Archive for December, 2011
The evidence is overwhelming: collectively, we were able to accomplish an incredible amount when it comes to federal homelessness advocacy in the past year.
Chief among these successes is the fact that, despite deep cuts to many programs in both fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2012, funding for targeted homeless assistance programs held more or less steady – and, in some cases, even increased! In this calendar year, Congress provided $125 million for more than 17,000 new HUD-VASH (HUD – Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) vouchers. And this doesn’t even count the fact that Congress increased funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants by $36 million in April for FY 2011 in order to get a new program – the Emergency Solutions Grant – off the ground.
These accomplishments are a direct result of the hard work of our partners to educate Members of Congress about homelessness and its solutions over the past year. Moreover, they’re a testament to how much confidence Congress has in your ability to implement effective solutions.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the other highlights of our collective advocacy efforts over the past year:
- More than 50 local and national news stories about homelessness within just a few weeks after the release of State of Homelessness in America, many of them running after advocates reached out to their local media contacts;
- A Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) letter writing effort that produced about 200 letters to Members of Congress in just one month;
- Four congressional sign-on letters in support of increasing funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs, and one sign-on letter in support of robust funding for RHYA and Education for Homeless Children and Youth programs; and
- A record-breaking Capitol Hill Day in July, with more than 360 participants attending over 270 meetings with congressional offices representing 42 states.
And that’s just a sampling of what we did together over the past year! It doesn’t even take into account the literally thousands of letters, calls, and other forms of outreach to Members of Congress about topics as varied as general education, appropriations, and the deficit reduction efforts of the “Super-Committee.”
With recent news about deep cuts to some affordable housing programs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and high risk for further cuts to homeless assistance and affordable housing programs next year, it’s easy to feel as though our advocacy efforts over the past year were not successful. But the truth is these efforts have paid off, with Congress largely protecting funding for homeless assistance programs.
We at the Alliance cannot possibly express how grateful we are for all of your hard work over the past year or how excited we are to build upon this year’s accomplishments in the coming year.
We’ll need to work even harder, but we are confident, given the strength of our partners across the country, that we can outdo ourselves next year. Stay tuned for another blog post at the end of the month on how you can get involved in 2012!
Last week, we re-ran an earlier blog post about how expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is critical to ending chronic homelessness. Starting in 2014, the vast majority of vulnerable adults not already on Medicaid will have the opportunity to enroll in a health benefits plan. We talked about what this means for individuals and their access to care, and what it means for communities, given new opportunities to access Medicaid funding.
Today, we look deeper into the crystal ball to explore what health care reform might mean for mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Behavioral health services, including treatment for substance use disorders, will be part of new Medicaid benefits. Between now and 2014 – and for a long time after – policy officials and advocates will be talking about what those benefits might look like in any given state. What kinds of services will Medicaid pay for? In what kinds of settings, for how long, and by whom? These are key questions that policymakers will gradually answer as implementation proceeds. No matter what, though, it is clear that the ACA is meant to transform behavioral health care delivery, as it transforms the rest of the health care system.
Consider, for instance, that 61 percent of people served under state substance abuse programs have no insurance. Some 87 percent of those uninsured behavioral health consumers will be eligible for Medicaid. So already we can see that Medicaid will play a much bigger role than it has in the past. Many providers of substance abuse treatment do not accept Medicaid now, and will have to decide how they are going to relate to the program in the future.
We also know that the ACA is driving – or attempting to drive – integration of behavioral and physical health care (what is often called “primary care”). Experts speak of “bi-directional” integration, meaning simply that care is client-centered rather than silo-based. So a person needing medical care and behavioral health treatment will be served in a holistic fashion, wherever they access care. There is a double bottom line here – improved access and quality for the consumer; and cost effectiveness in the programs that serve them. To make this work, Medicaid is encouraging the “medical home” concept to coordinate services for people with complex needs like severe mental illness and co-occurring substance or medical conditions.
What does all of this mean when homelessness is in the picture?
- First, it means that Medicaid is moving closer to housing solutions that are proven to be effective. Medicaid does not pay for housing, but it will offer more ways to meet people clinically where they are – for instance, in supportive housing – with more of the services they need.
- Second, communities have an important window of opportunity to make their homelessness assistance programs more effective and realign their funding priorities. Now is the time to build service networks that emphasize service integration, client-centered strategies, and financing that follows the changes in health care financing.
At the Alliance, we are excited to see communities respond to these promising changes that can really improve the lives of vulnerable people who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. We are studying models and best practices to share in the broader advocacy community. For instance, the Alliance will host a webinar in early January that will highlight the practical aspects of integrating health care with supportive housing. (Register here.)
At the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building, our job is to learn what works best in ending homelessness and share it with our community.
Our latest white paper on prevention targeting is meant to do just that. But I have a secret to share with you about prevention targeting – it’s tricky. Researchers have been looking for the keys to effective prevention targeting for years, and have certainly made progress, but have really struggled to find a key set of factors that differentiate households that become homeless and household that don’t.
Some communities have also made progress on this front – Hennepin County, MN, which is discussed a bit in our brief and who we have other materials on, is one of them – but even they have had to make adjustments and learn from their mistakes.
What it comes down to is this – we still have a lot of learning to do.
We can tell you, though, that is one main strategy that appears very promising, and, like many other strategies we talk about, is a data-based solutions. If you take nothing else away from this blog post, take this: Use the characteristics of your sheltered population as the basis for determining household eligibility for prevention funds. Prevention funds should be used to serve people at the highest risk of becoming homeless, so you should use the information you have on who is already homeless to identify the right households to serve. If you don’t have local data through your HMIS available, which is best, you can use a list of other barriers in the brief as a starting point – but make sure you start collecting data as well!
In general, it looks like helping higher barrier households and households with the most imminent housing crises is the way to go. The most important thing about doing prevention well is that you’re serving the right people –the people that are truly at highest risk.
We’ll of course produce even more materials as we learn more about this very important issue. But we think this brief is a first step in the right direction – we hope you think so as well!
For more information about the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building, please visit the website.
Today’s blog post comes to us from one of the Alliance’s board members, Robert D. Stillman.
Robert D. Stillman is president of a consulting company, Milbridge Capital Management, LLC. He is the former Chairman of The Global Fund for Children, current Chairman of the Executive Committee of Small Enterprise Assistance Funds, and he is on the Advisory Board of Jubilee Jobs, Inc. Mr. Stillman joined the Alliance’s board in 2000 and has been a tireless advocate for ending homelessness ever since. In the brief interview below, he shares his experiences as an advocate, Alliance volunteer, and donor.
How did you become involved with the Alliance and efforts to end homelessness?
I came of age at the end of World War II, when times were good, and to most of us, homelessness was confined to a few persons “down on their luck.” Over the years, however, there was increasing evidence of a widespread problem – people sleeping on church steps or over heating grates or in cardboard shelters. Currently, there are around 650,000 homeless people in America on any given night and over the course of the year nearly 1.6 million will experience homelessness – in the greatest and richest country in the world!
When I came to DC in the 1990s, a friend invited me to attend the Annual Awards Ceremony of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The honorees ranged from Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s to Senator Kit Bond from Missouri – a wide spectrum of political and cultural persuasions, united in their concern about the problem of homelessness and all focused on ways to end it. It was clear that all had great respect for the work of the Alliance. The Ten Year Plan developed by the Alliance was described by Nan Roman, who described the commitment of major U.S. cities to follow this effort in their communities, and its impact was confirmed by representatives from the public sector, non-profits, and individuals. Here was an organization intent on doing something to end this blight!
I came away so moved by the potential and passion of the Alliance that I made my first significant contribution, and later was invited to join the Board.
Do you think ending homelessness is possible? Why?
Yes, I believe that homelessness can be ended. For several years prior to the current recession, rates of homelessness were dropping throughout the country, and supportive housing and other facilities were meeting the needs of more of the chronic homeless population. The commitments of federal, state, and local governments to the Ten Year Plan advocated by the Alliance have put a spotlight on this problem and continuing pressure toward its elimination. Homelessness has increased in the current economy but even with tighter budgets, allocations to these programs have not been significantly reduced. Once the economy strengthens, there is every reason to believe the homeless statistics will resume their downward trend.
Why do you financially support the National Alliance to End Homelessness?
I contribute to the Alliance because it is an efficient and effective way to impact the problem of homelessness. An individual homeless person may not know of the Alliance, but his or her opportunities for regaining a home and renewing a normal life is directly affected by its work. Public and private institutions rely on the Alliance for information, recommendations, inspiration, and passion to end homelessness for all. Through its influence on federal, state and local governments, the Alliance is a major force in targeting resources in this area, encouraging policies that have the greatest chance for success at the most reasonable cost.
If you could tell donors one thing about the Alliance what would it be?
I would tell donors that a contribution to the Alliance will have a greater impact on reducing and ending homelessness than any other place they might put their money. The work of the Alliance is magnified a hundred-fold by the agencies that look to it for guidance. Its reputation for nonpartisan, knowledgeable, honest, and thoughtful recommendations guarantees it will be heard by those in a position to allocate resources to achieve the goal of ending homelessness forever.
Earlier this month, the Alliance hosted a webinar to review the recently released Emergency Solutions Grant regulations. Below, please find the recording of the webinar. For more information about the regulations, please visit the Alliance website.
In the news this past week:
- Nan Roman, President and CEO of the Alliance, was quoted in an article on Virginia’s plan to end homelessness. The State’s Office to End Homelessness recognizes that rapid re-housing and stable housing will help truly end homelessness in the Commonwealth.
- An editorial in the New York Times this week points out a provision in the Section 8 Savings Act that would increase rents for Americans in poverty, possibly forcing them into homelessness.
- The Washington Post reported that, due to high youth unemployment, the rate of young people, teens, and families with young parents who are homeless has risen in recent years.
- Google is investing in affordable housing in a number of locations across the country, including near their headquarters in Mountain View, California.
- The camps set up by the Occupy Movement are continuing to attract homeless people. The camps offer relative protection from theft, violence, and police harassment, compared to living without a home elsewhere.
- The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) federal welfare program is facing severe budget shortages, leaving poor families without desperately needed assistance. The State of Washington has reduced funds and enacted stricter eligibility thresholds in the face of sharp increases in applications.
For last week’s News Roundup Poll, we asked you if you were planning on donating your time or money to a nonprofit organization benefiting the homeless at some point this holiday season.
Almost all of you said that you would, which is outstanding. Since winter is coming, and the economy is only creeping forward, it is more important now than ever to make sure that the most vulnerable members of society have a safe and stable place to live.
As our last Friday News Roundup demonstrated, news stories about homelessness are prevalent during the winter holiday season. Holiday stories take a range of forms: they may share the story of a specific homeless individual or family; they may detail community programs working to serve people experiencing homelessness; or they could cover any number of other angles.
These stories present a wonderful opportunity for advocates to try to shape the message and impact of the media’s coverage of homelessness. There are several ways in which to engage the media, including:
- Letters to the editor and editorials;
- Press releases; and
- Pitching a story;
Press releases and pitching a story allow you to proactively work to place a story in the media by focusing a reporters’ attention on current homelessness-related events, including: a recent report your organization or community released, the impact of recent federal, state, or local budget cuts on your program’s ability to serve people, or the success of a program at preventing or ending homelessness for people in your community.
But what if a reporter is already writing a story? Stay on top of current events and be prepared with talking points that connect the issues of the day to your ideal messages for the season, such as a focus on solutions to homelessness or the impact of budget cuts.
And if the story has already run? Letters to the editor are great forums for responding to stories that have already been published about homelessness. You can try to relate the story to the message you hope to get across. For example, if your local paper runs a story about the local increase in homelessness, you can respond with a letter that focuses on the importance of providing permanent housing for the growing number of people in need in your community. Like letters to the editor, editorials are also a way to respond to an article or a trend in your community. Please keep in mind that editorials are usually harder to publish than letters to the editor and that both are subject to minor edits by newspaper staff.
These are just a few examples of how you could engage the media this holiday season. With homelessness likely to be in the news in the coming weeks, your organization and community can think about ways to ensure the coverage has the maximum impact on raising awareness of the issue and promoting efforts to prevent and end homelessness in your community.
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.
Last Friday, the Alliance gathered together to review the impact of our work in 2011. Our conversations about the year [not surprisingly] included discussions about the economy, increased poverty, and budget cuts. And yet, despite these challenges in 2011, progress was still made. I would like to take a moment to share with you – our partners, our supporters and fellow advocates – what we felt were our most impactful achievements.
HEARTH Clinics. To help communities prepare for the changes in the HEARTH Act, the Center for Capacity Building developed the HEARTH Implementation Clinic. These clinics bring together key leaders and stakeholders to assess community performance on key HEARTH performance measures, create an action plan to implement cost-effective strategies to help reduce homelessness and better meet the goals of the HEARTH Act. In 2011, the Alliance conducted 15 HEARTH Clinics in communities such as Alameda County, CA; Houston, TX; and Lancaster, PA.
Timely and Responsive Research Documents. The Homelessness Research Institute responded to need for relevant data and research analyzing the current economic climate’s effects on homelessness through documents such as State of Homelessness in America, the Economy Bytes Series and Increases in Homelessness on the Horizon.
Increased funding in FY2011. Despite budget pressures, federal homelessness funding was not reduced for Fiscal Year 2011. Due to the hard work of the Alliance and our field of grassroots advocates who educated Congress about the need for and the effectiveness of homeless assistance programs, funding for HUD homeless assistance was increased by $40 million — making it one of only two HUD program that will be able to serve more people this year.
But the work isn’t over. There is much more to be done to end homelessness in America.
In 2012, the Alliance policy team will focus on demonstrating the effects of budget cuts on programs that serve vulnerable individuals and stressing the importance of homeless assistance programs to our most economically vulnerable friends and neighbors. Our capacity building team will continue their on-the-ground work helping local communities assess and improve their prevention and rapid re-housing strategies and our research and education team will stay at the forefront of print and social media discussions making the case for housing solutions by presenting evidence-based research and data.
But we can’t do it alone – we need your support. With your help, and working together, we can our important work of ending homelessness in the United States. Working together, we can make an impact in the lives of people in need.
Donate today to support these important efforts.
In the news over the past couple weeks (because we had a Thanksgiving hiatus):
- As a short follow-up to Youth Homelessness Month, and Andre Wade’s question about LGBTQ youth homelessness, read this article from the San Francisco Chronicle about the experience of being homeless as a transgendered youth.
- The San Francisco Chronicle also published an article this week on family homelessness in the Bay Area, describing how it is easy to forget the families who are homeless and calling this “an invisible problem exacerbated by an inability to accurately count how many there are.” According to San Francisco public schools, there are 2,200 students who are homeless, “enough to fill five or six elementary schools or an entire high school.”
- Even though the recession is technically over, there is still a growing need for food and shelter, as people lose their jobs and unemployment benefits run out for the long-term unemployed. This article in the Washington Post reviews the rising number of “basic immediate needs” calls to Fairfax County, Virginia’s services department.
- An opinion piece in the Juneau Empire eloquently addresses the benefits of a Housing First approach. While the author does not forcefully advocate for the policy, he cites both the responsibility to care for vulnerable members of society and the cost savings that other communities have seen from Housing First programs
- The Alliance is helping to end homelessness in Sarasota County, Florida. The county’s 10-Year Plan is almost complete thanks to five months of workshops and the contributions of more than 600 members of the community.
Previously, on the News Roundup Poll, we asked you if all shelters and affordable housing providers should be required to admit LGBTQ youth.