.

*

He’s not going to be homeless even though he came back from overseas and couldn’t talk to anybody. Even though his girlfriend, his boss, his friends and parents all made him so furious he couldn’t be around them.

He’s not going to be homeless because the last time the doorbell rang, he let in the Veterans Affairs officer – a man who had rung twice before. Before he was ready. He’s not going to be homeless because the VA officer showed him how the Department of Veterans Affairs could help him – with job programs, benefits, landlord assistance, even a rent voucher if he can’t get work right away.

He’s not going to be homeless. He’s going to explore his options with the VA. Before he left, the VA officer showed him a newspaper clip entitled, The Last Homeless Person in America. He told him that not so long ago, tens of thousands of veterans would return from abroad only to live on the streets. “But no more,” he said. “’I will never leave a fallen comrade’ means that if it means anything.”

*

He’s not going to be homeless, even though he’s coming out of lockup and none of his family will take him back; even though he’s got a record now. He’s not going to be homeless even though he’s made some serious mistakes, even though he’s starting over with nothing.

He’s not going to be homeless because they have a place for him to live. It’s a group home – but it’s that or adult prison and when he gets there it’s all about getting work and getting out and into his own place.

The first day on the job they’re laughing at closing time. Laughing at the rookie cleaning the bathrooms and he laughts with them. There’s a newspaper on the floor, a story about The Last Homeless Person in America. He sweeps it up and knows that’s never going to be him.

*

She’s not going to be homeless, even though she stopped taking her meds, even though she started drinking more again, even though she’s back on the precipitous edge. She’s not going to be homeless because when the rent was late, her landlord called Mental Health and a whole crew of people turned out. She’s not going to be homeless because they paid the rent and they listened. They listened to her talk about how scared she was – scared of being alone, of having no place to live, of falling back to where she used to be. They listened, promised to help her no matter what, and told her they didn’t let people become homeless anymore. “Look, even this guy isn’t homeless any more,” they said, holding up a paper:

The Last Homeless Person in America
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today that the last homeless person in the country has been successfully housed – bringing an end to homelessness in America. The formerly homeless person now lives in a modest apartment with access to supportive services and medical treatment. This achievement, according to the HUD Secretary, was attained by making permanent housing a central focus of HUD programs and by adopting rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention strategies on a nationwide scale.

*****

This is a work of speculative fiction – for now. Ending homelessness in America will require us quickly and comprehensively to address the combination of vulnerability and crisis that leaves people homeless today. It will require us to elevate prevention and re-housing tools to the same national scale as our shelter systems. It will require that we invest the resources and passion necessary to confront and untangle – five thousand times a day – the personal, emotional, and physical afflictions of people who today experience homelessness.

17th September
2010
written by Catherine An

Welcome to the Friday news roundup!

So headlining the news this week (or at least yesterday) are the poverty numbers. No surprises: poverty, uninsured, up in 2009.

The nation’s official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008. The number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009, or an increase from 15.4 percent to 16.7 percent of the total population. You can check out the full report on the census website.

What’s that mean? Well, from our perspective, it means that there are more people at risk of experiencing homelessness. If you remember our brief on ”sustainable cost burden”, you know that more than half of poor families spend more than half their monthly income for housing (this is often termed “severe housing cost burden.”) You might also remember that severe housing cost burden is up among individuals and families doubled up.

With need so high, this is exactly the wrong time to be rising the elimination of TANF ECF. This job-creating service to the most vulnerable families is in danger of expiring at the end of the month. We’ve written about it before and there are daily stories cropping up the program’s importance. It seems that the program may be seeing rays of hope – but that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. If you haven’t already (and you better have!) call your senator today.

An interesting report shows that housing problems have become the primary subject of employee-assistance calls. According to reporting from USA Today, child care had long reigned as the subject of employee assistance calls but – staring January 2010 – housing became the primary concern.

And of course, the biggest news of the week is the ending of our photo contest! Submissions are due no later than midnight today. So get in those photos! For inspiration, check out the submissions we’ve received so far in our Flickr album.

16th September
2010
written by Catherine An

And it’s back! I’m picking up where Marisa dropped off in learning about the ten objectives of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Today we’re looking at objective two.

Objective 2: Strengthen the capacity of public and private organizations by increasing knowledge about collaboration, homelessness, and successful interventions to prevent and end homelessness.

As the communications arm of the Alliance, this objective is really important to us. One of the goals outlined in the HRI mission is to build and disseminate information about homelessness and engage the public and the media.

And to that end, we’ve tried to adopt the technologies that make the most sense to us. You’ll find us on Facebook, you can follow us on Twitter, you can check out our videos on YouTube and see our pictures (from our photo contest on Flickr. (And of course, there’s this blog). Through these avenues, we aim to engage supporters and disseminate information about homelessness – and solutions to homelessness.

Of course, the primary vehicle to do just that is our website. There, you’ll find factsheets, solutions, strategies, community snapshots, research, and an oft-visited and very helpful section called About Homelessness. The website is regularly updated with new information about the wide range of issues that intersect with homelessness: health care, veterans affairs, welfare, violence, substance abuse, and the like.

Our challenge is always in reaching the people that need us. Our last usability test (conducted at the Annual Conference in July) suggested that – despite our efforts – a significant portion of conference attendees don’t subscribe to our newsletter or our social networks. We may be pushing information into the atmosphere but it’s of very little use unless anyone receives it!

So we embrace this new objective set forth by the federal plan, challenging us to share knowledge about homelessness and it’s solutions. I certainly hope you’ll join me in spreading the news!

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