Archive for December, 2010

13th December
written by Catherine An

This morning, our friend Nathan Rott wrote piece about Eric Sheptock, a consumer advocate for homeless people in Washington, D.C.

Eric is a homeless advocate who, himself, is experiencing homelessness. As Nathan observed, “Being homeless has become Sheptock’s full-time occupation. It’s work that has provided him with purpose and a sense of community.”

And not just in person, but online. Eric has a robust Facebook and Twitter network and two blogs in which he chronicles his life as a person experiencing homelessness. Social networks have become a powerful medium for Sheptock to spread his message and amass followers. “”I don’t think I’d be able to do much of anything without the Internet,” Nathan quotes Eric.

And it’s not just Eric. Another good friend of the Alliance – Mark Horvath has taken the cause of assisting homeless people online. With a ceaseless stream of tweets, Facebook posts, streaming video, and countless other mediums, Mark peppers his ever-growing group of followers with information about and thoughts on the state of homelessness wherever he goes. He’s even taken his mission on the road – traveling cross-country and back to learn about homelessness on the ground and relay it to his awaiting digital public.

Their stories, Mark and Eric’s, are compelling, stirring, moving. They serve an important role in our efforts to end homelessness – drawing awareness and attention to the problem so that it becomes real and palpable to decision makers and activists. Creating a tangible, sympathetic reality and dispelling the myths about homelessness is step one in understanding the problem.

But here at the Alliance, we’re also focused on outcomes. We’re aiming to channel this kind of activism so that it can lead to real change for people experiencing homelessness. And not just in the way of soup kitchens and shelters but permanent supportive housing, social services, case management, job training and all the things it’s going to take for someone who’s experiencing homelessness to pull themselves out of it.

Eric and Mark play an important role in homelessness awareness – but you need to step in where their efforts leave off. After encouraging excitement and interest in the captive audience, we need to tell them what to do next: lobby Congress, talk to local officials, volunteer with direct service organizations so that they know what it’s going to take to end homelessness in your communities. Pay attention to policy, read news clips about housing, and stay abreast of emerging trends and information about how to make permanent housing a reality for people experiencing homelessness. Taking off from where some people leave the issue, we need to push our well-informed advocates to take action.

Because learning about homelessness is important – but ending homelessness is what changes lives.

For more information about policies, best practices, and other solutions to homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.

10th December
written by Catherine An

Happy Friday, everyone!

To start, I thought I’d just point out that in this week’s episode of , the song-singing cast decides to donate presents and money to the McKinney Vento Program for Homeless Kids – or some variation of those six words.

So they didn’t get it exactly right, but it was awesome seeing the all-important McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, the federal government’s largest investment in homeless assistance, get a shout-out on such a hit show. First Glee – then the world!

In more down-to-earth news, youth homelessness is at it again. There were three stories, an opinion piece in Oregon’s Statesman Journal, a news article from the Associated Press, and a Boston Globe piece (quote our own Nan Roman!) going over the purported rise in youth homelessness across the country. Just last week, we were discussing in the office the ascendancy of this issue in the news media – more evidence that the time is ripe to act on this important topic.

New York is under fire again. A controversial new study evaluating the effects of prevention has reached front page status in the New York Times. I know advocates across the country are feverishly discussing this new study – and whether or not it’s the right thing to do. What do you guys think about the New York study?

Prevention does seem to be doing something in Salt Lake City, UT. Our good friend Julia Lyon at the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a swift little post about the effects of HPRP in her community. Keep up the good work, guys!

And speaking of good work, the federal government is trying to make some strides with homeless veterans. The Navy Times reports that the number of homeless veterans is down 18 percent, and just this week, the VA hosted a meeting about the problem (which our own Nan Roman attended). It seems like all the pieces are in place: political will, financial support, human resources, interagency collaboration. Now it’s time to put it all together.

And finally, a piece about the basics. This week in Affordable Housing Finance, our pal Donna Kimura interviewed Sam Tsemberis, one of the fathers of Housing First. If you have a minute, you should definitely check it out.

And that’s it for the news of the week – have a great weekend!

8th December
written by Anna Blasco

Brief on the working poor
Interactive state-by-state map

Newsflash: the working poor are having an especially tough time in this recession.

Shocked yet? Probably not.

But the picture is more textured and nuanced than you might imagine.

For the second installment of our “Economy Bytes” series, the Alliance’s Homelessness Research Institute focused on a population that is struggling to weather the “Great Recession” – the working poor.

In short, we found that the working poor population is more likely to experience risk factors for homelessness than the general working population. And a lot of that is because they’ve been disproportionately affected by elements of this recession.

What do we mean? Okay, so we looked at three elements: severe housing cost burden, doubled up housing situations, and income.

And we found that – although people from different income brackets experience severe housing cost burden, doubled up housing situation, and reduced income – the working poor are more likely to experience these factors and experience them more acutely.

  • Severe housing cost burden: In 2008, 37.6 percent of the working poor population spent more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent compared to just 3.8 percent of the general working population.
  • Doubled up: In 2008, an estimated 7.8 percent of the working poor population was doubled up with family or friends as compared to less than 6.5 percent of the general working population.
  • Income/workforce: On average, the working poor population works 46.2 weeks per year compared to the general working population’s 49.1 weeks per year. Moreover, the working poor population are also employed in more volatile industries and earn less per hour – industry average of $12.78 per hour compared with average private sector earnings of $21.62 per hour – than the average working person.

Each of these factors – and the culmination of them, certainly – are all risk factors for homelessness and, as the data show, common experiences among working poor people.

It’s not pretty news but news nonetheless. To read the full report, please visit our website and while you’re crusing, take a peek at our interactive map to see how your state stacks up.

7th December
written by Catherine An

As the only non-researchy member of the Homelessness Research Institute at the Alliance, I felt especially privileged to be a guest at today’s meeting of the Research Council – a gathering of the leading thinkers on homelessness. I was lucky to be seated at a table with Dennis Culhane, Jill Khadduri, Mary Beth Shinn, Bob Rosenheck, and representatives from a smattering of federal agencies: HHS, Commerce, HUD, Census, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

And after a morning spent going around the table to discuss everyone’s latest research efforts, those agency liaisons took their turns. We eagerly anticipated learning what, if anything, our federal partners are doing to advance the research necessary to end homelessness. What projects are they initiating? What questions are they asking and answering? What are they doing to bring us closer to a country where everyone has a place to call home?

This and that, it turns out.

By far the most impressive agency was the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They’re pursuing a number of reports and studies to examine the effects of some of the most promising strategies to end homelessness, including: research on the Housing and Services for Homeless Persons Demonstration, research on youth aging out of foster care, and research on the effectiveness of prevention (to name just a few). What’s admirable about the array of research topics is not how widely varied they are – but how they represent the leading emerging strategies to fight homelessness. If these studies are conducted well, they will offer a wealth of new information that could really push homeless assistance forward.

The other agencies represented also expressed an interest in pursuing research topics related to homelessness – important not only because the agencies provide resources and administer programs that help people experiencing homelessness, but because interagency effort, as emphasized in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness, is imperative to end homelessness. This is not a mission that one body should – or could – execute alone. It hinges on leveraging the array of resources we have available to assist vulnerable people and families toward independence.

And good data is an incredible resource.

As we say, in order to effectively solve a problem, we must first fully understand. Meetings like today will help us learn more and more about homelessness – and what we can do about it. And slowly but surely, we’ll be able to end homelessness together.

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6th December
written by Anna Blasco

As an organization working to improve the lives of low-income Americans, we are big fans of the political economist and author Robert Reich.

Reich’s most recent book, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future,”  argues that the problems following the “Great Recession” can be attributed to a growing income disparity. In short, the rich are acquiring a greater and greater cut of the country’s wealth as the middle and lower classes face economic vulnerability, rising debt, and job loss.

That is where we come in – oftentimes it takes just one illness, a loss of a job, or other unexpected expenses to push economically vulnerable people out of their housing.

Reich believes the answer is investing in “human capital” (as opposed to investing in financial capital like Wall Street bail outs) by specifically addressing the needs of those in poverty. This means a greater investment in job training and education, for example. As we see ending homelessness as an investment in human capital, these ideas resonated loudly in our office.

For more, watch Reich break it down in this short video:

The good news is you can see Robert Reich during the Thursday plenary session of our National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness. Visit the conference website to learn more about, and register for, this year’s conference.

3rd December
written by Catherine An

So the big news topping off the cycle today is Los Angeles – they’ve taken a huge step forward in ending chronic and veteran homelessness. Sure, it’s still just a plan on paper, but never before has the homeless capital of the country shown such potential in really making progress toward ending homelessness in the city. We have high hopes for the city of angels – and we’re so thrilled to be a part of this important step forward.

There were a couple of pieces out this week about the expiration of jobless benefits. I know being a legislator is no small task, but since the expiration of TANF ECF, I’ve had my reservations about their judgment (remember TANF ECF? That great program?). You don’t have to be a federal lawmaker to know that people in this country are still struggling from the effects of the recession – that joblessness and underemployment and poverty still afflict Americans across the country. Why are we denying relief? And right around the holidays? It’s curious. Slate and the Los Angeles Times find it curious too.

A really interesting series started in the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday. Doctor Jan Gurley is taking some time to examine the relationship between homelessness and mortality. While it may not come as a galloping shock that people experiencing homelessness are at higher risk of death, her writing and findings are really quite enlightening.

And that’s a wrap for the week!

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2nd December
written by Catherine An

With all due respect to the empire state, let’s hear it for Los Angeles!

Yesterday, flanked by city and county officials, community members, and leaders in the field, the Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness unveiled a five year plan to end chronic and veterans homelessness in Los Angeles.

The plan outlines a comprehensive initiative built on rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, regional solutions, and community cooperation. The report also identified four key strategies to accomplishing this mission:

  • Align goals to integrate our system
  • Collect and share data to assess need and track progress
  • Target and reallocate existing resources to maximize impact
  • Coordinate resources to streamline funding.

Los Angeles has long been a challenge for the homeless assistance field, with far and away the largest number of people of experiencing homelessness (42,694 according to the latest AHAR, a high rate of homelessness (43/10,000 people in LA are homeless; the national average is 23), and the infamous Skid Row. Los Angeles is also home to a number of other conditions that make it residents vulnerable to homelessness: a high poverty rate (15.3 percent), high unemployment (12.5 percent), and notoriously high housing costs. Los Angeles is also distinctive in it’s unusually high unsheltered count – even among large cities, Los Angeles stands out as one with the majority of its homeless population unsheltered (28,644 homeless people in LA are unsheltered, according to the latest AHAR.)

No where in the country is a fresh new commitment to ending homelessness needed more. The Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness rightly recognized the need “to shift away from a [homeless assistance] system that is cumbersome and confusing…” and recommending “an integrated system focused on rapidly housing people with the supports they need to thrive…”

Most importantly, they recognized that housing stability is the cornerstone to personal and community improvement – and that the road to getting there is to create a system that supports housing stability.

“The foundation of a re-imaged system is the notion that housing stability is a critical first step on the road to wellness. Vital health, mental health, and other supportive services are then provided after individuals are housed, enabling them to better address these challenges.”

We here at the Alliance are thrilled at this new sign of urgency and enthusiasm to end homelessness in the city of Los Angeles (our own Nan Roman has been out there all week to show here support!) And while the road will undoubtedly be long and hard, the rewards for accomplishing the brave and worthwhile goal will far outweigh the burden of implementing the plan.

Three cheers for our friends in Los Angeles!

1st December
written by Anna Blasco

This week, the homeless assistance community lost one our truest and most steadfast advocates for ending homelessness: Sister Mary Ann Luby.

Her influence in the field and passion for the cause was second to none – and all of the existing champions for ending homelessness stand on her shoulders. For 27 years Sister Mary Ann worked to increase awareness about the issue and advocate for solutions right on the front lines.

As the director of Rachael’s Women’s Center and an outreach worker at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless since the clinic’s very inception, Sister Mary Ann was a D.C. institution.

Patty Mullahy Fugere, Executive Director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, rightly calls on us to honor her legacy by fulfilling her mission: “At every turn, she has challenged us to be faithful to the people whom we serve. To honor all that she was and all that she taught us, we must redouble our efforts in these challenging days and continue to push forward toward building a just and inclusive community.”

Sister Mary Ann succumbed to a battle with cancer and passed in her home on Monday, Nov. 29.

A more detailed notice of her passing in available in the Washington Post.

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