Archive for March, 2011
On Friday, a colleague (my boss, actually) brought an item in the Chronicles of Philanthropy to my attention. It was called, “As Social Needs Mount, How Can Philanthropy Best Alleviate Homelessness?”
Before even reading the piece, I discussed it with my boss and let the question marinate in my mind. And while the obvious answer was clear, I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t overlooking the more meta angle of the issue; maybe it’s the never-ending madness of the budget process taking place right here in the District, but I was thinking less about throwing money at a problem and more about creating the change necessary to solve – to end – persistent social ills. When we’re looking at the world through this wide-angle lens, what is the role of philanthropy?
There are some solid examples in the homeless assistance community:
In Denver, CO, Denver’s Road Home has long worked with the Office of the Mayor and the Mile High United Way to lead a community-wide effort to implement the city’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. The partnership has also opened new funding and resource avenues and, to date, over 30 foundations have not only contributed but engaged in Denver’s effort to end homelessness.
After decades of failed attempts, Los Angeles has launched a promising new chapter in the community’s effort to end homelessness. A new plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness in the city of angels, Home for Good, is spearheaded by United Way LA and the LA Chamber of Commerce – an unlikely if effective duo. The pair serves as an organizing entity, a governing body, and the driving impetus to end homelessness in what is, ostensibly, the homeless capital of the country.
Foundations, with their do-gooder beliefs and the ability to put their money where their mouths are, are in a powerful place to enact some real social change.
Foundations can identify and support innovation; they can advance great new ways to solve old, vexing problems. They can not only fund but foster an idea or technology that promises to improve society – taking it from conceptualization to development to implementation. With their resources and clout, they can bring leaders from all sectors of the public to make a better, more livable community, emphasizing the goals of sustainable change and real progress as opposed to band-aids and temporary fixes.
In the homeless assistance community, they can support what’s working. It’s no surprise that there isn’t as much money to go around as there once was, and in this economically tight environment, foundations can lead by example: using their limited resources to support strategies and policies that address root causes of homelessness, change the systems that aid and contribute to homelessness, end homelessness.
There is no arguing that homelessness is a complex issue, one fraught with moral, economic, and social discord and as such, will require a comprehensive, multi-pronged solution. In this way, it is the perfect issue with which foundations can get involved as leaders bringing the necessary stakeholders to the table and leading the discussion on targeted investment, best practices, and systems-change solutions.
This week the news media has focused on the essentials of our field: housing, data, populations, and public policy.
Let’s start right in the District. In her column, Michelle Singletary cited our own report to discuss people spending more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent – what is called a “severe housing cost burden” – a situation that can put people at risk of homelessness.
From Tiffin, OH, the Advertiser-Tribune discussed a sticky situation concerning data collection, showing that data collection methodology should be examined as it affects count accuracy. Perhaps a dry topic for a news article, but methodology is a central component of learning about homelessness, especially at the community level.
Then there was a flurry of reports about different populations experiencing homelessness.
Both the Sacramento Bee and CNN covered veteran homelessness. The Bee zoomed in the challenges specific to women returning from combat and CNN took their turn examining the potential ramifications of federal budget cuts to vulnerable veterans (stay tuned). The Medill News Service also took a crack at state budgets and the potential impact reductions will have on homeless youth. (They’re projecting pronounced increases). And New America Media traveled to the other end of the spectrum writing about elderly people living in poverty, at risk of homelessness, while raising their own grandchildren. (Which comes as no surprise.)
Predictably, there were scant few articles about solutions but there does seem to be good buzz from community leaders about the awareness of and dedication to the issue. An editorial from Maine shared some good notes about HPRP, the Associated Press reported that RI will reconvene the state’s Interagency Council on Homelessness to address the issue, and MA Governor Deval Patrick said he’ll commit nearly $40 million to overhaul the state’s emergency homeless assistance program.
Not a bad week, all things considered. Did we miss anything in your town?
Yesterday, we talked about how help is long overdue for homeless youth. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: there is not enough information about this very vulnerable, often overlooked population.
In fact, there isn’t even a baseline count; that is, we don’t even really know how many homeless youth there are in the country.
This is why the Alliance is urging communities to include youth in their annual point-in-time counts. All communities are required to regularly conduct counts of their local homeless populations (required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development) and while “youth” is a line item, hardly any communities report youth numbers.
But we need to start counting.
Our own district is starting this year. The DC Alliance of Youth Advocates is conducting a homeless youth survey in mid-March in concert with the George Washington University and the Interagency Council on Homelessness. The effort is meant to gauge how many youth are experiencing homelessness in the District, how youth in the District become homeless, and what the community can provide with services and programs to assist youth out of homelessness and into stable housing conditions.
DC is taking an essential step forward. In order to solve a problem, we must first fully understand it – and conducting this kind of count can increase our knowledge on this important social problem.
How does the youth homelessness situation look like in your community? What steps are being taken to end youth homelessness? Are you available to help DC AYA and their partners conduct a youth count in mid-March? Let us know!
Today’s guest post comes to us from Alliance Program and Policy Analyst Andre Wade.
Last week I met three extraordinary young mothers during a tour of The Night Ministry’s Response-Ability Pregnant and Parenting Program in Chicago. All three described growing up without much support from their families, all three slept in parks, trains, and couch surfed to get by.
One of these women shared with me that while she was focusing on just making it day-to-day, it didn’t quite hit her that she was, in fact, experiencing homelessness until she was confronted with the question at a social service office.
Are you homeless?
She then realized the truth: yes, I am homeless.
All three of these women told me they are determined that their struggles not limit their futures.
In their program, they learn about life skills, budgeting, job training, and education. The 8-bed, 8-crib shelter dedicated to homeless pregnant and parenting teens offers the supportive services these vulnerable young people need in order to advance themselves and their families.
These young women are hardly the only ones experiencing the plight of homelessness alone with their children. And still, their stories are often sidestepped as policies and programs aim to deal with their adult counterparts.
But if these young women showed me anything at all, it’s that the right interventions can end youth homelessness – and the time to address this critical sector of the homeless population is long overdue.
Today’s post comes to us from Alliance research associate Pete Witte.
Earlier this year I wrote here about the annual point-in-time (PIT) counts being conducted across the country, and explained why the PIT counts are so important for helping us to understand homelessness and measure progress we’re making toward ending the problem.
Well, it’s that time of year again when local media stories announcing the results of their January point-in-time (PIT) slowly begin to sprout up in daily clips.
The Alliance is collecting and mapping these media accounts or, when available, the Continuum of Care (CoC) reports in order to provide a sense of the changing homeless situation in communities across the country. These reports are the basis of our new and—considering federal budget conversations where homeless programs are at-risk of being cut—timely, interactive 2011 Counts Media Map, which tracks reports on changes in overall homelessness (increases are noted by a red-colored placemarker and decreases are in green).
Amid current economic and budgetary conversations, providing a sense about the change in homeless counts across the country is important and timely, especially considering how homeless, health care, employment, and other aid programs are increasingly at-risk of being cut.
Tracking the 2011 PIT counts also provides an opportunity to get a sense on how much progress is being made at ending homelessness at the federal level, since the 2011 PIT counts will be the first count where both HPRP and Opening Doors have had the opportunity to affect communities.
And what’s more – we need your help!
Has a media source or CoC in your community released a report that shows overall homeless changes between the January 2011 count and the last January count? Please let us know; you can email me directly and we’ll be sure to add your community’s results to our interactive map.
Thanks in advance for your help!
A note about what we’re looking for: the Alliance mapped media reports back in 2009 – the last time that all CoC’s were required by HUD to conduct a PIT count. In that map, we tracked a number of different factors in the counts. This time around, however, we’re only interested in mapping overall population increases or decreases to present a visual picture of the state of homelessness in the country. For more information or clarity about our map, please email us.