Archive for March, 2011

31st March
written by Kim Walker

Today’s post comes to us from Alliance Center for Capacity Building Associate Kim Walker.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work with a group of seven different Chippewa bands located in northern Minnesota on developing ten year plans to end homelessness.

It was remarkable to learn about the struggles that many tribal nations face in defining, preventing, and ending homelessness. Tribal leaders share many of the challenges that rural areas face, like serving people spread over a large land area, finding adequate funding, and providing shelter amid a startling lack of housing infrastructure.

But beyond that, tribal homelessness is still unique.

  • Because tribes are officially considered sovereign nations, funding can become complicated or come with limitations that may prove difficult to overcome (i.e., some funding may be unavailable to tribes unless they are able to become an incorporated non-profit).
  • Additionally, homelessness, or near homelessness, on a reservation looks different than what people might expect. The Wilder Survey, one of the most comprehensive surveys of tribal homelessness, found that many Native Americans living on reservations are doubled up for long periods of time, often moving from one doubled up situation to another as long as that’s sustainable. Street homelessness is less common, meaning homelessness is less visible. Even the term “homeless” can cause confusion on a reservation, as the land itself is often considered a “home” for all tribal members.
  • Tribes may also struggle in gaining attention for this issue from external sources. Although they share common concerns, it can be difficult to build a coalition when reservations have such distinct cultures and are often times far away from each other.

For a community that has long been overlooked my mainstream American culture, it’s disheartening to hear that even with this issue – an issue confronting all Americans – we continue to neglect this important part of our national community.

So what can we do? I think the most important thing is to educate ourselves about these issues – helping end homelessness for one population ultimately means improving our ability to end homelessness for all. A good start is reading the 2006 Wilder Survey on the topic.

30th March
written by Catherine An

We need your help!

We’re trying to figure out who in our social media networks might be interested in joining our small-but-mighty advocacy team AND if any members of our advocacy team are following us on our small-but-mighty social networks!

You can help us by taking this survey.

In our collective effort to end homelessness, the Alliance engages in advocacy campaigns all year: around appropriations season (happening right now!), around funding McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, around veterans homelessness, around youth and family homelessness – the list goes on! We ask our friends and colleagues to call their members of Congress, make Capitol Hill visits (in D.C. and locally), and invite policymakers to see the great work of homeless assistance and housing programs.

We need to share and show the importance and impact of our work with community leaders and policymakers so that they continue to support our work with votes and resources!

And we need you to get involved!

Help us out by taking this 5 minute, 10 question survey. And if you can, pass it along to friends who might be interested!

For more information about Alliance advocacy activities or social media efforts, please contact us.

29th March
written by Catherine An

Tomorrow, the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness is holding a briefing on “Homeless Children, Youth, and Families.”

During the briefing, panelists will discuss the profound impact that homelessness wields on children and youth, as well as their parents. In addition to the loss of safe, stable housing, homelessness can cause a sense of displacement, trauma, and stress. This can corrupt positive child development, health, and school participation and create life-long costs to children and parents.

The briefing will reference the 60 Minutes segment on homeless children that cast some media attention on the problem. The briefing will also examine the growing epidemic of homeless children and families as well as model programs, strategies, and initiatives to keep children in school and to secure stable housing.

Invited speakers include:

For more information about family and youth homelessness, please visit the Alliance website. If you’re interested in the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness or would like to attend the briefing, please contact the Alliance advocacy team.

28th March
written by Catherine An

Today’s post comes to us with help from Samantha Batko, program and policy analyst at the Alliance.

Though the connection may seem tenuous at first, it takes little effort to realize that survivors of domestic violence are at increased risk of experiencing homelessness. Abusive partners often isolate their victims from family, friends, and income so that when a survivor attempts to flee, they have few if any resources available to them to begin their life anew.

Moreover, there are specific challenges for survivors when it comes to acquiring or maintaining housing: the abusive behavior of their partner could have led to eviction. Obviously there are clear safety concerns and potential fear of violence. Often, the loss of an abuser’s income can leave survivors with no affordable housing options. It’s not unusual, therefore, for survivors of domestic violence – and their children – to end up in shelter.

Which is why we are focusing on how domestic violence service providers can employ homeless assistance techniques to provide safe, stable, and permanent housing as quickly as possible.

We’re talking about homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

In a new brief, the Alliance details the success domestic violence service providers are having helping survivors find housing by utilizing the same practices as homeless assistance providers. They step in with financial assistance when families are able to stay in the same residence, they provide case management and social services when appropriate, or – if new housing is necessary – they help survivors bypass the shelter system and acquire new housing as quickly as possible.

For more information and to read the full brief, please visit our website.

The paper was informed by a number of direct service providers and the work of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

28th March
written by Lisa Stand

Today’s post comes from Alliance policy analyst, Lisa Stand.

A new report from the National Association of Community Health Centers discusses the crucial role community-based health providers play in efforts to end homelessness and relieve its effects on health and quality of life.

Community agencies that work with people experiencing homelessness are probably most familiar with the specialized Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) clinics, which last year served more than 800,000 people experiencing homelessness nationwide, through 208 separate projects. In addition, permanent supportive housing (PSH) programs are often connected in one way or another to a community health clinic, assuring a source of primary care for PSH residents and adding to housing stability.

While community health is financed in a variety of ways, federal funding is paramount, through Medicaid and grants to Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), to name a few federal sources. According to the NACHC report, “health centers operate in more than 8,000 locations and serve 23 million patients.” Access to community health care services helps make the business case for PSH, and health centers anchor local safety nets to help prevent homelessness.

The report, “Community Health Centers: The Local Prescription for Better Quality and Lower Costs,” was released last week, as a couple thousand advocates for community health centers gathered in Washington to help Congress understand their vital role in communities across the country.

Are you interested in learning more about how health care reform can help end homelessness? Email us and check out our resources online.

25th March
written by Catherine An

So good news first.

Evidently, Newport is doing something right. The small Rhode Island community has reduced chronic homelessness by half utilizing the Housing First strategy and a collaboration of six agencies and churches is aiming to end chronic homelessness in Newport and other small surrounding communities. It’s like the good program director says, ““It’s not rocket science. Homeless people need homes. ”

This message, unfortunately, is being lost among those in charge of our city, state, and federal budgets. It’s no secret by now – we’ve been writing about it for months now! – that everyone feels up against the wall trying to stay in the black. But the choices our leaders are being forced to make are cringe-worthy indeed, from reducing housing vouchers for veterans, to eliminating food stamps and cash assistance, to downsizing state safety nets for the poor. While it’s clear that all of us will have to compromise to preserve the greater good, certainly we don’t have to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors – right?

Speaking of, two more quick hits to round out the week.

There was an interesting post in the Atlantic asking “should you give money to homeless people?” And in the Nation, there was an summary about US poverty rates. (We actually blogged about it yesterday.)

Check those out and let us know what you think!

24th March
written by naehblog

Today’s post comes from Alliance research associate Pete Witte; he summarizes a new poverty report released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau released the report Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Poverty, 2004—2006. The report examines incidence and duration of poverty among a sample of U.S. residents and households across a three year (36 month) period.

The report found that 29 percent of the U.S. population experienced episodic poverty (poverty for at least 2 months during the survey period) and 3 percent experienced chronic poverty (poverty for the entire 36 month survey period). Of the 33 million people experiencing poverty at the beginning of the survey period, 23 percent remained in poverty for the 36 months.

The report, which examines poverty through data collected on cash and non-cash income as part of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), also tracks people as they leave or enter into poverty. Of the 11.7 million people who were in poverty in the beginning of the survey but who exited by the end of the survey, more than half continued to have income less than 150 percent of their poverty threshold.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • 33 million people were in poverty in January/February 2004 and 23 percent remained in poverty throughout the 36 month survey period.
  • 11.7 million, or 42 percent, who were poor in the 2004 calendar year were not in poverty in 2006.
  • 10 million who were not in poverty (4 percent) in 2004 slipped into poverty by 2006.
  • 4.5 months was the median length of a poverty spell; half of such spells ended within four months while about 12 percent lasted more than 24 months.
  • More than half of those who did exit poverty continued to have income that was not significantly above the poverty level (less than 150 percent of the poverty threshold).
  • Children younger than 18 tended to stay poor longer than working-age adults (ages 18-64): the median length of their poverty spells was 5.2 months, while for those 18 to 64, the median was 4.2 months.
  • Older adults (65 and older) had the longest stays in poverty of any age group: a median spell of 6.7 months.
  • People in female-led families had longer median poverty spells than those in married-couple families.
  • Non-Hispanic Whites had a lower episodic poverty rate (22.6 percent) and a shorter median poverty spell length (4.0 months) than Hispanics and Blacks.
  • Blacks had a higher chronic poverty rate (8.4 percent) than Hispanics (4.5 percent) and non-Hispanic Whites (1.4 percent).

To access the full report, visit the website.

24th March
written by Catherine An

We’re just the messenger on this one – but for more information or for the application form, please email us.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Homeless Veterans Initiative Office is seeking nominations for the 2011 Secretary Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service for Homeless Veterans. This award program recognizes the achievement of individuals, teams, and organizations that provide exceptional service to homeless veterans and ending the cycle of homelessness among veterans.

Award nominations must be submitted to Department of Veterans Affairs, Homeless Veteran Initiative Office located at 1722 Eye Street, NW Washington, DC 20421 (Attn: Pete Dougherty) no later than April 22, 2011.

The following is an excerpt of the Award Criteria as released by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service for Homeless Veterans

Purpose: The purpose of this award is to recognize outstanding achievements of individuals, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, VA organizations, and partners including but not limited to veteran service organizations, businesses, community and faith-based organizations that provide exceptional service to homeless Veterans and contribute to breaking the cycle of chronic homelessness among Veterans.

Eligibility: This honor award is intended to recognize individuals, teams, and organizations that provide benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.

Type of Recognition: The Honor award would consist of a certificate presented by the Secretary or designated Senior VA official on site during field visits or at a special ceremony hosted at VACO. The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs will coordinate for a presentation to be included in the Secretary’s trip packages and be responsible in coordination with local public affairs officers for contacting the appropriate source of local or national media. There is no authority for granting a cash award, or an expensive non-cash award, to a non-Governmental employee or entity.

Criteria: This award program recognizes the achievement of individuals, teams and organizations that provide exceptional service to homeless Veterans and ending the cycle of homelessness among Veterans.

1.) Outstanding Achievement by an Individual VA Employee

Eligibility. Each nominee must be employed by VA and be involved in providing benefits assistance and healthcare and supportive services to homeless or formerly homeless Veterans.

- Nominee displays dedication and competency in providing benefits and services to homeless or formerly homeless Veterans.
- Nominee demonstrates effectiveness in improving and delivering benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.
- Nominee effectively collaborates with other homeless providers both within the VA and with community agencies and organizations.
- Nominee develops and implements strategies to improve the provision of benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.

2.) Outstanding Achievement by a VA Organization

Eligibility. Each nominee must be VA organization involved in providing benefits and services to homeless or formerly homeless Veterans.

- Organization demonstrates effectiveness in improving and delivering benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.
- Organization effectively collaborates with other homeless providers both within the VA and with community agencies and organizations.
- Organization develops and implements strategies to improve the provision of benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.
- Organization has enhanced the visibility and image of VA in providing benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.

3.) Outstanding achievement by a Community Organization

Eligibility. Each nominee must be the employee or organization in recipient of a VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem award or an organization currently providing benefits and services to homeless or formerly homeless Veterans.

- Nominee demonstrates effectiveness in improving and delivering benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.
- Nominee effectively collaborates with other homeless providers both within the VA and with community agencies and organizations.
- Develops and implements strategies to improve the provision of benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.

Nomination Process: A working group, chaired by the Director of Homeless Veteran Programs (075) and comprised of representation from Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, National Cemetery Administration, and VACO Staff Offices knowledgeable of programs and services for the homeless will develop the framework and details of the nominating process. It is anticipated nominations for outstanding achievement by individual VA employees and VA organizations will be made utilizing existing organizational chain of command. The working group will evaluate applications and recommend candidates to receive an award for each category of award based on criteria listed above.

Endorsement from the Under Secretary for Health, Under Secretary for Benefits and the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs will be obtained prior to forwarding to the Secretary for final approval for employees or organizational elements under their jurisdiction.

Security clearances may be required for VA employees.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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23rd March
written by Kate Seif

Last week Washington, DC played host to almost thirty international and domestic experts on homelessness. Guests from Australia, Canada, Europe, and the US convened with the goal of establishing a strategic and intentional way of sharing information on ending homelessness.

I was lucky enough to sit in on this four day conference and hear about the successes and challenges each country faces, and the strategies these countries are using  to address the challenges in the areas of research, policy, and practice. After an engaging discussion in each of these three areas, the group identified a few subtopics they will continue to explore: youth homelessness, prevention, and combining housing with services

What struck me most throughout these discussions were the broad similarities shared among participating countries. This was especially true among the challenges each country faces while creating better policies, conducting meaningful research, and promoting and implementing best practices. The group was eager to share and learn from each other, and plans to continue working together. With my background in international relations, it was fascinating for me to see the convergence of a domestic issue and international collaboration.

Moving forward, the group has the intention of establishing a more formal partnership. Immediate next steps will probably be research-based and may involve “piggy-backing” on existing conferences in the US and elsewhere to share existing research and develop further questions and methodologies. The partnership will have a heavy web-based presence and we look forward to sharing our findings with a wider audience!

The Alliance was thrilled to be a part of such an engaging group and looks forward to the future of this partnership.

Image ©2011 Google

22nd March
written by Kim Walker

Our own Center for Capacity Building is the on-the-ground arm of the Alliance. They travel from place to place helping communities craft strategies and implement practices to help turn their best intentions into real results. Starting today, the Center will share their notes from the field, offering thoughts on the best methods, tools, and ideas they’re using to end homelessness one place at a time. Stay tuned!

One of the strategies that we’re paying a lot of attention to these days is coordinated or centralized intake. It seems that a lot of the communities that have successfully reduced homelessness, especially among families, have started by reforming their intake systems. The key it seems is not the centralization, but better coordination of resources. That’s one of the reasons we like to describe it as coordinated intake rather than centralized intake.

In a community without a coordinated intake process, a person who needs assistance goes to various programs seeking help, and each program makes a determination about what kinds of assistance the person is eligible for. Most types of assistance are scarce, and so there’s some method for prioritizing, usually first come, first served. Let’s look at an example of permanent supportive housing. A homeless person residing in a shelter might get a list of programs that they are eligible for, including a permanent supportive housing program. The person will apply, and typically be placed on a waiting list. When the person’s name comes up, they move into the supportive housing program. It’s a simple process, but it creates some problems.

First of all, because everybody who is eligible is placed on a waiting list, the waiting lists are very long, which results in people needing those programs the most waiting a very long time. Second, there’s no need-based prioritization, so when a person’s name comes up for a program, there’s no process to ensure that the program is the best fit for the person or that the person needs the program more than other people on the waiting list. Lastly, it’s not an easy system for people to navigate.

A centralized and coordinated intake process can solve a lot of these problems. It simplifies the process for homeless and at-risk people by providing a clear path for accessing assistance. Using an assessment tool as part of the intake process can help people quickly identify the best programs for exiting homelessness quickly. Because people are only signed up for the programs that are best fits for their circumstances, it reduces waiting lists.

Over the next few months, we’ll be rolling out a toolkit on Coordinated Entry that describes how to implement coordinated entry, including an assessment and targeting process. For more information you can email us at