Archive for September, 2011

16th September
written by Lisa Stand

This post is part of a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert is taking the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today’s post comes from Lisa Stand, Senior Health Policy Analyst.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan recently called Medicaid “our greatest chance to make the biggest difference for the most people to move the needle on all of homelessness.”

Why? Perhaps because Medicaid is getting ready to sign up millions more low-income people. Because of the Affordable Care Act, all uninsured citizens with incomes under $15,000 per year will be eligible for Medicaid starting in 2014. That means vulnerable people who have been experiencing homelessness without access to health care will have one less barrier to housing stability.

And what a big barrier lack of coverage can be! Studies show that chronically homeless people tend to be physically burdened by conditions like cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and untreated injuries. These illnesses often compound mental illness and substance use disorders, which are themselves made worse by homelessness.

Access to health care – including behavioral health care – can make an enormous difference for someone living on the street, or even a person barely hanging on with health-related burdens in subsidized or market housing. The most basic medical benefits pay for physicians, prescription drugs, lab tests, mental health services, and much more. Uninsured poor people who now line up for such services in busy emergency rooms will finally be able to get this treatment in community settings on a regular basis.  For people with very high health care needs, better access to care and improved health status can make permanent supportive housing a more realistic goal, or make losing one’s home less of a threat to begin with.

The Affordable Care Act will definitely help vulnerable homeless individuals who now lack the access to services that health insurance provides. Community-based systems of care will benefit in turn. By one national estimate, Medicaid funding will increase by 27 percent in the first years of the expansion. This means new revenues in every state and every local system now receiving Medicaid funds. Strategic use of these new resources could lead to expanded capacity to solve chronic homelessness.

Of course, there is a long way to go before these promises of health care reform reach the front door of homelessness assistance programs. Federal administrators and state policymakers have yet to define key elements — such as basic benefits – or create programs to guarantee access for the hard-to-find and hard-to-serve.

More worrisome are the recurring moments when the powers-that-be in Washington think about drastic cuts to entitlements like Medicaid. Medicaid already helps millions of low-income people. It is already the foundation of critical safety net systems in every state. Cutting services now will increase vulnerability to homelessness. Delaying the expansion, which is absolutely critical to ending chronic homelessness, would be a serious setback for housing policy as well.

To learn more about Medicaid and homelessness, check out the Alliance’s web resources, and to get involved in our efforts to protect benefits like Medicaid, sign up for the Alliance Advocacy Alerts.

15th September
written by Steve Berg

This post is part of a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert is taking the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today’s post comes from Steve Berg, VP for Programs and Policy.

There appears to be a majority in this country, and certainly a majority in Congress, who believe that the federal government has tried to do too much. As a result, Congress and the Administration have decided to cut federal spending. Funding for most social safety net programs is being held flat or even cut. So, many decisionmakers believe that maintaining the current funding level for homeless assistance programs should be considered a “win.” But keeping these programs at their current level means continuing to tolerate what should be intolerable: homelessness.

Many federal programs make people’s lives better. Federal spending to build highways means an easier commute to work; Medicare ensures that retired people don’t need to spend as much on health insurance, leaving more money for other things. But very few federal programs do what homelessness programs do: find people whose current situation is deeply wrong and dangerous, and move them rapidly into a decent situation.  Homelessness programs are different because, to put it simply, the people they serve are already homeless, and this is unacceptable.

The talk in Washington now when it comes to spending is about making hard choices and prioritizing the federal government’s activities. Doing more to support ending homelessness has all the makings of a priority for policymakers. These key programs:

  • Support people who need help – people who have been hit hardest by the bad economy;
  • Promote interventions that work, bringing solutions to this problem;
  • Encourage leadership that comes from the local level, with the federal government as a partner;
  • Increase cost-effectiveness – no one should believe that leaving homeless people on the street will save taxpayers money; and
  • Have a history of bipartisan support.

Increasing homelessness funding by $300 million would mean that over 200,000 Americans will be housed instead of homeless, filling in for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing programs that are running out of money and funding cost-effective permanent supportive housing.  Not doing that means that they will be homeless. That’s simple, and a priority. The cost is inconsequential compared to the entire federal budget, but lifesaving and immeasurable for the people on the street.

Homelessness has gone on too long. There’s a movement now to end it. The federal government has a role to play, small compared to other areas but vital nonetheless. Congress made a commitment to that movement with the HEARTH Act – new, bipartisan legislation to reform and update HUD’s programs. To make progress in the short run requires investment, although in the long run communities will be more effective and efficient, and spending will be lower. Backing away from that commitment is a mistake, no matter what the state of budget politics might be.

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14th September
written by Norm Suchar

This post is part of a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert is taking the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today’s post comes from Norm Suchar, Director of  Center for  Capacity Building.

I have to confess that I love data and outcomes, and like many people, I think those are vital parts of any strategy to end homelessness. So it’s great to see communities embracing data and outcome measures to help reduce homelessness. One such effort comes from Alameda County, CA. Alameda is home to Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, and a host of other cities. Everyone Home is the organization that leads the effort to end homelessness there, and they’ve recently published their 2010 Progress Report on Ending Homelessness.

The report shows performance on a few key performance measures, like rates of exit to permanent housing, increased income, and rates of return to homelessness. Some of the measures are broken out by provider using anonymous identifiers. Although reports like these take a lot of work, they can paint a very clear picture of what is working in a community and what needs improvement. More importantly, they shift the focus of the system to achieving better outcomes.

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13th September
written by Pete Witte

This post is part of a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert will take the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today’s post comes from Peter Witte, Research Associate at the Alliance.

In unsteady economic times, the release of a data report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage are sure to bring forward predictable news on the poor conditions so many Americans are faced with in today’s economy.

Today, the Census Bureau released its annual report, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010,” and the major findings present data that show that, yes in fact, conditions are worsening.

For example, here are the major findings for each of the three categories examined (income, poverty, and health insurance):

  • Real median household income declined 2.3 percent to $49,445,
  • The official poverty rate increased for the third consecutive year to 15.1 percent, and
  • The rate of health insurance coverage stayed flat, with 16.3 percent of the population lacking coverage.

Perhaps, though, most dire of all the findings: 46.2 million people are in poverty, the highest number recorded in the 50-plus years that poverty numbers have been published. This is the fourth consecutive year that the number of people in poverty has increased. And, as this group of readers knows, at the same time that poverty has increased, so too has homelessness (see the bar charts attached for the numbers).

What’s most disconcerting about the increase in poverty is that homelessness is a lagging indicator. In other words, with the level of real income decreasing, the number of uninsured staying high (nearly 50 million people), and poverty growing, many people who do fall into hard times (a loss of a job or continued unemployment, a huge hospital bill, etc.) will use up all of their few resources just to maintain a roof over their heads. If they lose the roof over their heads, as a last resort people will often go to live with family, friends, or in a hotel. What the lagging indicator means is that there is a real concern that homelessness will continue to increase in the coming years.
But it doesn’t have to.

While the economic times are pushing more and more people into vulnerable positions, we also know that there are policies we should prioritize and solutions we should implement. For example, to name just a couple, we can prioritize McKinney Appropriations so that services are available for families and individuals when needed (in particular, we should ensure that there are enough funds to implement the HEARTH Act). We can also lower costs of health care with strategic use of community resources.

And there is more we can do.

Let’s not let the damper of a news day keep us from fighting the good fight. Let’s keep advocating for what we know works. Let’s keep fighting to end homelessness. Together. Get the word out there that even during these economic times, we can and should prioritize ending homelessness in our communities. Thanks to all of you advocates out there for all you do. Keep looking up!

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12th September
written by Elizabeth Doherty

This post is the first in a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert will take the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today’s post comes from Elizabeth Doherty, the Alliance’s Development Coordinator.

Last week the Alliance released its 2010 Annual Report.  Although, I know, 2010 seems like ages ago now, I would like to take a moment to share just a couple of highlights with you.

In my work (fundraising) the most important parts of the Annual Report are the financials and the donors.  As partners in our efforts to end homelessness, my guess is that you also may be interested in how the Alliance spends its money.

In 2010, the Alliance’s expenses totaled about $2.9 million.  Of those resources, 90 percent went to further the Alliance’s programs to prevent and end homelessness while only 8 percent was spent on administrative costs and a mere 2 percent was spent on fundraising.  We are pretty proud of those numbers!  Want to learn more?  A full statement of activities (and some colorful and informative pie charts) can be found in the Annual Report.

So what kinds of programs did that 90 percent of our budget support?  As I am sure you know, 2010 was a difficult year for those of us working to end homelessness.  In response to the economic challenges, we tried to tailor our activities to respond to the times.

  • Our Program and Policy staff worked with the USICH, the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness and many other partners to improve policy responses to homelessness while also ramping up the national focus on homeless youth and veterans – both solvable problems.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from our President, Nan Roman.  Yes, it was written almost a year ago, but the sentiment rings true today and will continue to do so as we move forward together.

“As its name implies, the Alliance is not only a Board and staff in Washington, DC, but a much bigger movement of people from across the nation who are dedicated to finding ways to prevent and end homelessness.  We look forward to continuing to work together with you, our gifted and innovative partners, to ensure that as the economy recovers we get back on track to solve this problem – so that every American has a place to call home.”

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9th September
written by naehblog

Yesterday, Congress held its first vote on a proposal to fund programs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including homeless assistance programs, for the upcoming fiscal year, FY 2012. This process, called the appropriations process, is one of the most critical times for advocates to get involved and reach out to their Members of Congress to educate them on the important programs funded through this yearly process.

The draft legislation, passed by the House HUD Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday, would provide the same amount of funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants in FY 2012 as in FY 2011. Unfortunately, as many of our readers know, this is disappointing because a significant increase in funding is needed to address the needs of the growing population of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and to implement the HEARTH Act.

However, there was definitely some good news! The legislation would provide $75 million for new vouchers under the joint HUD – Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, as the Alliance had advocated!

The original draft of the legislation, released on Wednesday, removed all funding for the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), which is key to coordinating the federal government’s response to homelessness. Fortunately, the subcommittee adopted an amendment, proposed by Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to provide about $3 million in funding for USICH. It is likely that the Senate will also provide funding for USICH, allowing them to continue their important work implementing the federal strategic plan.

We must let our representatives know that we appreciate the funding for HUD-VASH and ICH but hope they will support a higher funding level for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs in the final FY 2012 legislation. If you are interested in contacting your representatives let us know!

The legislation would also fund a number of other key HUD affordable housing programs by:

  • Protecting existing Section 8 voucher renewals;
  • Maintaining equal funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) compared to FY 2011;
  • Providing $1.2 billion for the HOME Investment Partnership (25 percent cut compared to FY 2011);
  • $600 million for Section 202 Housing for the Elderly ($200 million increase compared to FY 2011); and
  • $196 million for Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities ($46 million increase compared to FY 2011).

There is still a long way to go and many more opportunities to reach out to your Members of Congress; the process is far from over! The Senate has yet to release its own proposal, and then the two chambers must work out a compromise version of the legislation. That is not expected to happen before the start of FY 2012 on October 1, so Congress is likely to pass a stopgap funding measure through late fall to give itself more time to work out final details.

9th September
written by Catherine An

Greetings Alliance friends and supporters!

The week of September 12, we – the usual guards of the Alliance blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts – will be away from the office. But during that time, you will have the great opportunity to hear directly from some of our colleagues.

Each day, a new expert will take the reigns of our online community and share with you their perspectives on the Alliance, our work, and ending homelessness.

Monday, September 12: Elizabeth
Our resident fundraiser will share with you news from our latest Annual Report, how fundraising happens here at the Alliance, and how your hard earned donations make the difference in our program and policy work. If you have questions about the way the Alliance conducts fundraising, nonprofit development news, or have suggestions about online fundraising for the Alliance, make sure to shoot a note to Elizabeth on Facebook or Twitter on Monday!

Tuesday, September 13: Pete
Research associate and fan favorite Pete will share with you the poverty data that the U.S. Census Bureau will release that day and help break down what the data means for low-income and homeless people. It’s no surprise that many poor people are at risk of experiencing homelessness and that poverty is often associated with the highest homelessness risk factors including doubled up housing situations, severe housing cost burden, unemployment and/or low wages, and the like. Got research questions? Tuesday’s the day for them!

Wednesday, September 14: Kim & Norm
Wednesday’s tag team include members of our Capacity Building Team. These are the people who go into communities and work, on the ground, with people doing the hard work of ending homelessness. They take the lessons they learn, distill them into best practice briefs, and share them with other community leaders trying to do the same. If you haven’t seen their work, you should check it out. And don’t hesitate to ask them Twitter/Facebook questions on Wednesday.

Thursday, September 15: Amanda & Kate
Thursday means advocacy day! If you’re looking to get hands-on experience with advocating for homelessness programs and policies, today is your day to engage online. Amanda and Kate, our resident advocacy experts, are geared up and ready to recruit you to be a champion defender of solutions to homelessness. Current advocates, prospective advocate, policy wonks, and everyone interested in making a difference through federal policies (especially in this legislative climate!), take a moment on Thursday to let us know who you are, where you are, and how we can help you become an advocate!

Friday, September 16: Lisa
Remember that stuff a while back about healthcare? Lisa does. The Affordable Care Act is going to expand Medicaid and increase access to health care for very low-income and homeless people. What will this mean for you, your program, and your community? Tune in on Friday and find out.

Signing off for one week,
Cat & Anna

8th September
written by Anna Blasco

Before I get into this Thursday edition of our Friday News Roundup, I wanted to give you a heads up on some major events happening in the next few weeks:

If you subscribe to our Advocacy Alerts you already know that the House Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to vote on its fiscal year (FY) 2012 funding today and the House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee is expected to vote on its FY 2012 funding bill tomorrow. These funding bills can have a big impact on homeless programs. Find out how what you can do here.

Also on the policy side, President Obama is planning to release a proposal for job creation tonight.

Finally, the Census Bureau will release poverty data for 2010 on Tuesday, September 13. Our research associate Pete will be on hand to analyze this information in terms on homelessness. If you are on Twitter, make sure to follow the hash tag #povertydata for analysis (if not, tune in to this blog!).

Now to our News Roundup:

  • Some states are attempting to balance their budgets by cutting benefits and cash assistance programs for already hard hit families.
  • Also from the Times, economists warn we may be headed toward a “double dip” recession.
  • Minnesota Public Radio interviews homeless youth about their struggles to find enough food. In this article an outreach worker discusses barriers service providers inadvertently set up for homeless youth that discourage them from seeking assistance.
  • A new report by Pew Charitable Trusts finds that nearly one in three Americans who grew up middle-class has become downwardly mobile.
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7th September
written by naehblog

Today, we pause to revisit the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Sharon McDonald, Director for Families and Youth at the Alliance, shares her thoughts about welfare.

Last month marked the 15th anniversary of welfare reform.  The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) is often heralded as a success.  With the flexibility of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant, many states provided work supports that helped thousands of families transition off of financial assistance and enter the workforce.

The recent recession, however, highlighted some of the weaknesses of the program.  The program did not adequately respond to the increased needs of families suddenly without work and whose unemployment insurance ran out, leaving them teetering on the edge and on their own.  From its inception, the program has allowed too many families to fall through the cracks and into deeper poverty.  Primary among them are families who experience homelessness.

Less than 20 percent of homeless families report receiving financial assistance from TANF agencies.  Studies demonstrate that families who lose TANF assistance often include family members with a disability and other serious barriers to economic self-sufficiency.  While some families may lose TANF financial assistance, other eligible families may never apply.  With the hope of finding a new job quickly, parents experiencing a short-term economic crisis turn instead to extended families and friends.  Many double up.  When doubling up results in conflict, they turn to homeless programs.

TANF programs can be more effective in preventing homelessness.  States can adopt policies that make it easier for families to apply for and receive financial assistance.  They can work to reduce the number of families who are sanctioned off of cash assistance and who lack the means to care for themselves or their children, particularly families that include parents or children with disabilities.  States can also increase benefit levels and provide emergency assistance so that families who do receive TANF can pay for housing.

TANF programs can also be more effective in ending homelessness.  In communities across the country, local welfare agencies are partnering with programs serving homeless families to rapidly re-house families.  In Salt Lake City, for example, the Department of Workforce Services works closely with The Road Home to help families move quickly out of shelter and back into housing of their own.  The Road Home provides housing search assistance, landlord negotiation, and home-based case management to families.  Workforce Services works with the Road Home to provide short-term benefits to help families pay for housing in the first few months and provide employment search assistance so families will be able to pay for housing on their own over the long-term.  The evidence is clear that this approach is working.  Family shelter stays are minimized and over 90 percent of the families served successfully retain their housing with the short-term, upfront help the program provides.

The 15th anniversary of welfare reform provides an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from PRWORA on how TANF programs can be improved.  TANF programs can be a more effective buffer to prevent family homelessness and a critical partner in re-housing families who do become homeless.  Ending family homelessness requires the investment of state and local TANF agencies.  With sufficient political will, the 20th anniversary of welfare reform can provide an opportunity to reflect on the great advancements made by TANF agencies to end family homelessness.

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6th September
written by Catherine An

It’s a week about employment.

Yesterday, the country celebrated Labor Day (the federal holiday intended to honor the economic and social contributions of workers ) and the country is awaiting President Obama’s jobs speech which is slated for this Thursday (after quite a hullaballoo).

While we’ve been plagued with worries about the high rate of unemployment for years now, we haven’t acknowledged the hurdles that poor employed people face. As New York Times contributor Paul Osterman asked in an editorial yesterday, “yes, we need jobs, but what kind?” Osterman astutely points out that despite job growth in Texas, many people are still struggling to make ends meet as the jobs that were created were low-wage and unskilled.

Late last year, the Alliance highlighted a similar point in Economy Byte: Working Poor People in the United States brief. Nearly six percent of the general working population live at or below the federal poverty line and nearly 20 percent of all poor people work. Though they might be employed, their economic fragility leaves that at elevated risk of experiencing homelessness.

Worth noting, I think, are the federal poverty levels definitions:

Persons in Family 48 Contiguous States and D.C.
1 $10,890
2 $14,710
3 $18,530
4 $22,350

Given these poverty levels, it’s no wonder that that any individual or family living at or below the federal poverty level is at risk of homelessness. With so little income, any unplanned or unexpected expense could cripple a household.

As we discussed in the brief, there are some specific challenges that poor people face that are indicators for homelessness: severe housing cost burden (paying 50+ percent of monthly income on housing) and doubled up living situations (living with extended family, friends, or other non-relatives due to economic hardship), volatile occupations (including service and retail sector jobs), and tenuous work relationships (studies show working poor people work less than their non-poor counterparts).

Combined with low earnings, these factors lead to higher risk of homelessness for working poor people. (For more information about this Economy Byte, please reference a previous blogpost.)

As the country moves the discussion about jobs further this Thursday, let’s not forget to attend to the needs and challenges of people at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Employment should help people move towards economic freedom, self-sufficiency, and more opportunities; together, we can work to make sure it does.

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