Archive for July, 2012

16th July
written by Norm Suchar

Just in time for our conference, HUD has published an interim rule for the new Continuum of Care program (CoC program). The regulations follow the HEARTH Act closely, so if you’ve read any of our material about the changes made by the HEARTH Act, you already know much of the story. However, there are a few new and interesting things.

First of all, the regulations provide a little more detail on what will be expected with coordinated assessment systems. Your CoC will have to develop a process that assesses people’s need for housing and services. There are numerous ways HUD will allow you to structure a coordinated assessment system, including having one centralized location where the assessments take place, using a 2-1-1 based system, or having multiple entry points. In addition to conducting the assessment, CoCs will have to have uniform process for evaluating eligibility for different types of assistance for determining how people will be prioritized for different types of assistance. We discuss a lot of these issues in our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit.

There are now two types of permanent housing–permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing. Permanent supportive will generally look and function as it does currently, however, there are a several changes. The match will be 25 percent cash or in-kind as it will be for all activities except for leasing, which has no match requirement. Projects will be allowed to get funding for rental assistance and services in the same grant. There are also numerous other changes to the development process, including the removal of the cap on how much can be used for capital expenses. Although many CoCs have used SHP grants to create rapid re-housing programs, the new CoC program will make that process much more simple and straightforward. Rapid re-housing funded through the CoC  program looks a lot like the rapid re-housing provided through the new Emergency Solutions Grant. I expect that a few existing transitional housing providers who utilize a transition in place model will find that their programs align better with a permanent housing-rapid re-housing grant.

There will now be funding available for planning and administration of the CoC. In most cases, it will be up to three percent of a CoCs final pro-rata need. For CoCs that decide to consolidate all of their grants into one, up to six percent will be available. Just because the regulations allow it doesn’t necessarily mean that Congress will provide enough funding to ensure that everybody gets the full amount, but this is a very welcome change. Along with this funding, HUD will be expecting a more formal structure for CoCs, including a formal board, and CoCs will have up to two years to establish a board if they haven’t already. In traveling to communities around the country, I have continually been reminded of how important good management and planning are to homeless assistance.

One of the things that wasn’t included in the interim regulation that we’ll see later on is more detail about performance measures and expectations. While the expected outcomes are defined in the HEARTH Act, the details about how the measures work will come later.

The regulations will go into effect 30 days from when they are published in the Federal Register, which should happen in the next few days. Nevertheless, there is still an opportunity to comment, and HUD frequently makes changes based on comments. The Alliance will develop comments, and I would encourage everybody who’s interested to do so as well. They make a big difference

Overall, these regulations are very good and fill in a lot of the important details for implementing the HEARTH Act. We’ll have more detailed analyses in the days and weeks to come.


13th July
written by Sharon McDonald

On Wednesday, July 12, the White House and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness recognized some of the foremost leaders in responding to youth homelessness at Champions of Change: Fight Against Homelessness. The 13 awardees shared their own experiences serving youth in two panel discussions hosted by the Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Bryan Samuels of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.

A recurring theme of the day was the shortage of resources needed to address the problem of youth homelessness. During the discussion, one panelist speculated that New York City’s subway system could be that city’s largest provider of overnight accommodation for homeless youth.

Panelists also spoke about the importance of helping youth and their families reconnect and ensuring that appropriate services are in place for them when that is not possible. In Santa Clara, CA, up to a third of youth served by the Bill Wilson Center have homeless parents, which has led the agency to increase the resources it provides to help families and their children stay together.

Panelists explored how to improve services for youth, many of whom have complex needs. Awardee Sherilyn Adams of Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco noted that the difficulty lies not in dealing with the kids themselves but, rather, contending with the insufficient systems meant to support them.

To learn more about the Champions of Change, visit the USICH website. A video of the event is also available online.

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12th July
written by naehblog

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

Chances are you’ve heard about the recent instances of violence against homeless people. These attacks are part of the often violent reality of life on the street. On Tuesday, July 10, the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness convened to discuss this growing trend of violence against people experiencing homelessness. Among the panelists were Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NCH), Richard Wierzbicki, Broward County Sheriff’s office captain, and David Pirtle, a man who himself was a victim of violence while living on the street. The panel was moderated by Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

In the discussion that took place all panelists agreed that the reason such violent incidents have proliferated is the increasingly de-humanizing lens through which the public sees people experiencing homelessness. Evidence of this can be seen in the rash of so-called anti-homeless laws recently passed in Denver and throughout the country, which criminalize homelessness or make being homeless that much more difficult. These laws contribute to the perception that people experiencing homelessness are somehow less deserving of the dignity, rights and freedoms that people with permanent housing enjoy, a perception many of the perpetrators of anti-homeless violence appear to hold.

Between 1999 and 2010, NCH has documented 1,184 acts of violence by housed perpetrators against people experiencing homelessness.

Following a brief video featuring disturbing footage of attacks, which provided those in attendance with a visceral reminder of the trend of rising violence, Wierzbicki discussed his role in the passage of a piece of legislation in Florida that added homelessness to the state hate crimes law. The bill was inspired by a similar act passed in Maryland a year earlier. Then David Pirtle related his experience with several violent encounters during his period of homelessness, and Maria Foscarinis concluded with comments on current legislation being passed.

The panelists also heard remarks from Representatives Judy Biggert, Alcee Hastings, Geoff Davis, and Eddie Johnson, who are to be commended for launching the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness.

The discussion was not all bad news, however. Panelists lauded the recent passage of the Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights as a model for legislation granting more security and humanity to the state’s individuals without homes. Foscarinis emphasized, though, that these kinds of bills will not solve the problem of homelessness. Access to affordable housing, she reminded the panelists and audience, is the best way to help individuals exit homelessness.

The next critical step involves a discussion about how to end homelessness, and how legislation can ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness gain access to the services they so desperately need.

11th July
written by Anna Blasco

Recently, while looking for examples of good emergency housing practices, we learned about how Philadelphia manages its shelter system. Their emergency housing standards are publicly available on their website. This document is a great resource for shelter providers or community planners who don’t have standards and are looking for examples, or who want to compare what they are doing to what providers and planners are doing in other communities. Here are just a few interesting pieces:

Staff to Consumer Ratios: Philadelphia sets a ratio of one direct service person per 20 individual consumers during day hours, and a ratio of one staff person per 40 individual consumers overnight.

Staff Training: Emergency housing personnel in Philadelphia are expected to receive a minimum of 10 to 20 hours of training, budget permitting. Some of the mandatory topics include domestic violence, transgender and sexual minorities, and CPR.

Intake and Assessment Guidelines for Sexual Minorities: In this appendix, staff and service providers are instructed to accept and support a client’s self-identification of his/her gender irrespective of physical appearance, surgical status, or documentation of identity.

Does your community or organization have written shelter policies or standards? Let us know!

Image courtesy of Gabriel Millos.

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10th July
written by Lisa Stand

What does the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act mean for communities poised to use new Medicaid funding to bolster their homeless assistance? First and foremost, communities have to engage more intensively with the state policymaking process – this, actually, was true before the ACA ruling came down. And it will be true no matter what the results of elections in November.

Since the decision, we now know that Medicaid will not expand nationally to cover virtually all uninsured people who earn less than $15,000. Therefore, the presumption no longer holds that virtually all people experiencing chronic homelessness will be able to enroll in Medicaid beginning in 2014. But states do have the option to expand in 2014, taking advantage of substantial federal Medicaid subsidies to do so. The ACA cannot require states to expand their programs, but still offers to pay them 90-100% of the cost of covering all uninsured adult citizens who earn around $15,000 or less annually.

Access to health care services – including behavioral health and recovery support – can be a key part of successful housing outcomes for the 107,000 people who experience chronic homelessness on any given night. Without funding for health care, many communities struggle for sustainable solutions – specifically, adequate permanent supportive housing (PSH), which is proven effective to address chronic homelessness. Since Congress passed the ACA in 2010, homeless assistance systems have anticipated the Medicaid expansion – to help individuals and to enhance safety net capacity.

Full Medicaid coverage will not be a “given” in every state. The Supreme Court ruling means additional challenges for the national agenda to end chronic homelessness by 2015. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, 60 percent of the nation’s chronically homeless population is concentrated in six states – California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York and Texas.  Four of these – California, Florida, Georgia and Texas – were projected to have the highest increases in Medicaid enrollment as a result of the ACA. Only two, New York and California, have indicated an intention to move forward with Medicaid expansion.

To see what might happen in your state, this map and this map from Think Progress are handy starting places.  A note of caution: There are many unknowns about how this part of ACA implementation will actually unfold. To name a few:

  • How many states will take up the expansion, despite what their governors said in the wake of the Supreme Court decision?
  • In the states that do expand, what services and supports will be covered?
  • Will ACA implementation really take place as soon as 2014?
  • Can a state opt in after 2014?

While these and other questions are sorted out, it is more important than ever for homeless advocates to inform state leaders and community partners in the full debate about health care priorities. The necessary policy choices to support communities will be steps that integrate housing, health care, and behavior health/recovery resources at the community level.

  • For chronically homeless populations, permanent housing is the first prescription, with person-centered services and supports to stabilize housing.
  • Opting into the ACA Medicaid expansion will bring federal resources directly to these vulnerable individuals – who otherwise are among the highest users of state and local safety net resources.
  • Failing to opt in means continued pressure on the capacity of state mental health programs and public safety operations.

Further, a number of promising Medicaid provisions remain in effect, including those meant to improve community supports for especially vulnerable enrollees, including those who are eligible because of a qualifying disability. These options were designed to be targeted to those most in need, and they tend to be less politicized. One example is the Medicaid health home. This optional benefit for people with severe mental illness (and other chronic conditions) pays for broadly-defined service coordination.

Several states, including New York, Missouri, Oregon and Rhode Island, have already opted to set up health homes. States can also offer home and community based services (HCBS) without applying for a federal waiver. In a recent proposed rule, Medicaid officials indicated that permanent support housing qualifies as a “community setting” for HCBS. Homeless advocates can join forces with advocates for older and disabled people, to press for their states to adopt these options in a way that adds to the capacity of homeless assistance.

Many states and communities have already embraced health care reform since the ACA passed in 2010. Often, homeless advocates have been at the table with Medicaid leaders, forging new strategies to integrate housing solutions with health care services to address chronic homelessness. The Alliance is paying close attention to successful new approaches and emerging best practices, especially in supportive housing. Speakers with hands-on experience and up-to-date policy knowledge will present on these topics at the July 16-18 National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC.

9th July
written by Sam Batko

The Alliance estimates that, over the course of a year, approximately 550,000 homeless youth and young adults are in need of emergency shelter, with some of them requiring even longer-term housing options. Additionally, there are approximately 1.3 million youths under the age of 18 who are absent from their homes for shorter periods of time that may need short-term emergency housing. Unfortunately, the current emergency shelter capacity in our country is not large enough to handle this volume of young people, and the adult emergency shelter system is not always a safe or accommodating option.

On Wednesday, July 11, from 2 to 3 p.m. ET, the Alliance will host “Improving the Crisis Response for Youth,” a webinar that will focus on keeping youth off the streets and away from the dangers of life on the streets, like violence, drugs and sexual exploitation. This webinar will discuss host homes and other alternatives to physical shelter beds, as well as ways of improving the responsiveness of the adult crisis system to the needs of youth in crisis.

The webinar will feature Samantha Batko, Program and Policy Analyst at the National Alliance to End Homelessness; Kristen Granatek, Manager of Technical Assistance and Program Services at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness; and Mark Kroner, Director of the Lighthouse Training Institute out of Lighthouse Youth Services.

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6th July
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Tessa Knight, West Point Fellow with the Alliance.

There’s this idea in my mind that someday I want to be part of changing lives, and I really can’t think of a better way to directly influence people than by housing and clothing them. So when West Point offered this three week summer academic enrichment opportunity at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, I jumped at it.

At the Alliance, I got  a comprehensive view of the problem of homelessness in the United States as well as its potential solutions. The multiple meetings, conference calls, webinars and seminars that I sat through only helped to reinforce the notion that so many people (and more than a few organizations nationwide) are working to ending this epidemic. This is exciting.

Working with Ian Lisman, the veteran’s policy analyst, gave me insight into how government organizations work with one another. I was constantly looking for the biggest factors and reflecting on how I could make an impact someday. Ian allowed me to develop a research and project plan, and answered all of my questions fully and effectively – so well, in fact, that I think I may now actually have an idea of what all these acronyms mean…

The substance of my project consisted of interviewing and analyzing the responses of recipients of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Grant (SSVF), a new grant awarded last year by Veterans Affairs to 85 programs nationwide. I found that, by encouraging collaboration between organizations with different services to offer, this specific grant has been rather effective in serving homeless veteran families. And I was impressed with the degree of passion there is out there to help homeless veterans—passion that, with proper funding, could be turned into action.

Soon I hope to get my boots dirty, so to speak, by serving on the streets and gaining a deeper understanding of homelessness. My current knowledge of government organizations, nonprofits, the lawmaking process, and homelessness is not something I could have gained at the Academy, because there is nothing like a cultural immersion. I will take these skills back to the classroom, and eventually into my future career. The Alliance does quality work, and you can be sure I will be using them as a resource in whatever path I choose.

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5th July
written by Kay Moshier McDivitt

A few weeks ago, my colleague, Kim Walker announced our new series of our Rapid Re-housing Training Modules, short, narrated presentations about different aspects of rapid re-housing. She also announced the release of the first of the modules on Housing Barriers Assessment. As Kim mentioned, the Alliance wants to provide information about best practices in a variety of ways. Since we all have different learning styles, some of us need short “snippets” of information on a particular part of a topic rather than the whole shebang at one time. And, for most of us, just doing our work keeps us so incredibly busy that is hard to find time to stay on top of what’s out there.

This week we are releasing the second short, narrated module of our rapid re-housing series, Housing Search, Location and Landlords Module, which I have the privilege of narrating. I love talking about this stuff because there are so many ideas and ways to make this work. Without landlords, we won’t have housing for our folks. I have included a lot of different tools and ideas to recruit landlords that we have learned from communities who have had a lot of success in building landlord partnerships. In addition, this module includes two activities for you to begin developing your own plan to partner with landlords and incentives to increase landlord participation. These activities are ones we use when doing our in-person rapid rehousing trainings and are good for those of you who learn by doing. If you have plenty of time on your hands and want to learn even more, a longer training module, Strategies for Working with Landlords and Finding Housing for Clients, also is available on our website.

Keep an eye out for the third topic on designing a subsidy, which will be released in the coming weeks. Again, these modules are great for people who are new to rapid re-housing and who want to begin to understand the basic concepts, as well as for those who would like to brush up on specific topics. As usual, let us know how you feel about these new modules, and if you’d like to see more on other topics!

3rd July
written by Emanuel Cavallaro

The Alliance recently welcomed two new members to its Washington, DC, office. Both hail from the Midwest and are heading up Alliance’s communications team. As such, they will be playing integral roles in determining Alliance messaging, online media presence and fund development activities. You will likely run into them at the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, so be sure to say ‘Hi!’ Here’s a little introduction to them, in their own words.

Jeni Gamble, Director of Development and Communications: I am originally from Louisville, KY and have always had a passion for nonprofit work and housing advocacy. After graduating from the University of Kentucky (Go Big Blue! 2012 NCAA Champs!), I started working for a domestic violence/sexual assault emergency shelter facility, and never really looked back. At the Alliance, I am excited to step into a new role and oversee our development and communication activities. Messaging and supporter engagement are key components to our mission in ending homelessness, and lucky for me, I love doing them! Close to fifteen years later, I continue to work for safe and affordable housing and count those memories of helping someone move into their own permanent housing as some of the most important in my career. In my free time I run, cook, and will start training for my sixth marathon next week!  I love living and working in DC and, since I’m a bit of a southerner and used to the heat, it felt like home as soon as I arrived!

Emanuel Cavallaro, Communications Associate: My background is in print journalism. In my years as a reporter in Ohio, I engaged in the typical breaking news and metro coverage that is the standard fare of most newspaper reporters, but I made sure to sneak in a little advocacy journalism whenever I could on issues that spoke to me on a personal level, covering things like services for migrant workers and the War on Drugs. As a teenager I briefly experienced homelessness, and that experience was a formative one. So it is perhaps no surprise that my first article ever published was about people experiencing homelessness in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. I am very excited about my new position with the Alliance. I am relishing this opportunity to continue the work I started with that first article, in the company of a bunch of really smart people who know about as much about this issue as there is to know.

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2nd July
written by Kate Seif

We’re all very busy getting ready for our upcoming National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Expect plenty of great workshops, pre-conference, and plenary sessions, and of course great speakers and presenters!

Along with our conference prep, we’ve been busy with appropriations, capacity building, and much more. In case you missed anything, here’s a breakdown of what we worked on in June:

Federal funding. In June, the Senate released its fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services. Compared to FY 2012 many programs were flat-funded, which is unfortunate given the increased need and the importance of programs such as the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act program. In view of the current fiscal environment in which Congress is operating, however, the fact that these programs continue to be funded at their present levels is a testament to their quality and the great work our advocates are doing.

In addition, the House voted on the FY 2013 funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The results were a bit of a mixed bag, with many affordable and low-income housing and community development programs receiving increases. However, HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants received $2.005 billion in the final bill – an increase, but still not quite enough to cover all Continuum of Care renewals and Emergency Solutions Grant programs. Stay tuned to the Alliance’s advocacy work for more information on how we can secure an increase for these key programs and ensure that 25,000 people are not homeless rather than housed under this bill.

Family Intervention. We hosted a webinar on family intervention focused on building relationships and increasing stability for homeless and runaway youth. The webinar emphasized the importance of making an impact on homelessness among youth by reconnecting youth to stable family living situations.

Rapid Re-Housing Module. The Capacity Building team released a new rapid re-housing module focused on housing search and working with landlords. These modules are 15 minute presentations on how to master rapid re-housing. This module is part of an ongoing series.

If you can’t make it to our conference, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up on all the great content and best practices. Have a wonderful July (and a happy Independence Day!) and stay cool!