Archive for January, 2011

31st January
written by naehblog

Today’s post comes to us from Amanda Krusemark, policy and program associate at the Alliance.

Here, I’m called a “program and policy associate,” and in other organizations, I might be called a “grassroots mobilizer.” Basically, it’s my job to spearhead the Alliance’s advocacy work with our local partners across the country. Together, we make the case to federal policymakers that preventing and ending homelessness should be a federal priority.

Like you might imagine, this work involves a lot of letter-writing, meeting with policymakers, site visits, you name it, but a key – and often overlooked – component of advocacy is working with the media.

At a fundamental level, advocacy is really about education – educating policymakers about a problem and pushing a specific solution. And the reach and role of the media is a perfect medium to do just that – educate people about homelessness.

Recently, we launched a Media Campaign around the release of The State of Homelessness in America. We collaborated with providers, public officials, and consumers across the country to use the report to help leverage local media attention on the issue.

The results were astounding! We have been absolutely bowled over the results our local partners generated – so far, more than 50 unique stories in 20 different states have run in the last two weeks mentioning our report. Some stories focus primarily on the release of the report and homelessness data; many, however, refer to the report in context or pressing local and national issues, including youth homelessness, unemployment, local plans, and other associated topics.

And this, of course, is the best of both worlds. The goal of the campaign is to raise public understanding and awareness of homelessness and the solutions to the problem. However members of the press choose to use this report, we’re still promoting the issue in the public eye.

And the best part of the campaign? We’re not done yet. Many of our partners are still working steadfastly to pitch the report to reporters and we have every intention to keep analyzing and sharing different sections of the report over the course of the year with friends, colleagues, advocates, and – yes – members of the press.

The thing about democracy is this: policymakers pay attention to what matters to their communities. They pay attention to their constituency and the good politicians surmise the values and concerns of their constituency and act upon them. These articles have helped raise awareness of homelessness – a national tragedy that has long haunted the American landscape.

All thanks to you!

Keep up the great work, everyone! And, as always, thank you for helping end homelessness in America.

28th January
written by Catherine An

Happy Friday, friends!

So, we could continue to flout the continued coverage of our newest report – The State of Homelessness in American (wink, wink!) – but I trust you’ve grown weary of our obsessive affection for that report. And rest assured, we’ll have plenty more posts about the report from friends and fans alike!

Homelessness news this week – no big surprise here – was all about community point-in-time (PIT) counts. (And snow.) Projected numbers, need for volunteers, implications on governments – local media covered the story from all angles.

The Review Journal in Las Vegas projected an increase in their count; the opposite was true according to WBUR-FM in Boston, which reported a dip in their numbers.

The community papers in Montgomery, AL and Detroit focused on the effort involved in reaching out to this oft-overlooked population. Our friends at the Los Angeles Times provided a detailed account of what it takes to conduct that sprawling city’s count – no easy feat by anyone’s standards.

And then there were the stories that put a human face on the annual task. The Dayton Daily News of Ohio profiled a 19-year-old young man who had aged out of the foster care system only to wind up on the streets. The Herald of Washington state focused on a volunteer who had once experienced homelessness himself who was now helping with the Snohomish County’s count.

And you know we were there to lend a hand for the DC count!

Members of the Alliance staff braved the post-snow cold to participate in this year’s PIT – and they weren’t alone! Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Scott Gould, and Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Barbara Poppe joined volunteers and advocates to conduct the DC PIT count. We got to mingle with celebrity pols!

And in case you’ve forgotten just why we do what we do – check out Pete’s post on the importance of the PIT count from a few days ago.

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27th January
written by naehblog

A few days ago, Catherine talked about point-in-time counts.

As a researcher, I can’t begin to tell you how important that raw data is to both understanding homelessness and measuring whether or not we’re making any progress on the problem. In fact, point-in-time (PIT) counts were pivotal to The State of Homelessness report.

The PIT counts are a census conducted on a single night in January by communities across the U.S (over 450 communities participated for the last count). This PIT count is not the only data available on the homeless population; there’s also 12-month data collected by these communities. However, the PIT counts have a clear advantage over the 12-month data because the PIT data captures data on the unsheltered populations as well as sheltered populations.

But getting this wonderful data – now that’s another thing altogether.

Imagine for a minute the logistical nightmares of conducting the PIT counts across the boundaries of an entire community, block by block, in order to capture that unsheltered data. Despite participation in the census by a large contingent of volunteers and an expert group of homeless service workers, it still sounds challenging, doesn’t it? Each year, though, communities are continually learning from their experiences, and their methodologies for conducting the census continue to improve.

The reality is, while imperfect, the PIT counts provide the best available data on what the homeless population “looks like” on a given night. And the reality of increasing homeless counts among the total population and each subpopulation—families, family households, individuals, chronic, and unsheltered—is unsettling.

While The State of Homelessness in America provides a disquieting picture of increased homelessness, the report also marks a continuation of something started with the original Counts report. That is, The State of Homelessness report will continue to monitor changes in homelessness and check on progress we are making as a nation on ending homelessness in America.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the counts data. Leave them in the comments!

26th January
written by naehblog

Today’s post comes to us from Alliance research associate Pete Witte, who was inspired to geek out after watching the State of the Union last night.

Last night’s speech by President Barack Obama marked the 221st State of the Union (SOTU) address given in U.S. history. At yesterday’s morning staff meeting, some of us at the Alliance wondered if the President would mention homelessness in his speech.

He didn’t.

But yesterday’s meeting piqued my curiosity. While watching the speech last night, I thought, “I wonder how many times a President has used the words “homeless” or “homelessness” in a State of the Union address?”

And once the question’s asked, I have to find the answer! It was relatively easy to do with a cool online tool provided by a guy named Brad Borowitz. His website allows you to search the all SOTU addresses and offers graphs, charts, and other visual illustrations of all the SOTU speeches.

So allow me to geek out a bit here: in the 221 SOTU addresses in history, a total of 1,676,558 words have been used, of which 26,789 are unique (these numbers do not include common words such as “and,” “the,” and “state”). “Homeless” has been used a total of seven times and “homelessness” has been used two times over the course of seven SOTU addresses by a total of four Presidents: George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Harry Truman.

Now, what exactly this means, if anything, I leave up to you to interpret.

Listed below are the dates of the speeches, the President giving the address, and the paragraph where the word was used, which I have extracted from the speech.

Data and image taken from

January 20, 2004, George W. Bush:
“In the past, we’ve worked together to bring mentors to children of prisoners, and provide treatment for the addicted, and help for the homeless. Tonight I ask you to consider another group of Americans in need of help. This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison. So tonight, I propose a four-year, $300 million prisoner re-entry initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups. (Applause.) America is the land.”

January 28, 2003, George W. Bush:
“Our fourth goal is to apply the compassion of America to the deepest problems of America. For so many in our country – the homeless, the fatherless, the addicted – the need is great. Yet there is power – wonder-working power – in the goodness, and idealism, and faith of the American people.”

February 27, 2001, George W. Bush:
“And my budget adopts a hopeful new approach to help the poor and the disadvantaged. We must encourage and support the work of charities and faith-based and community groups that offer help and love one person at a time. These groups are working in every neighborhood in America to fight homelessness and addiction and domestic violence; to provide a hot meal or a mentor or a safe haven for our children. Government should welcome these groups to apply for funds, not discriminate against them.”

January 31, 1990, George H.W. Bush:
“It’s no secret that here at home freedom’s door opened long ago. The cornerstones of this free society have already been set in place: democracy, competition, opportunity, private investment, stewardship, and of course leadership. And our challenge today is to take this democratic system of ours, a system second to none, and make it better: a better America, where there’s a job for everyone who wants one; where women working outside the home can be confident their children are in safe and loving care and where government works to expand child-care alternatives for parents; where we reconcile the needs of a clean environment and a strong economy; where “Made in the USA” is recognized around the world as the symbol of quality and progress; where every one of us enjoys the same opportunities to live, to work, and to contribute to society and where, for the first time, the American mainstream includes all of our disabled citizens; where everyone has a roof over his head and where the homeless get the help they need to live in dignity; where our schools challenge and support our kids and our teachers and where all of them make the grade; where every street, every city, every school, and every child is drug-free; and finally, where no American is forgotten — our hearts go out to our hostages who are ceaselessly on our minds and in our efforts.”

“We’ll do what it takes to invest in America’s future. The budget commitment is there. The money is there. It’s there for research and development, R&D — a record high. It’s there for our housing initiative — HOPE — to help everyone from first-time homebuyers to the homeless. The money’s there to keep our kids drug-free — 70 percent more than when I took office in 1989. It’s there for space exploration.”

February 9, 1989, George H.W. Bush:
“We must care about those in the shadow of life, and I, like many Americans, am deeply troubled by the plight of the homeless. The causes of homelessness are many; the history is long. But the moral imperative to act is clear. Thanks to the deep well of generosity in this great land, many organizations already contribute, but we in government cannot stand on the sidelines. In my budget, I ask for greater support for emergency food and shelter, for health services and measures to prevent substance abuse, and for clinics for the mentally ill. And I propose a new initiative involving the full range of government agencies. We must confront this national shame.”

February 4, 1986, Ronald Reagan:
“And we see the dream born again in the joyful compassion of a thirteen year-old, Trevor Ferrell. Two years ago, age eleven, watching men and women bedding down in abandoned doorways–on television he was watching–Trevor left his suburban Philadelphia home to bring blankets and food to the helpless and homeless. And now, 250 people help him fulfill his nightly vigil.”

January 6, 1947, Harry S. Truman:
“However, insofar as admitting displaced persons is concerned, I do not feel that the United States has done its part. Only about 5,000 of them have entered this country since May, 1946. The fact is that the executive agencies are now doing all that is reasonably possible under the limitation of the existing law and established quotas. Congressional assistance in the form of new legislation is needed. I urge the Congress to turn its attention to this world problem, in an effort to find ways whereby we can fulfill our responsibilities to these thousands of homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths.”

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25th January
written by Catherine An

In 2007, the Alliance released Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness Among Veterans, a comprehensive report reviewing the state of veterans homelessness in the country and emphasizing – as I’m sure we can all agree – that veterans homelessness is categorically unacceptable.

Since then, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has echoed that sentiment repeatedly, vowing to end veterans homelessness in five years. He’s shared his plan with the public, discussed it at the Alliance conference, and it’s a featured part of Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness authored by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Yesterday, President Obama took the same pledge, declaring that he and his administration would be “relentless” (according to Politico) in their efforts to end veterans homelessness.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness applauds President Obama, Secretary Shinseki, and the national community dedicated to ensuring that this noble goal becomes reality for all the men and women who serve our country and their families.

24th January
written by naehblog

Research Associate Pete Witte guest blogs today on the most commonly used terms in our State of Homelessness report.

Many readers of this blog are familiar with homeless terms and jargon, such as “chronic homeless,” “permanent supportive housing beds,” “persons in families,” “youth homeless,” and so on. While you may be familiar with the homeless terms, there are always very specific definitions for each term. This is especially true and important when it comes to data in research reports. We all want to be on the same page when we discuss the data!

While future blog posts about the State of Homelessness will go into greater depth on specific economic or demographic factors, I want to define the report’s four economic and demographic terms today so you have a clear understanding what we are discussing.

For each economic factor we essentially tried to capture a data point that would either reveal increased or decreased economic vulnerability across time. And for the demographic factors, we tried to capture a data point that would show increased or decreased risk among populations who are at high risk of homelessness.

Here are the definitions for the report’s terms:

  • Severe housing cost burdened households are the number of households who are in poverty and spend more than 50 percent of their total household income on rent (by household, this could be a single person, a couple with children, or an extended family of ten people).
  • The number of people who are unemployed is the number of people who are out of a job and actively looking for work.
  • Average income among poor workers is the number of dollars that an individual earns over a 12 month period. Here, we restricted the population by those people who were classified as living under the federal definition of poverty and included only those who worked 27 weeks or more over the past 12 months.
  • Foreclosed properties are the number of housing units that have at least one foreclosure note over the course of the past year.
  • Doubled up people are individuals or members of a family who live with another family or friends due to economic need. For the purposes of this report, doubled up is restricted by income (those who earn at or less than 125 percent of the federal poverty line).
  • People Released from Prison are individuals who were released from state or federal prisons or jails.
  • Youth aged out of foster care are the number of young people who left foster care with the status of emancipation. The age of the children included those up to age 18, unless they remained wards of the state beyond that age.
  • Uninsured population is the number of people who lack insurance coverage as reported to the American Community Survey. (Those who had Indian Health Service coverage were considered uninsured for the purposes of this report, but that population is miniscule.)

We’ll go into greater depth on a number of these terms in future posts. In the meantime, we’d love to hear if you have any thoughts or questions about the definitions, let us know in the comments!

21st January
written by Catherine An

This week, we kept seeing more clips about our newest report, The State of Homelessness in America! We’re so excited to see continued interest in the report and – as you may have seen – we’re going to continue to write about the report on this blog to explicate our findings, definitions, and other nerdy bits (latest installment: a post about data from Pete) so stay tuned!

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan also made the news this week with an opinion piece about a national effort to end homelessness. Placed just in time to coincide with impending community point-in-time counts, the secretary encourages communities to do their best to pursue accurate data, “But more collaboration alone won’t restore confidence in government; we also need to produce results. And producing results requires smarter decisions based on sound data.” (What’s a point-in-time count? Glad you asked.)

HUD made news again this week when they renewed funding for homeless assistance programs, spreading $1.4 billion nationwide to help organizations providing services for people experiencing homelessness. Local stories (like this one) outlined specific amounts for their particular communities and many noted the pervasive need for such funding to provide assistance to their economically vulnerable friends and neighbors.

And in other news – today, the Alliance staff is off-campus thinking up ways to do our work better. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, don’t hesitate to comment, Tweet, of leave us a note on our Facebook page!

20th January
written by Pete Witte

Since the release of The State of Homelessness in America – and frankly, long before that – we’ve gotten questions about homelessness data.

It was my job at the Alliance to conduct data acquisition and analysis for The State of Homelessness report – and we thought it might be nice to shed some light on the process:

First, we needed to acquire all of the data. Now I’d love to say that this was as easy as going to websites of public-data sources and clicking a link that read Click here to quickly download all the data you need for your report-making-fun, but as anyone who has worked with data knows, data acquisition is much more complicated.

It was further complicated by the fact that – as report readers know – we gathered a lot of data. If you check out the Appendix of the report, you can see that we acquired data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Administration for Children and Families, and Realty Trac – just to name a handful.

Getting our hands on the data, as anyone who’s tried to extract data from a federal agency can tell you, was no small feat. We made Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, sent request letters by email, downloaded huge micro-data files that took hours, and so on.

Once a data sources were acquired and once I was familiar with the variables, definitions, and limitations of the data, it was time to run analyses, organize and interpret the data, and put the data into tables for further interpretation. What we receive are huge files – often spreadsheets – of raw data. We then had to filter through the data, find the specific pieces of information we were looking for, and interpret those into data that we could use for our report.

For example, we knew we wanted to measure income vulnerability, but we needed to figure out how: did we want to include employment income or all sources of income? What about the average number of weeks worked? Average income among poor workers or all workers or both? These are the types of questions we asked as we put the project through quality assurance crash tests.

From the beginning, we planned to assess changes in homeless counts, as these changes have been tracked by the Alliance for a number of years. Most of the economic and demographic factors were also planned but some of the measures were given tune-ups as we went along. And that meant going back into the fray to get more information.

I know this doesn’t answer every question but I’m hoping that this helps readers understand what kind of crunching the data went through before it went into our report! We look forward to hearing from you about The State of Homelessness and we hope that the data in the report proves useful as we move closer to ending homelessness.

19th January
written by Catherine An

Every year, right around this time, communities across the country conduct their point-in-time count.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that communities receiving federal funds from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program conduct a point-in-time count at least every other year. Most communities conduct their counts annually; some do it even more often than that.

These point-in-time counts are the cornerstone of homelessness data. Data conducted during these counts are used to create the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress and provide the best data available on the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States.

Count methodology varies across the country. For smaller communities, volunteers may comb the streets and individually count each and every person they see experiencing homelessness. And then there are some communities – think New York, Detroit, Los Angeles – where such a practice would be impossible. So advocates and city officials create formulas and algorithms to extrapolate a more limited count into a realistic estimate. And every year, count methodology evolves and improves so we’re able to get a more and more accurate count.

And why’s that important? Because in order to solve a problem, we first have to understand it – and these counts are the first line in developing that understanding. Before we delve into the details, before we pick apart subpopulations and demographics, we gauge the scope of the problem by understanding these point-in-time counts.

And – as always – you can help. Communities from San Mateo, CA to Houston, TX to Mid-Willamette, OR are conducting their counts this week. Find out when your community count is (it’s soon – we promise!) and see if you can’t get involved in ending homelessness.

Photo courtesy of lovelihood.

18th January
written by Catherine An

So you’ve seen the report. And you’ve read our clips. And maybe you even sat through the entire video or the press conference.

We appreciate it, we really do! We appreciate all the support that the entire community has shown for our The State of Homelessness report.

But if you’ve done all those things (and nothing more) – you’re probably missing the best part of our report!

The interactive tools. (Cuz really, what’s better than maps?)

The Alliance produced a series of maps for each of the indicators in the report. A few of my faves:

  • The total homelessness by state map that shows the homeless population by state and the percent chance by state from 2008 to 2009.
  • The severe housing cost burden among poor households by state which shows the number of households that are paying 50+ percent of their income on rent and shows the percentage change of those numbers from 2008 to 2009.
  • The unemployment by state map – even if it is no big surprise and wholly depressing
  • The doubled up map – mostly because this is maybe one of the coolest indicators in the report (in my opinion).

But that’s 4 of 12, guys – there are way more maps to check out and we’re not even done building all of them yet! They’re a great way to learn more about your specific state and get a visual representation of how some states are doing compared to others. Yeah, so Texas, California, Florida aren’t doing so well – but there are other states that will likely surprise you!

Which ones, you ask? You have to check them out to see!

(And while we’re on the topic of interactive tools, a big THANK YOU to Good Magazine for featuring our Multi-Year Homeless Count Map on their blog! Thanks Zach Slobig!)