Archive for July, 2012
In his highlights of the themes of our 2012 National Conference, our Vice President Steve Berg touched on the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in its 1999 Olmstead decision.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Act requires states to grant people with disabilities the choice of where to live, and that states must avoid placing them in living situations that segregate them from the rest of society. The Olmstead decision, and a number of cases that followed, spoke specifically about state Medicaid programs. However, the Olmstead decision is about “community integration” broadly, and has continues to shape the ways in which state programs and services promote the rights of people with disabilities, particularly their right to live in the least restrictive settings of their choice.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has an interest in upholding Olmstead principles, as it does all federal fair housing provisions. While HUD’s purview may raise thorny questions about what kinds of housing are suitable for disabled people who are experiencing homelessness, an important, practical implication of the Olmstead decision is that it makes more resources available to house people who are experiencing chronic homelessness.
Recently, HUD published guidance about the role of public housing agencies (PHAs) in reducing inappropriate institutionalization of persons with disabilities. It is worth reading the entire document, for it gives needed context to local decision-making that can affect plans to end chronic homelessness.
For example, “persons at serious risk of institutionalization” can be included, along with those who are exiting institutions, in a local preference providing subsidies for people with disabilities. The guidance describes how such a preference can work, and offers other examples of actions a PHA can take to leverage resources and programs to realize Olmstead goals.
When states and localities make Olmstead decisions that affect mainstream housing and services programs, homeless service advocates should be involved. Participation in Delaware, for instance, resulted in people experiencing chronic homelessness being included among other groups of persons with disabilities as a target population.
Here are some ways advocates can connect with Olmstead efforts:
- Learn more about the history of the ADA and Olmstead in your state. Most states have developed ADA compliance plans, with stakeholder consensus. The National Center for Personal Attendant Services tracks Olmstead matters, and updates state-specific plan information. To find these resources, search Olmstead on the main page. Also, the web-based resource, HCBS Clearinghouse, offers information and tools for state Medicaid reform.
- Reach out to statewide disability groups, including state affiliates of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Look for ways to collaborate on ADA and Olmstead enforcement.
- Advocate for people who are chronically homeless within the diverse communities of people with disabilities people in your state and locality. Describe the systems of care and proven interventions for homeless people, the role of permanent supportive housing, and collaborative possibilities.
U.S. Department of Justice website dedicated to Olmstead.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, Olmstead website.
Image Courtesy of Kate Mereand-Sinha
On Thursday, June 28, 2012, Congressman Mike Honda and his colleagues launched the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus (CABC). The CABC is a bipartisan caucus made up of members of Congress who are “committed to the belief that all communities deserve a safe environment to thrive, and that our nation is in urgent need of solutions that stop bullying – both offline and online – now and forever.”
While the link between bullying and homelessness might seem remote, youths often cite school issues as a factor in their pathway to homelessness. Bullying can enhance feelings of isolation and can contribute to a youth feeling disconnected from their community. Problems at home only exacerbate this problem. As a colleague recently stated, if a youth feels marginalized at school and misunderstood (or worse) at home, they might see leaving as their only option.
“More than thirteen million children are teased, taunted, and physically assaulted by their peers each year,” Chairman Honda said in a statement. “This bullying is not confined to classroom walls; the fear and hurt that so many people feel in America today is an urgent call to action.”
The CABC is seeking to address the bullying component of this problem, and the Alliance is one of the organizations formally supporting the caucus. Our focus, however, remains on finding solutions for youth homelessness and seeking strategies to prevent it when possible. Family interventions might be one prevention method with ties to the bullying issue. For example, the Family Acceptance Project is an initiative that works towards helping ethnically, socially, and religiously diverse families decrease rejection and increase support for their LGBT children. Youth who feel accepted and supported are more likely to remain in their home, stability which can have long-lasting positive outcomes, and which might help mitigate any harassment faced at school.
Readers interested how bullying has affected the lives of youths can find personal stories online at Congressman Honda’s web site.
The Alliance remains committed to exploring prevention strategies and solutions to youth homelessness. We look forward to seeing the results of CABC’s efforts.
Today’s guest blog is from Nancy Bernstine, executive director of the National AIDS Housing Coalition.
Today the International AIDS Conference (IAC), which is being held in the U.S. for the first time in 22 years, is concluding.
This convening of 20,000 people from across the world gave us an opportunity to explore the global dimensions of housing for people with HIV-AIDS. The National AIDS Housing Coalition (NAHC) and our Canadian partners, the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), are pleased to have sponsored an affiliated independent event, the International Leadership Summit on Housing on July 21 at the World Bank’s Preston Auditorium.
Housing remains the most critical need of people with HIV-AIDS living in the United States. The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS program (HOPWA) serves about 60,000 households, but according to grantee reports, more than 145,000 people who are in need of housing assistance still go unserved.
Research on housing and people living with HIV-AIDS (much of which has been presented through the Housing and HIV-AIDS Research Summit series) documents improved health care outcomes for people with HIV-AIDS who are challenged by poverty, homelessness and stigma. Research also has shown that housing assistance can be a cost-effective health care intervention for people with HIV-AIDS, with a cost “per quality-adjusted life year” in the same range as such widely accepted health care practices as mammography and renal dialysis.
The purpose of our summit was to bring together, from every continent, researchers, policy makers, service providers and people living with HIV-AIDS, to share and discuss research findings and policy initiatives that address the global challenges presented by housing instability. The attendance of many participants from Kenya, Nigeria, Haiti, India , and Ecuador the Philippines was made possible by scholarships awarded by the NAHC.
Summit keynote speakers included Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and Paul Delay, deputy director, as well as Stephen Lewis, cofounder and co-director of AIDS-Free World. All speakers acknowledged the importance of housing in the global response to the epidemic, and several suggested strategies for more fully integrating housing in the millennium goals now being formulated by the United Nations to guide the global response to HIV after 2015.
Summit leaders focused on the roles of poverty, housing insecurity and other social drivers of the ongoing AIDS crisis. Topics included housing status as a predictor of HIV risk; treatment and mortality; rights-based advocacy for housing; as well as the provision of housing for everyone, including orphans, drug-users and sex workers.
The goal of the Housing Summit was to build upon the work of six previous Research Summits to construct a platform that invites the development of research; internationalizes the research and policy agenda; and develops new partners and enhanced support for structural HIV prevention and care interventions in a global context. More information from the Summit will be posted to the permanent website www.hivhousingsummit.org.
The next Summit is scheduled for Montreal in September 2013.
Last week, advocates from across the country participated in Capitol Hill Day 2012 in conjunction with the Alliance’s National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC. Hundreds of conference attendees took advantage of the fact that they were in the nation’s capital to meet with their congressional delegations and educate them about homelessness in their communities and the ways in which federal policy can better support local efforts to prevent and end homelessness.
This is the third Capitol Hill Day I have planned in my time at the Alliance, and the level of participation and the dedication of this year’s conference attendees have made it the most impressive by far. Results and “report-backs” from meetings are still trickling in, so it’s too early to announce the full results of Capitol Hill Day 2012. I urge you to keep an eye on this blog next month for a full summary of the event and its immediate impact.
In the meantime, I’d like to highlight some preliminary results that we do have. Advocates attended a record of about 280 congressional meetings – an increase of about 22 percent compared to just two years ago. That’s incredible! And nearly 70 of those were with members of congress.
We are still calculating precisely how many people participated in all of these meetings, but the statistic I am most excited to share is this: participants from a record-breaking 44 states attended congressional meetings. This means that representatives from almost every one of the 47 states represented at the conference went to Capitol Hill last week to educate policymakers on the importance of ending homelessness.
As many of you know, next week will be my last at the Alliance, as my husband and I are moving to Boston so I can pursue a graduate degree. While I’m excited about this new chapter in my life, it is a bittersweet moment. I cannot possibly describe how much I will miss working with all the incredible practitioners, state and local officials, and other stakeholders I have come to know over the past several years.
It has been a true inspiration for me to see the dedication people in this field have to ending homelessness. While not all of the people with whom I have worked would describe themselves as advocates, they have demonstrated an impressive talent for educating policymakers about the role they must play in our efforts to end homelessness.
I will miss working with many of you on a daily basis, but this year’s Capitol Hill Day is just one more piece of evidence of the homeless assistance field’s strength, capacity, and commitment to ensuring that no man, woman, or child experiences homelessness.
Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at and moderating the Coordinated Assessment workshop at our 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. We had a big audience and some fabulous presenters. Though I’d like to think everyone came to our session because of their passion for the topic (and certainly some people did!), I have a feeling the release of the new HUD Continuum of Care regulations that mandated that communities adopt the approach probably played a bigger part in the attendance.
Communities want to make sure they’re doing things right, and because of that, we’ve had a lot of questions about how communities should get started, what they should think through carefully, and who to involve in their coordinated assessment plans. We’ve been fortunate that some communities who have developed resources for use in their own coordinated assessment processes have generously agreed to share those resources with other communities who are just now getting started.
This has allowed us update our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit with even more tools from a number of communities, including Philadelphia, PA; Memphis/Shelby County, TN; Dayton/Montgomery County, OH; and Minneapolis/Hennepin County, MN.
These new tools will help communities develop:
- An assessment tool to use upon a household’s arrival to a coordinated assessment center
- A data release authorization form that ensures the protection of client confidentiality
- Ideas about how to staff a coordinated assessment process
- A better understanding of how the coordinated assessment process should flow
These are the newest tools in our collection, and you can expect more over the coming weeks. Beginning in late August, we’ll host a series of webinars on coordinated assessment, each covering a crucial aspect of the topic.
Finally, my usual refrain: we are always looking for more community submissions. So if you have something that has helped your community with the process of developing coordinated assessment, please send it to us!
Today’s guest blog is from Stacy Vasquez, the Deputy Director for Homeless Veteran Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
As a member of the fourth generation in my family to serve in the armed forces, I feel a particular affinity for current and former soldiers, sailors, Guardsmen, airmen, and Marines. As a child, I lived in a battered women’s shelter, so I also have a deep concern for those who have no place to call home.
I am grateful for the chance to put all of my experiences to use in my most important mission yet: ending homelessness among Veterans.
The risk factors that lead to homelessness are universal. Job loss, health problems, a missed rent check: these are setbacks that can affect any one of us. But they can be particularly acute for Veterans who have made so many sacrifices both stateside and abroad to fulfill their military duties.
My father, who served in the Navy in Vietnam, suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. This led to an inability to work, along with alcoholism and even violence. When I was 9, my mother removed my brother and me from the situation and our home.
Eventually, my father reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for help. He received counseling, got sober, remarried, and by all accounts was a good husband to his second wife. But he never saw my brother or me again. Had he or my mother known earlier about the resources available to him, our family’s situation might have turned out differently.
My mother went on to earn a college degree and she built a permanent home for my brother and me. But other children out there aren’t as fortunate. We need you to help spread the word that Veterans are eligible for assistance. VA can provide health care, employment assistance, job training, as well as access to education and housing.
Veterans and their loved ones can call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-4AID VET (1-877-424-3838) at any time to speak with a trained responder. Veterans can also access these resources online at http://www.va.gov/homeless.
If you know a Veteran who is experiencing homelessness or who is at risk, please encourage him or her to call the hotline.
This past Sunday, July 22, marked 25 years since President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, named after congressman from Connecticut who poured a lot of his time and energy into doing something about what was then the new problem of mass homelessness. The final vote in Congress was 65-8 in the Senate and 301-115 in the House. Years later the Act was renamed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, adding the name of Bruce Vento, a congressman from Minnesota whose commitment to the issue matched Representative McKinney’s.
Everyone involved in getting the act passed regarded it as a first step. The bill provided funding that allowed program operators to try out a variety of approaches to solving the problem. With these resources, for more than 10 years, program operators around the country worked to construct an impressive array of shelters, supportive services, and temporary and permanent housing.
Yet when a major federal research study in the late 1990s showed that the number of people experiencing homelessness had not gone down, few people were surprised. If anything, even more people were homeless at that time than in 1987, the year the act was signed into law.
The new resources and new programs had allowed advocates to improve the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness and serve communities where homelessness existed, but the problem of homelessness remained. So a movement to end homelessness began.
It started in the late 1990s and picked up steam in the early years of the new millennium: a data-driven approach that allowed people at the community level to see more clearly what was working and what was not. Homeless assistance practitioners employed annual counts and HMIS, and their emphasis was on getting people back into housing quicker and in greater numbers.
The results, particularly in the years leading up to the recession in 2008, were striking. And thanks to improved methods at the local level and HPRP funds from the federal government, the number of people in shelters and on the streets has continued to decline, even in the midst of widespread unemployment.
We’re living through period of great change in the U.S. On that point we all seem to agree. But we cannot agree on the form that change should take. We agree that people can and should work collectively to make our country better, but how? And what should the role of the federal government play? The continued presence of homelessness in our country calls to everyone for a response.
Can we agree on the answer?
We’d like to thank the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials and other stakeholders who took time out of their busy schedules to attend our 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For us in the Alliance, the level of enthusiasm and positivity on display in the plenary sessions and workshops was immensely gratifying. The homeless assistance community has come far, in terms of its overall level of sophistication and focus on implementation in order to get results, and the conference was a great opportunity for people to share what they have learned, as well as for those of us in the community to engage in a discussion about what we still must do to achieve our goals.
In her remarks at the conference’s closing plenary, Alliance CEO Nan Roman touched on a few of the themes that emerged over the course of the three days. I’ll expand on some of those here.
Targeting – The message came through loud and clear: there are a range of interventions to draw upon, but for an intervention to be successful it must be targeted at the right people. Specifically, supportive housing is our most intensive intervention, and it is designed for the most vulnerable population with the most severe disabilities. If such people are screened out in favor of people with fewer challenges, they will live and probably die on the streets.
Olmstead – The Olmstead case reminded us that large programs devoted solely to housing people with severe mental illness are seldom the best way to serve people, and often are not what people in such programs would choose for themselves if they had more reasonable options. In some cases, such programs actually violate civil rights laws. This challenges people who run housing programs for people with disabilities to consider when it might be appropriate to develop mixed-use projects.
Rapid Re-housing – Somebody once said that the only people who believe in rapid re-housing are everyone who’s ever tried it. Now that virtually every sizeable community around the country has tried it, thanks to HPRP, there is a consensus that it’s the right model for moving most people who are experiencing homelessness into housing. With HPRP winding down soon, much of the talk at the conference was about how to maintain funding for rapid re-housing programs. Fortunately, new HUD regulations make it easy for communities to use Continuum of Care and ESG funds for this purpose, and many communities have also identified other funding sources for rapid re-housing.
Youth and youth counts – The homeless assistance community has begun developing a range of ideas about a more systemic approach to ending youth homelessness. A double track of workshops about youth homelessness, as well as increasing collaboration with the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Families and organizations like the National Network for Youth, focused on advancing these ideas. When the January 2013 point-in-time counts roll around, expect a stronger push for a more accurate count of youth experiencing homelessness.
Veterans’ money and leadership – During the conference, VA announced the awards for about $100 million in grants for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which funds community-based organizations that run rapid re-housing and emergency homelessness prevention programs for veterans and their families. This announcement drew attention to the fact that VA now has a full array of programs to address homelessness, and that those programs are on their way to being funded at the scale necessary to end homelessness among veterans.
The struggle over other federal money – It’s clear that federal money for HUD programs has been harder to come by in the past two years, and that this will continue to be the case. Many communities are increasingly turning to the large antipoverty entitlement programs – TANF, SNAP, SSI, and Medicaid, for example – where federal funding has not been cut, while programs for veterans, which are less threatened by budget cuts, must serve as examples of what can be accomplished with the proper funding. Homeless assistance practitioners are also turning to more efficient models like rapid re-housing, which require less money per household. And they are making sure that their representatives in congress, who determine the funding levels, know about the good that their programs do.
Medicaid – The prospect of funding most services and treatment for chronically homeless people through Medicaid appears closer to reality that anyone would have thought possible only a few years ago. The Affordable Care Act will allow states to expand eligibility in 2014, and the majority of states will opt to do so. A lot of work behind the scenes has already gone into ensuring that the right kinds of services will be funded by Medicaid, but it will take new partnerships, particularly at the state level, to make the most of these new opportunities.
Progress – Perhaps the most rewarding part of the conference for us in the Alliance was seeing the resolve of advocates, in the face of enormous obstacles put up by the economy and the political system, to try new options, discard methods that are less effective, and work smarter and more efficiently to develop programs that, for thousands of people, mean the difference between housing and homelessness.
We at the Alliance are getting increasingly excited for tomorrow, July 18 – the official Capitol Hill Day 2012! Capitol Hill Day is held every year in conjunction with our National Conference on Ending Homelessness. This year, conference participants from an astounding – and record-breaking! 44 states will head up to Capitol Hill to meet with their senators, representatives, and their staff members. They are scheduled to attend upwards of 250 meetings.
We’ve been extremely busy! Conference participants have been stopping by the Advocacy Information Table at the conference to pick up Capitol Hill Day Packets that contain information on each of the official Capitol Hill Day policy priorities. Advocates will then educate members of congress and their staff about the great work being done in their communities to solve homelessness, and explain the impact of these policy issues on their efforts.
If you’re unable to attend the conference, please keep an eye on this blog next month for a full report of the success of this year’s Capitol Hill Day. In the meantime, you can always check out last year’s report and get involved in the Alliance’s advocacy efforts by checking out our ongoing campaigns.
But if you ARE at the conference, we hope you plan to participate in Capitol Hill Day 2012! It couldn’t be any easier. Your state captains have been busy scheduling meetings. They just need YOU to participate! Stop by the Advocacy Information Table to get more information on how to get involved.
This year will be a year of change for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and, by extension, for advocates and people working on behalf of people experiencing homelessness, said HUD’s acting assistant secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development, Mark Johnston.
Speaking at the opening plenary session of the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness on Monday, July 16, Assistant Secretary Johnston addressed what is perhaps the most significant piece of news circulating the conference, the release on Saturday, July 15 of the Continuum of Care interim regulations under the HEARTH Act.
Assistant Secretary Johnston reminded the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials, and advocates at the conference that the new regulations will alter how communities manage and distribute resources in the future, but will also provide communities with important tools that have the potential to strengthen prevention and rapid re-housing efforts.
He noted that the HEARTH was signed into law in 2009, the same year as the Recovery Act, which created the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). Developing and implementing both policy initiatives have been a challenge for his agency, he said, but doing so has taught HUD officials a great deal about homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.
“In retrospect, it was great timing,” he added.
HUD officials have incorporated lessons learned from the implementation of HPRP into their regulations for the HEARTH act.
But Assistant Secretary Johnston also acknowledged the difficult fiscal environment in which agencies and advocates must operate. The funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, which had been growing year after year, he noted, has flattened out over the last several years.
“Funding…at federal, state and local levels is getting very, very tight, forcing us to become even more efficient and even more strategic,” he told the audience.
Assistant Secretary Johnston said he expects another HEARTH Act regulation for the Rural Housing Stability Program to be released sometime in the coming weeks.
In his remarks, Assistant Secretary Johnston also praised the interagency collaboration between HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the implementation of HUD – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, which he said has helped put the nation on track to meeting the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.
Between 2009 and 2011, veteran homelessness decreased by 11 percent. Assistant Secretary Johnson noted the decline in veteran homelessness in recent years is “stunning,” particularly considering the economic situation.
“I worked for the VA for many, many years, and I can attest that we’ve had the strongest relationship in the last two to three years than we’ve ever had before,” he said.