Archive for March, 2011

21st March
written by Catherine An

I’ve been doing some thinking about community.

Last week, the Nonprofit Technology Conference descended on DC. Every year, thousands of happy geeked-out NGO workers get together to find out what’s new in the field of technology and how those new shiny tools can be used to make NGOs better!

And while I enjoy the workshops, I think what NTC does best is gel a community together. There’s always ample opportunity to mingle between workshops, there’s a community lounge where people can rest up, plug in, and meet new people. There are endless opportunities for people who live in the same city, who have the same job functionality, who have the same interests, who have the same challenges to share their struggles and stories. And the playful spirit of the conference – from the opening remarks to the ice cream breaks to the relaxed dress code – perpetuates a sense of ease and comfort. “We’re all in this together!” the conference seems to announce from the get-go.

And that experience, at least for me, is the backbone of this community. Every year, I’m excited to see the friends I met the year before and throughout the year, I join in on webinars and conference calls to stay updated on what’s happening. And I know that there is a resource out there to which I can turn if I find myself up against a technology wall I can’t hurdle over. We’re in it together, truly, and I’m as happy to lend my limited knowledge as I am to ask for some from others.

Which lead me to my next question: are we, the Alliance, fostering a sense of community among homeless assistance partners? Among direct service providers and legislators and community leaders and advocates? Are we providing a space where people feel the easy necessary to share freely and ask for assistance? Are we providing the tools and guidance you need to do your job as best as you can?

And more specifically, is that what our conference does? If you could offer us one pointer about our conference (and please do below!), what would that be?

Because here at the Alliance (and definitely here on the Alliance Facebook page and Twitter feed, we want to offer a space where you can share ideas, links, questions, and thoughts.

Please let us know if we can do better!

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18th March
written by Anna Blasco

Results from point-in-time counts continued to be featured in local news stories around the country this week. We are updating a neat interactive map (screen shot below) with all these reports, so please continue to send stories to our Research Associate, Pete when you spot them!

  • Our policy team continues to follow the twists and turns of the federal budget process. Amanda discussed the ongoing saga on our blog this week and what you can do to make sure important programs receive the funding they need.
  • Steve, our Vice President of Programs and Policy, weighed in last Friday on the funding and organization of federal programs that deal with homelessness on Fox News.
  • The nonprofit street newspaper Street Roots continued their record of excellent journalism with a long, hard look at the intersection of HIV/AIDS and homelessness.
  • In California, redevelopment agencies that ensure access to affordable housing could be the next causality of state budget cuts.
  • Finally, a Cub Scouts pack in Oklahoma welcomes new scouts from Positive Tomorrows, an organizations that helps children who are experiencing homelessness.

What did you see in the news this week?

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17th March
written by naehblog

In case you haven’t heard, Congress has been struggling with the budget. The 2011 federal fiscal year started on October 1 – almost six months ago – and Congress is still haggling over the FY 2011 budget. It’s come to a point where the country is really just working week by week – from stop-gap funding measure to stop-gap funding measure – because our nation’s leaders can’t decide on how much money to spend (and not spend) for the next six months.

So what happens now?

Right now, House, Senate, and White House negotiators are trying to work out a compromise on a “top-line” number, the overall amount they will be able to spend,  for all federal discretionary programs. Once they can reach an agreement, the House and Senate will fill in the program-specific details.

Here’s why you care: we want make sure that Congress allocates enough money to homeless assistance programs – and especially to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants so that we can fully and effectively implement the provisions in the HEARTH Act. And there’s lots more to care about too – programs that help veterans like HUD-VASH vouchers, section 8, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs, and a bunch of other programs that are essential to the fight to end homelessness.

We know these programs work.  A lack of funding would put a dead stop to our momentum from the last several years, so it’s up to all of us to make sure Members of Congress understand just how the decisions they make over the next several weeks on the budget will affect our progress toward ending homelessness.

Luckily, there’s a way you can help. We need you to call and schedule meetings with your members of Congress. Call them up and let them know how important these programs are to you and your community. We have sample materials that you can use to craft your message, and we’re always here to answer questions.

So get to it!

Image courtesy of Evelyn Proimos.

16th March
written by naehblog

Last week the Alliance released a series of profiles focusing on eviction prevention strategies. Specifically, this series examined evictions from public housing units and focused on the successful work of the Tri-City area of Massachusetts; King County, Washington; and Cleveland, Ohio.

Research has shown that a housing subsidy is the single most effective tool in preventing homelessness because it makes market-rate housing affordable. All too often these subsidies are lost through an eviction and it becomes extremely difficult for a household to find affordable housing, thereby placing them at a heightened and totally preventable risk of homelessness.

While public housing authorities (PHA) and direct service providers may not always see eye-to-eye, these partnerships have proven to be very successful and have become the foundation for a richer and more sustained relationship between the organizations.

As it turns out it isremarkably simple to prevent evictions for most households. Assistance with paperwork or one-time cash assistance was generally all that was needed. That is because in many communities, evictions occur due to incomplete paperwork and/or failure to pay rent on time (the latter is often caused by some life change – loss of job, family conflict, etc.).

Our Eviction Prevention series highlights three communities that made these strategies work:

  • In Massachusetts, the Malden Housing Authority partnered with the nonprofit Housing Families, Inc. to provide interventions to tenants who were behind on rent payments and had received an eviction warning notice. Interventions included one-time cash assistance, case management, or a combination of both. To date, every family who has participated in the program has remained stably housed.
  • In King County, the eviction prevention initiative was spearheaded by the King County Housing Authority’s Resident Services and Housing Management departments and focused on the early identification of tenants at risk of eviction. Since the start of this concerted effort, there has been a sharp reduction in evictions – no more than six in each year of the new program.
  • Cleveland, Ohio found that an unacceptably high level of elderly persons and persons with disabilities were being evicted from subsidized housing administered by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) because they had not submitted necessary renewal paperwork. CMHA partnered with local service provider EDEN, Inc. and referred to EDEN a list of households who were at risk of eviction. Of the list of at-risk tenants, EDEN was able to contact at least 92 percent each month. Of tenants contacted, EDEN was able to complete the necessary recertification paperwork and prevent an eviction in every single case.

There is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for prevention. However, these profiles show how evictions can be prevented with minimal resources.

Has your community reduced evictions from subsidized housing through PHA/nonprofit partnerships? Let us know!

Image courtesy of Onilad.

15th March
written by Norm Suchar

Today’s post come to us from Norm Suchar, director of the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building.

A couple months ago, we published a new tool that we’re calling the Homeless System Evaluator. Using the Evaluator, you can put in homelessness data and it will provide you with charts and graphs that help you see what parts of you homeless assistance system are working better than others. It’s a great tool for looking at the big picture.

So how does it work?

Here’s a small example, but if you want to see more, you should check it out on our website.

The chart below combines HMIS data regarding last place of residence for single individuals entering shelter and for those being served with HPRP prevention assistance. (Although I cut out some of the categories so it would fit better on this page.) It shows that a large percentage of the singles are coming from institutional settings, while most of the prevention resources are targeted to people coming from unsubsidized housing they rent. This kind of data can begin a conversation in your community about how resources are utilized, and it’s precisely the kind of thing the Evaluator was designed for.

Have questions? Send the Capacity Building Center an email.

14th March
written by Steve Berg

Today’s guest post comes to us from Alliance VP of Programs and Policy Steve Berg.

A little over a week ago, CBS’ “60 Minutes” focused on children and families experiencing homelessness. The piece received a lot of attention in the week that followed – and rightly so. The piece explored the effect that the recession has had on financially vulnerable families and poverty among children. It specifically featured interviews with children experiencing homelessness and highlighted the problem of families who are forced to live in motels.

I wanted to pass along an update on one of the featured families, the Bravermans. Jacob Braverman, just 14, came home from school one day to find himself locked out of his house. His mom had lost her job, and the bank warned them they had 30 days to leave their home. But just five days later, the police made them vacate the property. Jacob, his mom, and their dog moved in with neighbors across the street. In the episode, Jacob talks about how this experience made him more shy and forced him to mature much more quickly than his peers. He was constantly concerned about the instability he faced and worried what would happen if the neighbors kicked his family out of their home.

Since the episode (filmed in mid-December), the Bravermans have moved into their own apartment in Altamonte Springs, FL. They were able to do so with the help of a Recovery Act program called the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). HPRP provides communities with resources to offer rental assistance and services to families and individuals so that they can stabilize in housing to end their homelessness – or even prevent homelessness it before it begins.

Unfortunately, the HPRP was designed as a short-term program and funding is starting to run out in many communities. But there is a replacement funding opportunity.

The HEARTH Act, passed by Congress in 2009, improved the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. Under the HEARTH Act, communities will be able to continue the great interventions that have helped thousands of families just like the Bravermans across the country.

But it only works if Congress adequately funds the Homeless Assistance Grants program in fiscal year 2011. You may haveread it here before; the appropriations process that’s continues to stymie Congress and the country holds funding levels for homeless programs in limbo too. In order to implement this portion of the HEARTH Act, an increase in funding is needed for the homeless assistance grants.

We need you to make sure that you tell your members of Congress that you want to continue to help and house families like the Bravermans. To find out more, visit the website or contact us.

11th March
written by Catherine An

“We owe it to our veterans to provide them with the resources and support they need to put a roof over their heads. And this is just one more example of the Republicans’ reckless budget that puts politics and ideology over families, communities and even those who have served and sacrificed for our nation.”

Sen. Patty Murray, the senior senator from the state of Washington spoke out to protect housing vouchers for veterans yesterday, as reported by McClatchy newspapers. Joined by Democratic colleagues, the long-time supporter of homeless assistance programs and the effort to end in the homelessness United States spoke of the importance of protecting some of the most vulnerable people and communities in the country – including those that have served to protect the nation.

Sen. Murray wasn’t the only one thinking about veterans this week. An AP article documented the struggle of veterans returning from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in finding jobs. More than 1 in 5 young veterans from those wars was unemployed last year, according to the AP article, which cites the Labor Department.

There was also a series of NPR articles this week about ending homelessness. The series, which also included information about homeless veterans featured the work of Common Ground and the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a NY-based effort intended to house the nation’s most vulnerable homeless people.

And finally, there was some buzz about the 60 Minutes report on homeless children. The story, which follows several families and young people experiencing homelessness highlights the impact that economic turmoil has specifically on children. Many, many people were moved by the stories, as evidenced by the feedback the show has received througouht the week.

If we missed an article or you want to share one from your town, please
email us!

10th March
written by Anna Blasco

It is easy to forget that HIV/AIDS is an ongoing epidemic – not only around the world – but right in our own backyard. As March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I thought this would be a good time to look at how this epidemic relates to homelessness.

In the beginning of the epidemic, women frequently stepped forward to help friends, neighbors and family members struggling with severe acute illness and social isolation. Since then, better treatment has made it possible to cope physically with HIV/AIDS as a chronic health condition. Also since that time, women – particularly women of color – have had to face their own HIV/AIDS diagnoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV/AIDS diagnoses now affect nearly 280,000 women in the United States.

What does this have to do with homelessness?

With the costs of treatment as high as ever, HIV/AIDS still makes people poor, often to the point where they lose their homes. Since women tend generally to have lower incomes, those women who face HIV/AIDS as a fact of life may experience homelessness at higher rates, and for longer periods. According to a recent brief from the National AIDS Housing Coalition, homelessness and HIV/AIDS are closely intertwined:

  • People who are experiencing homelessness have rates of infection that are almost 16 times higher than people with housing stability.
  • At least half of people living with HIV/AIDS experience homelessness or housing instability.

As with all chronic health impairments, having HIV/AIDS makes every day a challenge. Permanent supportive housing can improve housing stability, which in turn offers people with HIV/AIDS a secure place to get the health care and other supports they need. Housing assistance like Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) and treatment programs like the  Ryan White CARE Act make it more likely that appropriate services will pair up with housing solutions. These are not programs exclusively for women; however, they do enable comprehensive approaches when women with HIV/AIDS experience homelessness as a complication.

Visit our website for more on mental and physical health

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9th March
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post was written by Alliance senior policy analyst Lisa Stand.

It seems that some news media and headline editors took shortcuts when they covered the 345-page government report on overlap and duplication in federal programs. A smattering of headlines: “Too Many Agencies in the Kitchen,” “In GAO report, Congress has proof of waste,” “Room to Cut.”

“Waste” is a good, short word for headlines but it’s a little misleading in this case. We at the Alliance were well aware of what the report supposedly unveiled about federal homeless assistance programs: “there are 20 programs targeted to address the various needs of persons experiencing homelessness.”

Needless to say, the joining of the words “waste” and “homeless programs” caused a stir but before getting riled up, you may want to know more about what the GAO report actually said about homeless assistance programs. To begin: “Some federal programs may offer similar types of services and serve similar populations, potentially leading to overlap or fragmentation.” [Emphasis added]. This is quite a bit more nuanced than “room to cut.”

And the report continues (page 129) with the reminder that the GAO already recommended better coordination of federal agencies in an earlier review – and that the “agencies concurred with these recommendations and to date have taken some actions to address them.” Further, the report gives a hat tip to Opening Doors. Opening Doors is “an important first step,” and the GAO encourages its implementation while acknowledging the challenges in rallying the 17 or so agencies that work together on the plan.

Finally – and maybe most importantly - the GAO report does not recommend eliminating or consolidating homelessness programs, though it does signal a plan to “examine potential benefits” of doing so in the future, along with other options to “address fragmentation and overlap and achieve operational improvement.”

Homelessness is a complicated problem. Most homeless people need some kind of housing subsidy. Some homeless people have mental illness. Some homeless people are veterans, are individuals, are families, are children. There are legitimate reasons to serve homeless people from a variety of different agencies – because different people require different services.

We can – absolutely – do a better job of reducing duplication and refining cooperation in our federal agencies but in a way that acknowledges the complexities and nuances of our most pressing social problems.

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8th March
written by naehblog

On Sunday, the CBS program “60 Minutes” ran a segment about homeless children.

As you may have seen on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, the segment was very compelling. Children confessed to their shame, embarrassment, and fear; parents spoke of their guilt and desperation; and a local homeless liaison added some context to the situation, explaining how homelessness has not only affected more and more people in her community, but tends to last longer than in the past. Reporter Scott Pelley painted a vivid, gripping portrait of poverty, unemployment, and the toll that economic hardship has on the most vulnerable among us: children.

But what the segment does not examine is solutions.

The segment is right to note that homelessness in growing. In our latest report, we identify that homelessness has increased since the beginning of the recession and that economic indicators of homelessness suggest that the number will rise again before decreasing.

But there are things we can do.

The long and short is usually this: housing. Families experience homelessness when they cannot find housing they can afford. In the segment, we saw that unemployment was often the catalyst to families and children experiencing homelessness.

When families are at-risk of experiencing homelessness, communities and agencies can intervene with an array of services to curb homelessness before it starts. Often, families can seek federal assistance, including TANF to supplement their family resources to prevent homelessness.

Should homelessness occur, communities can work swiftly to ensure that families and children move out of homelessness with a strategy called rapid re-housing. As the segment portrayed, elongated periods of homelessness can have a debilitating effect on the entire family unit. As such, it is often far more effective to find housing first; permanent housing is often the foundation necessary for a family to seek employment, continue education, and build the stability to move forward.

It seems simple and absurdly obvious – the solution to homelessness is housing. But it’s remarkable how often it needs to be said. When a family or child [or individual] becomes homeless, the solution is first and foremost – housing. From that place of stability, many if not most are able to work out the challenges that lead to their homelessness: unemployment, familial conflict, medical conditions, etc.

To watch the 60 Minute segment on homeless children, please visit the CBS website. To learn more about homeless children and families, please see the Alliance website.