Archive for May, 2011

17th May
written by Catherine An

As you undoubtedly caught in this past weekend’s Washington Post, the newspaper is doing a series of articles about the HOME Program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The series kicked off with a biting piece unveiling what the writer describes as a “dysfunctional system that delivers billions of dollars to local housing agencies with few rules, safeguards, or even a reliable way to track projects.”

Affordable housing advocates and other homelessness and housing community members talked back, offering counter arguments.

The piece created a strong buzz in the housing community and will hopefully create a healthy dialogue about the imperative need for affordable housing and innovative new ways to meet that need.

The Post writer herself takes a first stab at illustrating the need with her accompanying story about a mother’s route from homeless to home, the story of a young woman and her fraught efforts to acquire affordable housing. The story illuminated a point that often gets lost: affordable housing is a key to ending homelessness.

Did you notice the series this week? What did you think? Share your ideas, thoughts, comments, and concerns with us here and on our social networks!

16th May
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post comes to us from Whitney Gent, Development & Communications Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

Recent polling indicates that 3/4 of Americans believe that adequate housing is a human right, and 2/3 believe that government programs need to be expanded to ensure this right.

The U.S. helped shape the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights – both of which recognize that housing is not a privilege, but a right. But despite our declarations and our international treaty ratifications, it’s obvious our ideals do not match our reality.

But now, we’re seeing big progress. This March, for the first time, the federal government officially acknowledged that reducing homelessness implicates its human rights obligations. Government is now catching up with advocates who have been working for this recognition for years.

This is thanks to advocates across the country who have demanded that our government be held accountable to its international commitments and to make the human right to housing a reality here at home.

Using a rights-based framework for homelessness advocacy gives us a different set of tools to create change, to end homelessness. A rights-based framework can help us fight budget cuts that would send more people to the streets. It will help us turn the Federal Plan to End Homelessness into federal action.

This June 7-8, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty will host advocates from across the country in Washington D.C. at the annual National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, where we will offer trainings on how to use the tools we have gained to make progress in the movement to realize the human right to housing. We’ll also strategize to determine how to best build on the foundation we’re laying.

The forum will feature speakers from government, the media, the advocacy community, and the funding community For more information about the forum, or to register, please visit our website.

Some scholarships are available. Contact Christine Hwang to apply.

Whitney Gent is the Development & Communications Director for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP).

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13th May
written by Anna Blasco

There were two excellent articles this week about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program (sometimes called welfare); these articles made some excellent points about this important and at-risk program.

In Greg Kaufmann’s piece for The Nation he quotes Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services in Ohio, who talks about his clients “doubling and tripling up” in housing and “forgoing medical treatment” to meet their work requirements to receive assistance. The poignant testimony Frech offers is a vivid look at both escalating need and outdated regulations attached to federal assistance.

Nancy Folbre, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, delved deeper into the reasons many families are unable to access benefits in a New York Times piece. She makes the case for subsidized jobs programs that she says both work and need to be scaled up to meet increasing need.

But the money for these programs has to come from somewhere. Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) offers a bold look into some possibilities in his opinion piece in the Washington Post. Wolf argued that in terms of deficit reduction, everything must be on the table – including “sacred cows” on both the left and the right.

And as a final note, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness has completely redesigned their website. The new site offer heightened usability and a wealth of new resources. Check it out!

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12th May
written by naehblog

Today we’re excited to start a series called “Advocacy How-To.” In this series, you’ll find tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns. Today’s post is from Alliance program & policy associate, Amanda Krusemark.

To some, advocacy can be a scary idea, often viewed as something other people will handle. But really, advocacy is just the active support of an idea or cause. I spearhead the Alliance’s grassroots advocacy work, and the best part of my job is that I get to see people’s hard work, their advocacy efforts, pay off. Time and again, I’ve seen U.S. Senators and Representatives reverse course on homelessness policy because of feedback from their constituents, people like you.

Advocacy plays a huge role in our collective efforts to end homelessness because it works. One of the realities of this collective effort is that we all depend on resources, and we know that even with the best program models and innovations, we won’t be able to actually end homelessness without sufficient federal, state, and local resources. The way to get more resources is to convince your policymakers to provide them.

That’s where you can come in. Just as it is the job of Members of Congress and other policymakers to represent their constituents’ priorities, it’s your job as a constituent to tell them what those priorities are.

I often hear people say “I’d love to be an advocate, but I just don’t think I’d be any good at it.” I’m here to tell you that that’s just not true! Congressional offices depend on citizen experts and supporters to explain how programs work and why they’re so important in the community. Believe it or not, when it comes to ending homelessness, you are an expert! Your interest in the field and your understanding of the issue in your district or state gives you the necessary knowledge to advocate for these programs.
All you have to do is talk about why this issue matters to you and how important this work is to your community, and – voilà – you’re an advocate!

It really is almost that simple. To help you learn more about advocacy and give you the confidence to get involved we’re launching a new blog series to dive into this important topic and show you just how easy it is. In the rest of this series, we’ll examine other myths, like the idea that you’re not allowed to do lobbying or advocacy, as well as provide some easy how-to tips for getting involved in efforts like our current campaign to increase funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and others. In any economic or political climate, advocacy is what can get us new and additional resources to prevent and end homelessness.

We just need your help to make it happen!

Stay tuned to this series to learn more and check out our Advocacy page on our website for more information.

Photo courtesy of WordPress Art.

11th May
written by naehblog

Today’s post is from Alliance program & policy associate, Amanda Krusemark.

The annual congressional budget and appropriations process can be more than a little confusing – but it’s critically important for advocates like us.

Ending homelessness will require resources from the federal government – so we need to make sure Congress prioritizes homeless assistance for the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget. As you well know, in this climate of economic austerity, that’s easier said than done.

That means we need you to tell your Members of Congress how important ending homelessness is.

Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) is circulating a letter in the House. The letter asks the House to provide $2.4 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants (the federal government’s largest investment in homelessness). That’s the same amount the President Obama asked for when he delivered his budget proposal to Congress in February.

We need as MANY Representatives as possible to sign onto Representative Moore’s letter by next Friday, May 20.

So we need you to tell them to sign on.

You can use this sample letter and these sample talking points to contact your Representatives and ask them to sign the letter. For more information, you can contact Amanda Krusemark at

The budget process is not always the same each year, but the overall process usually starts like it did this year:

In February, the Administration submitted its recommendations to Congress for the federal budget.

In April, the House passed a bill setting out its “big-picture” framework for the FY 2012 budget, including how large the budget should be. This framework is called a “budget resolution” and it’s non-binding, meaning Congress doesn’t have to stick to it.

Now that the House has a framework, Representatives are asked to submit “programmatic requests” – which are requests for funding levels each Representative wants to see for key federal programs. That’s what’s happening right now.

You, as an advocate, have this time to influence the choices your Members of Congress make by telling them what’s important in your community and why. You can help shape the size and impact of the federal budget!

Make your voice heard today! Call your Member of Congress and urge them to sign onto Rep. Gwen Moore’s letter or to submit their own programmatic request asking for $2.4 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs to make substantial progress in preventing and ending homelessness in this country. For more information or guidance, please email Amanda Krusemark.

10th May
written by naehblog

The deadline to apply for a 2011 National Conference on Ending Homelessness scholarship is tomorrow. Last year, one scholarship recipient shared her experience with homelessness for the blog – we’re reposting it here today. You can always see the original in the archives.

My car broke down and from that point on it was like a domino effect: I lost my jobs, my rent was behind and before I knew it, we were evicted.

My four boys and I became homeless, with nowhere to go. We had no family here, so we were pretty much on our own. I went into a state of depression, but I couldn’t act upon it as I had to be strong for my children. It was eating me up inside.

I couldn’t tell the children as they thought mommy could do everything. I had to deal with what I thought was my failure to them. I was constantly telling them to go to school and get good grades. They looked at me like “You have a college degree with no job and on top of all of that, we are homeless.”

It was a rough road. I knew I had to stay strong for my children and keep encouraging them to do well in school. My children and I both had to learn how to be more humble and grateful for what we had. During that period of homelessness, we had to depend solely on each other. I was constantly in prayer for guidance and help.

My prayers were answered by Decatur Cooperative Ministry. They provided a transitional home for me and my children and provided me with a program to talk to others going through the same situation as mine. They were very supportive and helpful. We are extremely grateful to them as they helped me heal physically, spiritually and mentally. They provided me with all the tools I needed to get back on my feet.

I learned to talk more with my children about our circumstance instead of trying to hide the struggle I was going through from them. I used to shield them so much that they were not able to recognize when I was hurting, struggling and the pain that I had to endure being a single mother.

It was an experience that we all deeply learned from and it has shown me that homelessness has no respect of person, distinctions, race, nor class. Anyone at anytime under difficult situations can become homeless. It was extremely hard going through the experience, but I am grateful of the lessons that I’ve learned from it and what it has done for me. It has made me a more humble person, open with my children, strengthened my faith, and changed what I thought of homelessness.

It has put me on the path of helping to end homelessness as I have experienced it and can empathize with others as I have gone through it.

6th May
written by Anna Blasco

Homelessness happens to most people when they cannot find housing they can afford, often because of an unforeseen circumstance like a sudden illness or loss of a job.

But a tornado will do the trick, too.

We are a little late in addressing this devastating natural disaster, but as with most wreckage on this scale, the true extent of the damage remains to be seen.  NPR reported on Wednesday that thousands have been left without homes throughout the South. AFP reported entire neighborhoods  wiped off the map.

After wading through the reports and photographs, one fact rang out to me – this was the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  As we found in our State of Homelessness report released in January, when Hurricane Katrina struck much of the housing stock was decimated and the total number of people experiencing homelessness in the Gulf Coast increased by 325 percent.

That’s right, 325 percent.

This increase was due to a variety of reasons, including the loss of 82,000 rental units, a 45 percent increase in the cost of rental housing, and the loss of 5 hospitals and nearly 4,000 hospital and nursing beds. The hurricane also devastated much of the infrastructure necessary to deliver goods and services to people in need.

Our president, Nan Roman, remarked in a testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives after Katrina, ”[s]urely, at a minimum, Hurricane Katrina must not be allowed to increase the number of poor and homeless people in our nation, long term.”

Those who were vulnerable before the tornadoes are surely in peril at this moment. Let’s not let them down.

Image courtesy of Jamiesrabbits.

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5th May
written by Catherine An

While need isn’t seasonal, charity typically is. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that giving, at least to our organization, peaks during the holidays.

In my daily hunt for clips (news articles about homelessness that you can always find on our website), I caught a little piece about giving from the Daily Camera in Colorado.

It was the title that caught me: Helping the homeless year-round.

I’ve done my fair share of serving meals on Thanksgiving and caroling during the holidays but I can’t remember the last time I volunteered for a homeless organization in the summer. I’ve adopted families in December and made donations in the winter but rarely do I think about charity when the flowers bloom.

And while I’m not knocking wintertime charity, the reality is this: homelessness exists year-round. There are people in need everyday. And while our contributions are welcome during winter, they’re just as welcome – and perhaps even more needed – during the warmer months.

The economic downturn and high unemployment are driving the number of homeless people up in many places across the country and we at the Alliance are working hard to help communities address these increases and implement successful, cost effective solutions. While you’re helping out in the soup kitchen, remember that the Alliance is working hared to find ways to truly end homelessness – effectively and permanently.

If you can, please contribute to this mission and make a gift to the Alliance. Be assured that it will go toward vital efforts to prevent and end homelessness in America.

For more information about giving and great nonprofits, please visit Charity Navigator and Great Nonprofits.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Kris.

4th May
written by Catherine An

Occasionally, we like to make a little shout out.

Social Impact Research has recently published a series of reports on chronic homelessness.

The series is directed towards donors, discussing the impact of investing in ending chronic homelessness. The anchor brief goes over major facts, statistics, definitions, and an overview of the work done thus far to end chronic homelessness. There’s also a brief summary of the Housing First approach, a concept that the Alliance has long championed.

The series includes a Guide to Giving – advice to donors about how best to determine which organization might fit their giving goals. You can access the guide online.

Andrew Ofstehage, fellow at Social Impact Research and the lead researcher on these reports, will host a call for all interested participants during which he’ll go over the findings of the research and take caller questions. The call is slated for Wednesday, May 11.

For more information about the call and to participate, please email Tania Green.

3rd May
written by Catherine An

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released the second study of a three-part series evaluating the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program. FSS is a program meant to help residents of public housing who are also participants in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program – sometimes called the Section 8 Program – become self-sufficient.

The current study examined programmatic features and family characteristics that appear to influence the success of families participating in FSS.

An FSS program basically works like this:

  • You are a family using a Section 8 voucher. This means that you pay 30 percent of your monthly income toward your rent; the federal government kicks in whatever else you need.
  • The FSS program you’re in helps you gain the skills to make more money through supportive services and case management.
  • As you make more money, instead of contributing the any additional income toward rent (up to 1/3 of your monthly income), the FSS program puts that money in an interest-earning escrow account.
  • When you graduate from the FSS program, you get all that savings.

There are caveats, of course.

  • All families volunteering for the FSS program have to sign a 5- year Contract of Participation (COP) which basically stipulates that they will engage in the program, follow all the rules, take all the steps, etc.
  • People who exit the program before graduating forfeit the savings in their escrow account.

So at the end of the 4-year study period:

  • 41 participants (or 24 percent of the tracking group) graduated from the FSS program and received their escrow,
  • 63 participants (or 37 percent of the tracking group) left the program before graduation, forfeiting their escrow,
  • 66 participants (39 percent of the tracking group) were still enrolled in the FSS program.

The graduates of the program did tend to have certain characteristics that distinguished them from their exiter counterparts. According to the report, a higher proportion of graduates were a) employed at the beginning of the tracking and more likely to stay employed, b) made more money and were more likely to increase their earnings during their time in the FSS program, c) more educated than their exiter counterparts, d) spent more time in the program – about four months longer.

Interested? Want to read more? Check out the report here and learn more about the FSS program on the HUD website.

Photo courtesy of Childrens Book Review.

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