Archive for November, 2010
Today’s guest blog comes from Steve Berg, Vice President of Programs and Policy at the Alliance.
Since the early 1980s, America has been turning away from homeless veterans. When widespread homelessness emerged, veterans who had served in Vietnam or in the years after were already overrepresented among homeless people. Instead of an outcry and demand for an immediate solution, however, there was hand wringing, a few programs, but mostly no response.
As a boy, I grew up watching the Vietnam war and public reaction to the war on TV. I was 18 when the last ten Marines were helicoptered off the roof of the embassy in Saigon in early 1975.
What I remember most is the anger and hatred between Americans, and especially toward the young men a few years older than me – men I admired and looked up to growing up and entering adulthood, every one of whom had to make a hard decision about how to deal with the war.
Some young men went to Vietnam and did everything they could to keep their colleagues safe from harm, risking their own lives on a daily basis. Many more went and did their jobs more or less efficiently, with enthusiasm or indifference or loathing. Some went and thought only about staying out of harm’s way.
Regardless of their actions, what all of them faced upon returning was something we all know and regret now: protests and criticism and disapproval from people who were sick of the war and thought that the young men and women who had served in the military were part of the problem.
By the 1980s, most Americans wanted to forget Vietnam, and particularly wanted to forget the conflict and anger that we felt toward each other. It turned out to be pretty easy, when faced with homelessness among veterans, to blame it on the war, assume that someone else would take care of it, and turn away.
Thirty years later and we find ourselves in a nearly identical situation – new wars but the same controversy.
And still, the number of homeless veterans from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is going up. Open, widespread outrage over this fact does not appear to be forthcoming. Homelessness among Vietnam veterans grew year after year, well after the war was over; will we see more homeless veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom in the decades to come?
Will our country turn away from our veterans once again?
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs General Eric Shinseki says no. A year ago he called together a national summit on veteran homelessness, and declared his commitment to end homelessness for veterans in five years.
In the year since his announcement, General Shinseki has proven to people inside and outside VA that the promise was far from empty. Under his leadership, the VA has changed the way they approach veterans homelessness; the department has embraced tested, practical tools like permanent supportive housing, homelessness prevention strategies, and rapid re-housing.
Behind all these changes is one steadfast, unyielding principle: no veteran deserves to be homeless.
We at the Alliance stand with General Shinseki. We know the work that lies ahead, but the time is right. Never before has the promise of an end to veteran homelessness been so within our reach.
We will not make the same mistakes with the new generation of veterans that we did with an earlier generation. This time, we will face the problem squarely, we will not turn away, we will allow our nation’s heroes to return with dignity and to our gratitude. And maybe if we can do that, we can rectify some of those earlier mistakes in the process.
Special thanks to Rachel Costas, Alliance intern, for her help with today’s blogpost.
The Alliance is delighted and lucky to announce two new members of our staff! André Wade joins us to serve as point person on youth policy; Lisa Stand offers her expertise on health care policy.
Throughout his career, André worked with children/families who experienced homelessness at some point in their lives and learned that children exiting foster care children often experiencing homelessness as young adults.
Upon arriving at the Alliance and examining homelessness and homelessness policy, he (like most of us) was surprised by the lack of data on homeless youth and dearth of policy around the issue. He also observed much more closely that homelessness is, in fact, a problem that exists “literally everywhere.” Luckily, Andre is eager and ready to join the mission and work on LGBTQ homeless youth issues and youth and child welfare issues as they relate to homelessness.
Our new youth programs and policy analyst is a Las Vegas native with a fondness for white chocolate chip cookies.
Our new senior policy analyst, Lisa Stand, comes to us with a strong background in health care policy and an enthusiasm for the new health care reform policies. She especially interested in health care reform as it could aid people who need it most – namely, people experiencing homelessness.
Our new analyst has worked in health policy for her entire career; her most recent position was at the venerable AARP. And in the wide ranging field of health care, she’s particularly interested in the intersection of healthcare/mental health and housing issues and the way public health and social policy can affect societal change. She is – as many are – very interested in the notion that homelessness is a social problem that we can really end.
The Cheverly, MD native has a soft spot for reading, knitting, her two cats, and oatmeal cookies.
Please join me in welcoming the new members of the Alliance staff!
Seriously, we do. You’re a thoughtful, fair-minded, well-intentioned supporter of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. You’ve read our reports, tried our online interactive tools, casually visit this blog, and haven’t yet filtered out our Facebook updates (we’re trying to moderate them – promise).
We know you. We knew you get it. Homelessness is a problem that persists in the United States but together, you know we can end it. You know it’s about housing, you know it’s about services, you know it’s about systems-level change. You don’t need the speech – you can recite it yourself.
But this year, we’re asking you do to a little tiny bit more. You don’t need us to tell you that this year has been particularly tough on the economically vulnerable. The children, families, veterans, and individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness need every friend they have.
And we’re hoping we can count you among them.
And while we would sincerely appreciate any contribution you could spare, you can support the cause in a number of other ways:
- Sign up for the newsletter and stay up-to-date with all the Alliance news.
- Keep up with the Alliance on our social networks (you can find links to them on our homepage. They’re you’re first stop for breaking news relating to homelessness and housing.
- Join our advocacy networks and give of your time and passion. The Alliance hosts campaigns to persuade our elected officials prioritize homeless assistance – and every voice matters.
- Did we mention you could always donate?
Thank you – so much – for your support. We know it’s not easy to stay engaged, especially during the busy holiday season but rest assured that we’re always grateful for all of your support.
For more information about the Alliance, giving, or other ways to get (and stay!) involved, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Okay, so I really mean what about the youth.
Today, we hosted our first in a series of webinars about youth homelessness.
Here’s the thing about youth homelessness: we know just enough to know that we hardly know anything at all.
We know a little: RHYA shows us that there are young people out there looking for help. Data from the juvenile justice and the foster care systems show us that young people are exiting those systems and ending up homeless. Research from institutions like Chapin Hall outline the relationship between youth homelessness and child welfare.
We know that there’s a problem.
But we’re grappling with pieces of the puzzle. And if we at the Alliance have learned anything at all, it’s that we must fully understand a problem in order to really get serious about solving it.
So we’re asking you guys to start with the data. On our webinar today, Barbara Poppe from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and Nan Roman, the Alliance’s own president, emphasized the importance of including youth in the 2011 community point-in-time counts. The first step to solving a problem, we’ve concluded, is to determine the scope of the problem.
As a critical observer in the field, I can testify that I’ve been hearing stories from advocates and reporters alike asking if there’s any evidence to back up anecdotal data about an increase in homeless youth and specifically about the vulnerability of those in the 18 – 25 age range. I can’t say I’ve noticed an increase – or point to any data that would validate that presumption – but I can say that the heightened increase only adds fuel to the fervor to get an accurate count.
What about you? Have you noticed an increase in youth homelessness? Does your community count homeless youth? Have you noticed increased attention to this special subpopulation? We want to hear from you!
And remember to sign up for the second webinar in the series: Including Youth in PIT Counts, Part 2: A Case Study of San Jose and Santa Clara County. This webinar will provide an in-depth case study of how one community, Santa Clara county and San Jose, CA, undertook specific efforts to include youth in its point-in-time count. It will be held on Wednesday, November 17 from 2 – 3 PM ET.
News stories from across the country this week seemed to point to a growing epidemic of youth homelessness.
In New Hampshire a letter to the editor (aptly) titled “In Claremont, 1 in 10 kids is homeless – Is New Hampshire really okay with that?” called for more funding for youth programs. Headed out west, in Green Bay, WI another piece reports a 20 percent increase over last year in the number of school-aged kids experiencing homelessness.
How can we let this happen? I think most people agree that youth homelessness is a problem that just plain shouldn’t exist.
It’s time to take action. Unfortunately, there is just not enough data on youth homelessness – and we can’t solve a problem unless we fully understand it.
Luckily (!) we’re here to help! The Alliance president, Nan Roman, along with executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness will hold a webinar on Monday, November 8 at 2 p.m. ET going over strategies to acquire an accurate homeless youth count. We know they’re out there, we know we can help, and now it’s time to figure out how. Join us for our webinar on Monday – register here.
Another buzz topic this week was the prevalence of homelessness in rural areas. Folks in rural North Carolina and North Dakota are proclaiming “Homelessness is here.” The prevalence of rural homelessness can come as a surprise, even to those in the communities themselves. Homelessness in rural areas can actually be harder than homelessness in more urban areas – many rural areas have fewer services and higher rates of poverty than urban areas. This may be one reason that unsheltered homelessness occurs at a slightly higher incidence in rural areas than in urban areas.
Sleeping on the streets anywhere in this country is a horrible experience, but sleeping on the streets of Alaska is becoming increasingly deadly, or so says Sen. Mark Begich. The senator from Alaska reports that 20 people have died while sleeping outside in the last few months; he’s asked the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness for help to address the growing problem.
Young people who are living on the streets alone. Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) program counts show us that there are young people seeking assistance in communities across the country. The National Extranet Optimized Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information System (NEO-RHYMIS) shows us that there are thousands of young people seeking basic services and beds.
We know they’re out there – but that’s about all we know.
Lost in the mix of seasons greetings and veterans remembrance is a noteworthy event that doesn’t hit the radar for most Americans this month: it’s National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.
It’s a really important month. Despite the fact that everyone will agree that youth homelessness is an existing problem, there’s nothing else to agree on: we have no reliable or regular source of data on this vulnerable subpopulation. We know they’re there, we know they’re young, we know they need our help. But we don’t know how many there are, we don’t know much about the characteristics of this group, we don’t know how they enter or exit homelessness, we don’t know how they survive while experiencing homelessness, we don’t know how long they’re homeless, where, or how.
And we can’t solve a problem without fully understanding it.
So that’s where we need to start: with data.
We at the Alliance are encouraging our local friends and partners to make sure to include youth as part of their annual, HUD-mandated, homeless counts this coming January.
It’s harder than it sounds – most young people fly under the radar of regular homeless assistance systems. They may be minors and often don’t know about or trust the resources available to them and can have trouble accessing the services that are mostly targeted at adults anyway. They crash with friends, couch-surf, sleep on the streets, and find other inconspicuous ways of slipping by and surviving. We know that this is a tough ask.
But we’re prepared to offer some guidance. This coming Monday, Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. ET the Alliance and the National Network for Youth will host a webinar called “Counting Homeless Youth” that will examine the problem and offer strategies to acquire an accurate homeless youth count. Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness and Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, will kick off the call. (You can download our brief on Counting Homeless Youth on our website before the call!).
So if you have the time, take a moment for youth homelessness next Monday and learn a little something about how to help those young vulnerable people on the streets. As a bonus, you get to hear from two superstars in the field exactly how to help out.
Register for the webinar, or ring us if you have any problems!
Today’s guest post comes from Alliance research associate Pete Witte: homelessness researcher, urban planner, and brand new dad.
Last week I attended a meeting with the local D.C. chapter of the American Planning Association. Xavier Briggs – urban planner, academic, and current Associate Director at the Office of Management and Budget – spoke to the group.
Briggs is most acclaimed for his work on the concept of “geography of opportunity,” the idea that race and class segregation affects the well-being and life potential of people with fewer means. As a former urban planner turned homelessness researcher, Briggs caught my attention when he dropped the h-word into the conversation:
“…and planning for low-income housing and for those who are homeless.”
One of the things that I quickly learned in my post at the Alliance is that there is plenty of overlap between my former role as an urban planner and my current role as a homelessness researcher. Namely, I still spend my time asking one central question: what does it mean to improve our communities?
As an urban planner, that meant considering the best way to incentivize “green space,” or deciphering what the zoning code had to say about “FAR,” pondering what it meant to “rethink the auto” and encourage “TOD.”
As a homelessness researcher, it means new and different things.
I’ve learned that one way to improve communities would be to increase the amount of permanent supportive housing options for persons who are chronically homeless. We could also rapidly re-house individuals who, under incredibly difficult circumstances, have lost their home. We could make small changes that could better our homelessness system – by creating a central point of contact, coordinating services, and targeting homelessness prevention programs.
As an urban planner, I often thought about what it meant to improve our communities. I rarely thought about what it meant to end homelessness or what ending homelessness might look like. Today, I still identify as an urban planner, only now I think about community improvement in at least one more significant and important way: through ending homelessness.
When Congress comes back – whatever the election results – the men and women we elect will be facing appropriations season; they’ll be trying to determine how much money to spend on which programs. Ask any staffer on the Hill and they can tell you it’s always a rigorous and deliberate process – and passing a budget is one of the most important things that Congress does all year.
And that’s not all. We at the Alliance set policy priorities every year that we work toward with Congress and the Administration.
- Increase access to permanent, affordable housing for extremely low-income families by funding new Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers and supporting the capitalization of the National Housing Trust Fund.
- Increase the capacity of the VA and HUD to prevent and end veterans homelessness by enacting S. 1547, the Zero Tolerance for Homeless Veterans Act and supporting funding for additional HUD-VASH vouchers.
- End youth homelessness through supportive housing, rental assistance, and services specific to unaccompanied youth by supporting a baseline youth count in 2011 community homeless counts and increasing funding of the Family Unification Program
And really, that’s not all. Remember the whole federal plan to end homelessness that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released last June? Remember the youth homelessness site visit campaign? Remember how the HEARTH Act is going to kick up at any moment?
The people that we elect today will have the ability to make significant changes in our lives – and for my part, I’m hoping they have the best interests of our communities and our country at heart.
And if that isn’t enough, let me remind of you of the situation at hand with a few flashback statistics (courtesy of the Center for Housing Research):
- With only one in three poor renters benefiting from federal housing assistance, by 2006, some 16.8 million renter households (46 percent of all renters) were paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing.
- According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2010 Out of Reach report, a full-time minimum wage earner could not affordably rent a typical one-bedroom apartment in any county in the country (except some parts of Puerto Rico). The report estimates that the national “housing wage” – the hourly wage that a full-time worker must earn in order to afford the rent for a standard quality unit – is $18.44, or roughly 2.5 times higher than the current minimum hourly wage.
- In 2008, the percentage of people living with severe housing cost burden – paying more than 50 percent of their monthly income in rent – shot up by one-third to 16 percent. According to the State of the Nation’s Housing authored by the Center on Joint Housing Studies at Harvard University, a record 18.6 million households faced severe housing cost burdens this year – an increase of 4.7 million since 2001.
Look, you don’t need us to tell you that the situation out there isn’t rosy. Isn’t there some hubbub about the rent being too high in New York?
For many, it’s not a joke – it’s for real. Countless Americans are struggling to stay stably housed and support themselves and their families while precariously straddling their financial cliff. Together, with the support of Congress and the Administration, we can make that tightrope walk just a bit easier. With a focus on housing and services, we can prevent and end homelessness in this country.
So make sure you get out there and vote today.
And to celebrate this season of good will toward men, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has partnered with Great Nonprofits for their 2010 Food and Shelter campaign.
For the month of November, Great Nonprofits will encourage supporters and reviewers to pay special recognition to organizations that work on homelessness and hunger issues. GuideStar, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, HomeAid, Covenant House, We Are Visible, and GOOD have all joined in to lend their support!
Whether you are a part of a nonprofit organization, a volunteer, a board member, a client served or a donor, we invite you to participate in the 2010 Food and Shelter campaign.
Here’s what you do: Tell us about YOUR experience – about the Alliance or your own local homeless assistance program or nonprofit. How are we having an impact? How are we affecting your local/the national community? How can we do better? Take this opportunity to share your stories about how nonprofits serve our community. Visit the website to get started.
But regardless of whether or not you choose to review us, we do encourage you to see this as an opportunity to share your experiences with nonprofit organizations working to make a difference in your community. Just five minutes – five short minutes! – to give feedback about the work we’re trying to do together.
Got questions? Give us a shout. In the meantime, visit the 2010 Food and Shelter campaign and get started already!