Archive for June, 2012

29th June
written by Sam Batko

In 2010, the most recent annual data we have from HUD, there were nearly 170,000 homeless households with children in the nation.  We know that a large number of those households are headed by young parents.  In fact, the Alliance estimates that over 25 percent of homeless families are headed by a young adult under the age of 25—that’s approximately 50,000 to 60,000 families a year.

Because these families are accessing the homeless services through the adult family system, their needs as developing young adults may not necessarily be noticed or attended to and there may be some solutions to their homelessness that are being overlooked.

We know that the majority of homeless youth return home to family and that family intervention is a strategy that can effectively end homelessness not just for youth under the age of 18, but also for youth over the age of 18.  When serving a family headed by a young adult, providers should be attentive to whether or not there is a parent or extended family member that is willing to take in the young parent and their child(ren).  This may provide a more stable and supportive living arrangement for a young parent.

For young parents that cannot be reunified with family or a caring adult, rapid re-housing, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing have all proven effective in ending a young parents’ homelessness when properly targeted.  The Alliance has created a new page on its website dedicated to young parents.  The page provides more detail on what families headed by young parents look like, the interventions that may be appropriate for them, and a number of resources that provide more details on those interventions.

Comments Off
28th June
written by Kate Seif

Yesterday, the House voted on the fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The bill provides $2.05 billion for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants – a $104 million increase over the FY 2012 funding level. In this fiscal environment, this may seem like good news, but in reality, it creates a shortfall because of the fund distribution process. What this basically means for this funding cycle is that the increase would be insufficient to maintain the level of housing and services provided in 2012, and for 2013, approximately 25,000 people would be homeless instead of housed.

To really understand the funding implications, and how the distribution process works at the federal level, we need to delve a little deeper into what this funding level means.

Unfortunately, because of accounting issues, the approximately $100 million increase would actually mean less money for homeless assistance programs to spend. While it may be a bit confusing, this blog should help clear the air a bit on why, in FY 2013, what seems like more is actually less. Essentially, Congress is providing HUD with funding for housing and services up to several years before they are actually provided, and then once that cycle expires, it will cost more for HUD to continue the same level of spending on housing and services going forward.  Thus, the proposed FY 2013 funding level won’t cover what is already in place.

How it works:

Some of HUD’s Continuum of Care (CoC) grants initially operate under multi-year contracts. These renewals typically comprise most of the funding provided by Congress to McKinney programs each year. The annual funding appropriation from Congress is like a deposit into HUD’s checking account, to be paid out to providers over a certain number of years. In these CoC programs, all the funding for a multi-year contract is deposited into HUD’s bank account, if you will, in the first year of the contract. Each year, HUD distributes funds to providers from that initial deposit for the duration of the contract, so Congress does not need to provide any additional appropriations. When the initial contract expires and funds have dried up, in order to keep paying for the same level of services and housing, new money has to be put in HUD’s checking account. Thus, Congress must increase HUD’s budget authority in the appropriations bill so that spending under the Continuum of Care grants may continue at the same level as in the previous year. You can learn more about all the nitty-gritty details of the appropriations process here.

Okay, here’s an example:

Suppose HUD awarded $350,000 to a provider in FY 2008 for rent subsidies for people experiencing homelessness. Typically, under the law in effect at that time, HUD would be required to award five years’ worth of rent subsidies (for a five-year contract). Under congressional accounting rules, the entire $350,000 would be set aside from the FY 2008 appropriation to last for five years. In the first year, HUD would write $70,000 worth of checks to landlords for those housed, and $280,000 would remain. In each of the remaining four years of the contract, HUD would provide another $70,000 to the landlords out of the remaining funds, but Congress would not need to appropriate any additional funds for the project.

But by FY 2013, the money is gone, and those people are still living in their apartments and need their rent paid. Therefore, in FY 2013, HUD will need an additional $70,000 from Congress in the FY 2013 appropriations bill in order to continue to pay the landlords. Thus, HUD will spend the same amount of money in FY 2013 as in FY 2012 ($70,000), but the amount appropriated by Congress will be greater than in FY 2012. All subsequent renewals, after the initial contract expires, would be done through one-year contracts. So, the amount appropriated by Congress and the amount spent by HUD would be the same in FY 2013 and all future years. The following chart summarizes how federal funding would be made available for this one project:

As a result, Congress could provide an increase in appropriations in FY 2013 (such as the House bill does – about a $100 million increase), while still having an end result that the number of people served and contracts supported see a cut in funding. There’s not enough of that $100 million increase to go around among all these programs already housing and assisting people. Under the House’s proposal, some existing programs just won’t get funded, or won’t be fully funded at the same level as they have been.

So, as I said earlier, this basically means the increase would be insufficient to maintain the level of housing and services provided in 2012. As a result, approximately 25,000 people would be homeless instead of housed.

For FY 2013, the Senate provided $2.145 billion for McKinney – enough for all renewals and $286 million for the Emergency Solutions Grant program, though it’s still not as much as the $2.231 billion requested by the President. To avoid what we have estimated as an approximately 5 percent across-the-board cut to CoC funding, Congress must provide a greater increase in McKinney funding than the House did.

Help us make sure that Congress knows that letting 25,000 people be homeless instead of housed would be unacceptable! Urge them to provide $2.231 – the amount requested by the President – for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. Act now!

27th June
written by Norm Suchar

A few months ago, we brought you a series of posts about Alameda County’s efforts to implement the HEARTH Act through performance measurement (here, here, and here). How have things gone since then? Well, they’ve just published another performance report, and the improvements are impressive. Here’s are a couple of highlights from the report:

  • The system demonstrated a 30% increase in the rate of persons exiting programs with permanent housing from 33% in 2010 to 43% in 2011
  • Both transitional housing and emergency shelter providers reduced the length of time between program entry and acquiring permanent housing by 8% and 6% respectively
  • Finally, providers increased the numbers of persons exiting with some income who entered the system with none. Helping people to secure earned income remained a challenge for our system.

Here’s a chart that summarizes some of the permanent housing outcomes by program type, and there’s a lot more in the report. Nice work.

Rates People Obtain Permanent Housing by Sector

Comments Off
26th June
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Eduardo SanFilippo, Youth Policy Fellow for the Alliance. 

What if a community made up less than half a percent of the American population but accounted for up to five percent of the homeless youth population? This is the reality facing transgender youth.

Recognizing this trend, many providers around the country have taken the important step of updating their non-discrimination policies to reflect the presence of transgender youth within their target populations. This policy adjustment, which aligns with our own recommendations here at the Alliance, must be matched by a shift in practice due to these youth’s unique challenges and needs. For example, if a youth self-identifies as transgender, should he or she be housed by anatomical gender or gender identity? Which bathrooms are most appropriately used? Should this analysis change based on whether the youth has already started the formal transition process through hormone therapy or other means?

First and foremost, providers must ensure a safe environment where youth feel secure in divulging their gender identity, and this means more than a non-discrimination policy. An atmosphere of inclusiveness must be fostered; staff and volunteers should receive training about issues pertaining to gender identity and expression, and the values of inclusiveness should be conveyed and enforced throughout the organization.

Under this framework, practices can be implemented that respect the gender identity of transgender youth while ensuring their safety. Shelter and housing options should be based on the youth’s gender identity and an individualized assessment. Transgender youth should not be isolated from other youth, even with seemingly good intentions; this can enhance feelings of depression and lead to further stigmatization. Working with individual transgender youth to arrange safe accommodation is the most appropriate means of minimizing discomfort and potential harm.

Even issues pertaining to bathroom and shower usage are not insurmountable. The Child Welfare League of America, Inc.’s ‘Best Practice Guide’ recommends a number of practices:

  • Installing privacy doors or other barriers on bathroom stalls and showers that also permit reasonable staff supervision.
  • Making single-use bathroom and shower facilities available to transgender youth.
  • Permitting transgender youth to use the bathroom and shower facilities before or after the other youth on the unit.
  • Facilities should make similar accommodations to ensure that transgender youth have sufficient privacy when dressing and undressing.


25th June
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog is from Maddison Bruer, who we will be hearing from periodically on our blog this summer as she updates us on her work with Bridges of Norman.

Howdy folks! Well, we’re inching further and further into summer, and we sure can feel the heat here in Oklahoma. Our summers can be filled with long days of 100-degree weather and outrageous storms.

Anyway, let’s get to what’s going on at Bridges. When I left you all I had explained that I would be working with Bridges of Norman, a nonprofit geared toward supporting homeless youth in the local community. I, myself, am a graduate of the program having been there for about three years.  I completed my first year at The George Washington University but feel as though I’ve been gone ten years! Bridges is constantly changing, adding new methods of reaching out to homeless youth and working to support their current students.

Some New Things @ Bridges: The most notable change in the Bridges’ scene is their new method of helping kids get around town. For as along I can remember being there (and after experiencing the problem myself), Bridges has encountered trouble with solutions to getting students to school, work, appointments, etc. At first staff were simply giving the students rides themselves, but then that cut a lot into staff time. Then, Bridges implemented a ‘volunteer carpool’, which consisted of volunteers across our community giving up time to drive students to where they needed to go. Said volunteers would have their names put on a list, and when a student needed to go somewhere, that student would give a staff member an advanced warning and that staff member would go to the volunteer carpool list and call somebody up to see if he or she was available. Nowadays, Bridges has a whole new method of breaking through the transportation obstacle, and it’s called the motorbike. After months of research, Bridges has begun a partnership with a local motorbike dealer who sells the two-wheeled rascals to Bridges who then loans them to students. That student then signs a contract with Bridges that includes that student having to take a safety driving course before riding (among many other things).  It’s a sort of complex system, based a lot on trust, but so far, so good.

My time at Bridges has been great, and it’s quite interesting being able to see the whole system from this side. Sometimes I look at these young adults going it alone as just high school students and wonder, ‘How did I do it? How are these students doing it?’ Then I remember that our circumstances made us stronger than we will ever imagine. Bridges, and other programs like it, makes the difference between living in poverty and going to college, but if a person doesn’t want to be better, they will never get better.

Until next time,


Comments Off
22nd June
written by Andre Wade

There are so many unaccompanied runaway and homeless minors that don’t get served by runaway and homeless youth (RHY) providers that child welfare should make these minors a priority population that it serves. Nationally, RHY programs serve about 50,000 minors and older youth each year. Here at the Alliance we estimate that there are still about 400,000 minors still in need of shelter and services.

So what can child welfare do to change how it responds to unaccompanied runaway and homeless minors?

  • When State’s develop their Child and Family Service Plans they can identify unaccompanied runway and homeless minors as a sub-population they will serve. And this doesn’t necessarily mean that these minor youth have to become wards of the state and possibly placed into foster care.

And how can these minors be served?

  1.  The Promoting Safe and Stable Families program dollars can be used to provide family intervention services such as counseling, reunification services, to address the core issues that led to the minor youth exiting the home and to reunify the minor with his/her family if it is safe to do so.
  2. Through a Differential (or Alternative) Response, these minors and their families can receive services to strengthen the family and address core crises, instead of a child becoming a word of the state and a parent having an open child protective services case.

The goal is to increase resources for runaway and homeless minors to get them off of the street and to safety, which many times means back home to their families.

In Alameda County (California) a demonstration project is underway that brings together child welfare, runaway and homeless youth providers, and Legal Aid services to help to identify minors who may benefit from child welfare services that are evolving and improving through California’s implementation of AB 12.  This promising approach may lead to other jurisdictions to re-think how their child welfare system responds to unaccompanied minors.

Image courtesy of Dara Gocheski.

Comments Off
21st June
written by Kate Seif

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee announced its funding levels for key programs serving low-income and homeless people within the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, and Education (yes, it’s quite a big bill!). To cut to the chase, many of the programs on which the Alliance works and on which people experiencing homelessness rely, including SAMHSA Homeless Services, Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) programs, Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH), and the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program, along with many other programs, would receive the same amount of funding in fiscal year (FY) 2013 under the Senate’s proposal as they do in FY 2012.

Many of these programs, – especially RHYA programs – have seen several years of flat funding in a row – despite increased need, despite a bad economy that continues to fare poorly month after month, and despite the program’s target population: our nation’s most vulnerable young people.

In recognition that flat funding is not enough, the Alliance has made RHYA and SAMHSA two of its top priorities for Capitol Hill Day this year.  We are hoping to bring these two issues, and a handful of others, to the forefront of congressional offices’ minds and educate as many Members of Congress as possible on the importance of these key programs.  We’ve got loads of materials to help participants prepare, and our State Captains are in the process of setting meetings up with key Members (in the House and Senate). But in order to make the biggest impact, we need you!!

If you’re planning on coming to the National Conference on Ending Homelessness (in less than a month’s time!), join us as we make sure that Congress knows the impact of these programs and hears loud and clear from all of you that flat funding is not enough! We are working extra hard this year to ensure that youth providers play a big role in Capitol Hill Day, so get involved! Reach out to us or your State Captains to find out how we can work together to ensure that these programs are not forgotten!

20th June
written by Kim Walker

I’m back to talk again about one of my favorite topics, coordinated assessment. But today I wanted to share something beyond information about how to do it, who’s currently doing it well, and how to structure it, though if you want that information our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit is always available (and expanding!)!

My secret to share today is this: A great front door is nothing without a great back door.

Imagine that a new and great restaurant opens in town. Tons of people flood to get reservations, and the restaurant does a great job of managing them – no one who calls needs to be put on hold and everyone gets the reservation they want. However, once you arrive for your slot, the kitchen isn’t properly stocked and only has one or two things on the menu. After waiting hours for the kitchen to get restocked, you give up and go home hungry.

For coordinated assessment to really work in its intended manner, the focus has to be not just on getting people to the programs that fit their unique needs and housing barriers best, but matching people with programs that will help them quickly re-enter permanent housing. Having a great system that can accept lots of people but offers no connections to permanent housing is a lot like sending people home hungry in the example above: they weren’t served properly and they didn’t get what they came for. The reasons people become homeless are varied, but the reasons they remain homeless are all the same – they lack permanent housing.

To prevent this from happening within homeless assistance systems, some individual programs are going to have to make some changes for the greater good of the people they serve beyond committing to allowing the assessment centers to make referral and admissions decisions. Programs will have to take a hard look at how they run, asking themselves questions like these:

  • Are we focused on the housing needs of our clients above all else?
  • Do we know how to provide support services in a way that addresses our clients’ barriers to obtaining and maintaining housing?
  • Do we have connections to the resources needed to help clients get into housing (subsidies, landlords, etc.)?
  • Do we know how to connect households with more intensive needs to permanent supportive housing?

Providers must focus on addressing the barriers preventing a household from re-entering permanent housing and helping clients build the strengths that will allow them to maintain it. Above all, all of us – providers and everyone else involved with homeless assistance –  must remember that our primary role is to help the households we serve get back into permanent housing as quickly as possible.

Programs – and systems –  that focus on helping clients move into permanent housing and supporting them in that housing they’ll get the outcomes that are best for everyone.  For some systems, that’s s a new focus, and a lot to handle, and it’ll take some time to get all the “kitchens” in a homeless assistance system in order. But the information we have shows us that a strong and effective front door paired with best practices like targeted prevention, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing will help us end homelessness, which will be a great feat. And luckily, we also know that providers and homeless assistance systems everywhere are capable of great things.

Image courtesy of Fey Ilyas.

Comments Off
19th June
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern for the Alliance.

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting for the Research Council, a group comprised of prominent researchers in the areas of homelessness and housing from around the country. The Council meets to gather and share their new information and recent research activities, propose new research to fill existing gaps, and guide the agenda of the Homelessness Research Institute, the research division of the Alliance.  At the end of most meetings some kind of research agenda is prepared from the meeting’s conversation.  This time the Council was visited by several researchers from HUD who were able to listen and respond to the suggestions that the researchers made.  Besides being among greats within the homelessness and housing sphere, it was really cool to be able to see how the Alliance sets its research agenda and interacts with agencies like HUD.

The meeting covered a vast swath of topics, from youth homelessness, to child welfare and housing instability, to homelessness among veterans and single men. The conversation was a whirlwind of acronyms, abbreviations, and statistics, most of which went way over my head, but all of which are extremely important to know and definitely expanded my understanding of all things related to homelessness. Many of the ideas that the Council discussed have been questions that researchers have been trying to answer for years but have not been able to definitively address for one reason or another, so it was interesting to hear it all in one place!

Though the conversation was rife with interesting facts and research, perhaps the most interesting was about the “Cohort Effect” among the aging homeless population.  Within the shelter system, the population is heavily skewed toward single adults, particularly older men, with the median age hovering around 50. The Cohort Effect suggests that during the 1980s, when widespread homelessness appeared in the US in its current form, several factors—such as an economic recession and the emergence of crack cocaine—led to persistent and chronic homelessness among the single adults.  Isolation from the job market during the recession followed by the drug epidemic in the mid-80s conspired to keep this cohort out of the housing market and legal economy.  This is especially interesting because of the implications this effect has for providing health care to an aging homeless population.

The two most dominant ideas, both of which ended up being placed on the research agenda and suggested to the visiting HUD researchers involved using the pre-existing social system to analyze the efficacy of several programs.  The first suggested using the structure of the emergency shelter system to see if the levels of alcohol consumption or intoxication allowed in a shelter (e.g. whether that shelter is dry, damp, or wet) affects how utilized that shelter is.

The second idea suggested using the Family Unification Program (FUP) to look at how the program’s voucher could be better utilized for children who receive FUP support.  In addition to those two ideas, suggestions about researching the success rates of rapid re-housing, particularly about recidivism rates of individuals leaving rapid re-housing programs, made up the bulk of the research agenda suggestions.

At the end of the day my head was spinning and I left the meeting with the same feeling that exchange students have after their first day speaking their new language: I could understand everything that was being said to me, but responding was another issue altogether.  Even though the meeting was like diving headfirst into a pool without really knowing how to swim, I learned more about the American social service system in one day than I have in any research setting prior and I felt like I had accomplished something.  I’m really excited to keep having this feeling throughout my internship (especially the part about feeling accomplished; there’s nothing like a good ego boost every once in a while!).

Comments Off
18th June
written by Andre Wade

There are many benefits for implementing family intervention for runaway and homeless youth such as:

  • Ending a homelessness episode;
  • Having a housing destination for a youth;
  • Improving relationships and strengthening a family;
  • Increasing the potential of  a youth having positive outcomes; and
  • Mitigating future runaway or throwaway episodes.

As part of Family Reunification Month the Alliance hosted a webinar on family intervention that discusses the importance of family intervention, practices used to reunify and connect homeless youth with their parents, as well as the Support to Reunite, Involve, and Value Each Other (STRIVE) model. The webinar features myself, Tania Pryce of Youth Services of Tulsa, and Dr. Norweeta Milburn of UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Family intervention is a strategic intervention to link unaccompanied runaway and homeless youth, regardless of age, to their family. Family intervention is an umbrella term that can include discrete strategies such as family reunification, family connecting and family finding. Aftercare services can be a form of family intervention that is provided to a youth and their family, after a youth has exited a program. The purpose is to provide a youth and their family with additional supports and resources such as referrals to community providers, and financial assistance to facilitate a youth’s self-sufficiency and/or to maintain the youth in the home. The goal of family intervention can be to return a youth to his or her family, or to connect him or her to a caring adult, or to provide a family with additional resources after a youth has exited a program to keep the family intact.

Comments Off