Archive for January, 2012

31st January
written by naehblog

This is the second of a two-part series guest written by Iain De Jong. The first part can be found here.

Iain DeJong

This is second half of a two-part blog series on the essential elements of successful Housing First and rapid re-housing programs. In Part One of this two-part blog, I examined the populations to be served, the service orientation, how to work with landlords, the structure of the housing team, and the sequential and essential components of successful housing programs. I conclude with a look at data, home visits, professionalizing the work, support phases, and the things you can anticipate going wrong in the delivery of your housing program.

Without further adieu, essential elements 6 through 10:

6. Use data to drive program improvements

Yes “data” is a four letter word, but that doesn’t make it obscene. It is necessary for performance measurement, which is key to ending homelessness. To make data effective:

  • Collect only the information necessary to make informed suggestions on how best to meet the client’s housing needs at the initial intake and assessment. You don’t need every detail about the person’s life. Other salient details will be collected during the delivery of support services.
  • Ask yourself “so what?” This requires looking at your data to see what measurable difference your program is really making. Focus on quality of service, not quantity of people served.
  • Ask everyone involved in delivering the housing program what data they feel is necessary to collect and analyze.
  • Remember that your HMIS is a tool to help you with data, but it is not your performance management system.
  • Use the data you collect in  many different places: website, newsletters, staff meetings, client reception, hiring practices, etc. to make it worth the time and effort to collect and to make transparent and defensible program improvements based upon data.
  • Set aside time in the day for frontline staff to input their data; don’t reinforce the idea that data collection and entry is something that happens when the “real work” is done.
  • Have a meaningful data analysis plan set up in advance.
  • Guide the work through a coherent logic model, where everyone within the organization understands inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes.
  • Set meaningful goals to gauge progress towards the mission. Targets should not be an aspiration – they should be operationally possible.
  • Increase knowledge about the importance of data within your organization. (Click any of these to read more about data and performance measurement 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

7. Use objective-based home visits to facilitate change and improve community integration

The service plan is centered on the individual and customized to their needs. It is their plan, not the support workers.

However, it remains the job of the case manager to help facilitate greater housing and life stability. The key is to have three pre-determined objectives for each interaction with clients that are focused on existing goals within the individualized service plan (aka case plan) and the projected outcomes of the service plan. These are established during a weekly case review where there is a briefing on the progress being achieved with each consumer of your housing program. These pre-determined objectives for each home visit will continue to drive the interaction towards positive change.

Emphasis should be placed on objectives that help create opportunities for the clients to engage in meaningful daily activities. This decreases social isolation. It also creates an environment where they can better integrate into the broader community (not just with other economically poor or formerly homeless folks) and experience greater fulfillment emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, socially, recreationally, etc.

8. Plan for success through support phases

Once people exit homelessness into housing – regardless of whether it is a rapid re-housing or Housing First intervention – we must appreciate the progression of the client in working towards greater housing and life stability. For many, from a psychological perspective, they have adapted to their state of homelessness such that it has become “normal” and while having housing is seen as desirable by the individual, the experience of being housed is, in fact, “abnormal” after years of homelessness, institutional living, incarceration, etc.

In the Formative Phase, it is reasonable to expect greater unpredictability from the client, a range of emotions, an eagerness to be successful matched with a range of questions and adaptations to having a place. How the client is supported in this phase sets the expectations for the other phases.

In the Normative Phase, we see greater progression in articulating and achieving goals in the individualized service plan, greater awareness and adaptation to the community at large, increased participation in activities outside of the home, and increased social awareness. Supporting the client in this phase is contingent upon a range of case management skill sets, and a strong focus on brokering and advocating for access to additional resources to meet needs and increase community integration.

In the Integrative Phase, the client is able to demonstrate considerably increased independence. Some clients will always need some degree of support. However, as clients get to this stage, they have demonstrated mastery of a range of skills and activities that are fully within their life domain and do not require support or intervention on the part of the case manager. Supporting the client in this phase is positively reinforcing all that has been achieved; in some instances, even exit planning after community integration has proven to be successful.

9. It is professional work

Success isn’t an accident with housing programs. Professionally-trained staff yields professional results and better outcomes. It is critical that organizations value training, create a training agenda, create time for staff to develop professionally, and employ trainers who share the values of the organization and its vision to end homelessness.

We also need to pay staff who deliver successful housing programs professional wages. How we remunerate people says quite a bit about how much we value their expertise and the outcomes they are able to achieve in working effectively with people.

10. Things will go wrong…it’s how you respond that matters

I have never seen or created a perfect housing program. I have seen some amazing ones and I share promising practices whenever I have the chance. But the truth is there will be some things that just go wrong despite our best efforts. I think it is more important to measure our response to these issues than assume that the absence of them occurring is success. These are some of the most frequent things that go wrong that I think we need to pay close attention to:

  • Guests/partying – consider encouraging the client to create their own guest policy and put it within the context of how they see themselves being a responsible tenant.
  • Payment of rent on time and in full – whenever possible, encourage the client to have third party payment of rent so that rent isn’t even a consideration in the budgeting process, much like how many people pay their mortgages through automatic withdrawal.
  • Maintaining professional boundaries – as part of training and re-training, ensure that staff know the limits of their involvement with clients.
  • Pests – have clients keep an eye out for pests – which are common in multi-unit residential living – and teach them how to inform the landlord when pests are detected.
  • Pets – help clients understand lease requirements or local laws related to the number of pets permitted and requirements for care.
  • Hoarding – home visits allow for early detection when collecting or hoarding is beginning prior to it increasing to an exceptional size.
  • Interpersonal conflict – the client has to understand the role of the support worker, and the support worker has to be prepared to help resolve conflicts.
  • Damages – home visits are again the key to early detection of damages, and clients can learn to take responsibility for damages.

Those, in a nutshell, are the 10 essential elements of successful housing programs. Based upon years of practice, research and evaluation, attention to these 10 essential elements will improve the long-term outcomes of your Housing First or rapid re-housing program. Obviously there are other considerations in delivering a housing program, but starting with these 10 and doing them as well as possible will most definitely improve your practice.

Iain De Jong is the President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting, Inc. He has been working with many communities to help them improve their housing programs in advance of HEARTH. He is a frequent and popular speaker at Alliance Conferences. You can see him at the Conference in February in Los Angeles. Iain is also the chief blogger, tweeter and FaceBook persona for OrgCode. Take a look at or @orgcode or

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27th January
written by Catherine An

First, a little housekeeping news: we’re just a week away from the National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness! Speakers and participants– please make sure to register and get excited! Online registration for the conference ends on Thursday, February 2 at midnight. But don’t worry, you can also register onsite at the conference for $650.

And now, the news:

-          President Obama gave his State of the Union speech on Tuesday during which he discussed the economy and economic disparities. We wondered whether he had given any thought to the very economically disenfranchised.

-          People across the country conducted point-in-time counts this week to gauge the number of homeless people in their community. On the blog, we linked to a few news clips about the counts and you can also find a post on our own experience during the DC count; you can find a one-page fact sheet on PIT counts on our website.

-          The Christian Science Monitor wrote a great piece on ending chronic homelessness. We were pleased to see that they echoed what we know: the solution is permanent supportive housing.

-          There was a particularly interesting article in the Chicago Tribune about two formerly homeless brothers experiencing difficulty adjusting to housing.

-          The Huffington Post and CNN took time to emphasize the HPRP prevented homelessness in the last few years – but HPRP will expire soon leaving many people still at risk of experiencinghomelessness.

-          The Huffington Post also brought light [again] to the issue of women veterans experiencing homelessness. The rate of homelessness among women veterans, as compared to their male counterparts, is notable.

-          The New York Daily News picked up our brief about elderly homelessness on the rise.

Happy Friday!

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26th January
written by Kate Seif

Do you know how many alleys there are in the average city?  Well, ok, neither do I…but after last night, I have a much better idea.  Last night, instead of just bustling by these dark passages as I usually do, I traipsed up and down every alley I came across here in downtown DC.

As you’ve probably guessed, I was exploring these alleys, and every other nook and cranny of the Golden Triangle (which also happens to be, more or less, the Alliance’s neighborhood) as a volunteer with DC’s annual PIT Count.  Still relatively new to the field and working on federal policy here at the Alliance, I don’t often venture over to the practice side of the field.  I do, however, rely heavily on data and experiences gathered by practitioners every day to make the argument for increased funding for key federal homelessness programs.  Last night was my opportunity to match each number with a face.

After more than three hours and more than 30 people counted (yes, that’s unfortunately more than one person for every square block I covered in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from the White House), I was beginning to sympathize with the challenges that every homeless person faces, but particularly those living on the streets.  There were common themes: bureaucratic delays within departments like Veterans Affairs, long waits (years and years) for Section 8 or Public Housing, and a distinct lack of housing, affordable of otherwise, into which one might be placed. As Leroy, a man who made his home for the night in front of a Subway, noted to me, “I don’t need food kitchens or a place to shower, I need housing.”

It was frustrating for me, having these conversations with veterans, the elderly, parents disconnected from their children, and everyone else to know that the solutions are out there and the programs are, for the most part, in place.  We just need the right resources and investments to take them to scale to assist people like those I met last night.

Before we departed for the Count, Scott Gould, the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, spoke briefly about the importance of conducting these count. Deputy Secretary Gould hit upon the crux of the issue by saying, “good data leads to good policy.”  We couldn’t agree more! We think the staggering numbers of people experiencing homelessness in America speak for themselves.  We know what needs to be done. Now, more than ever, is the time to make the right federal investments so that next year, or the year after that, I have a very boring, quiet night counting.

To everyone that has helped or will help conduct counts in your community this January: thank you.  Our work here at the Alliance wouldn’t be possible without your efforts. But as we know, data collection is just the first step to addressing the problem.  Now is our opportunity to take what we’ve seen and learned to Congress to make a national impact. Here in DC last night, we had it easy – walking around a beautiful city in unseasonably warm temperatures, ending the night at home in our beds. But people like Henry, Lana, and Leroy don’t have it so easy. Simply put: sequestration and balanced budgets shouldn’t keep them, or anyone else I met last night, on the streets any longer.

Join us in 2012 as we work with Congress and the Administration to improve the lives of these and others across the nation.  Together, we can make the need for PIT Counts a thing of the past.

26th January
written by Catherine An

Here’s a smattering of clips about homeless point-in-time counts conducted this week. Did we miss your community? Tell us in the comment section below or shoot us a note on Facebook or Twitter!

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25th January
written by Catherine An

Last night, President Obama delivered the State of the Union during which he spent considerable time discussing the nation’s economy. Growing economic disparities, the divide between “Wall Street” and “Main Street,” and the struggles of ordinary Americans were center stage during the speech as the president called upon Congress to  come together to solve the financial problems facing the nation.

And while the President suggested changes in the tax code, higher education credits, and investments in small businesses as some solutions, he failed to address the needs of people who live in the furthest economic fringes of society – specifically, very poor and homeless people.

Late last month, the Associated Press reported that half of all Americans are poor or low-income. And in the Alliance’s latest report, the State of Homelessness in America 2012, we examine some of the economic indicators associated with risk of homelessness.  Between 2009 and 2010, we found that indicators associated with homelessness, including unemployment, severe housing cost burden, average real income for poor workers, and uninsurance, went up.

Most striking is the increase in severely housing cost burdened individuals and families. From 2009 to 2010, the number of poor people paying more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent increased by 6 percent. The data show that 38 of the 51 states had increases in severe housing cost burden and the median state change was an increase of 6 percent. Severe housing cost burden has risen steadily for since 2007 and now, more than 75 percent of poor households in America are severely housing cost burdened.

This finding clearly illustrates why some people experience homelessness: as housing costs eat up a larger and larger percentage of a household’s monthly income, there comes a point where housing itself becomes prohibitively expensive. Moreover, when housing consumes such an overwhelming portion of household income, there is very little left for other necessities: food, transportation, education, etc. Because of this, any unplanned financial obligation – a medical emergency, an unexpected bill, etc. – could jeopardize a household’s housing situation.

This situation is alarmingly real for a significant and growing number of American households. As more and more families struggle with their economic needs and obligations, their risk of homelessness grows. And as such, as the nation moves forward to address the debt and deficit crises, it will be essential to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable people are prioritized in order to avoid increases in homelessness, suffering, and cost to the national community.

23rd January
written by Catherine An

On Wednesday, January 18, the Alliance released The State of Homelessness in America 2012. The second in a series, this year’s report finds that the slight decrease in homelessness between 2009 and 2011 can be largely attributed to the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), the stimulus-funded program aimed at curbing homelessness resulting from the recession. Moreover, the report found that indicators associated with homelessness, including severe housing cost burden and doubled up households, increased.

The story is basically this: homelessness is down mainly because of HPRP, and risk of homelessness still looms as HPRP funds diminish and risk indicators rise.

A breakdown of major findings:

  • The nation’s homeless population decreased 1 percent, or by about 7,000 people between 2009 and 2011; it went from 643,067 (2009) to 636,017 (2011). Most of the examined subpopulations, including families, chronically homeless people, and individuals, experienced a decrease in population. The only increase was among people who were unsheltered.
  • The largest decrease was among homeless veterans, whose population declined 11 percent. The number of homeless veterans went from 75,609 in 2009 to 67,495 in 2011, a reduction of about 8,000.
  • Chronic homelessness decreased by 3 percent from 110,911 in 2009 to 107,148 in 2011. The chronically homeless population has decreased by 13 percent since 2007. The decrease is associated with an increase in the number of permanent supportive housing units from 188,636 in 2007 to 266,968 in 2011. Permanent supportive housing ends chronic homelessness.
  • The number of poor households that spent more than 50 percent of their incomes on rent – defined by HUD as households that are “severely housing cost burdened” – increased by 6 percent from 5.9 million in 2009 to 6.2 million in 2010. Three-quarters of all poor renter households had severe housing cost burdens.
  • The “doubled up” population (people who live with friends, family or other nonrelatives for economic reasons) increased by 13 percent from 6 million in 2009 to 6.8 million in 2010. The doubled up population increased by more than 50 percent from 2005 to 2010.

So the work ahead is far from done. The heartening decrease in homelessness, especially in the face of a recession, indicates that the federal intervention to curb and prevent homelessness did what it was supposed to do. But now, as HPRP ends and budgets grow tighter and tighter across all levels of government, people are left still at risk and soon without resources. Without intervention, homelessness could rise in the years to come, as we’ve predicted.

Tell us what’s happening in your neighborhood and if these findings are true for you.

The State of Homelessness can be found on Alliance website:

20th January
written by Catherine An

So our news of the week is clear: on Wednesday, January 18, the Alliance released new report, The State of Homelessness in America 2012. Like last year’s, this report includes state by state counts as well as analysis of eight related indicators including severe housing cost burden and doubled up households (this year’s headliners).

To our great surprise and delight, some major news media have some interest! A big thanks to CNN, the Huffington Post, MSNBC, and Reuters for highlighting some of the findings from the report. The Fiscal Times and The Nation also went out of their way to spill a little ink on our behalf.

And in related news:

- Across the country, communities started conducting their annual homeless counts; many communities are looking for volunteers to help canvass the neighborhood.

- Popular Mechanics, ran a short online post analyzing the way the District of Columbia counts homeless veterans and sheds important light on the process.

- On Tuesday, a man was charged with the murder of four homeless men.  The serial killer caused quite a stir last week in the Los Angeles, CA area, especially among homeless men and women and direct service providers.

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19th January
written by Amanda Benton

In the vast majority of our advocacy blog posts, we discuss congressional advocacy. But there is also another important kind of advocacy:  efforts aimed at the Administration and government agencies.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released an interim regulation for the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, as required by the HEARTH Act updating HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. Normally, HUD releases a draft regulation, the public then comments on the regulation, and, finally, HUD takes those comments into consideration before publishing a final regulation – which only then goes into effect.

In this case, though, Congress specifically gave HUD more money to run the new ESG program, so HUD had to act quickly. HUD released this interim regulation, which officially went into effect on January 4, but they are still taking comments!

We’ve received a lot of questions from people who aren’t sure their comments matter this time, since the regulation is already in effect. So, we want to be clear: your comments are really critical!

The public has until Friday, February 3 to comment on the regulation. HUD will then consider those comments before eventually publishing a final, updated regulation. So, although comments won’t immediately affect the program, they’ll have a significant impact in the way the program is ultimately designed over the long run. If you or your community had any concerns about the regulations, now is your time to address them!

We’ve put out a lot of resources about the ESG regulation itself and recommendations and resources for communities beginning to implement the new ESG program. They can all be found at

To provide people with an easy starting point and helpful guidance, the Alliance has released a draft of our own comments – the newest resource at But just as you may use our comments to craft your own, we would love additional feedback from our partners across the country as to what we should include in the Alliance’s final comments. We want to hear your feedback and concerns about our comments and the regulation itself.

If you have thoughts of suggestions, please email Amanda Benton at and include “ESG Comments” in the subject line.

Even though this is a different kind of advocacy, it’s just as important. It will have a long-term impact on the communities tools have at their disposal to prevent and end homelessness. We hope you’ll take the time to submit comments to HUD, and we can’t wait to hear from you with any questions, concerns, or feedback.

18th January
written by naehblog

Our new Capacity Building Associate, Kay Moshier McDivitt, joins the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building with a strong background in community planning and programming to prevent and end homelessness. Throughout her career, she has worked to develop systems change and implement best practices specific to vulnerable populations. Kay was an early advocate for the Housing First approach, pioneering the “Shelter to Independent Living Program,” a best practices model of rapid re-housing.

Building on her community experience with the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness developing systems change and shifting the local community direction to a system of prevention, diversion, and rapid re-housing, Kay has provided consultation and technical assistance to a number of communities in ten year plan development and systems change. Kay passionately believes that ending homelessness is possible and has committed her professional career to helping communities find the tools and strategies to accomplish this goal.

The Lancaster, PA resident enjoys travel (including her commute to the Alliance office), spending time with her family, and Saturday morning breakfast with friends.

16th January
written by naehblog

Iain De Jong at an Alliance conference.

Today’s post is guest written by Iain De Jong.

In less than a month, hundreds of folks will be gathering in LA for the National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness. Six months after that, several hundred more will gather in DC for the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in July. It is a huge undertaking for the Alliance to organize these conferences and find quality service providers, researchers, and consultants to provide the sessions. It is a big commitment on the part of attendees to take time away from their work to attend. In a time of fiscal restraint it is also a big deal for organizations to set aside funds for people to attend.

So why attend? Is the investment of time and money worth it?

Yes. Absolutely. Undoubtedly. Let me tell you why.

Of all the conferences that I attend throughout North America, I can say without a doubt that the Alliance is able to pull together premier speakers that exceed every other conference I have ever attended. If you want to learn from people who really, really know their material and are masters within their field and/or informing practice within their field, these are the conferences to attend. Does that mean you will love every session that you go to? Probably not. I’ve never been to a perfect conference anywhere. But I am convinced I have considerably less disappointment at Alliance conferences compared to others.

The speakers also have integrity and are doing it for the right reasons. To be transparent, I have been a speaker at their conferences for quite a number of years now. I don’t get paid a cent to do it. I do it because this is one of the vehicles I choose to use to give back to the profession. No one is paying me to say things in a certain way or to massage a message in a particular fashion. You get what I honestly think and have learned through practice and research.

There is a little something for everyone at the conferences, and it shows in how the agenda is put together. Consider the agenda for the conference in LA next month. There are sessions on everything from improving permanent supportive housing to the role of shelters in Housing First programs; from rapid re-housing approaches for people surviving domestic violence to employment strategies that work; from understanding what data is and how to use it to the HEARTH Act; from using new media to blueprints to ending homelessness for families and youth; from reunification strategies to the role of faith-based service providers; from protecting youth from sexual trafficking to working with mainstream anti-poverty organizations. And that is just a sample.

Alliance staff are worthy of my highest esteem and it shines at conferences. These are dedicated professionals who have made it their career choice to advocate, educate, research and inform service providers, elected officials and others on how ending homelessness is possible. They are remarkably intelligent. They are innovative in how they examine issues. They are passionate about ending homelessness, and it shows. It is energizing to engage with them.

And then there are the networking opportunities that happen on a scale at Alliance conferences that doesn’t occur at other conferences. When I was a direct service provider I was always able to seek out kindred spirits to share ideas and service approaches. We jointly problem-solved and collaborated. We share ideas to this day. As a consultant and educator nowadays, I am able to also connect with service providers, policy makers and others in the same field. Some of us will always be smarter than one of us, and I believe this is proven in spades at Alliance conferences.

I hope you or someone from your organization will make the trek out to sunny California in February and we have the chance to meet. Pop by my session on Data Simplified (one of the most fun sessions at the conference – yes, I make data fun!!!) If that isn’t possible, start saving your pennies now to come to DC in July. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Iain De Jong is the President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting, Inc., an award-winning practitioner and policy-maker, a long-time friend of the National Alliance to End Homelessness and a frequent presenter at Alliance Conferences. Learn more about Iain and his work at or @orgcode on Twitter or

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