Archive for October, 2010
A great editorial from the New Sentinel in TN about the Housing First approach (don’t know what Housing First is? Check out our blog archives!). Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett threatened to withdraw $50,000 from the county’s Ten Year Plan unless housing units banned alcohol. But, as the editorial thoughtfully points out, “To demand abstinence or psychological treatment before housing is like having your doctor tell you that you can’t have life-saving heart surgery until after you’ve changed your diet and started exercising.” Stable housing is the foundation – the very first step – to recovery of all kinds for people experiencing chronic homelessness. Kudos to the News Sentinel Editorial Board for recognizing this important fact.
You know who else knows this fact? The good people of Bergen County, NJ. In Bergen County, advocates are embracing the Housing First model to help chronically homeless people find permanent housing. Despite barriers – including, as the writer points out, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, or physical disability (and frequently a combination) – housing is the number one priority for advocates working to end homelessness. And of the 102 homeless people the county has helped house since March 2009, not a single person has ended up back on the street. Hip hip hooray!
A hop, skip, jump away from New Jersey, our friends at Hearth in Boston are working to end elder homelessness – and it’s a good thing, too. According to our demographics brief, elder homelessness will grow by a third in ten years; double by 2050. Between the size of the baby boomer population and the current rate of elder homelessness, we’re looking at an impending crisis. Hearth can’t do it alone – we’ve all got to do our part.
And finally: the illustrious Rosanne Haggerty! The brains behind Common Ground New York and the new 100,000 Homes Campaign (and MacArthur Fellowship recipient!) shares with the Alliance her vision for ending homelessness in this month’s Take Five! interview. Take a minute to check it out!
Today’s post comes to us from John McGah, Executive Director of Give US Your Poor.
This Saturday, October 30, is the deadline for homeless, formerly homeless, and at-risk high school students to apply for a Horatio Alger Association college scholarship.
Nearly 1,000 scholarships are available this year. The Horatio Alger Association helps students who have overcome hardship attend college. This year, through a partnership with Give US Your Poor: The Campaign to End Homelessness (part of UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies), they are targeting students who have experienced homelessness.
The relationship between the Horatio Alger Association and Give US Your Poor began in 2007, at the Give US Your Poor Concert for to benefit people experiencing homelessness in Boston, MA.
During his performance, Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis welcomed 13-year-old Kyla Middleton on stage. Kyla is a top-notch student, articulate public speaker, sings beautifully, and was homeless with her family for a year. Mario and Kyla sang a duet of John Lennon’s, “Imagine,” to the Dorchester audience. Tears, applause, and a standing ovation followed.
Then, to Kyla’s surprise, Mario announced that she was being awarded a $20,000 college scholarship from The Horatio Alger Association.
That was a cool moment. So cool, that it inspired UMass Boston Chancellor, Dr. Keith Motley, to create a 4-year scholarship, given annually, to attend UMass Boston for a Mass. student that has experienced homelessness.
Which leads us to the scholarships offered this year: almost 1,000 total.
Please encourage eligible high school students to apply for this scholarship! There are over 100 national scholarships worth $20,000 each as well as state-specific scholarships of $2,500-$10,000 depending on the state.
The deadline is Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010 and some paperwork is required (so make sure you get on it ASAP!). Please visit the website for more details and an online application.
What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
One issue with large potential impact is that more communities are using data to redesign their response to homelessness. Communities with the most information on who is homeless are in the best position to help people out of homelessness. Better data means being able to use mainstream programs more effectively— for instance, if we know who exactly is a veteran, or who qualifies for senior housing, our options for housing those people expand significantly. Along with many partners, we recently launched the 100,000 Homes Campaign to help communities across the country identify, house and support their most vulnerable homeless residents. Participating means having help in gathering person-specific data on who is homeless and in the most fragile health; creating a successful housing placement system; and being part of and learning from a network of others working collectively to house 100,000 vulnerable people by July 2013.
What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
I think many of us were inspired after Hurricane Katrina when over 80,000 people took to craigslist to offer housing to those made homeless by the storm. It jolted me into realizing that people naturally take care of each other in moments of crisis. The homeless never forget that homelessness is an urgent problem, but I think the rest of us often do.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign recaptures this sense of urgency by bringing individuals face to face with the homeless in their communities. It gives people a chance to respond directly and immediately to the task of moving people out of homelessness and into stable homes. The Campaign helps communities to make the best use of all their resources, including drawing on community members to play an expanded role in providing housing and support for vulnerable people. Government resources are critical, but there is a great deal of untapped capacity among community residents and institutions that can be put to use getting more people housed.
How did you start working about the field of homelessness (or housing)?
My first job out of college was as a full time volunteer at a shelter for homeless and runaway kids. There was a great staff, and the organization had the best of intentions, but over and over, the same kids came in for a few weeks, were discharged to the street, and returned a few weeks later to start the cycle again. It was clear that we weren’t having much of an impact. In talking to the young people I worked with, while they needed every type of service, it was obvious that nothing else would stick if they didn’t have stable homes. That’s what convinced me to focus on affordable housing and to go to work for a not for profit developer.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
Growing up, my parents took us to church in downtown Hartford, CT. It was an unusual congregation: just us, a few other families and several elderly residents of Hartford’s downtown SRO hotels. My parents befriended them, and they became part of our extended family. They came to our house in the suburbs every holiday, and we’d visit them if they were sick or to deliver food. We saw how important SROs and rooming houses were as housing for poor people without families.
My parent’s example of taking personal responsibility for people who had very little and seeing that they never lost their housing reminds me of our tendency to overcomplicate homelessness. We assume that it’s the job of not for profits or government agencies to handle the issue, and we forget that it’s actually the most natural thing in the world to help the people around us if we know what they need. We tend not to take into account the capacity and willingness of citizens to help end homelessness in their communities. This is why the Campaign has potential for shifting our mindsets; it draws on the energy and concern of ordinary people to become vital resources for ending homelessness in their communities.
Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
When “homelessness” is not abstract, when it has a name and a face, it is less overwhelming and more solvable. We observe that as the Campaign helps more and more communities learn who the homeless are and discover the other dimensions of their lives— that they are elderly, or veterans, or grew up in foster care, or have cancer— they view their resources differently and realize they can draw on mainstream programs for solutions. There’s something about focusing on individual people that restores a sense of urgency to homelessness and gets us focused on solutions.
To see this profile – plus other profiles of leaders in the homeless assistance field, please visit our website and check out past Take Five! Expert Q & As.
Today’s blog post comes from Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy at the Alliance.
As a member of the Alliance’s policy team, I have the privilege and responsibility of meeting with elected officials, members of President Obama’s administration, national advocacy groups, and other stakeholders in the world of homelessness and housing. We share ideas, challenges, strategies, and innovations to best meet our common goals.
Earlier this month I had the distinct honor of attending a White House-sponsored gathering called Next Generation Housing Policy: Convening on Rental Housing. A policy that could do more to help the lowest-income Americans afford decent housing would provide a powerful wind at the back of everyone who works to end homelessness – so the issue is key to our work.
The event took place in a building that looks like a small warehouse, planted in an internal courtyard of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), next door to the White House. Inside was a comfortable, well-appointed auditorium. About 200 people were there – federal officials, people from the development and financing industry, researchers who study housing, and advocates for low-income people.
Speakers included members of the Obama Administration: Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council; Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council. Academics, advocates, and practitioners from the affordable housing world also spoke, offering their ideas for change. Among them was our friend and colleague Rosanne Haggerty of Common Ground, who gave an astute pitch for supportive housing and its positive impacts for homeless people.
- The need for a more active policy on affordable rental housing has captured the Administration’s attention.
This was evident from the fact that this session was taking place, the time devoted to the session by members of the Administration, and the clear commitment expressed to develop a policy proposal that would address the problems people are having affording rental housing.
- The Administration and others see wide ranging benefits in increasing the amount of affordable rental housing. Melody Barnes spoke about affordable rental housing improving joblessness and revitalizing communities. Panelists addressed how a better housing policy can combat poverty, address social inequity, create incentives for wealth building, and promote fair housing. Linking housing policy to these broader goals draws in new allies and builds a stronger case for investments. (The more modest goal of ending homelessness has been embraced by this Administration and is on the list.)
- A universal policy, of decent, affordable housing for everyone, as an end in itself, may not be on the short-term agenda. Concern about the amount of federal debt and resulting difficulty enacting new spending programs was on everyone’s minds. If the policy being developed, however, is one for the next generation (i.e. the next 25 years or so), it will be appropriate to keep a universal approach as a longer-term goal while pursuing partial solutions over the next couple years that either don’t cost a lot or save money elsewhere.
- Housing produces results that can save money, but the savings are hard to predict. In fact, sometimes these savings don’t “count” in deliberations by Congress or the Administration for a number of reasons. Since the publication of research showing the cost-effectiveness of supportive housing, people working on homelessness have been struggling to realize these savings in a concrete way. It’s up to us – housers, policymakers, and advocates – to clearly demonstrate how housing is not only an effective solution but a cost-efficient one as well.
The convening closed with Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President and an important mover for the Obama Administration’s policies related to homelessness. Douglas said that staffers at the White House will be developing a policy proposal and that he expects that there will be additional consultation with people who attended this gathering about key details.
So, truth – it was a pretty slow news week. It seems like the news media covers homelessness in cycles: it gets really good (covering solutions and strategies and communities) and then it gets really bad (covering pan handling and camp outs).
I think we’re in an in-between phase.
This week, we noticed a very long feature on youth aging out of foster care in the Seattle Post Intelligencer written by reporters at Investigate West. While we at the Alliance wholeheartedly agree that this is an oft-overlooked and very important issue, we took serious issue with the article’s wildly inaccurate depiction of our own organization:
“At the national level, it’s barely on the radar of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a powerful advocacy group that provides information the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
In fact, not only is youth homelessness a 2010 Policy Priority for the Alliance, but in the last year alone, we’ve:
- published a series profiling the way some communities are using HPRP funds to assist youth,
- launched a youth site visit campaign encouraging legislators to examine the issue in their own communities,
- hired new staff to work on the issue,
- and – just this week – wrote a toolkit encouraging communities to fully incorporate youth in their January 2011 point-in-time counts.
I’m hoping that next time, before writing such inflammatory remarks, it would occur to a journalist to pick up the phone as I’m always happy to chat!
Moving right along: On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times put out a piece on the elderly living at (or below) the poverty line. Hat tip to writer Alexandra Zavis for covering an issue that, in my opinion, doesn’t get examined enough. We focus on children and adolescents and their parents but rarely, I think, do we shed any light on those in their golden years.
And it turns out, the years aren’t so golden. Zavis reveals that too many California seniors are just barely scraping by – and we agree. Last year, the Alliance published a brief called Demographics of Homelessness: The Rising Elderly Population in which we project that elderly homelessness will grow by a third by 2020 and double by 2050 if the current rate continues. It’s time to start talking about this problem.
And finally, Kamala Harris (currently the District Attorney of San Francisco and the Democratic nominee for California Attorney General) penned a piece for the Huffington Post on protetecting survivors of domestic violence.
In the piece, Harris writes about a San Francisco-started-turned-state law that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who are survivors of domestic violence. Harris explains that in California, domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and families. And for such vulnerable families, homelessness makes everything worse: women are less likely to access services or press charges, children’s schoolwork, health, and well-being suffers.
The relationship between domestic violence and homelessness is little acknowledged but significant. Here at the Alliance, we’re paying more and more attention to this relationship and researching ways to divert survivors from homelessness. Kudos to Harris for pointing it out so eloquently.
And that’s a wrap from us – have great weekend!
On Tuesday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the Fifth Quarterly Pulse report – a snapshot of homelessness in eight communities across the country. This latest report covers the time between January to March 2010.
The moral of the story, as conveyed by the current report, is that homelessness is mostly down.
- There was a one percent decrease in the overall shelter count between the fourth and fifth quarters. (All but NYC reported decreases in their local counts.)
- There was a four percent decrease in the number of sheltered persons in families between the fourth and fifth quarters (All but the Richmond, VA community reported decreases in their local family counts.)
- There was a three percent increase in sheltered homeless individuals between the fourth and fifth quarters. (Despite notable decreases in some areas – VA, CT, and KY – increases in other communities, including OH and NYC, contributed to a rise in this number.)
We also noted a couple of economic indicators:
- When comparing January – March 2009 to January – March 2010, seven of the eight sites showed increased joblessness. (LA showed a 0.1 percent improvement in joblessness.)
- Five communities experienced increased joblessness between the fourth and fifth quarters.
- Half of the sites had increased rates of foreclosure activity.
Another point of concern (that’s often reported in news outlets) is the number of newly homeless. In this quarter’s Pulse report, we see that:
- In the eight communities surveyed, the number of newly homeless served decreased by 12 percent as compared to the previous quarter.
- Six sites showed – all but AZ and LA – showed decreases in the number of newly homeless served with OH and NYC leading the pack with 57 percent fewer new clients and 10 percent fewer new clients, respectively.
- About half of new clients were in families, as was the case in the past four quarters. But in a few communities, the proportion largely tilts towards individuals, including DC (80 percent of new clients are individuals), LA (80 percent individuals), and VA (76 percent individuals).
Also of note with this new group: 91 percent of new clients entered an emergency shelter and 31 percent of new clients were children (1 percent of them were unaccompanied youth).
The Pulse report includes the following communities:
Phoenix/Mesa/Maricopa County, AZ
District of Columbia
Frankford, Elizabethtown, KY
New York City
Cleveland/Cuyahoga County, OH
Richmod/Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover Counties, VA
In the following months, HUD aims to include more communities in the Pulse report and continue to pursue a represent all different types of jurisdictions and geographies. For more information about the Pulse report – and to access the latest report – please visit the HUD Homelessness Research Exchange website.
So after tipping my hat to the 100,000 Homes Campaign for featuring our interactive tools and maps on their (awesome!) blog, I did a little tooling around to remind myself of other really useful tools on our very own website!
The Alliance has, for almost 30 years, lead the campaign to end homelessness in the United States. And over the decades, we’ve accumulated the data, best practices, and effective strategies necessary to end homelessness.
And we’re hoping to share them with you!
After checking out our most visited pages and most popular tools, we’ve compiled a list of ten things – links, pages, reports – you need in order to end homelessness in your community (read: really great tools and info). And, just for good measure, I’ve tossed in a couple not-so-popular but ever-so-useful links as well.
- The Interactive Tools and Solutions section.
HRI produces a number of charts, tools, and maps to help you better understand homelessness. Some of the more recent tools illustrate the number of doubled-up households in the United States, HPRP spending per household in the cities we’re tracking, and reductions in point-in-time counts necessary to meet the goals outlined in the federal strategic plan to end homelessness.
- The (new!) HPRP Youth Profile series
If you feel like youth homelessness has broken the media barrier, I’d agree with you. Youth homelessness is getting noticed as, as ending youth homelessness is one of our 2010 Policy Priorities, we’ve had our eyes out. This series highlights how some communities are effectively using federal HPRP dollars to service this vulnerable population.
- Our Issues Sections.
So you’re feeling ready to go a little deeper? We go over the major topics we study at the Alliance. You’ll get an overview of chronic, family, veterans, and youth homelessness. We also go over rural homelessness, domestic violence, mental and physical health, and re-entry issues.
- Check out the Solutions.
Don’t forget: we don’t just study homelessness – we’re about ending it. In this section, we show you how. We go over the best practices and effective policies necessary to end all types of homelessness. Among then is the Alliance-championed Ten Year Plan, as well as the [also Alliance-championed] Housing First principle. We also include information about prevention and rapid re-housing, including the President’s stimulus-funded, Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.
- The new Training section
Our capacity building team has really been making waves! They’re working on serious, on the ground issues with local communities to help them implement the best methods to end homelessness in their communities. They’ve also launched a great Performance Improvement Clinic (formerly called the HEARTH Academy), helping people prepare for the changes that’ll take effect next year. If you’re a provider, this is the section for you!
- Local Progress
Here we post on-the-ground examples of real, live plans put into practice. And, as you can imagine, those plans yielded some quantifiable results! We’ve posted snapshots from San Francisco, New York City, Denver, Chicago, Columbus, and other communities. Is your community among these snapshots??
- The 2011 National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness website
It’s new and improved and waiting for you! Registration has opened and we’ve already received applications – are you one of them? This year’s conference is in sunny Oakland, California and we can’t wait to see you there!
- And one more for good measure: the homepage.
Find out about the latest policy updates, reports, documents, campaigns, events, and news. And what’s most important (read to me?) This is where you can connect with us.I know you’re already here (on the blog) but are you connecting with us on Facebook and Twitter? If you aren’t, you should! Our social networks are a great way to connect with us online, meet our experts and advocates, and learn (up-to-the-minute) what’s happening in our office and the field of homelessness. We talk with our friends, trade notes, links, and resources, and chat about emerging issues and upcoming innovations.
Imagine you’re a 7 year old and your family becomes homeless. Every night, you fall asleep in a shelter, in a car, on the street. Imagine moving in and out of the assistance system, shuffled back and forth from shelters to programs to relatives. Suddenly, school, teachers, classmates, and even homework become the constants in your life – anchors of normalcy when everything else seems to be falling apart.
Last Thursday, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty hosted the annual McKinney-Vento Awards, the organization’s yearly tribute to leaders in the field. This year’s awardees included best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich, the law firm Dechert LLP, and the Elzer family of Pittsburgh, PA.
As a novice to the organization and the issue, I felt lucky to tag along and learn. Even on a national level the homeless assistance community is a small one. That is why these events like this one are great opportunities to meet other people in the field, recognize the innovators, and connect with like-minded people and organizations.
As I sat taking in the night, one issue resonated with me most: the plight of homeless children.
The McKinney-Vento Act allows children in homeless families to stay in their original public school regardless of where their family is temporarily staying. Still, as I learned Thursday evening, there are homeless children who face discrimination when trying to exercise that right.
The Elzer family faced just this situation. When Bill Elzer lost his job, his family found itself homeless and their children were forced out of their school.
But the Elzers weren’t having it. With the assistance of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, the Elzers sued to have their children re-enrolled. The family won their battle and the children were able to return to their school this past spring. Because of this lawsuit and others like it, Pennsylvania now has guidelines to prevent other homeless children from having to experience the same injustices.
As the nation continues to recover from the grinding effects of this lasting recession, we can and must do more to extend even the smallest courtesies to each other – especially when the other is a young child. In a time of economic uncertainty and fear, we must work together in order to overcome our national challenges.
This was the message that the night most obvious on Thursday night, surrounded by people who have long been working to end homelessness in America. If we are to end homelessness in the nation, we must be willing to work together to create the best possible outcomes for the vulnerable people we serve.
Our good friends Rosanne Haggerty of Common Ground in New York and Martha Kegel of UNITY in New Orleans authored a fantastic piece in defense of supportive housing. A proposed project in New Orleans – a city still suffering the effects of a hurricane five years past – would redevelop an abandoned nursing home into supportive housing for people with disabilities and low-income working people is facing opposition from the local community. Rosanne and Martha do such a great job articulating the argument, I’ll let them speak for themselves:
“Homelessness is a humanitarian crisis, but it is bad for a community in many other ways as well. By converting abandoned buildings into beautifully renovated apartments, supportive housing offers an opportunity to help solve several of New Orleans’ pressing problems at once. Housing the homeless is good for everyone.”
In other news: Massachusetts is kicking butt in implementing and executing their plan to end homelessness; the state has helped place 376 people in housing and has helped prevent almost 11,000 families from becoming homeless through a Housing First model. Even as the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance reports the numbers of new families and individuals seeking help continues to grow in the area, Boston’s Pine St. Inn claims to have eliminated 10 percent of their shelter beds due to successful housing placements – at an estimated savings of $9,000 per person. Way to go, MA!
A news bit: New York is getting its first government-certified residence for homeless women veterans and its sounds like a fantastic project.
And in news close to home (well, not geographically…) Our reporter friend Julia Lyon of The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week that homelessness among Utah’s school age children has jumped 48 percent since 2008. This is truly troubling, given what we know about the serious risks for young people experiencing homelessness. Living in shelters or on the streets, unaccompanied homeless youth are at a higher risk for physical and sexual assault or abuse and physical illness than their adult counterparts. Also, young people are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide because of increased exposure to violence while living on their own.
Troubling, indeed. What can I do to help, you ask? We have good news for you! We just launched a campaign to bring attention to this issue and encourage Congress to increase funding for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs. Get involved by telling us you’re interested – email Amanda Krusemark of our grassroots mobilizing team and she’ll get you started!
I am happy to announce that the National Alliance to End Homelessness is participating in this year’s Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). The Alliance is part of the Human Care Charities Federation and our pledge number is 10022.
The CFC, a workplace giving program for federal employees, is one the largest and most successful campaigns of its kind. The mission of the CFC is “to promote and support philanthropy through a program that is employee focused, cost-efficient, and effective in providing all federal employees the opportunity to improve the quality of life for all.”
If you are a federal employee, you can contribute to the Alliance through this worthwhile program. Look for our listing under, “Homelessness, National Alliance to End,” #10022 in your CFC pledge book and on your local campaign website. Pledges can be made now through December 15, 2010. If you work in Washington, DC you can give online through the National Capital Area’s Campaign.
As a supporter, you can be assured that your contribution goes directly to support our programs: preventing and ending homelessness in this country. In 2009, 93.5 percent of funds raised went to research, education and capacity building programs while only 6.5 percent went to administration and fundraising.
If you’re not a government employee but are feeling charitable as the holiday season approaches, please visit the Alliance website to donate online.
Thanks so much for your support!