Archive for September, 2011
Before we dive into the news of the week, I thought it might be helpful to do a quick refresher on the homelessness stats as we know them right now. (Because it never hurts to go over the facts.)
According to the last available Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, released in June of this year and reflecting 2010 data, there are:
- 649,917 people experiencing homelessness on any given night (up 1 percent since the year prior),
- 407,966 of those people are individuals; 241,951 of them are people in families,
- 109,812 of those people are experiencing chronic homelessness; 246,974 of those people are unsheltered.
Yesterday (on to the news portion of this post), the Alliance released a brief based on Census poverty data projecting that an additional 74,000 people would experience homelessness as a result of the rise in deep poverty and the impact of the recession. This rise would constitute a significant, five percent increase in the homeless population. Our thanks to both Mother Jones and the Chicago Reporter for covering this important news.
Poverty, it comes as no surprise, is associated to homelessness. As people have fewer and fewer resources, their housing stability often becomes jeopardized. As USA Today reported this week – and as we’ve discussed before – the number of people experiencing poverty is at historic levels leaving more and more people vulnerable to financial challenges – including homelessness. (Doesn’t help that, despite the people suggest about a softening housing market, affordable housing still eludes many).
The Washington Post reported that despite an extension to TANF that passed the Senate fairly unnoticed last week, the social safety net that protects our lowest-income and most vulnerable friends and neighbors is fraying dramatically. And if Congress and the supercommittee are unable to come together on the federal budget, the consequences could be dire.
But we can help each other. We can work to ensure that federal programs that benefit the vulnerable and poor are protected, even in this fraught political climate. If you’re interested in learning more about federal policy and advocating for homeless assistance programs, let us know! You can email us or check out the website to learn more.
Today’s post comes to us from Sam Strike, Alliance policy fellow.
Last month, Congress passed major deficit reduction legislation. Known as the Budget Control Act of 2011, this legislation created what they called a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—more commonly referred to as the “Super-Committee.” This Committee is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction, which could have a huge impact on ending homelessness. So it is vital to the homeless assistance community to ensure that these cuts don’t hurt our nation’s most vulnerable people.
Rather, the Super-Committee can continue the federal government’s long-standing, bipartisan commitment to ending homelessness by:
- Preventing further cuts in discretionary spending for affordable housing and targeted homelessness programs;
- Protecting Medicaid access to help reach the federal government’s long-standing goal of ending chronic homelessness; and
- Preserving low-income, safety net programs through a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
Members of Congress should be aware that slashing the budgets of programs working to end homelessness would be counter-productive. Stable housing helps people get back on their feet more quickly – avoiding the slog of extended stays in publically-funded shelters and social service programs. If these housing-centered programs are cut from the federal budget, the burden will just be shifted to state and local governments who will foot the bill of providing emergency shelters, local social service programs, mental health facilities, and emergency room visits by people who cannot afford them. The best way to end homelessness is to provide housing first. It’s the housing that will serve as the foundation necessary to promote self-sufficiency and independence.
We must make sure that those members of the Super-Committee understand the following, as they continue their work on deficit reduction:
- Homeless assistance programs are a very small part of the federal budget and are critical to the many Americans struggling to find affordable housing;
- Targeted homelessness assistance programs help people stabilize in housing, gain independence, re-enter the workforce, and create more opportunities for their children; and
- Key safety net programs like TANF and SSI provide income, employment, and other supports to low-income people, play a key role in efforts to prevent and end homelessness for the most vulnerable Americans.
So what can you do?
The Alliance has developed a policy brief providing recommendations to the Super-Committee and outlining the impact on homelessness should the Super-Committee process fail to produce the necessary savings. If your Member sits on the Super-Committee, call their office to request that he/she continues to support the federal government’s commitment to ending homelessness. Use the Alliance’s talking points or email Kate Seif if you have any questions.
The Super-Committee has until November 23 to release its proposal, and Congress must vote on the proposal by December 23. Now is the time to impact these decisions. Now is the time to act.
As it turns out, increases in the number of people living in poverty (and other effects of the poor economy) may lead to a five percent increase in homelessness over the next three years. This increase totals approximately 74,000 additional homeless people.
The Alliance just penned a short report about this projection (which you can find on our website). The report projects increases from a current baseline estimate of 1.6 million homeless people (estimate courtesy of the AHAR) and takes into account increases in deep poverty, which is defined as people with household incomes below half of the poverty line and considered a risk factor for homelessness. According to the Census, deep poverty affected an unprecedented 20.5 million people in 2010. Nationally, 6.7 percent of people live in deep poverty.
What does this mean? And what can we do?
It means that, without intervention, another 74,000 people will experience homelessness. And in fact, as we explain in the report, that may be a conservative estimate. The economy has been hard on everyone but it’s been especially hard on poor people, are facing stagnant unemployment, declining incomes, and rising severe housing cost burdens (which is when you spend 50 percent or more of your monthly income on rent).
But what about those interventions? These projections are made at a time funding for programs that prevent and end homelessness may face significant cuts at the state, local, and federal levels, leaving many without any public resources to weather their economic turmoil.
But we can make another choice. As the Alliance recommends in the report, we can choose to reinvest in housing-focused homeless assistance programs to deter a growth in homelessness.
We’ve done it before – and successfully. In 2009, the Alliance projected that homelessness would increase significantly due to the recession. That increase was mitigated by the stimulus funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). In fact, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HPRP has prevented and ended homelessness for one million Americans.
And now, as the effects of the down economy persist, we can do it again. We can take the steps necessary to prevent the projected increases in homelessness and assist vulnerable people back into stable housing. But we need to choose to make ending homelessness a national priority.
The question is – will we?
You can find this publication, Increases in Homelessness on the Horizon, on the Alliance website.
Today’s guest post comes to us from Alliance Director for Capacity Building, Norm Suchar.
I mentioned the webinar on reallocating and repurposing programs a couple days ago. The video and the slides were just posted, and I think there was a lot of great information. Hopefully this will spark more community conversations about how to house more people faster and reduce homelessness. I expect that it will continue to be a big topic at the national level. Here’s a quick summary of the webinar.
Kristy Greenwalt from USICH set the stage by talking about the federal context, a lot of it was good to hear—the HEARTH Act will provide more flexibility and more focus on outcomes and there’s a general shift to system-wide approaches. Some of it was a little gloomy, particularly the part about the federal budget. She also provided a lot of helpful information about how to change programs, including the reallocation process and repurposing grants through contract amendments.
I spoke next and talked about some of the questions you should ask when thinking about changing your program model and how you decide what kind of a program model to change into. I focused on transitional housing programs and those that provide services only, although it’s worth analyzing other programs as well. I also talked about the main options to convert to—emergency housing, permanent supportive housing, and rapid re-housing—and when each of those options makes the most sense.
Heather Lyons from the Corporation for Supportive Housing brought us home by describing some great examples of programs that have transformed, some of them initiated at the project level and some as part of a community-wide transformation process. She also provided a great list of key questions to ask and steps to take.
The community wide examples Heather described included one of my favorite examples, Chicago. They converted almost all of the transitional housing programs to various other program models. It was bold, especially for the time. While the process was certainly difficult, the results were very good, and I think everybody involved now agrees that it was a big and very positive step.
More conversation about retooling is happening at the national level and in many communities, and in many ways, it’s probably the most important conversation to be having. We unfortunately live a tough budgetary climate. It’s unlikely that we’ll have significant new resources for homeless assistance programs, which means we have to look at how we can use the resources we have more effectively. This webinar provided some great information, and there will be more to come.
Today’s guest post comes to us from the Alliance’s new federal policy fellow Sam Strike.
Hi everyone! This is Sam Strike, the new Federal Policy Fellow at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. I will be here for the fall helping the policy team find the best evidence-based policies and using them to end homelessness.
Issues of housing and homelessness first became personal for me when I taught at a middle school summer program in New York City. A couple of the kids I taught were in and out of homes and shelters. It was eye-opening to interact with these smart, fun kids and their great, supportive parents. There was no reason why they should be out on the street.
Then I worked for the housing unit at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. I worked with people who were getting kicked out of their homes and it became clear to me that something was wrong with the system- and that some people were being unfairly treated.
At Legal Services, I was helping people avoid homelessness through HPRP grants and I got to see first-hand how much good a federal policy can do in real people’s lives. Much of the recent national narrative has been focused on reducing the role of the federal government in citizen’s lives – but I was privileged to see how much good government can actually do. If we’re able to turn great ideas into effective, efficient federal programs, we can make a tangible and significant impact on the lives of people most in need of our help. And that’s what I came to the Alliance to learn to do.
Homelessness is a concrete problem that we can study, address, and solve. I want to learn as much as I can while I’m here and contribute to the great work that the people here at the Alliance are doing. If we put together a coherent and well-funded homeless system, we can make sure that everybody has the dignity of a home to call their own. This is a goal that the Alliance is working to achieve with their revolutionary Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, which focuses on prevention, rapid re-housing, and other housing-based solutions.
When I’m not at the Alliance, you’ll find me settling into my own new home in the District! I just graduated from law school at Washington University in St. Louis and moved into the city. I’m originally from Cincinnati (go Reds) and you can find me exploring DC, trying new restaurants, or looking for a good hiking trail.
The Census Bureau released the latest poverty numbers last week, announcing that one in six Americans lived in poverty. Since then, there’s been an onslaught of related articles and local articles about the topic, from Connecticut to New York to Wisconsin to California. And while we may tend to think of poverty as an urban phenomenon, recent news articles suggest that poverty is spreading quickly in suburban areas across the country.
Why do we care? Because most people who experience homelessness were, before they were homeless, really poor. In fact, there is a relationship between the number of people living in deep poverty (living at below half the poverty line) and the number of people who experience homelessness. What that means for us is that the same programs that alleviate poverty for Americans also prevent homelessness. We’ve written before about protecting social services that benefit families at risk of experiencing homelessness like TANF and Medicaid; this is exactly what we were talking about.
Luckily, there are people who are thinking carefully and strategically about poverty. Alliance president Nan Roman was among them when she went to Texas last week to attend the first National Poverty Summit hosted by Catholic Charities. With other leaders in the field, she discussed ways to better serve the too many American people living in poverty.
We’re working on it. We’ll be discussing poverty and its relationship to homelessness – and what we can do about it – in the weeks to come. In the meantime, feel free to contact us with questions or comments or find us on Facebook and/or Twitter.
Last week, Alliance president and CEO Nan Roman attended the first National Poverty Summit in Fort Worth, Texas hosted by Catholic Charities USA. The conference hosted leaders from 10 leading national human service organizations, including Save the Children, the Alliance, and Bread for the World, who engaged in a discussion about pragmatic, strategic, and compassionate ways to reduce poverty.
Since the Census released their report last week, there have been a number of news stories about the increasing number of people struggling to keep themselves clothed, fed, and housed. Only this morning, the New York Times reported that one in five New York City residents live in poverty; the Baltimore Sun said the number is one in four in their city. The Associated Press singled out the young adult population – who face a stagnant job market and the burden of school debt – as a group with a higher risk of poverty.
It goes without saying that there exists a relationship between homelessness and poverty (specifically deep poverty). Most people who experience homelessness were very, very poor before they were lost their housing. As such, programs that alleviate poverty also keep people and families from falling into homelessness.
But such programs are being threatened. With deficit reduction fervor racing through Washington (and much of the country), even effective, efficient government programs that help people move out of poverty and homelessness are at risk of being axed. And there is a flurry of other news articles – from Missouri to Arizona to Illinois – that have documented the potential human cost of denying these critical services to people who need them most.
While austerity is an important virtue, it cannot be achieved by punishing those who are already going without. As Nan Roman remarked at the National Poverty Summit, “We do have a deficit, but we can’t reduce the budget on the backs of vulnerable people. It’s a false savings when we allow so many more people to become homeless and stay poor.”
Anna and I are back!
Hope you enjoyed the guest bloggers/social networkers in our absence. I thought the blog last week was particularly terrific (though I may be biased) – from Elizabeth’s presentation of the Alliance Annual Report, to Norm’s data-rich explanation of Alameda County’s homeless system outcomes, to Lisa’s discussion of how Medicaid can help end chronic homelessness, and Pete’s rundown of the Census poverty numbers. And we were lucky to have fan favorite Steve Berg, Alliance VP of Program and Policy, return to make the case for investing more federal resources in the McKinney-Vento program.
As you can see, we’re lucky to have experts on a wide range of topics – from health care to research to housing. Homelessness is a complex issue, one at which a number of disciplines intersect, and we at the Alliance examine the problem from many, varied perspectives and distill those disparate ideas into efficient, effective solutions to homelessness.
In order to turn our analyses and observations into solutions, we:
Review research: Our resident researcher reads up on homelessness data and research as well as homeless-related indicators and issues, including poverty, deep poverty, housing cost burden, and unemployment. Our research series, including Economy Bytes, Data Points, and other reports crunch the numbers and try to understand what they mean about homelessness.
Improve policy: Not only is our research helpful to our friends, colleagues, and you – this research is also helpful to our policy team. Armed with the latest research and statistics, we explain to lawmakers why it’s important to invest in the policies and programs that prevent and end homelessness. Making the case to invest more money in McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants is much more convincing when paired with data about rising levels of poverty, increased homelessness, and persistent unemployment.
Build capacity: When policies are enacted and approved, there’s work to be done on the field. While the role of federal policy is significant, ending homelessness is ultimately a local task. Our Center for Capacity Building travels directly into cities and towns to conduct clinics and trainings, they create tools to explain best practices and promising strategies, and they explain how to improve systems by collecting and using data.
Today’s post comes to us – once again! – from the Director of the Center for Capacity Building, Norm Suchar.
When the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, one of the key themes was to “Retool the Homeless Crisis Response System.” A retooled homeless crisis response prevents homelessness when possible, and when that’s not possible, provides safe shelter and helps people exit homelessness quickly, primarily through rapid re-housing.
One of the obstacles to achieving this kind of crisis response system is that a lot of the homeless assistance programs do great things, but aren’t really focused on helping people exit homelessness quickly. This is mainly an issue for transitional housing programs, but it affects services programs, shelters, and other programs as well. In a lot of cases, this lack of focus is built into their Continuum of Care grants.
That brings us to this webinar, which will describe how Continuum of Care funded programs can change.
The webinar will cover the reasons for change, different options for changing grants, program model options, and provide examples of how the process has played out in several communities. It will cover both what can be done this year and what communities should be doing to plan for the coming year.
Click here to read more and to register.
In another great blog from the Center for Capacity Building, Norm Suchar shares his discoveries from his recent trip to Columbus, Ohio.
Although Columbus, Ohio gets a lot of attention for their innovative strategies to reduce homelessness, they will be the first to admit that they haven’t figured it all out yet. One of the challenges they’re facing is their single adult shelter system, and they’ve embarked on a process of restructuring that system.
The motivation for the change comes from two sources. One is that the redesign of their family system achieved impressive results. Families who have a housing crisis come to a single location that tries to prevent their homelessness, and if that’s not possible, quickly places them on the path to permanent housing. These changes resulted in a doubling of successful housing placements. For the short period they are homeless, families stay at a very well-run family shelter. Average shelter stays for families were 52 days in 2010, and are dropping, and rates of return to homelessness are very low.
The other motivation for change is the impending loss of funding. In Columbus, HPRP funding was used to help re-housing single adults. With the loss of that funding and other resource constraints, there will be fewer pathways out of homelessness and the number of homeless adults could rise significantly.
To get the change process started, the Community Shelter Board—the organization that coordinates Columbus’s homelessness efforts—organized a change lab with providers, local government officials, business and foundation leaders, and a few national experts (including me). Everyone learned about the issues facing the system and began modeling what a new system would look like.
What were some of the features that people modeled? One was a focus on prevention in mainstream systems. When a person is being served by a mental health, corrections, or similar agency, they could receive a housing stability assessment that would identify who is at risk of homelessness, and then that agency could take steps to mitigate the risk. Coordinated entry was a major theme with suggestions ranging from a virtual point of access to a single point of entry. There was a lot of consensus on the need to have a robust diversion system to help address housing problems without the need to come to shelter. And there were some creative ideas about case management and other services such as creating system navigators and co-locating services in housing resource centers.
Modeling these strategies is just the first step in this process, and the Community Shelter Board and other partners will be pulling together these various ideas into an implementable strategy. I’ll be keeping an eye on their progress and share their experience as the process unfolds.