Archive for June, 2011
Our “Advocacy How-To” series provides tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns. Today’s post is from Federal Policy Intern, Swaroop Vitta.
Last week, we saw how easy it is to find your Members of Congress, the committees they sit on, and the appropriate staff members to contact. This week and next, we’ll talk about how to go about contacting your Members’ offices. There are a few ways to do this, but we recommend either calling or emailing their offices – “snail mail” can take weeks to get through Capitol Hill security.
Today, we will talk about emailing the office.
Because it makes the most sense to contact the staff person who handles your issue (like housing) directly, the most effective way to reach them is usually to get their direct email address, rather than the general email address listed on the Member’s website.
Many congressional offices will not give out email addresses for their staff members, but the Alliance can help you figure out the email address if you know the staff person’s name. To get this information, either:
- Call the congressional office directly, or
- Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected with your Member’s office.
Once you reach the office, ask who handles your issue area. For example, if you will be emailing your Member about housing issues, ask for the staff member in charge of housing.
Now it’s time to write the email. This is nothing to be intimidated by, but here are a few key tips.
Get to the point. These staff members receive many emails everyday, so it is important that you make it clear early on in the email what exactly you are asking of them.
Now that you have their attention, add lots of relevant information. You can include local data, like the number of people in permanent housing in your area, and even short anecdotes, like stories about a successful re-housing intervention. Feel free to attach local news reports and other media, or simply link to reports or other publications and give a brief summary of the highlights.
Be relevant. Make sure that everything you write is relevant to the specific issue you are raising. Each point should back up your main request.
Proofread. Remember to proofread for grammar and for content. It is very easy to make mistakes while typing, but these mistakes may be distracting and indicate a lack of credibility. Once you think you are done, read over the email one more time to make sure it’s perfect.
Now just click send!
Want more? There are lots of great resources in our Advocacy Toolkit, including example emails and other useful information.
In case you missed it, HUD released the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress yesterday, showing that homelessness went up one percent overall from 2009 to 2010. For the major numbers, check out the post from yesterday.
Here at the Alliance, we were surprised that homelessness in the United States did not increase more significantly despite the effects of the recession. We surmise that the flat numbers, in spite of an idling economy, are a testament to improved homeless assistance systems and the adoption of housing-based strategies to end homelessness.
But we’re not out of the woods yet. Like we’ve been saying for months, budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels could break the dam that’s been keeping increased homelessness at bay for the last couple of years.
And it’s not just budget cuts that we’re concerned about. For the first time, the impact of the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) was included in the AHAR. The $1.5 billion program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), offered communities significant new resources to curb homelessness resulting from the recession. And communities used that money – in the first year, HPRP funds prevented and ended homelessness for an estimated 690,000 people. Those funds are also credited with decreasing the length of time people stayed homeless in suburban and rural communities, where the average length of stay in an emergency family shelter declined from 62 days to 40 days.
The three-year stimulus program ends next year and it’ll leave a big hole in the budgets of many local homeless assistance programs – a hole that will only grow wider with the aforementioned budget cuts. Coupled with cuts to mainstream poverty programs, local and state services, and the relentless rise in need, it’s possible that homelessness may rise in the coming years.
So what can we do? Maybe we can’t fix the economy, unemployment, or the housing crisis – but we can make our voices heard. Tell your community leader, your legislator, your Members of Congress that we will not risk increased homelessness in the United States. Let us know you’re interested and we’ll tell you how to get involved.
If you follow our Twitter or Facebook accounts, you know that HUD released the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR) today. This annual compilation of homelessness data is one of our best barometers of how we’re doing: is homelessness going up? Going down? Chronic, individuals, youth, families? How are we doing?
Over here, we’re busy reading and digesting and figuring out what all the numbers mean (you can figure it out with us if you want; here’s the report.)
We’ll have a more comprehensive post later but in the meantime, here are the numbers:
According to the findings, levels of homelessness in the United States have stayed flat from 2009 to 2010. Overall homelessness increased by one percent, rising to 649,917 according to the annual point-in-time counts. The number of homelessness individuals, unsheltered homeless persons, and homeless persons in families all showed marginal increases of 0.75 percent, 2.76 percent, and 1.61 percent, respectively. The number of chronically homeless individuals declined by one percent; the steady and continual decline of chronic homelessness reflects the success of local and federal efforts to implement best practices to serve chronically homeless people.
The report, aside from offering the annual point-in-time counts, also offers findings from HMIS data and – for the first time – offers insight into the impact of the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).
Visit again tomorrow for more!
We know you’re excited to attend our 2011 National Conference on Ending Homelessness but what you may not know is that this year, our 2011 Awards Ceremony is happening in conjunction with the conference!
Every year, the Alliance honors members of the private, public, and nonprofit sectors who are leading the way in ending homelessness. The Awards Ceremony, which takes place annually at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., recognizes and honors the contributions and accomplishments of the year’s awardees.
This year, our awardees include:
Private Sector Achievement
Los Angeles Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness
Accepted by Task Force Co-Chairs Renee White Fraser and Jerold B. Neuman
Nonprofit Sector Achievement
The Road Home, Salt Lake City, UT
Accepted by Executive Director Matt Minkevitch
The Alliance will honor these organizations and individuals at its 21st Annual Awards Ceremony on July 14, 2011. The ceremony will take place on the second night of the National Conference to End Homelessness.
We hope to see you there!
Perhaps the biggest news this week was that the lawsuit between the ACLU and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Over land in Los Angeles, the ACLU is alleging that the land, deed to the VA to provide housing for homeless veterans, is not being used as it was intended. The NYT offered an editorial about the situation this week.
Secretary Shaun Donovan had a thing or two to say about veteran homelessness on the HUD blog, The HUDdle. Writing about his experience before the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, he called the effort to end homeless veterans, “beyond political” – a sentiment that we can all get behind.
But some things are political.
According to a piece in the NYT, state judiciaries are getting into the game of balancing state budgets. As governors and legislators try to balance their budgets, some are being taken to court over their decisions. And some judiciaries are reversing budget decisions, compelling lawmakers to respect constitutional standards despite their empty pocketbooks.
And the effects of these decisions are tangible at the local level. Today, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran a touching story about the impact of reduced assistance on one crisis center serving far too many people and families experiencing homelessness. While the staff there clearly does what they can, slashed budgets – and an end to rent subsidies – are leaving people with few, if any, options.
For more news clips from the week, check out the Alliance website.
Our “Advocacy How-To” series provides tips, tools, and strategies to conduct your own advocacy and get involved in Alliance advocacy campaigns. Today’s post is from our Director of Policy Outreach, Amanda Krusemark.
So, you want to get involved in federal advocacy. But who, exactly, should you contact? Which Members of Congress are most important? Who should you talk to in their offices? Today, we’re going to answer these questions.
Members of Congress are most interested in hearing from their own constituents, so you should generally only contact Members who represent your community.
- If you’re not sure who your representatives are, visit www.house.gov and type your zip code into the box labeled “FIND YOUR REPRESENTATIVE.”
- You can find your senators at www.senate.gov. Just choose your state from the box labeled “Find Your Senators.”
Once you know who represents you in Congress, you might wonder which Member (or Members) is most important for your cause.
Congress does most of its legislative work through committees so you should find out on which committees your Members of Congress sit. (Members’ websites usually have this information, or we can help.) Depending on the issue, there are several committees that could be important. For example, the most important committee for funding HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants is the Appropriations Committee.
Representatives and senators in charge of these key committees (the Chair and Ranking Member) are the most important, followed by committee members. However, any Member of Congress can ask their colleagues on these committees to take action.
Once you’ve figured out which congressional office to contact, the next step is finding the appropriate staff person in your congressperson’s office. Each staff member is usually assigned a portfolio of subjects like housing, health care, immigration, national security, etc. Find out who handles your issue on behalf of the Member of Congress. For most issues related to homelessness, that is the person who handles housing issues. Sometimes, though, you might want the person who handles (for example) health or youth issues.
It’s that staffer who will be able to advise your Member of Congress on key legislation, appropriations, and other legislative action on your topic of interest.
Next week, we’ll explore how to get in touch with these individuals and what to say. For now, though, just remember that it’s easy to find out who your Members of Congress are and their committee assignments. That information will go a long way toward making you an effective advocate.
Photo courtesy of Senator Mark Warner.
This past week, I went to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ conference here in Washington, D.C. at the Grand Hyatt. Attending this conference gave me a chance to gain as broad a base of knowledge on veteran homelessness as I could get anywhere.
The three days were divided into two main parts:
- the first day consisted of an introductory session followed by a public policy forum;
- the remaining two days mostly consisted of individual sessions concerning specific aspects of veteran homelessness.
The first day started with an opening session. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki all gave remarks during the opening session. Colonel David Sutherland from the Department of Defense and Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of Veterans’ Employment and Training Service also followed suit.
The common themes that kept recurring from all of them were a call for collaboration, both at the national level and at the local level. Secretary Donovan put it perfectly when he said that, “too often we consider ourselves specialists.”
My favorite part of the entire conference was the public policy forum. Pete Dougherty and Vince Kane from the VA, Gordon Burke from Labor, Anthony Love from USICH, and Mark Johnston from HUD all sat on the forum and took questions. For someone like me (I’ve always been attracted to the policy side of government), it was fascinating to watch the people who create and oversee programs interacting with the people who run these programs down on the level where they are put into use.
Moreover, as someone who will be in the Army in a couple years and serve with soldiers who could potentially face homelessness, it feels great to know that people care and are trying to help at every level.
On the second day, I heard Emily Button from US VETS speak about a permanent housing facility she runs around DC.
Her facility has a unique feature: veterans there live in two bedroom apartment units with a roommate to utilize the idea of a “battle buddy”; your “battle buddy” watches out for you while you watch out for them. I thought this was great because it takes a veteran back to the basic roots of what they’re taught in the military, especially at a time of their lives when they’re most vulnerable and need someone.
After the three days, I can say that I have been completely immersed in what there is to know about veteran homelessness. It was great meeting so many people who have devoted their lives to helping and serving those that have put everything on the line for us and for our country.
Today’s guest post comes from Alliance Vice President of Programs and Policy Steve Berg.
Bob Hohler, Executive Director of the Melville Charitable Trust, passed away suddenly while hiking with his family in England last Thursday, June 2.
For two decades Mr. Hohler worked tirelessly and gracefully behind the scenes to help establish the Melville Trust as a courageous leader in the philanthropic community, moving the country toward a solution to homelessness. He was also the Chairman of the Board and a founder of Funders Together to End Homelessness; and a leader on the boards of several nonprofits in Connecticut with which the Melville Trust is involved.
Prior to his role at Melville, Mr. Hohler enjoyed a long career as an activist in the civil rights and anti-war movements, as a lay minister, and as an anti-poverty fighter. A native of South Boston, he grew up in extreme poverty, leading him to understand first-hand the struggles of those he set out to help.
Mr. Hohler did his work with a keen commitment to justice, and an equally strong commitment to concrete results. He never shied away from honest anger, but was always ready to extend a hand. His tireless work, his positive outlook, and his concern for everyone who is part of this movement made him a hero. Hundreds of thousand of Americans, living tonight in modest apartments instead of on the streets and in shelters, testify to the strength of his legacy. His legacy will inspire us, in memory, to never quit.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the Melville family, and to all who will feel a gap in our lives and our work at the loss. We will all do our best to live by his example and fill that gap.
For more information about Bob Hohler, please see the obituary in the Connecticut Mirror.
Photo courtesy of the Melville Charitable Trust.
I love this report. I started reading it last year and while the prospects never look good, the report is a wealth of information about the housing landscape as it affects all kinds of people.
This year was no different.
In good news, the rental market is growing rapidly. Some renters are waiting for the housing market to settle down before buying and some owners, having suffered the effects of the housing market over the last few hours, have come back into the rental market.
Housing vacancy rates are holding fairly steady (partly because of the number of previously-owned houses that have entered the rental market) but rents appear to be on the rise. Increases vary from market to market; JCHS reports that “in traditionally tight markets such as New York, San Jose, and Washington, DC, nominal rents climbed by more than 5 percent in 2010. In contrast, the average increase was just 1.7 percent in the West and 2.5 percent in the South.”
This is troubling news when contextualized by the fact that the supply of affordable housing is ever eroding. 12 percent of the low-cost rentals that existed in 1999 were gone by 2009, according to JCHS, meaning that one affordable and available unit existed for every 2.9 low-income renters in need of such a unit.
This leaves too many low-income households housing cost burdened. As we showed in the State of Homelessness in America, severe housing cost burden is one risk factor of homelessness and today’s report shows that well over one-third of US households is cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. An unprecedented 19.4 million are severely housing cost burdened – spending more than half of their monthly income on rent. The report notes that the latter number climbed by 725,000 in 2009 alone.
The problem is manifold but two contributors stick out:
- Real incomes (also highlighted in SOH), have declined people in the bottom income quartile, and
- The supply of affordable, available rental housing units is diminishing.
I’m sure it goes without saying that people most vulnerable – including low-income families with children and minority communities – are hit hardest. The recession has turned many low-income families from two-income to one-income households and their situation is aggravated by the need to find safe, child-friendly, near-public school rental units. Inner city neighborhoods, often home to immigrant and racially diverse communities, have suffered hardest from the effects of the housing crisis.
Among the most notable things I noticed in this report was the overt mention of homelessness; the report referenced a finding in the last Annual Homeless Assessment report (authored by HUD): “although the incidence of chronic homelessness fell, the number of families with children that used homeless shelters at least once increased …from 2007 to 2009…”
Moreover, the outlook for federal assistance seemed as grim as some of the findings. Citing the economic and political climates, the report suggested that little could be expected in terms of federal assistance, even as need – especially among low-income families – continues to mount.
Which doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. As the Alliance has long proclaimed, access to affordable housing is the key in ending homelessness. If people can acquire housing they can afford, they can end their homelessness. By making this problem – and this clear solution – a national priority, we can end homelessness.
We started the week with Memorial Day, honoring the men and women who sacrifice so much service to our country. Our own Corey Frost – Alliance policy intern and West Point student – wrote his thoughts on veteran homelessness on the blog for Memorial Day, check it out.
The issue of LGBTQ homeless youth is still hot in the news. Our thanks to Huffington Post reporter Jason Cherkis who wrote a comprehensive article on the issue, including information about the federal response to LGBTQ youth homelessness, city and state reform efforts, and foster care. For more information about LGBTQ youth homelessness, check out our website.
The impact of natural disasters on homelessness is also still popping up. We noticed new information in the Times-Picayune just this morning about new homeless numbers coming out of New Orleans and we also read about tornados in Minneapolis in the Star-Tribune. We wrote about the relationship between natural disasters and increased homelessness on the blog last week; let us know if your own communities are affected.
A little economics to round out the week: yesterday, there was a piece from the Associated Press about unemployment numbers positing that weary job seekers who have given up the search are shifting the data to suggest that unemployment is down. We examined unemployment and its relationship to homelessness in our first State of Homelessness report; a dwindling labor force and persistent joblessness is something we’ll be keeping an eye on for the next one.
And on a final note, today we bid farewell to M William Sermons, director of the Homelessness Research Institute and a guiding force behind this blog, our Twitter account, the Facebook page, and all ways we now talk to you online. He’s been a tremendous leader, colleague, and friend and while we wish him the best moving forward, his presence at the Alliance will be sorely missed.