Archive for February, 2011

28th February
written by naehblog

If you are not sure how the new health care law will help end homelessness, you are not alone.

Only time will tell – and it may be a long time. That’s because some of the biggest changes do not take effect until 2014. And even then, so much depends on decisions to be made in Washington, DC and in each state – before and after 2014.

In the meantime, advocates and housing providers can help shape the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a strong part of housing strategies – especially for chronically homeless individuals. As the ACA is implemented, the Alliance will offer tools, suggestions, and information for communities to make the most of new opportunities. We will also host webinars, post issue briefs, write fact sheets, and ask you what’s happening in your neck of the woods, and – more importantly – what you need to bridge access to housing with access to health care.

For starters, consider these two factoids:

  • the ACA will extend Medicaid to an additional 16 million people nationwide;
  • the ACA encourages states to increase access to services and supports, promoting independent living in communities.

If you begin to view your housing strategies in light of these two touchstones of health reform, you are on your way to joining implementation efforts in your state. Next, organize your resources to get in the conversations about the ACA – provide a unique housing-oriented perspective, and ensure access to specific information about implementation in your state.

Start with our new issue briefCan Medicaid Reform Make a Difference for Homeless Individuals?

If you are still hungry for more, here are some links to housing-relevant information about the ACA:

If you are not already part of a health policy/advocacy network, find out what’s going on in your state here:

If you already know how housing advocates are connecting with health advocates in your state, email me at and let us know. We want to spread the word on promising approaches.

25th February
written by naehblog

In the news this week:

The difficult decisions for states leaders persist and more and more state-level policymakers work to keep their budgets in the black. This week, NPR ran a story about just these decisions – focusing on examples from Michigan, Detroit, and New Jersey. Minnesota, on their NPR-affiliate station, ran a similar story about their local efforts.

We blogged about social media and it’s role in creating social change – something we’ve been thinking about is foreign policy and communications analysts alike have been discussing the role of these new media tools in what seems to be a growing international revolution. How, we ask ourselves, can these tools help us solve our own pressing, national problems?

We’re not the only ones posing the question. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times are giving the idea some digital ink; in fact, the LAT story is a bout a good friend of ours, Mark Horvath, a veritable one-man, homeless-advocate, communications machine who has long touted the utility of social media tools in raising awareness about homelessness.

And while we’re on the subject of big ideas, here’s another one from the New York Times earlier this week. In an opinion piece, writer David Bornstein discusses the idea of “A families-first approach to foster care”. Instead of taking a child away from a family, he suggests, a social worker can work with the family to provide the right tools and services to improve the situation in the household.

And finally – a little Alliance news: this afternoon, we had our organizational debrief about the families conference that took place in Oakland earlier this month. Do you have any feedback/suggestions/questions? Please share them here!

Image courtesy of GDS Infographics.

24th February
written by Catherine An

They’re finally ready! (Some of them, at least…)

We’ve started to put up conference presentations from the National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness that took place from February 10 – 11, 2011 in Oakland, California.

Now those of you who weren’t able to come – or who weren’t able to fit as many workshops as you might’ve liked – can access presentations and worksheets offered during many of the conference sessions.

For conference presentations from other Alliance conferences, please check out our slideshare account.

Please note that we will be posting conference presentations as we receive them – and we have yet to receive all of them. Please check the conference presentation main page for updates.

If you are a speaker to owes us a presentation for the website, please do send in your materials as quickly as possible. You can find email addresses for Alliance staff on the staff contact page of our website.

We sincerely hope you find these documents useful – please let us know if you have any trouble!

23rd February
written by Catherine An

So Anna and I just got off a webinar about the new Facebook pages offered by Andrew Cohen, managing editor at Forum One. (Disclaimer: Forum One is our internet strategy/website development/all things geeky consultant. But they do offer some good notes about Facebook for new users!).

Yesterday, Anna sat in on a call hosted by Network for Good on ways to improve web writing and compose better micro-content for social networks (specifically, fundraising on social networks).

And just this morning, I got a call from an eager outreach officer asking me to embed some video on our social networks to support a homelessness radio marathon streaming live from Kansas City, MO.

And so I find myself again at that juncture between social change and social media.

At the Alliance, we continue our struggle to find the right balance between traditional and social media outreach. We work hard to assess and re-assess the value and return of our Facebook page, our Twitter account, our blog. And based on the community online, based on the emails I receive, and based on the chatter around the office, I know that we’re not the only ones to struggle with these not-really-new-anymore mediums.

Me – I’m a luddite-in-disguise (and it’s not a great disguise either). As much as I like the new and shiny tools online, I’d really rather not have to learn a whole new thing – especially if it’s going to take more than two minutes.

But here’s what keeps me tweeting away: the way people consume information has fundamentally changed (just ask the print industry). And while some people may cling to the newspapers and weeklies, they’re hardly in the majority anymore. News breaks on blogs, announcements happen online, and when I want a brief overview of what’s happened overnight, I pull up my Twitter feed – not the New York Times.

And as an organization dedicated to informing the field of homelessness, it’s our responsibility to reach people where they are.

That’s just the view from here. What conversations are you having in the office about social media and online outreach?

Image courtesy of Matt Haughey.

22nd February
written by naehblog

Fairfax County, Virginia is a populous (13.5% of Virginia’s population) and affluent county outside of Washington, DC.

We know it well; the Alliance has been working in Fairfax County through a grant from the Freddie Mac Foundation for a little over two years. Fairfax has great schools, low unemployment and – most importantly – is doing a great job of ending homelessness.

Ready to move yet?

The key to their success has been a ten year plan to end homelessness that fully embraces a trifecta of strategies proven to work: permanent housing, rapid re-housing, and prevention.

Earlier this month the Chairman of the Governing Board for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness, Mike O’Reilly, released the results of this strategy in Snapshot 2010, the first in an annual series of reports on the progress made towards their ten year plan to end homelessness.

The results speak for themselves:

  • Overall homelessness decreased by 14% from 2007 to 2010
  • Chronic homelessness decreased by almost 35% from 2007 to 2010
  • From 2009 to 2010 alone, the number of families experiencing homelessness decreased 16%

Chairman O’Reilly points out that despite being a very wealthy area, a family earning minimum wage could not afford housing in Fairfax – even if they worked 24 hours a day. To combat this shortage of affordable housing, Fairfax has undertaken aggressive landlord outreach, development of targeted housing options and set the goal of creating 2,650 new affordable housing units.

Download the full report.

18th February
written by Anna Blasco

News this week has been squarely focused on one issue: money.

The Administration released its FY 2012 Budget Proposal on Monday which, despite trends towards fiscal austerity,  increased funding for some programs related to homelessness, including $2.372 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento program, 10,000 new HUD-VASH vouchers and $121 million for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs. (We held a webinar to discuss what this proposal means for housing and homelessness assistance programs, if you are interested in learning more.) There were a number of stories related to major cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, in particular.

A word of warning: this may get confusing.

Congress has still not finished work on the budget for the current fiscal year. So last Friday the  House Appropriations Committee released its funding proposal for the remainder of this fiscal year – FY 2011. The proposal included $100 billion in cuts across the federal budget, and included largely flat funding for many homeless assistance programs.

I find it interesting to note that the US is not alone in its  budget woes: amidst huge government cuts, charities in the UK say they expect to lose 30% of their funding in April.

Also of note: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a paper on states’ use of the (now defunct) TANF Emergency Fund to create subsidized jobs. A key quote:

“The TANF Emergency Fund has ended, but the need for jobs remains.  The fund’s accomplishments — most fundamentally, in showing that unemployed individuals in large numbers will seize the opportunity to work when given a paying job — should not be ignored until the next recession hits.  Rather, policymakers should use these lessons to create the next generation of public-private initiatives that will help restore the country’s strength and build tomorrow’s labor force.”

Photo courtesy of Daniel Borman.

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17th February
written by naehblog

It’s the end of February, and as the Alliance’s Meeting and Event Planner, a time to reflect on the past six months of intense planning that went into our February conference.

It’s always difficult to grasp that the months of hard work  it takes to ensure a successful conference lead up to an event that within a couple of short days is over! Although the National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness ended on February 11, I know the 600+ attendees have since returned home and as we speak, are implementing the strategies they learned into their communities, in efforts to make a difference nationwide.

Here are my “Five Favorite” moments of the 2011 National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness:

5) Breakout Space

As a Planner it’s wonderful to be in a venue where the breakout space is within close proximity, as it ensures easy flow from workshop to workshop.

4) Delicious Cuisine

It isn’t easy to please 600+ people, so I was pleased to receive great feedback about the food; specifically the vegetarian fare. The Chef was very involved in the planning and execution of the event, and thrilled to receive positive feedback.

3) Attendance

This year’s conference had the highest attendance since Seattle, WA (our largest ever) three years ago! It’s truly refreshing to see 650 people come together to make a difference.

2) Volunteers

Once again, we were fortunate to have 35 eager, willing, and helpful volunteers – thank you again to everyone who volunteered!

1) Robert Reich

As an Event Planner and Economics Minor, I was delighted that Dr. Robert Reich joined us for the Thursday lunch plenary to give a keynote address. Dr. Reich’s address was not only insightful, but also engaging and entertaining. He brought to the table concepts outside of homelessness but related to the topic and the hard work that our attendees participate in every day.

So there you have it – my “Five Favorite” efforts and moments of the 2011 Family Conference. Each year I enjoy seeing the returning attendee faces, as well as the new ones, each so dedicated and only wanting the best for the communities which they are able to call home. In my years of planning nonprofit events I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large group of devoted and motivated people – and all with such passion! Every year I’m privileged to work aside people who do amazing things, and I feel lucky to give all of those people a place to meet, discuss ideas, and truly make a difference. I hope to see you all July 13-15, 2011 at our National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC. Until then, thank you so very much for what you do each day to make a difference in your community!

16th February
written by naehblog

Have you ever heard the saying, “Homelessness can happen to anyone, it can even happen to you!”? Well, I have, and it seems a bit unhelpful and vague. Can homelessness really happen to a guy like Donald Trump? Probably, the answer is no.

To me, the way to bring the discussion down to earth—from “homelessness can happen to anyone”—is by analyzing the at-risk populations with a bit of data. By doing so, we know that some people are at increased risk.

As an American, your odds of experiencing homelessness in the course of a year are 1 in 200. But if you are an individual who is poor, you are at an increased risk, with odds at 1 in 25. These odds are alarming. And to me, these odds also helpfully demonstrate the very reality that homelessness is largely a problem explained by economics.

While the relationship between economics and homelessness exist (and it’s something we have discussed before), it is important to note that there are also people who are at increased risk of experiencing homelessness based on other demographic factors.

People who are at increased risk are those who are living with friends or family for economic reasons, or doubled up people (odds of 1 in 10), people discharged from prison (1 in 11), and people who have aged out of foster care (1 in 6).

When the odds of experiencing homelessness increase so dramatically based on these demographic factors, you can see why we paid particular attention to these populations, along with the population of people who lack insurance, in the State of Homelessness in America.

The doubled up population, which had an increase of nearly 12 percent from 2008 to 2009, is the demographic factor where conditions have worsened the most, with more than 635,000 people doubled up in 2009. Among the other three factors, changes were all under 2 percent increase.

While working on data analysis for the demographics included in the State of Homelessness, it became clear to me that, in addition to the recessionary effects that have increased the populations who are at-risk of homelessness due to economic reasons, the populations at- risk of homelessness based on demographic factors have also increased, or, at best, these populations have remained constant.

On the other hand, it is also clear that the central component to the solution of ending homelessness is housing (or permanent supportive housing). It’s possible, and it’s necessary, to increase access to affordable housing for all people. The worsening economic and demographic conditions point out that the need to increase access to affordable housing is increasingly urgent.

Top photo courtesy of Kate Dreyer

15th February
written by Kate Seif

Know that pang of guilt  when you pass a person you think may not have a place to sleep tonight bundled on some frigid winter day? You may try to quickly distract yourself with groceries lists, weekend plans or by quickly dismissing the situation as something over which you have no control.

We are here to tell you that you can help.

The economic recession is technically over and the stock market is rebounding remarkably; but high unemployment and foreclosures remind us that not everyone has recovered. In response to these persistent signs of economic turmoil and the cries of a beleaguered nation, Congress campaigned on promises to cut the federal budget and reduce the federal deficit.

The House Appropriations Committee made good on that promise last Friday when it announced $100 billion in cuts to the federal budget for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2011. Compared to many programs, homeless assistance programs fared decently, with many receiving level funding from FY 2010. Other programs, largely those targeted toward low-income families, households, and jobseekers received deep cuts.

By cutting many of these programs, we are taking away necessary resources from the people who need it most: youth, veterans, and families. Programs like HUD-VASH and McKinney-Vento homeless assistance grants have been proven as cost-effective solutions to ending homelessness.  The moral and financial cost of allowing our neighbors to become and remain homeless is too great for us not to act.

Here is where you come in: as constituents and voters, it is up to YOU to encourage your representatives and senators to preserve and increase funding for these vital programs.  We can’t do this alone – we need your help in saving over 161,000 people from becoming homeless who would otherwise be housed.

These programs work. These programs often save money.  The time to act to help our fellow Americans in need is NOW. While perhaps a clichéd phrase, we really must not ask ourselves if our nation can afford to increase these programs, but instead, can we afford not to?

The next time you are faced with the sad scene of a veteran asking for spare change, or a mother with her child asking for just a little help, don’t avert your eyes – raise your voice.  Call, write, and email your representatives and senators demanding they increase funding for the vital programs that help those in the most need.

Contact me at / 202-942-8281 if you want to find out how you can get more involved. We are encouraging people to become more involved in FY 2011 and FY 2012 appropriations campaigns to secure funding for these vital programs. For more information, please click the links throughout and visit our website.

Image courtesy of Sarah Price Photography.

11th February
written by Catherine An

So this week, we saw a lot of articles about community point-in-time counts – and the increases and decreases that officials found. It also lead to some discussion about what localities are going to do about homelessness in their neighborhoods. Both Kansas City and Seattle are dealing with homeless camps, Northern California suburb San Ramon is considering creating a housing authority, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee (R – RI) has announced his intent to reactivate the state’s Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Take Part blogged about that great game we’ve been promoting all week, SPENT. The interactive tool (that we wrote about earlier this week) is a great way to learn about the decisions that low-income and people at-risk of homelessness face.

And of course, this was the week of our National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness. We were so excited for all the great speakers, workshops, and events – and we’re proud to report that we weren’t the only ones! The Oakland Tribune and the local NPR affiliate, KQED also took notice of the great work all of you guys are doing to end family homelessness.