Archive for January, 2012
On behalf of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, I would like to express our deepest gratitude to you, our supporters and donors. In this tough economic climate, the Alliance has been able to defy the odds and carry out our program goals without cutting back. That is because we have the support of such wonderful and committed donors. Thank you.
Here at the Alliance, we know that budgets are tight and there are many, many charities doing great work. As a donor, you have a multitude of choices for where to invest your money. Thank you for choosing the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Your donation makes a difference. Your donation helps people like Robin and her three young children who were evicted from their apartment when Robyn lost her job and could no longer pay the rent. Robin’s family had to turn to a shelter in Washington, DC for a place to sleep.
After spending months in shelter, Robyn’s family was able to move into their own apartment. That’s because she had the help of a local nonprofit organization that assigned Robyn a case manager to help her get back on her feet. Once Robyn got her family settled in a stable place to live, she found a job as a part-time line cook at a local university. Her excellence on the job led to a promotion to full-time cook.
Robyn loves her job and she also loves that it allows her to pay the rent and support her family. She is thankful for the help she received when times were hard. The help she received was critical to finding a solution to their homelessness – a home and a job.
The Alliance works with organizations across the country to help families and individuals just like Robyn. Jointly, we are making it possible to prevent and end homelessness in America. Thank you again for supporting this work. Your commitment to our shared goal of ending homelessness is inspiring.
As we move forward in ending homelessness, we have seen an increasing focus on measuring positive outcomes for clients. Programs and systems are evaluated on their ability to produce these outcomes. For some, this has caused a fear that programs will “cream”.
When we talk about “creaming” in the homelessness system, we talk about intentionally selecting families and individuals that we expect will have the best outcomes to participate in our programs. The term is particularly used when we talk about programs that are rich in services and provide longer term financial assistance. While this may seem selfish or calculating, it isn’t always. Sometimes we fear “setting up a client for failure” or providing an intervention and, at the end of it, “being right back where we started”.
The assumption of some people who “cream” in their programs is that community resources could be wasted and as such, these people offer their resources to families or individuals who could take better advantage of limited capital. Unfortunately, this is the wrong assumption on both accounts and, often, the cost to communities is both human and economic.
To start with, we know from research on rapid re-housing that the majority of families are able to exit homelessness to permanent housing with very little help. Unfortunately, the families and individuals who are often the most in need of assistance (and frequently the deepest assistance) are also the families and individuals who look like they will “fail”. They end up being left with little or no assistance, spending long stays in emergency shelters or worse, on the street or in another unsafe environment. The impact these long stays have on individuals, families, and children are sometimes not measurably negative, but they are known to disrupt to family dynamics, increase the incidence of depression, and compromise children’s education.
In addition to the human toll that long stays in homelessness take on families and individuals who are the most in need of assistance and the least likely to exit homelessness independently, these families and individuals tend to cost systems – not just the homelessness system, but mainstream systems as well – a lot of money. By not directly targeting these families and individuals and instead choosing households who may not have been able to exit homelessness with very little assistance or no assistance, programs are actually costing the community additional resources in shelter expenditures, jails and police costs, child protective services interventions, and health care.
While “creaming”—either intentional or unintentional—may help improve a single program’s outcomes, in the long run it diminishes a community’s likelihood of ending homelessness and places additional burden on the families and individuals most in need within a community.
What makes a housing program good? What is the difference between good housing programs and great housing programs? Which types of housing approaches work best for which populations? Throughout my career I have been investigating these questions, putting them in practice and sharing with others what I have learned – and can prove. I am an evidence-informed practitioner with a penchant for being a skeptical empiricist and I do not embrace hunches and anecdotes. I have come to understand that there are 10 essential elements for a successful rapid re-housing or Housing First program
I love seeing the profound change in people when they make the transition from being homeless to having sustainable housing and life stability. For the past couple of years I have been working with communities around the world to help them establish, evaluate, and tweak their housing programs to achieve better long-term success, use their resources effectively, and never lose sight of their mission (which is to end homelessness, in case you are wondering). Prior to that I spent five years starting and growing a highly successful and very large housing program – and we evaluated and researched what we were doing, learning why certain practices seemed to work and others did not. (I should also point out that I am a nerd to the nth degree and hold a faculty position in the Graduate Planning Programme at York University.) Without further adieu, here are the first 5 of the 10 essential elements for a successful rapid re-housing or Housing First program.
1. Know the population you aim to serve
Housing programs should never attempt to be all things to all people. From explaining your program’s intent to prospective clients, to hiring the best people to provide housing access and support services, it is necessary for you to know who you are intending to serve and why. It is important to make the right program available to the right person at the right time if you want to see your homeless service system optimized (which you can read more about here). Some advice:
- Do NOT have a first come, first served approach to housing services.
- Have a centralized intake process or standardized process across your community (great examples can be found in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio).
- Measure acuity of presenting issues (the Vulnerability Assessment Tool, Vulnerability Index and Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool are all good options) and facilitate access to the right housing program to meet their needs.
- Remember that homelessness for most people is a once-in-a-lifetime event for a very short period of time. Most of those folks will end their own homelessness and aren’t going to need intensive services from your organization. Do not do anything that will prolong their homelessness (for example, employment programs that require people to be homeless in order to participate).
- Rapid re-housing is a specific type of housing intervention. It isn’t just about getting people into housing quickly. It is about supporting individuals or families with a few complex issues in accessing housing and providing the supports necessary for them to integrate into the community and, ultimately, no longer need your supports.
- Housing First is also a specific type of housing intervention. While it is housing first, it is not housing only. This type of housing intervention is for persons who have experienced chronic homelessness and have multiple complex issues. Both Intensive Case Management and Assertive Community Treatment approaches have proven to be effective in support delivery, and require fidelity to the intervention to be successful longer term.
2. Have the right service orientation
The key to having the right service orientation is to meet people where they are at – rather than expecting our clients to conform to our programs. To truly be client-centered we need to check, double-check, and even triple check that we aren’t system-centered or client-directed. If you want to make sure you have the right service orientation:
- Allow clients to make choices – from the type of housing they move into, to the type, frequency, duration and intensity of services;
- Provide supports in vivo – in the client’s natural settings and their home rather than expecting them to come to an office or trying to deliver supports through text messages, phone calls, or email;
- Ensure the service plan is individualized as opposed to “cookie cutter”;
- Remember to avoid coercion and judgment;
- De-link the housing support functions from the tenancy (if they lose their housing they don’t lose their supports);
- Appreciate that neither sobriety nor treatment participation nor medication compliance are preconditions for housing success;
- Exercise harm reduction;
- Help people integrate into their community;
- Teach, model, and support people instead of creating unrealistic expectations or being punitive;
- Appreciate your role is to support housing stability, not to “fix” people;
- Remember that your goal is to be professional, not charitable.
3. There are five sequential and essential components
Delivering your housing program in the right order with the right focus of attention is critically important. The order for maximum success is as follows:
1. Focus on Housing Before Anything Else
2. Create an Individualized Service Plan – After the Person has been Housed
3. Increase Self Awareness
4. Support Achievements in Self Management
5. Allow the Client to Reframe/Rebuild One’s Life and Future
4. Structure and staff the housing team properly
Successful housing programs have comparable team structures and roles:
Team Leader – supervise housing case managers and is dedicated to ensuring fidelity to the program, measuring output and outcomes, and coaching for success
Housing Case Managers – can support clients in various phases of housing stability, and use proactive, objective-based discussions with clients to facilitate change and better housing and life stability.
Housing Locator – specializes in working with landlords and gaining access to housing stock. The best ones understand how rental markets and the business of being a landlord works.
5. Work well with landlords & understand their business
If you are working with landlords in the private market, you first need to appreciate that renting housing is a business. Engage with landlords from a business perspective and demonstrate how your approach can help them make more money. If you go into the discussion looking for landlords with big hearts you may find a few, but you likely won’t get as many units long term or be as successful than if you go into it from a business perspective.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the 10 Essential Elements of Successful Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing programs, which looks at items 6-10 in the list.
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 www.orgcode.com or @orgcode or www.facebook.com/orgcode
- The New York Times ran a compelling story about failed adoptions contributing to the increased youth homelessness. When foster families fail to take responsibility for their adopted young people, the youth – often with limited resources and education – often wind up homeless.
- The Times ran another story about “permanent patients” in New York hospitals. These patients, though well enough to be discharged to private residences or continuous care facilities, “languish” in hospitals due to immigration status, lack of sufficient insurance, or lack of appropriate housing. Unfortunately, hospitals end up absorbing millions of dollars in care costs when these patients could be sufficiently cared for at much lower costs in more appropriate settings.
- Adolfo Carrion, NY regional administrator at HUD, penned a thoughtful guest opinion in the Times Union about “an investment in the end of homelessness.”
- And finally, in California, news has been percolating about a serial killer victimizing homeless people. This morning, Orange County (CA) police but homeless people on alert after the murder of three homeless men.
- @ThinkT3 and @Ntl_Homeless send us a note about this article about a new housing initiative for homeless or at-risk veterans.
- @leighallen pointed us to a @huffingtonpost story about a tent city in Lakewood, NJ.
Keep pointing us to stories that you think are interesting about homelessness, poverty, and housing and we’ll be sure to include them in our Friday blogs!
Happy New Year!
As we discussed last month, there are plenty of ways to engage the media to raise awareness among the public and decisionmakers about homelessness in your community. Last month, we focused on the opportunity provided by the holidays to highlight the issue. Today, we’d like to discuss an upcoming opportunity to use data to raise awareness.
About a year ago, the Alliance released The State of Homelessness in America 2011. By working with our local partners, we were able to draw more attention to the issue of homelessness and its solutions than we could have working alone. In fact, dozens of local and national media outlets ran stories last January that mentioned the report and focused on how communities were coping with the challenges of the recession and its lingering effects.
The release of new local, state, or national data is often a great opportunity to work with the media and write editorials, submit letters to the editor, or pitch stories. The data provided in the report is the “hook” reporters are looking for, and it provides an opportunity to tell the story about the great work being done locally to address homelessness, despite the challenging economic situation. It is critical to inform the media – and through them, our communities and opinion leaders – about the importance of ending homelessness.
The Alliance is excited to announce another opportunity to collaborate with our partners across the country to do so. Next Thursday, January 12 at 1 p.m. ET, the Alliance will host a webinar to launch a national media campaign to raise awareness about homelessness. The campaign will occur in conjunction with the release of a new Alliance report with national and state data on homelessness, economic indicators of homelessness, and the demographic drivers of homelessness.
During the webinar, presenters will summarize the key findings of the report and discuss strategies for approaching reporters. We’ll even send out sample letters to the editor and other sample materials after the call to make it easier to contact members of the media. With our partners’ help, we can use this new report to educate and persuade decisionmakers about the scope of this problem and ways to implement real solutions.
If you are interested in joining the campaign but are unable to participate in the webinar, please contact Kate Seif at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alliance is proud and pleased to announce that acclaimed writer and activist Barbara Ehrenreich will serve as keynote speaker for the 2012 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness.
Ehrenreich is best known for her work, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. The book is a memoir of the writer’s three month experiment on living on minimum wage; Ehrenreich tried to stay housed, fed, and safe while working as a waitress, a maid, a WalMart employee, A NURSING HOME AIDE. The book was widely reviewed as a thoughtful and gripping depiction of life for people at the economic margins of society and shed important light on the issues of affordable housing and living wages.
Ehrenreich has also written Bait and Switch, Bright-sided, This Land is Their Land, and Dancing in the Streets, along with MANY essays and articles about social justice, feminism, and poverty. She has contributed to a wide array of publications, including TIME, The New York Times, the Washington post, The New Republic, the Nation, Mother Jones, and Ms. Magazine. She has also lectured at hundreds of colleges and universities and for community groups and civic organizations, in many countries around the world.
The Alliance looks forward to hearing Ehrenreich’s thoughtful perspective on poverty, housing affordability, and homelessness at the conference – and we hope you’re there too! For questions about the conference or to learn more about conference highlights, please visit the conference website.
For more on Barbara Ehrenreich, please visit her website.
With our National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness a mere month away, we revisit a blog post originally written in September of this year by Director for Families and Youth Sharon McDonald.
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.