Archive for October, 2011
According to the Pew Center on the States, between 1973 and 2009, the nation’s prison population grew by 705 percent, resulting in more than 1 in 100 adults behind bars. When this growing population exits the corrections system, they are frequently at risk for homelessness, which can in turn increase the likelihood of another imprisonment. People leaving incarceration tend to have low incomes, and, often due to their criminal history, lack the ability to obtain housing through the channels that are open to other low-income people.
Recently, the Baltimore-based organization Health Care for the Homeless released a report on the link between incarceration and homelessness. This study focused on the situation in the Baltimore region, which has a particularly large population of people in jails and prisons. According to the report, among the cities with the largest jails, Baltimore has the highest percentage of its population in jail, more than three times that of New York City or Los Angeles County.
This report draws a very direct line between housing and homelessness. For example, 74 percent those surveyed who reported experiencing homelessness before their incarceration reported that stable housing would have prevented their incarceration. In Baltimore City, people experiencing homelessness spend an average of 35 days in jail annually.
It is important to point out that the connection goes both ways – incarceration often leads to homelessness, and homelessness can result in incarceration. This report found that the number of people who lacked stable housing after being released from incarceration almost doubled, from 35 percent having unstable housing prior to their most recent incarceration to 63 percent 6 months after being released.
Investing in housing solutions may be the answer to Baltimore’s predicament. When you take into consideration that incarceration costs $2,200 per person per month in Maryland, housing certainly starts to look like a good answer. On our website, we have looked at some successful models for addressing this, including re-entry housing and stabilizing families. Among the report’s recommended courses of action for Baltimore is to expand Housing First models of permanent supportive housing.
Last week we asked, “Do you think the news adequately reflects poverty and homelessness in your community?”
Once again the majority of our respondents were in agreement. Ninety-two percent of you thought that the news was not an adequate reflection of homelessness and poverty in your community.
A follow up question, and the news the week, below:
- The New York Times published an editorial we couldn’t agree more with, arguing that now is not the time to cut funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. If you read one article in this news roundup, let it be this one.
- With Veterans Day drawing near, the plight of veterans experiencing homelessness was covered in a number of local papers:
- The experience of homeless female veterans was covered by the Kansas City Star and the Los Angeles Times.
- My alma mater’s radio station, WAMU at American University, ran a short piece on homeless veterans in Washington, DC.
- Arlington is one of many communities across the countries that are facing the end of funds from the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP). Sustaining rapid re-housing programs after the end of this funding is a topic we have covered in the past.
- Homeless students have a right to attend their original school or a school near their shelter. In New York City, however, only 35 percent of students are being placed appropriately.
- A Housing First approach seems to be working in Buffalo, NY.
- In Obama’s sweep of the West Coast, he announced a program in Las Vegas that would allow homeowners to refinance at lower mortgage rates.
- A familiar debate is being waged in downtown Denver. Despite reductions in homelessness, there are still people living and sleeping outside Denver’s most popular tourist attraction, the shopping street known was the 16 Street Mall. A Denver Post editorial agrees that something must be done, but argues that what is needed is more housing, not the civilization of homelessness.
Lately, there has been a lot of news coverage on the “Super-Committee” created by the deficit reduction agreement Congress passed in August. But what has it been up to? And what does that mean for efforts to end homelessness?
The decisions the Super-Committee, known formally as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, makes will have a tremendous impact on future “discretionary spending” (including affordable housing and homelessness programs run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development) and “mandatory spending” (i.e. Medicaid). Both of these can greatly impact homelessness policy.
Since its creation, the Super-Committee has met numerous times to discuss its plans for reducing the deficit. These discussions have often taken place privately, with many of the details of their discussions unavailable to the public.
However, there have been a few hearings open to the public, such as the one earlier this week, where the topic of conversation was largely focused on the impact of cuts to discretionary funding (including the 10 years of cuts already written into August’s deal, and any further cuts the Super-Committee proposes). Dr. Doug Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office served as sole witness to answer the Members’ questions on the effectiveness different types of cuts and policy decisions would have on reducing the federal deficit.
In addition to these hearings, the Super-Committee process also included an opportunity for the regular standing congressional committees to weigh in on the process and make suggestions about programs that should be cut, reduced, or preserved. Recommendations from most of the committees are available here, but some highlights of their letters to the Super-Committee include the following:
- Norm Dicks (D-WA), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, specifically mentioned the need to preserve McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and the Section 8 accounts.
- The House Appropriations Committee majority (Republicans) urges the Super-Committee to “look beyond the limited scope” of further cuts to discretionary spending, noting that August’s deal already made enough cuts to discretionary spending.
- The House Financial Services Committee majority (Republicans) specifically notes that HUD programs have been “characterized by a high degree of inefficiency,” and lists numerous programs that should be eliminated or cut, including the Community Development Block Grants and Public Housing.
- The Senate Finance Committee’s minority (Republicans) suggests that the Medicaid program be modernized with states gaining more responsibility for the program’s execution.
It is unclear how these recommendations will play out as the Super-Committee continues its discussions in the coming weeks. Many of its 12 members have noted repeatedly, however, that “nothing is off the table.”
So, what’s next? They must release their draft legislation by November 23. Congress then has until December 23 to pass the Super-Committee’s recommendations. If the Super-Committee either fails to come up with a way to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, or if Congress fails to pass the proposals by December 23, a process called “sequestration” (automatic cuts to both defense and non-defense spending), will occur. Sequestration would likely lead to further cuts over the next decade on homelessness assistance and low-income housing programs.
To get up to the moment action alerts regarding federal policy, sign up for our Advocacy Update email alerts.
Kudos to the New York Times for recognizing the critical importance of the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget.
In a recent editorial, the New York Times called it a “foolish time to cut housing aid,” emphasizing that the bulk of the HUD budget goes to help low-income people and families stay stably housed. Rent vouchers, housing counseling programs, and homelessness aid and prevention are just some of the ways the HUD budget is utilized to assist the most vulnerable Americans from experiencing further hardship – an important cause during these troubled economic times.
Obviously, we at the Alliance couldn’t agree more with the astute observations made in the paper of record.
As these years of heightened unemployment, joblessness, and poverty persist, the people who are most vulnerable to the blows of a sluggish economy – people living in poverty – are at increased risk of experiencing homelessness. Just one unexpected financial crisis – a medical emergency, a job loss, a robbery – could throw a poor family into housing jeopardy. In fact, the Alliance recently projected a five percent increase in homelessness based on this year’s poverty data.
Luckily, we know the right strategies to end avert, prevent, and end homelessness. The Alliance has long championed Housing First, prevention and rapid re-housing, diversion, and other evidence-based, proven methods to both end homelessness and prevent it before it begins. Many of these strategies have produced measurable reductions in homelessness in cities and communities across the country.
In fact, the federal government has adopted and subsidized some of these strategies. In 2009, President Obama authorized the creation of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, a $1.5 billion initiative to prevent and end homelessness resulting from the recession. The three-year initiative was critical to avoiding significant increases in homelessness during these recessionary years. But while the program is coming to an end, the need for those resources is not. That the impact of the recession continues to afflict Americans across the country is a truth that hardly needs retelling.
The Alliance joins the New York Times editorial board in their appeal to increase the HUD budget. The programs that the department funds are a worthy and important investment that could significantly benefit the people and families hit hardest by the economy. And indeed, this is no time to abandon needy families.
Yesterday, noted writer Barbara Ehrenreich wrote this piece for Mother Jones about the relationship between the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and homelessness.
She concludes, “In Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.”
In the piece, she writes at length about the challenges that homeless people face – now being discovered, she says, by the Occupiers: the need for food, security, sleep, and a restroom. She references anecdotes from a report, called “Criminalizing Crisis” from our friends at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which tell the tales of homeless people trying vainly to receive basic services.
As Ehrenreich sees it, much of the United States has outlawed explicit poverty. From urination in public to loitering to tent cities, Ehrenreich recounts the ways that homeless people are denied not only access to services but the right to exist without harassment.
Noticeably absent in the piece (and arguably in the OWS movement), however, was any discussion about solutions. Ehrenreich chides, while discussing the many laws that implicitly outlaw homelessness, “It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter, or restrooms for their indigent citizens.” While food, shelter, and restrooms are important, the solution to homelessness starts with housing. Should Occupiers take up the issue of homelessness, they should be aware that food and shelter are not the solutions necessary to end homelessness; it’s housing.
Do you agree with Ehrenreich? Is homelessness an OWS issue? And is there a relationship between the OWS cause and homelessness? Have you seen the two parties overlap? Tell us what’s happening in your town by leaving a comment or hitting us up on Facebook or Twitter.
Dream of a Nation is an anthology of essays about the most pressing issues facing the country today: bolstering the economy, improving health care, ending poverty, fostering community, creating constructive media, among others. The essays are penned by the national experts, including the Alliance’s own Nan Roman, who contributed an essay – co-written by Alliance board member Irene Mabry Moses – about ending homelessness in America.
Moving forward, we’ll tell you more about the Dream of a Nation campaign, how to get involved, where to buy the book, and what you can do to learn more about fulfilling the dream of our United States. For now, please check out the website, learn about the publisher, and read a few reviews.
Thank you to everyone who took our poll question in last week’s news roundup. A whopping 81 percent of you said you preferred the short format to our news roundups. To adhere to this request, I will jump right in to this week’s news:
- This week, our President Nan Roman was interviewed by Affordable Housing Finance about the impact of investment and the recession on the numbers of people experiencing homelessness.
- DC announced the opening of a supportive housing apartment for 14 families and five individuals who have been homeless for at least a year, or periodically over the past four years.
- According to a Gallup index, the number of Americans that have access to adequate shelter and has dropped by just 1 percent since the beginning of the recession.
- HUD is paying closer attention to LGBT homelessness.
- “Street” homelessness dropped in Vancouver by 82 percent over one year. In Baltimore, Maryland, homelessness increased by 20 percent over two years.
- The increasing numbers of people seeking food assistance made the local papers in Oneonta, New York, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Salisbury, Maryland.
- New York recently reached an agreement on a lawsuit claiming they allow children to age out of foster care only to become homeless.
- School districts in Pennsylvania and Colorado say they do not have enough funding to serve the growing number of homeless students.
As the title of the post suggest, we are going to start asking you to answer a short poll question at the end of each Friday News Roundup. The results will be posted the following week. Do you have any ideas for future poll questions? let us know in the comments!
The U.S. Senate may vote as early as today on the fiscal year (FY) 2012 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill which has been combined with similar bills for the Commerce, Justice, and Science as well as Agriculture bills (into what they’re calling a “minibus” bill).
In the bill, S. 1596, the subcommittee calls for $1.9 billion dollars to be allocated to the homeless assistance grants – which is level funding as compared to last year. Unfortunately, this is simply not enough to fully fund the programs necessary to make substantial progress towards ending homelessness. Specifically, $1.9 billion is inadequate to fully implement the HEARTH Act, which was passed in 2009 and would modernize and streamline the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants.
As our colleagues at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition point out, there are other worrisome provisions in the bill. The bill would underfund tenant-based rental assistance, underfund the project based rental assistance contracts, and cut the public housing capital fund.
The Obama Administration also weighed in on the bills, specifically urging the Senate to provide additional funds for Homeless Assistance Grants and pointing out that resources are necessary to implement the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness.
Congress has expressed a bipartisan commitment to ensuring that deficit reduction efforts do not happen on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans, but many affordable housing programs have nonetheless seen dramatic cuts. These federal reductions, especially when coupled with shrinking state and local budgets, will further swell the number of people experiencing and at risk of homelessness – making it all the more necessary to provide additional resources to homeless assistance programs.
Abandoning our responsibility to the health and welfare of our lowest-income friends and neighbors is not the right way to balance our budget. Moreover, the Homeless Assistance Grants are a federal program that has shown measurable success; we’ve seen that investing in housing-based solutions, we can end homelessness for people and families. The Alliance joins the Administration in urging the Senate to invest fully in the Homeless Assistance Grants.
And you can too! Call your Member of Congress and urge them to support the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and our collective effort to end homelessness in America.
Our Capacity Building Team is at it again!
This fall, the Alliance’s Capacity Building Team is off again conducting their Performance Improvement Clinic (formerly called the HEARTH Academy) clinics in communities across the country. Armed with the tools, models, and trainings they develop right here at the Alliance, the CAP Team helps local communities measurably improve the outcomes of their homeless assistance systems and prepare for the implementation of the HEARTH Act. The HEARTH Act, signed into law in 2009, will take significant steps to modernize and streamline the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. While HEARTH won’t kick into effect until next year, it’s never too early to get prepared.
In the next few months, the CAP Team will be in Oregon, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Arizona. They’ll be taking with them the training tools, including the Homeless System Evaluator and the Qualitative Assessment Tools – both of which gauge the performance of local homeless assistance systems. Working together, the CAP Team and the local community can improve the way homeless people are served by the system and move towards preventing and ending homelessness.
For more information about the Capacity Building Team or the Performance Improvement Clinics, please check our website.
Like we said last week, the Alliance has officially opened conference registration for the National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness.
The conference is set for Thursday, Feb. 9 to Friday, Feb. 10 in Los Angeles, California at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. While we don’t have a full slate of workshops finalized just yet, you can check up on our progress by visiting the Agenda portion of the event website. You can also find hotel information and travel information on the event website, as well as news about the Alliance’s conference scholarship program. And, of course, you can register for the conference there too.
As many of you who have attended our conference know, they’re always chock-full of informative sessions, inspiring speakers, and great networking experiences with like-minded professionals sharing the goal of ending homelessness. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about the conference, please feel free to leave a comment here or on one of our regularly updated, frequently checked social networks – Twitter and Facebook.