Archive for May, 2011
We’ll be quick today!
The National Conference on Ending Homelessness is right around the corner! In fact, early registration closes tonight!
You can find more information about the conference, including a tentative agenda and travel/hotel information, at the event website.
The National Conference on Ending Homelessness is scheduled for Wednesday, July 13 to Friday, July 15 in Washington, D.C.
Along with members from Rolling Thunder, Inc. and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association – both veterans-focused organizations – I stopped by to honor veterans from our nation’s past and current wars.
As a cadet, it was humbling being there with men and women who had fought for their country and are still fighting to help their fellow soldiers still. However, it was still troubling to realize that there are still large numbers of men and women veterans that don’t have homes.
The ceremony started with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan addressing the crowd, reminding us that veterans too often return home from conflicts to experience homelessness. Thanking veterans for their service, the Secretary called for HUD to continue its efforts to strengthen the family and life that veterans return home to by creating affordable housing and aiding service members in buying their first home.
The keynote speaker for the afternoon was Major General Errol R. Schwartz, Commanding General of the DC National Guard. Gen. Schwartz thanked HUD and other groups for their ongoing work to provide homes for veterans in need. He also made it a point to specifically thank veterans that served during the Vietnam era for serving during a controversial time in America’s history and making up one of the largest groups of veterans who are homeless.
Both General Schwartz and Secretary Donovan talked a lot about providing affordable housing to veterans and trying to combat homelessness. To me, this shows that the government sees the importance of the role it plays in making sure that our men and women who are fighting for our country overseas have a home to come back to when they return.
The ceremony came to an emotional close when Chaplain Luis Ganaway put into words the reason why groups like the Alliance and HUD do what they do. He said, “We provide a service because we care for those who serve.”
I hope everyone has a happy Memorial Day.
For more information about veterans homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.
We were happy to hear that Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced a bill which would expand education and employment opportunities for veterans. At a time when over 76,000 veterans are experiencing homelessness and the economy is still on the mend, the “Honoring All Veterans Act of 2011”is a welcome bill indeed.
But it’s not just veterans who need a hand. Cuts to HUD programs, including CDBG and HOME, will mean that fewer resources are available to low-income people and families. The Detroit Free Press painted a grim picture of what CDBG cuts will mean to community services that financially vulnerable people – including the elderly and disabled – have come to depend on.
And the cuts aren’t isolated to the federal level. In Mother Jones, reporter Stephanie Mencimer reports that “as need grows, state slash welfare benefits.” While all of us have long been aware that states budgets are in a precarious state, we also know the need for cash assistance, social services, and homelessness prevention strategies remains persistently high in communities across the country.
And the week after Sen. John Kerry (D – MA) introduced his bill to address LGBTQ youth homelessness, the Washington Post ran a story about the Wanda Alston House, a DC shelter specifically for LGBTQ homeless youth. Such stories have been popping up here and there, largely based on anecdotes and profiles. (Have you seen any?)
And finally, the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building had big news of its own! The first in a number of publications on front-door strategies is out. Kim Walker penned a brief on coordinated entry that we wrote about this week – don’t miss it!
Happy Memorial Day weekend, all.
Now that you know you can and should use advocacy to end homelessness, we are going to focus the next few Advocacy How-To posts on how to get involved. We will start with the basics so you can have a good foundation for understanding when things get a little wonky later on in this series. (A lot of this information and much, much more can be found in our Advocacy Toolkit so check it out!)
There are two main types of legislation (bills) in Congress: appropriations bills and authorizing bills
The main difference between these bills is that appropriations bills fund federal programs for the fiscal year, and authorizing bills create new programs or modify existing ones. Basically, the authorizing bill creates a program and the appropriations bill funds that program!
Today, we are going to discuss how an authorizing bill becomes a law. This is important because there are certain points in this process where your work can have a greater impact. As a rule, the best time to influence legislation is when it is being considered by the appropriate legislative committee. After a bill leaves committee, advocates and even Members of Congress themselves may not be able to change it very easily.
To give you a real example, we have outlined how the HEARTH Act became law under each step in italics. The HEARTH Act is the bill that updated HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program.
So, how does an authorizing bill become federal policy?
THE BILL IS INTRODUCED
A bill is introduced by a Member of Congress in either the House or Senate, where it receives a reference number and is referred to the relevant congressional committee.
ON TO COMMITTEE
The committee and subcommittee hold hearings (called mark-ups) where they make revisions, additions, and debate the bill.
The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Development Committee passed the HEARTH Act in the fall of 2007.
THE BILL IS DEBATED ON THE FLOOR
Once a committee has approved a bill, it is sent to the floor for debate and a vote by all Members of that chamber.
THE PROCESS BEGINS AGAIN
If the bill manages to pass one chamber, it is sent to the other chamber, and the process starts over. If the original bill was introduced in the House, for example, the bill now has to undergo the same process in the Senate. The bill would then receive a reference number specific to the Senate and is referred to a Senate committee and subcommittee. If the bill passes out of committee, it is sent to the Senate floor for debate and a vote by all Members.
TWO BILLS COME TOGETHER
If the bill passes the second chamber, versions from both chambers go to a conference committee and the differences between the two bills are reconciled.
The House and Senate worked out the differences between the respective versions of the HEARTH Act.
This final version goes to both chambers for one last vote.
Both chambers of Congress finally passed a compromise version of the HEARTH Act in May 2009.
ON THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT
If it passes both chambers, it is sent to the President, who can either sign it into law or veto it.
President Obama signed the HEARTH Act into law in May 2009.
FINALLY, A LAW
The final law goes to the relevant federal department or agency, which is responsible for enforcing it and developing regulations to fill in missing details not specifically spelled out in the law.
This step is still in flux. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to release in the coming months additional details about how precisely the HEARTH Act will be implemented.
This is just a general overview. Because of the complex rules governing this process, there are many exceptions, bypasses, and differences in the passage of each piece of legislation. But as you can see this complicated process can have very real effects on efforts to end homelessness.
Your participation is the key to the effect: when you reach out to your elected officials during this deliberation process, they take into account your thoughts and ideas. Making sure that you capitalize on this process is one crucial step towards becoming an effective advocate.
The Center for Capacity Building just released our paper on developing a coordinated intake system for homeless families!
We’re so excited because we’ve gotten so many requests for more information on this approach from participants in our HEARTH Academies and other providers across the country. (Need a refresher on what coordinated entry is? Check out this blog post from Norm from a few months back.)
So, what kinds of things do we cover in this paper? Answers to questions like:
- What are the different types of coordinated entry models?
- How are other communities doing coordinated entry?
- What changes will my system have to make in order to adopt coordinated entry?
- How will I be able to tell if our coordinated entry system is functioning properly?
Not enough coordinated entry content for you?
Lucky for you, we have two webinars on coordinated entry in June.
- On June 9 at 2 p.m. ET, we’ll host a webinar with Joyce Probst MacAlpine from Dayton/Montgomery County, OH, who just completed a six-month review of their brand new coordinated intake process. You can register for that webinar here.
- Toward the end of June (date and time TBD), we will highlight the coordinated entry model in Columbus, OH and provide insight into their systems for singles and for families.
Still not enough? No worries – we’ll be rolling out more and more “front door” related materials, including papers and interactive tools, as the summer goes on, including resources on prevention targeting and diversion (which we know are also hot topics out there in the field).
We hope, as with everything else we do, that you find the materials we provide useful to you in your daily work. If you have any questions about anything, please feel free to contact the Center for Capacity Building at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This morning, the Associated Press reported that the tornado that came through Missouri City was the deadliest in the past 60 years, killing an estimated 117 people.
This tornado comes shortly after the storms and tornados that hit six Southern states in late April; Alabama bore the brunt of 300+ deaths resulting from those.
While the human toll that such events take elicits our immediate concern, the long-term damage is often overlooked. Often, natural disasters destroy homes, businesses, social services, and the infrastructure needed to start recovery – leaving many people homeless.
For a vivid example of what can happen, you need look no farther than New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast in 2005 killing nearly 2,000 people and creating nearly $81 billion in damage.
Even now, six years after the hurricane has come and gone, residents of New Orleans still struggle to regain their lives. The loss of 82,000 rental housing units, an escalation in fair market rents (an increase of 45 percent from 2005 to 2010), and a loss of health care institutions (5 hospitals and nearly 4,000 beds) create a situation where too many people are still facing homelessness.
In The State of Homelessness in America, we note:
- Total homelessness in Louisiana increased from 5,476 people experiencing homelessness before the storm to 12,504 people in 2009, the first data point available after the storm,
- Chronic homelessness in Louisiana increased from 939 people in 2005 to 4,815 people in 2009,
- Family homelessness in Mississippi increased from 210 homeless people in families in 2005 to 954 people in 2009,
- and unsheltered homelessness in Louisiana increased from 1,225 unsheltered homeless people in 2005 to 8,386 people in 2009 and in Missisisppi from 365 people in 2005 to 1,579 people n 2009.
The consequences of natural disasters – even long after the event occurs – are clear.
Like the people still struggling in New Orleans, the residents of Missouri City will need new homes, social assistance, jobs, health care, and other services to start recovery.
We, as a national community, have a responsibility to ensure that these resources are available and accessible to the victims of the tornado so that they can swiftly resume their lives with little additional disruption. By rapidly responding to the needs of Missourians, we can make sure that we keep homelessness at bay for those affected by the tornado.
Let’s make sure that we do not allow increased homelessness to be the legacy of any more natural disasters.
It’s that time again! As schools close their doors for the summer, a new crop of bright, ambitious interns descends on the District and we at the Alliance are lucky to be having so many of them join our staff for the summer.
Name: Cecilia Mills
School: Arizona State University
Discipline: Earning her Masters in Public Administration
Internship: Cece will be assisting our federal policy team on issues including mental health, family and youth homelessness, and LGBTQ matters.
In her own words: I’m compelled towards humanitarian efforts and social justice causes. The Alliance sounded like a perfect fit – I could [learn about] all issues related to poverty, health care, and social injustices.
It’s amazing how far reaching the effects of homelessness are. [I] never realized the full scope; it’s shocking to see the lack of appropriate services to help those in need.
One day, I’d like to become a policy director for a nonprofit or government agency that specifically deals with poverty related issues and alleviation. My dream job growing up was working with the UN Human Rights Council….maybe one day!
Name: Swaroop Vitta
School: Birmingham-Southern College
Discipline: Economics, Biology/Chemistry
Internship: Swaroop will be assisting with our annual Capitol Hill Day at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness.
In his own words: Our school’s Hess Fellows program provides fellowships for students interested in getting involved with advocacy. I have been involved with organizations addressing affordable housing and homelessness from a direct service standpoint so I was very excited about the possibility of working at the Alliance in order to better understand the advocacy side of these issues. I want to understand how advocacy works in general, and I want to know see what we can effectively accomplish through advocacy. Also, I hope to learn as much as I can about policies addressing affordable housing and homelessness.
Also, Sumeet Singh, my best friend since high school, my current roommate, and intern to the Alliance last summer, told me great things about the organization. Naturally, it was my first choice during the selection process.
The most interesting thing [I’ve learned about homelessness] is that it’s solvable. I grew up thinking that homelessness was just like any other big social problem. I understood that it existed and my parents taught me to be thankful for what I have and to show it by giving back by serving the needy. However, only recently did I understand that this is an issue that can be eliminated, and to think that it might happen during my lifetime is pretty exciting.
I finished taking my MCAT the day before I left to D.C. and have just started medical school applications. Though I hope to spend a good deal of time serving patients directly after I’m done with medical school (40 years from now), I definitely want to get involved with broader public health issues later. Public health and homelessness are heavily related to each other so that’s yet another reason I’m glad to be here.
Name: Amy Motyka
School: George Washington University
Discipline: Earning her Masters in Tourism Administration
Internship: Amy will be assisting our event planning staff with the National Conference on Ending Homelessness.
A Washington, DC native, Amy has her BS in marketing from the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining the Alliance, she worked as a graduate assistant for the Office of University Events at George Washington University where she assisted in planning Commencement on the National Mall for 25,000 graduates and guests.
She looks forward to working with D’Arcy to make the 2011 annual conference a success!
Name: Corey Young
School: West Point
Discipline: American Politics
Internship: Corey will be assisting our federal policy team on issues including veteran homelessness.
In his own words: Hey, my name is Corey Young. I’m an American Politics major at West Point.
One reason why homelessness is compelling to me is that it’s a problem that you can see all around you no matter where you go. Walking through any town or city, all you have to do is look and you can see people affected by homelessness right in front of you.
I come to the Alliance through an opportunity that my school offers to students from my major who are interested in understanding the way things work in Washington. I hope to gain an understanding of the American political system from a different perspective than what I already have.
The unavoidable story of the week was the Washington Post series on the HUD HOME Program. We wrote about it earlier this week and pointed to some organizations that refuted the article’s accusations (including a blogpost directly from HUD). Other organizations have come out to respond to the article but we want to know your response: what do you think of this series and what it says about the housing program?
In other news, our good friend Judy Lightfoot highlighted the work of our colleagues at Building Changes in Washington. The organization is working with homeless families to make strides toward employment – a key element to both ending homelessness and gaining economic self-sufficiency.
Both San Francisco and DC are facing some troubles as local counts and the local budget – respectively – point to continued challenges in ending homelessness. San Francisco continues their ongoing battles to reduce homelessness despite economic hurdles and DC fights to maintain local funding for homeless assistance programs.
Late last week, Sen. John Kerry introduced a bill in the Senate that would, among other things, help fight LGBTQ youth homelessness. We’ve long talked about how youth homelessness has been an overlooked problem in the field – and certainly the same notion applies to LGBTQ youth homelessness. We’re excited to work on this new legislation; we’ll keep writing about it as events progress.
This is the second in a series of “Advocacy How-To” blogs. In this series, you’ll find tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns.
As an employee of a mission-driven organization, you can and should conduct advocacy and lobbying activities on behalf of your cause.
Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding what types of advocacy and lobbying are allowed keeps a lot of important voices silent.
What is the difference between lobbying and advocacy?
According to the IRS, which oversees lobbying activities, lobbying involves an attempt to influence specific legislation at the local, state, or federal level. Lobbying activities include contacting any legislative Member, legislative staff, or government employee to influence him or her to propose, support, or oppose specific legislation, as well as trying to persuade the public to share your views on a particular legislative proposal.
Advocacy, however, is focused on education about a specific issue on behalf of the people your organization serves. There are two main types of advocacy: non-lobbying advocacy and lobbying. There is no federal limit on how much non-lobbying advocacy your nonprofit organization can do.
Below are a few key things that nonprofit organizations should and should not do in regards to lobbying and advocacy.
- DO advocate. As we said above, there are no limits on non-lobbying advocacy activities.
- DO lobby. Nonprofit organizations have a unique perspective and play a valuable role in shaping federal policy.
- DO learn how to measure your organization’s lobbying activities with the Advocacy Toolkit.
- DO talk with all of your funders. Public and private foundations can fund lobbying projects but must follow certain rules.
- DO work with the Alliance year-round on advocacy and lobbying campaigns, like the effort to increase funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in fiscal year (FY) 2012.
- DON’T think lobbying can only be done by professional lobbyists. Your lobbying activities can result in better policy, making it easier for your organization to achieve its mission.
- DON’T use federal funds for lobbying at the state or federal level. A local funding match cannot be used for lobbying purposes either.
- DON’T ever participate as an organization in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. As a private citizen on your own time, you are perfectly within your rights to participate in such a campaign but not while representing your organization.
Policymakers rely on nonprofit organizations’ expertise to make decisions about policy so you can and should lobby.
You should make informed decisions about how your organization is tracking its lobbying and advocacy activities and seek training about lobbying rules and regulations. Use the information in the Advocacy Toolkit to help you begin to make these decisions. As always, the Alliance can help you as you begin making these considerations and begin your advocacy efforts.
Image courtesy of mrjoro
Today’s guest post comes to us from Aaron Bowen, Chief Operating Officer at the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties.
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”
In the Oscar award-winning, Sidney Lumet-directed film “Network,” protagonist Howard Beale is just fed up – and I think many of us in the homeless assistance community can sympathize with his frustration.
Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, just over 830 people in a city of around 250,000 were identified as homeless during our January 26, 2011 Point in Time count. Though our overall homeless count dipped slightly from last year—thanks to a very well-run Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program—we remain worked up knowing that so many people still are homeless in Lincoln.
The trouble is, every group, task force, or coalition that does get together enters the strange and often frightening world of “planning” which can sap the life out of groups attempting to tackle the issue that matters to them most. But, like holding a magnifying glass at just the right angle to gather sunlight to its hottest point, planning is necesary in order to focus that “mad as hell” moment into a powerful force for change.
In Lincoln, that’s just what our Continuum of Care did—we planned! Partnering with experts from the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s Center for Capacity Building, we laid Lincoln’s homelessness services system on the table for dissection. We talked candidly about what we believe we do well and where we continue to stumble.
Through this work, we zeroed in on four main objectives:
- To assess and get folks appropriately housed as quickly as possible;
- to increase employment options for our consumers;
- to tackle youth homelessness; and
- to build more effective partnerships with landlords and realtors who may house the people we serve.
This resulting plan is something we’re proud of, but it’s the planning itself that produced something even more important. The process brought that magnifying focus to our work, helping us to find clarity in the midst of the million things we know must be done or changed to get and keep everyone housed, healthy, and safe.
We’re getting somewhere more quickly than we would have otherwise. We’re developing a shared housing assessment for local HMIS users. An initiative to make sure kids graduate is in the works. Landlords have assisted in drafting partnership agreements, and we’re focusing more on building and showcasing the employability of our consumers rather than on combating the barriers that stand between them and a good job.
My message to other communities out there: Your planning might not be perfect or all that pretty. Goals may shrink, go dark, and then resurface. People might not be as committed once they have to commit. But you’ll get better each time you try it. New people will listen and want a piece of the plan. You’ll find new purpose and perhaps new support, and you’ll likely lead some other coalition or continuum to planning.
Best of all, through it all, you can still be mad as hell.