Archive for August, 2011

16th August
written by Kim Walker

Today’s guest post is written by Alliance Capacity Building Associate Kim Walker.

Hi all!

We’ve been moving forward with our development of “front door” materials (have you visited our Front Door Strategies page?), and this week we’re unveiling our new brief on shelter diversion!

What’s diversion, you ask, and why do we care? Glad you asked.

  1. Diversion is defined by the point at which intervention occurs and the type of assistance a household is seeking. At the Alliance, we say that in order for the intervention to be diversion, the household being served must be coming to the homeless assistance system specifically seeking shelter.  Target households for diversion believe they have need somewhere to stay that night.
  2. Diversion reduces homelessness. Shelter diversion works by helping individuals and families seeking shelter find alternative housing options (such as staying with friends or family members).  Diverting households, then, means fewer households will be entering homelessness.  Reducing entries into homelessness is one of the stated goals of the HEARTH Act.  Diverting households from shelter also can reduce the stress and disruption that shelter entry may cause in a household’s daily life. [CA1]
  3. Diversion conserves resources. By finding other housing options for some households, communities can ensure that shelter beds are reserved for those households that literally have nowhere else to go.  Successful diversion, therefore, can ease the demand for shelter beds and reduce the need for overflow shelters and hotel/motel rooms.
  4. It’s not for everyone, but everyone should be assessed for it. Everyone coming to the homeless assistance system should be assessed for diversion eligibility. However, communities should not hesitate to admit people to shelter if they are ineligible to be diverted. Additionally, in situations where a household’s safety may be compromised by being diverted (e.g., the family is fleeing domestic violence and their abuser may be able to locate them if they stay with known family or friends), they should be sent to the safest possible program that can meet their needs.
  5. Service coordination is crucial. Having services available that do not require shelter entry is key to making diversion work. Providing case management at the intake center or where the household is currently living that provides crisis stabilization as well as connection to mainstream resources is just one way communities can make this happen.
  6. The ultimate goal is a return to permanent housing. Although diversion includes a temporary stay somewhere, ultimately the intervention is about getting people back into permanent housing. Therefore, traditional rapid re-housing activities such as housing location and the provision of short-term subsidies or financial assistance are important pieces of a successful diversion program.

We hope you’ll check out the paper to learn more about this approach. As always, I encourage you to connect with me or any of us at Capacity Building if you have any other questions or thoughts!

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15th August
written by Catherine An

This morning, I got a call from a reporter curious about cost studies.

Which got me thinking about chronic homelessness.

It’s one of the things I learned quickly at the Alliance: permanent supportive housing ends chronic homelessness. Permanent supportive housing provides housing stability (permanent housing) + supportive services (medical, mental, physical, etc.) to homeless people with the highest needs who are often struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, and/or physical issues.

In the last decade or so, we’ve implemented permanent supportive housing across the country and measurably reduced chronic homelessness in the United States. Chronic homelessness was the focus of many of the first community Ten Year Plans. The federal strategic plan to end homelessness, Opening Doors, aims to end chronic homelessness in five years.

And the outcomes are reflective of the effort: from 2005 to 2008, chronic homelessness in the country decreased approximately 28 percent.

While the cost of incarceration, institutionalization, hospitalization, etc. vary from state to state, many cost studies have found  that providing chronically homeless people permanent supportive housing is more cost-effective than incarcerating, institutionalizing, hospitalizing, etc. them.

Below is a smattering of some cost studies:

  • Seattle, WA (2009)
    • A Housing First facility in Seattle, WA served chronically homeless people with severe alcohol problems who had previously incurred multiple and expensive mental health care and medical costs.
    • Housing First participants had median costs of $4,066 per person per month. Median monthly costs decreased to $1,492 and $958 after 6 and 12 months in housing, respectively. The total cost rate reduction was 53 percent for housed participants relative to wait-list controls over the first 6 months. The total cost offsets for Housing First participants relative to controls averaged $2,449 per person per month after accounting for housing program costs.
  • Los Angeles, CA (2009)
    • This study examined four people with substance abuse, physical health, mental health, and criminal justice issues.
    • The study found that the the total cost of public services spent on [four individuals] over two years on the streets was $187,288.
    • The study also found that the total cost of public services for these four individuals living in permanent housing with support services for two years was $107,032.
  • Portland, ME (2009)
    • This project provided an opportunity to review the current permanent supportive housing options in Maine as well as to examine the cost of permanent supportive housing as compared to the cost of a life lived in homelessness.
    • Urban Maine (greater Portland)
      • 50% reduction in Service costs during the second year of permanent supportive housing;
      • 46% reduction in Health Care costs representing a $264,046 decrease in health costs;
      • Permanent supportive housing placements continued to reduce costs in the following areas: emergency room by 49%, incarceration by 87%, ambulance transportations by 53%, and police contacts by 51%.
    • Rural Maine
      • 37% reduction in service costs by providing continued permanent supportive housing to people with disabilities experiencing homelessness in rural areas;
      • 54% reduction in Mental Health costs representing a $389,977 decrease in mental health costs;
      • Permanent supportive housing placements continued to reduce costs in the following areas: emergency room by 15%, incarceration by 91% and ambulance transportations by 16%.

Permanent supportive housing is ending chronic homelessness. By providing the most high-need homeless people with housing stability coupled with the supportive services they need, we can not only end homelessness for those individuals but relieve some of the financial burden on the municipalities serving them.

We can end chronic homelessness by committing to this effective strategy. To find out more and how to get involved, please visit the Alliance website and sign up to advocate.

12th August
written by naehblog

In lieu of the usual Friday News Roundup, today we’re celebrating Alliance news of our own. Policy intern Sam Storey leaves his Alliance internship to return to Stanford. Today, he writes about what he learned during his time here.

Alas, after two exhilarating and truly unforgettable months at the Alliance, my internship has sadly come to an end.

As my parting gift, I give you a list of the 10 things I have learned at the Alliance during my short (yet fulfilling) time here:

  1. Numbers matter. Without knowing the extent of a problem, what demographic is most affected, and where the affected reside, it is nearly impossible to implement effective policy and provide adequate services. That’s why high quality data and research are keys in developing solutions.

  2. Families play an integral role in protecting children from homelessness, and we must better incorporate them into our efforts to get youth off the streets. Family reunification – in addition to rapid re-housing and other interventions for youth – is how we end youth homelessness for good.

  3. Youth policy analyst Andre Wade is the best dressed in the office…or at least he is now that I’m gone.

  4. During these tough economic times, we must work hard to protect our most vulnerable friends and neighbors. We must protect funding for homelessness assistance and prevention programs – especially those programs that have proven to reduce homelessness. Continued advocacy is essential to ensuring that the progress toward ending homelessness continues.

  5. Assistant to the President Kate Seif is really good at doing crossword puzzles. My crossword puzzles, to be exact.

  6. Planning a meeting – let alone a conference of almost 1,500 people – is an exhaustive affair that requires organization, innovation, and patience. The staff at the Alliance does this impressive work year after year to plan the National Conference on Ending Homelessness, which I was proud to be a part of this summer.

  7. The commercial sexual exploitation of youth inexorably intersects with youth homelessness. Service providers and policy advocates can protect victims of sexual exploitation by working to ensure access to the health and housing services they require.

  8. The solution to homelessness is housing. It’s so simple, it’s remarkable. While homelessness often involves a host of other pressing social issues – mental health, veterans affairs, welfare, poverty – the solution to homelessness couldn’t be simpler. The faster you can house a homeless person, the faster you can end their homelessness.

  9. Homelessness among LGBTQ youth in America is a serious and problem – and we’re working on learning more about it. So far, we know that one contributing factor is family rejection, which LGBTQ youth tend to face more often than their non-LGBTQ peers. If we ever hope to end LGBTQ youth homelessness, we need to focus on preserving families.

  10. The homeless assistance community is undoubtedly the most passionate, dedicated, and selfless I have ever met – and I am honored to have been a part of this community and this organization. This summer has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding of my young life.
11th August
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post was written by Alliance federal policy intern Sam Storey.

LGBTQ youth homelessness in New York City has reached worrisome levels; the most recent calculations suggest that 40 percent of the estimated 4,000 homeless youth in NYC today identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

In response to these statistics, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has begun to implement a plan to end LGBTQ youth homelessness for good.

In 2009, Mayor Bloomberg formed the New York City Commission for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Runaway and Homeless Youth.  The Commission – the first of its kind formed by a municipality – is comprised of 24 civic leaders from a diverse group of organizations including representatives from the police department, housing agencies, community leaders, and runaway and homeless youth providers.

The Commission identified building family connections and facilitating safe family reunification as a primary strategy to end LGBTQ youth homelessness. They found that, with assistance, the majority of runaway and homeless youth return to their families and that families play an essential role in preventing serious health risks in the future by showing accepting of their child’s LGBTQ identity.

The Commission therefore established that it is incumbent upon the City to implement pilot family reunification projects. Through testing innovative strategies to build family acceptance and support for LGBTQ youth, the City hopes to prevent and rapidly end the homelessness of LGBTQ youth while helping to build a more accepting and supportive environment for youth to grow.

Three foundations have provided matching funds to support a pilot family intervention project, including The MAC AIDS Fund, Henry van Ameringen Foundation, and New York Community Trust. Green Chimneys and SCO Family of Services both received funding from the grant program and each organization is expected to serve 15 homeless or at-risk LGBTQ youth and their families.

As a part of the pilot program, trained family clinicians from Green Chimneys and SCO Family of Services will provide 12 to 15 sessions of family counseling to families willing to accept services. The organizations’ clinicians and therapists have expertise in working with LGBTQ youth and experience mediating family conflicts.

The organizations are committed to serving youth and families from diverse backgrounds; youth of color are at particularly high risk of homelessness and family rejection. The providers will therefore be trained to use a culturally grounded approach to help families of diverse ethnicity, social and religious backgrounds decrease their rejecting behavior and increase support for their LGBTQ children.

We at the Alliance commend New York City for taking such direct and actionable steps toward ending LGBTQ youth homelessness and encourage service providers elsewhere to take note of this plan.

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10th August
written by naehblog

Today, we’re running a repeat of an oldie but a goodie. In this slow summer month, we take a moment to revisit (like we did with “Nan’s post) a fundamental question in our field: why Housing First?

First we ask: What is Housing First?

Housing First is a concept that was pioneered by Dr. Sam Tsemberis of the NYU School of Medicine and an organization in New York called Pathways to Housing.

The premise of the Housing First campaign is the housing is a basic human right and should not be denied to anyone, regardless of their habits or circumstances. Housing First prescribes providing the homeless permanent supportive housing – which includes supportive services coupled with permanent housing (not shelter). The supportive services address addiction, mental health, case management and the like, and provides stability for homeless individuals. These services increase the ability of homeless individuals to maintain permanent housing and achieve self-sufficiency.

It’s important to note that this approach is a significant departure from the traditional way the country approached homelessness before. In the old system, homelessness management was emphasized through shelter, mental health services, medical services, and the like before permanent housing was even considered an option. The premise of this old program was that homeless people had to “earn” permanent housing – an unintentionally patronizing framework. Housing First, as the name suggests, emphasizes housing first, coupled with services, bypassing shelter altogether.

Why Housing First?

Put simply: it works. Studies have shown that those communities who implement Housing First strategies have successfully helped people achieve self-sufficiency and get out of homelessness.

In May of this month, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story about some of the successes the Housing First model has seen in the last few years:

“To cite two: 85 percent of formerly homeless adults have maintained a permanent home after five years in the organization Beyond Shelter’s housing-first program in Los Angeles. And in Pathways to Housing’s program for formerly homeless people with psychiatric disabilities in New York City, 88 percent have been able to maintain a permanent home, compared with only 47 percent of the residents in the city’s traditional program.”

In fact, between 2005 and 2007, the nation saw a nearly 30 percent decrease in the chronic homelessness population, much of which has been attributed to the Housing First approach.

Not only does it work, but it’s cost-effective for the chronically homeless population. While people tend to shy away from the Housing First model over claims of high overhead costs, it turns out to be much more cost-efficient in the long run that temporary shelter.

Consider the cost of the average chronically homeless person in an urban area – say, New York City. Between accessing government services, emergency care at hospitals, run-ins with law enforcement, incarceration, and the like – the cost of an average chronically homeless to the state is quite high. Higher, it turns out, than permanent supportive housing – which would not only provide the chronically homeless person the services he/she needs to better their well-being, but remove them from the streets altogether and place them in stable housing.

(I’ve cited this story before, but Malcolm Gladwell, of Blink, Tipping Point, and Outliers fame, wrote a story demonstrating just that called “Million Dollar Murray”.)

Housing First is a definitive, effective, and significant step for a systemic change in the way we approach homelessness – one that has been embraced by advocates and elected officials alike.

And that’s why Housing First.

For more about the Alliance’s take on Housing First – check out our website.

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9th August
written by Catherine An

Today’s guest post is written by Alliance senior policy analyst and resident healthcare expert Lisa Stand.

Kaiser Health News recently reported: “The administration of [Kansas] Gov. Sam Brownback continues to solicit ideas from the public on how to reform the Medicaid program. … The Medicaid Reform Working Group, as the task force is called, is looking for ways to cut $200 million or more in state Medicaid spending in time for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, 2012.”

My first reaction was: Oh no, FY2013, already?! And Medicaid is on the chopping block in states, again, so soon?

But my second thought was more action-oriented. So states are looking for ways to save health care dollars … do they know that permanent supportive housing (PSH) does just that? Do state leaders understand that expensive hospital costs are reduced when the most vulnerable homeless people are housed and given access to the services they need – like medical treatment, behavioral health recovery, and long-term community supports?

This seems well enough understood in communities working to end homelessness – thanks to advocates and researchers who have done the studies and shared the results. And of course everyone wants to see scarce dollars used in the most effective ways when people need help living and thriving independently. But state Medicaid leaders might not be aware how much effective PSH is in their fiscal interest, even though Medicaid does not pay for housing.

Here is an opportunity, in one state, where homelessness advocates can reach out to a key decision-maker with important information about health care. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment even has a website with a simple form, ready to take consumer suggestions. And, no doubt, with budgeting for Fiscal Year 2013 coming around already, such opportunities in exist in other states.

You can check out the best way to contact your state healthcare leaders by looking on a few state government websites –  for instance, the sites for the Governor, Medicaid director, and the chief budget officer.

The Alliance has a one-page briefing paper that lines up the advocacy with the facts about PSH and healthcare costs – written for a health policy audience. This can help you craft your message, and you can attach it to correspondence if you think it would help your state leaders make decisions about services in PSH. Keep your state legislators in the loop, too. They will appreciate the information when they have to vote on tough budget proposals.

For more information about how Medicaid can play a role in ending chronic homelessness, visit the Alliance website or contact us at

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8th August
written by Catherine An

Today’s guest post is written by Alliance policy intern Rricha Mathur.

Last Thursday, I attended a conference at the U.S. Capitol that focused on the commercial sexual trafficking of children in the United States and abroad. Sex trafficking is one of the less talked about domestic issues because people perceive it to be a largely international problem; in actuality, sex trafficking happens right here to our own citizens. Moreover, sex trafficking is severely underreported because victims often feel ashamed and/or are unaware of the resources available to them.

According to estimates, there are 100,000 children trafficked in the United States each year. Of these, many are runaway and homeless youth who fall prey to pimps in their desperate search for food, shelter, and stability.

The conference was sponsored by Children Uniting Nations in conjunction with several prominent members of Congress, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Mary Landrieu, and Congressmembers Karen Bass, Xavier Becerra, Ed Markey, Loretta Sanchez, Joseph Crowley, and Brad Sherman. There were also several panelists representing national organizations committed to combating sex trafficking of children including Shared Hope International, ECPAT-USA, and Fair Fund. All of the experts representing these organizations spoke of a need to fix the child welfare systems that can put children in situations that make them vulnerable to sex trafficking.

The message was clear: There is a lot of work to be done  to bring visibility to the issue and create solutions to the problem.

One of the greatest challenges we face presently is the lack of information about this population. There are few definitive studies that illustrate the scope of the problem and, specifically, the number of young people who are victimized. By investing in research and data, we can better understand the problem and find specific, effective solutions.

Another component of any solution is prevention. Panelists discussed the foster care system and youth homelessness citing the relationship between failed social programs and youth homeless to the increased risk of being a victim of sex trafficking. By creating strong transitional supports for youth aging out of foster care and investing in solutions to youth homelessness, we can reduce the number of young people vulnerable to sex trafficking in the first place.

And finally, we can work on creating positive public policy. Right now, we can call upon Congress to reauthorize the Trafficking and Victim Protection Act and pass the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act. These two pieces of legislation provide resources for victims of exploitation. They also deem a minor engaged in the sex industry a victim and not a criminal offender. Making progress on these two piece of legislation will be an important step forward in ending sex trafficking among minors.

Here at the Alliance, we know that homeless youth are at increased risk of sex trafficking – as well as other kinds of violence, abuse, exploitation, and even death. We’ll be keeping an eye on these topics and others as they pertain to youth homelessness. For more information on youth homelessness, please visit our website.

5th August
written by Anna Blasco

This week, the Examiner reported that Washington, DC is falling far behind its goals of creating more affordable housing. The Huffington Post found that the working poor in Texas are increasingly unable to afford the rising costs of housing. The Center for American Progress examined the racial disparity of children in the foster care system as a result of targeting poor families. And more than a few homelessness and housing organization rung their hands over the debt ceiling deal.

On top of all that, Washingtonians were greated by this graph on the front page of the Washington Post this morning as they walked to work, like I did:

There are some weeks when gathering the news for this roundup can be a discouraging task. This was one of those weeks.

To counter my glum feelings, I have to remind myself that all is not lost, and we still can make a difference in light of economic depression and uncertainty. Here at the Alliance, we tried to make sense of what impact the debt deal and looming state and local budget cuts would have on homelessness. We asked our advocates across the country to set up meetings and site visits with their Members of Congress while they are on recess.

How are you trying to make a difference? Do you donate? Advocate?

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4th August
written by Catherine An

Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, penned this piece on Housing First for FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless) which is an umbrella of not-for-profit organisations which participate in or contribute to the fight against homelessness in Europe.

What Is Housing First?

Housing First is an approach that is built on the principle that a short experience of homelessness and rapid stabilization in housing are best for homeless people and most effective in ending homelessness.  Housing First places homeless people in housing quickly and then provides or links them to services as needed, rather than the more customary approach of services first, then housing. While not assuming that housing is sufficient to solve all the problems that people have, Housing First does assume that housing is a necessary platform for success in services, education, employment, and health:  in short for achieving personal and family well-being. It also has the benefit of being consumer-driven: housing is what homeless people want and seek.

The Housing First approach focuses on a few critical elements.

  • There is a focus on helping individuals and families access housing as quickly as possible and the housing is not time-limited (it is not shelter, transitional housing, etc.).
  • While some crisis resolution and housing search services might be delivered in the process of obtaining housing, core services to promote well-being and housing stability (treatment, education, child development, etc.) are primarily delivered following housing placement.
  • The nature and duration of services depend upon individual need and services are voluntary.
  • Housing is not contingent on compliance with services; however consumers must typically comply with standard requirements of tenancy (paying the rent, etc.).

Housing First has most often been used to describe an approach for assisting homeless people with serious mental health and substance abuse disorders.  In this context it has been contrasted with a “housing readiness” approach in which people are required to achieve sobriety or treatment compliance as a pre-condition of receiving housing.  However, the principle of Housing First is also applicable to people with less significant or more temporary problems, such as families or individuals who are homeless for economic reasons.  Typically such people are temporarily housed in shelters or transitional housing, often at relatively high cost and for relatively long periods of time (up to two years), while they receive services that will make them “ready” for housing.  However, an increased focus on housing placement, even with relatively small amounts of housing subsidy and linkage to community-based services, is a more effective strategy with a lower cost for this population as well.

What Does a Housing First Approach Entail?

While there is a wide variety of program models, Housing First programs or systems typically include the following activities.

Assessment and Targeting

Individuals and families receive an in-depth, up-front assessment before being referred to or receiving services from a Housing First provider. This allows providers to ascertain both the needs of the consumer, and whether the available program(s) can meet those needs.   The level of assistance programs are able to provide most often shapes who a community can target for Housing First services.

Evidence indicates Housing First is appropriate for most, if not all, homeless people. The combination of housing linked to services can help a wide variety of people exit homelessness more rapidly. This is supported by research that demonstrates that most formerly homeless families, including those with significant challenges, will retain housing with the provision of a long-term housing subsidy. It is also supported by evaluations of Housing First interventions with chronically homeless individuals, which have found that many who have remained outside of housing for years can retain housing with a subsidy and provision of wraparound supports. Finally, it is supported by emerging research that lower-need individuals and families who become homeless can exit homelessness rapidly and avoid repeat episodes with even small amounts of housing subsidy and linkage to community services.

Permanent Housing

There is substantial variation in how Housing First providers meet the housing needs of the individuals and families they serve.

  • Some Housing First programs provide only minimal financial assistance, such as assistance with security deposits and application fees. Other programs are able to provide or access longer term or permanent housing subsidy.
  • Some Housing First programs rely solely on apartments in the private rental market. Others master-lease apartments that they then sub-let to program participants, or purchase or develop housing themselves for sub-lease to participants.
  • There are models in which the Housing First program is the legal lease holder for some initial period of time in which the individual or family is involved with the program.  When program services end, the tenant takes over the lease.  In other program models, the family or individual holds a lease with a public or private landlord from the onset.

To get people housed, Housing First programs have to help people overcome barriers to accessing permanent housing. This includes helping them to resolve outstanding credit issues, address poor tenant histories, collect needed paperwork, etc.  It also involves actively helping them identify housing by reaching out to landlords, housing management companies, public housing authorities, civic organizations, and religious congregations.

To gain access to scarce housing units, Housing First programs must be responsive to the concerns of landlords, housing operators, and developers. Strategies include giving landlords 24/7 access to program staff to address tenant problems; provision of enhanced security deposits; and commitment to quickly re-locate tenants who are in violation of the lease.  Some landlords end up prioritizing Housing First tenants because of the financial and administrative benefit they realize from the partnership with Housing First organizations.

All Housing First providers focus on helping individuals and families move into permanent housing as quickly as possible, based on the premise that social service needs can best be addressed after they move in to their new home.

Low, Moderate or High Intensity Supportive Services

The services provided to Housing First participants vary according to need.  Sometimes Housing First programs assist only with crisis intervention and re-housing, and then link the new tenants to services in the community.  On the other end of the spectrum, those tenants with more intensive and chronic problems may require long-term, housing-based services.  The goal is to provide just enough services to ensure successful tenancy and promote the economic and social well-being of individuals and families. The capacity of programs to provide supportive services following a housing placement is largely determined by, and determines, who is targeted for Housing First services.

Outcome Measures

Determining the effectiveness of Housing First programs relies on capturing outcome data. Among the primary outcomes that should be assessed in a Housing First program are individual or family housing outcomes. How rapidly are families being re-housed? Are individuals and families remaining housed? Do families or individuals re-enter shelter?

Programs may want to capture outcomes on family or individual well-being. Programs serving families may include employment and earning outcomes and school performance of children. Programs serving chronically homeless individuals might examine increases or decreases in hospital stays, involvement with law enforcement, or engagement in employment.  Cost reduction can also be an important metric.

It is also critical to examine the impact of Housing First in reducing overall homelessness in the community or city.  This can be done through regular counts of homeless people.  Another possible metric is to assess whether the average length of a homelessness episode is being reduced.

Moving Forward

A growing body of research documents the effectiveness of the Housing First approach when used in working with homeless people who have serious behavioral health and other disabilities. This research indicates that the approach is effective both at placing and retaining people in permanent housing and at reducing the costs associated with these individuals within the health care and judicial systems.

Housing First also works for people with less intensive needs.  Recent research in the United States demonstrated the high cost of shelter and transitional housing stays for homeless individuals and families, especially relative to the cost of housing.  A significant recent U.S. investment in Rapid Re-Housing[1] (a variation on Housing First that does not typically include long term rent subsidy but rather short term infusions to quickly return households to housing) will provide much more information on the efficacy and cost of this intervention for a wider group of homeless people.  The Housing First approach, across all populations and categories of need, is clearly having an influence, and communities across the United States are beginning to re-engineer their homeless and mainstream systems to focus on the promotion of housing stability.

Moving forward, we continue to embrace the Housing First approach as one that will help us end homelessness much more rapidly for individuals, families and the nation.

[1] $1.5 billion over three years for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.

Image courtesy of aechempati, C.P.Storm

3rd August
written by Catherine An

Today’s guest post was written by Alliance Vice President for Programs and Policy Steve Berg.

Many of us – especially people outside the beltway – are asking ourselves, “What just happened?”

People who follow what goes on in Washington, D.C. have been watching an ugly debate over federal spending, taxation, and borrowing. On the news, it’s been commonly referred to as the “debt ceiling” debate.  For now, that debate is over, to be resumed at a later date.

There are plenty of people commenting on who got the better of whom; today I’ll try to cover what the “debt deal” could mean for homelessness.

First, a quick summary of the debt deal. It cuts federal spending in two ways:

  • First, it sets maximum levels for discretionary spending (spending that is set each year through the appropriations process, including virtually all targeted spending for homelessness programs) for the next 10 years.  The impact of the debt deal comes mostly in the later years.  For the 2012 fiscal year that begins in October 2011, discretionary spending is set at $1.043 trillion, $7 billion less than FY 2011 funding levels and $98 billion less than the Obama Administration’s budget request for FY 2012.
  • Second, the debt deal cuts spending through additional across-the-board reductions to most domestic and defense programs, this time including not only discretionary spending but also some entitlements like Medicare.  These will begin in 2013, with the total cuts over ten years to be $1.2 trillion.  Some programs for low-income people (Medicaid, for example) would be exempt from the automatic cuts, but others, like Section 8, would not be exempt, which could mean that thousands of families lose their housing.  Instead of allowing these cuts, Congress can pass a bill proposed by a “super-committee,” reducing federal debt by at least $1.2 trillion through some combination of spending cuts and revenue increases. But the super-committee has to do that by the end of the 2011 calendar year.

So how will this affect homelessness?  No decisions have been made on the details, but there are two ways this deal could have an impact.

First is the impact of the maximum levels set for discretionary funding. This could impact funding for targeted homelessness programs, especially the Emergency Solutions Grants and Continuum of Care run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  In his original budget for 2012, tthe President proposed an increase of $471 million for HUD’s homeless assistance to implement the HEARTH Act, as well as 10,000 new HUD-VASH vouchers, and 7,500 targeted rent vouchers for the Housing and Services for Homeless Persons demonstration.  In light of the high rate of joblessness and the struggling economy, all those new resources are desperately needed for homeless and at-risk people. But now we know that overall discretionary spending for FY 2012 will be nearly $100 billion less than what the President’s budget proposed which could jeopardize the creation of these new resources.

Secondly, the work of the “super-committee,” carried out under intense time pressure, creates many dangers in the long run.  While entitlement programs for low-income people are exempt from the automatic cuts that take place if the super-committee does nothing, they are not exempt from a super-committee proposal.  Roll-backs in Medicaid or TANF, for example, may be tempting for the members of the “super-committee” when they’re overwhelmed with the task of finding cuts to the federal budget. But we know that such cuts would be devastating for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and rely on federal programs.

In this context, protecting federal homelessness programs will require a lot of work.   And the work will only get harder in succeeding years.

Fortunately, the effectiveness of these programs, the vulnerability of homeless people, and the bipartisan history of the work provide a strong case, but the case has to be made.  Increased funding remains eminently doable, but only if people in Congress know that it is important back home.

That’s where you come in. The Alliance’s grassroots efforts have always proved effective. The Alliance works to connect passionate citizens with their Members of Congress so that lawmakers can hear, first-hand, the needs and concerns of their constituents. This is the most effective way that we, as everyday people, can best affect policy change.

To find out what you can do to protect homeless assistance programs, please contact us. You can learn more by visiting our website.

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