Archive for August, 2012

31st August
written by naehblog

We are excited to announce that over the Labor Day weekend, the Alliance’s website,, will re-launch with a number of new features and navigation updates designed to improve our the user experience and provide more detailed information about upcoming events.

Users will notice new drop-down navigation on the primary search menu and a new calendar feature with upcoming event details. Additionally, the Alliance blog will now be hosted on our website under News and Events.

Please update your bookmarks and subscriptions to ensure you are linked to the right pages and getting the most up-to-date information. If you are having trouble reaching the right page or experiencing other technical issues, you might want to try refreshing your cache.

We are optimistic about upgrading our website and excited about the new functionality it will offer users. However, we know that web sites are complicated things and that, in the transition, some disruptions or glitches may be inevitable.

If you notice a page taking a bit longer than usual to load, or you stumble upon a broken link, please know that we already have a team working on it.

Thank you for your patience!

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30th August
written by Andre Wade

An estimated 400,540 children and youth were in foster care on September 30, 2011, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) preliminary report released July, 2012. AFCARS is a child welfare federal reporting system that collects case-level information on all children in foster care for whom state agencies are responsible for placement, care or supervision.

By and large, the number of children and youth in foster care has decreased over the years, as has the amount of time they spend in the system. However, challenges remain for older youth emancipating from foster care, who may not receive the proper tools and opportunities to succeed through the case planning process. Homelessness is a particular horrific outcome for youth who don’t receive strategic and thoughtful case planning.

Selected AFCARS Data                                   (FC = Foster Care)

Fiscal   Year  (Total # of Children & Youth   in FC)

# of Youth   Ages 12-20 in FC

# of Youth   in Supervised Independent Living

# of Youth   w/ Case Goal of  Long Term FC

# of Youth   w/ Case Goal of Emancipation

# of   Children & Youth in FC over 2 Years*

# of Youth   Who Exited FC  at the age of 17 and   Older


























*Youth who exited foster care

An estimated 20-25 percent of the 26,286 youth who exited foster care in FY2011 will experience at least one night of homelessness. For a youth exiting foster care, the initial homeless episode usually doesn’t occur immediately after leaving foster care, but in the months or even years that follow. Through better case planning, increased housing options, and employment opportunities, youth emancipating from foster care can avoid any episode of homelessness.


AFCARS is a child welfare federal reporting system that collects case level information on all children in foster care for whom State agencies are responsible for placement, care or supervision. Some of the information reported in AFCARS includes demographic information on the child, the number of removals from a placement a child has experienced, the number of placements in the current removal episode, as well as the current type of placement such as foster family or adoptive placement. Moreover, AFCARS captures information about children and youth exiting foster care such as their age, race, length of time in care, and reason for their discharge.

29th August
written by naehblog

In today’s guest blog Iain De Jong discusses ways communities might begin to plan coordinated assessment processes. De Jong is President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting, an international consulting firm focused on ending homelessness, driving change to promote community prosperity and challenging the status quo. 

As regulations change for Continuums of Care (CoC) and Emergency Solution Grant (ESG) recipients through the HEARTH Act, communities need to focus their attention on acting like a system – not a collection of independently operating projects. In a lot of instances, this means that the way which most CoCs and service providers operate must change.

The ESG Regulations, released in December of 2011, include a requirement for communities to develop and implement a centralized assessment system. All ESG recipients are required to participate in the community’s coordinated assessment system to initially assess the needs of each household seeking prevention or homelessness assistance.

The CoC Regulations, released in July of this year, also indicate that a centralized or coordinated process must be implemented to handle program intake, assessment, and referrals. The coordinated assessment process has to cover the CoC’s geographic area; it has to be easily accessible by households seeking housing or services; it has to be well advertised; it has to use a comprehensive and standardized assessment tool; it must respond to local needs and conditions; and, it needs to cover all ESG and CoC programs.

Simply put, coordinated assessment allows for the most efficient use of resources while improving consumer access to housing and supports. Coordinated assessment leverages the strengths of individual service providers. It makes the system much easier to navigate for households experiencing homelessness. And it reinforces the core concept that homelessness programs fundamentally exist to end homelessness.

Depending on your community’s terrain of local providers, geography, and available resources, different models should be considered. For example, if you are a small to mid-sized community that has good public transit, maybe a central location would be a good fit. If your CoC covers a large area or a large city you may consider a computer-based system, or using an existing 2-1-1, or establishing regional hubs throughout the area. Some communities are also using mobile assessment teams, which are in essence a group of specialized intake workers that go to where homeless individuals and families are rather than expecting the individual or family to go to them.

Coordinated assessment is NOT business as usual for most communities. The level of coordination in the referral process and the formal steps to ensure its success removes ad hoc approaches to getting consumers to the right program. Standardized forms and assessment tools used in a community can unsettle some service providers, but at the same time ensure greater consistency in service for people experiencing homelessness. The decision to focus services on the housing needs of specific individuals (rather than the more common program-centric approach) is a sea change in some communities.

For coordinated assessment to work, service providers across the CoC need to be fully aware of the extent of the changes, the regulatory requirements, and what it will mean for them and the people they serve. If there are funding implications related to involvement, these also need to be made transparent.

There are various steps involved in the creation of a coordinated assessment process.

One of the first, fundamental steps is to shift the service mentality amongst service providers in the community. This new arrangement of services can be seen as threatening by service providers – as if their autonomy is being taken away. While a natural reaction, the conversation must be about leveraging the strength(s) of each provider in the CoC. “Embracing the Freak Out” is helpful, and service providers should be encouraged to constructively put their concerns out on the table so each one can be addressed. Some providers will be more vocal than others; others may be passive aggressive. Others still will be encouraged by what the opportunity of common assessment and coordinated access represents, but will remain concerned about how they will keep beds filled or ensure there are a set number of people in programs to make operations viable.

As a part of this first step, education about the possible models, guiding principles, and assessment tools becomes important. Service providers need to understand that no longer will there be “side doors.” Coordinated assessment means people experiencing homelessness are assigned to programs through a collaborative approach, and are not made through individual provider’s decisions. Relinquishing the manner with which people experiencing homelessness access services that end their homelessness is deliberate and demanding.

The next step is to create a complete inventory of services and eligibility criteria. While most communities have this or something in the early stages of it, what is often the case is that what service providers write down on paper and whom they actually serve can be slightly different. Or in other instances, a service provider may consider an exception to their service population in certain circumstances – but the criteria for the exception is not made public. All that services are able to provide and whom they are able to serve must be made completely transparent.

Then, analysis and in-depth consultation can begin on which model would be a good fit for your community. Once a model shows promise it is usually tested in a smaller scale, or by using a beta version of the assessment tool chosen. Given the recent emphasis on ending chronic homelessness as a national priority, the assessment tool chosen is one that should allow for continuity and provide direction to case management services after the initial assessment. The assessment tool must be grounded in evidence and proven to work rather than being an assortment of ideas put together by a group of well-intentioned social workers on the back of a napkin.

Next, the coordinated assessment process the business process is documented, the assessment tool manual is finalized, and the training for providers is conducted. The training is a documented process outlining the rationale and approach from a client, service provider, and system perspective. Film this training, as it can be helpful for ensuring consistency when there is staff turnover.

The journey towards common assessment and coordinated access is not an easy one. But if we truly want to see every community function as a homeless and housing service system rather than a collection of projects, it is absolutely critical.

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28th August
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog is by Daniel Kelly, an MSW student at the University of Michigan and Intern for the Corporation for Supportive Housing Michigan Program.

2012 was my first year at the National Alliance Conference on Ending Homelessness. I’ve been involved in homeless services since after my undergraduate in 2006, but I hadn’t been able to make the trip until this year when I interned with the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Unfortunately, I had a full class load the first two days of the conference. In fact, Tuesday was the final exam for one of my classes! My plan was to leave straight from class in Ann Arbor, Mich., and make the drive out to Washington D.C. for the conference. In preparation, my excited Mother took my car into the shop to ensure it was ready for the road. Everything checked out, so after I turned in my exam at about noon, I got in my already packed car and began the nine-hour journey to the Capitol.

The experience was inspiring. At the conference, being surrounded by so many people committed to ending homelessness got me fired up. This feeling of inspiration continued during our Michigan Capitol Hill Day visits. I was fortunate to meet with Congresspersons Gary Peters and Hansen Clarke, who were both very receptive to the messages we brought to them about the negative effects of sequestration efforts. After the conference, this inspiration lasted through my next two days in D.C. as I toured the museums and memorials while staying with my Uncle who lives in the area.

After a few days of sightseeing, I left for home early Friday evening. It was raining heavily during the first few hours of the trip. As I drove through the windy mountains of Pennsylvania, the worst thing happened – my car began to sputter, eventually stalling out on the side of the road. Luckily, in some strange coincidence (or was it irony?), right before the trip, my Grandma had added me to her AAA emergency auto coverage. At the time, I didn’t see the need and told her I was “OK,” but she insisted. Boy was I was happy she signed me up!

With the newly added coverage, I called AAA and was picked up and towed to the local shop in Johnstown, PA. I waited there until Saturday morning when the owner was able to look at my car. The diagnosis: a blown fuel pump. The shop had to order the part so they wouldn’t be able to finish the repair until at least Monday. Because I had to be back in Michigan by that Monday for work, I called my brother who drove more than five hours to pick me up.

The experience was extremely frustrating, and at the time it deflated the inspiration and passion I took from my time in D.C. Looking back, though, the supports of my family along the way helped to blunt the frustration of this experience and maintain my passionate spirit. It could have been way worse without their support!

The people we serve, the individuals and families experiencing homelessness throughout the nation, may not have the same support I did during their own difficult situations. They may not be able to lean on their family or friends when their car breaks down, or even worse, they may have been laid off from their job, or fleeing domestic violence, or dealing with a mental health issue.

This is why we do the work we do – to support people through their difficult times. This way they can, like me, continue to maintain passion and inspiration in their lives.

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27th August
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern, Amanda Jensen, Federal Policy intern, and Maulin Shaw, Federal Advocacy Intern.

Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern

This summer I had the immense privilege to be a Federal Policy Intern at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Though I arrived at the Alliance with some independent research on homelessness under my belt (with projekt UDENFOR in Copenhagen, Denmark), I didn’t know that much about homelessness in the States. I came to the Alliance hoping to learn a lot more about the American homeless service system and homelessness in general. From my first week to my last day, I’ve learned more than I ever could have imagined when I started. If I were to make a list, it would go on forever, so I’ve distilled my experience into a few key points:

Numbers are important. I remember writing in my first college research paper on homelessness that “counting” homeless people was “slightly irrelevant.” Boy have I been proven wrong this summer! Not only do numbers matter to direct service organizations (how else would they be able to figure out demographics, gauge area need, or measure institutional progress?), but numbers are the driving force behind political advocacy and policymaking on issues surrounding homelessness.

The solution to homelessness is housing! In the back of my head, I knew this was true, but I couldn’t help thinking it had to be more complicated than that. Surprisingly, it’s actually that simple. Of course, there is a whole lot of other stuff going on, like mental and physical health issues, drug abuse, and other social issues, but generally speaking, we’ve seen the most success in ending homelessness through housing.

The Alliance and its staff are awesome. Seriously. From planning an annual 1,500 person conference and being committed to high quality research, to helping local organizations and agencies implement effective strategies to end homelessness, and doing (and teaching others how to do) effective advocacy, including Hill Day 2012 and the Site Visit Campaign, the Alliance does it all.

Amanda Jensen, Federal Policy Intern

My time at the Alliance was a tremendous and invaluable learning experience. The most significant thing I learned in my time here is the extent of the immense dedication of those who advocate on behalf of people experiencing homelessness. Advocates and others working in the homeless assistance field are extremely helpful and passionate, and I feel fortunate that I was able to work with them during my time at the Alliance.

Another valuable lesson I will take away from the internship is the importance of advocacy and public education with regard to issues involving homelessness. When people have the right information they are much more willing to act and better able to produce results. Finally, the Alliance provided me with greater understanding of the issues that plague people experiencing homelessness. Different people require different forms of assistance. There is no single, universal solution for all.

Overall I feel I have learned a great deal in my time at the Alliance, and I am truly appreciative of the opportunity.

Maulin Shah, Federal Advocacy Intern

Even though I was at the Alliance only for a little while, I still managed to learn plenty. It’s hard to spend a summer at the Alliance and leave without picking up a few things.

The one I want to highlight took me the longest to learn, right up until my last week at the Alliance, in fact. From the name of the organization, to the website, and even to the shirts the phrase “end homelessness” is everywhere. As someone new to the field, that notion took a long time to sink in.

I saw plans, I saw progress, but for some reason I still glossed over that idea every time I saw it. My outside perspective caused me to assume not that progress couldn’t be made, but that some problems are truly perennial, and that “end homelessness” just meant changing the size of the problem significantly.

Then, in my last week at the Alliance, I was informed that homelessness has not been the perennial problem that I thought it to be, and that perspective was shattered. In fact, the problem of widespread homelessness is a relatively recent one.

Aside from making me realize that the phrase “end homelessness” truly means what it says, it completely changed my understanding of homelessness. My understanding as a layperson had led me to discount what could be done to end homelessness, something I’m sure is not unique to just me or the issue.

Realizing this, I’ve decided that, if I have to choose one thing to take away from my time at the Alliance, it will be that there doesn’t have to be such a thing as a perennial issue.

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23rd August
written by Lisa Stand

Photo by Justin CozartThe Alliance is proud to be a partner in From Housing to Recovery, a conference running from Sept. 19 through 21 in Tulsa, Okla.

In many ways, this three-day event exemplifies the kind of collaboration and focus we need if we are to address the problem of chronic homelessness and meet the goal of ending it by 2015, as set in the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

From Housing to Recovery, though initiated by private and non-profit champions in the Tulsa mental health community, is more than a local affair. It’s a national meeting as well, co-sponsored by Mental Health America. The event is about recovery, and it’s about housing, featuring policy, practice and partnership in equal measure. It’s about solutions that work for people and for communities.

Tulsa is an apt setting for a conference of this scope and vision. The 100,000 Homes campaign has recognized the city as a leader among communities making progress in ending chronic homelessness.

At the Alliance’s 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, Greg Shinn from the Mental Health Association in Tulsa presented on the ingredients of Tulsa’s success in the workshop, Chronic Homelessness: Getting to Zero by 2015. According to Shinn, they include:

  • Community planning and housing investment
  • Integrated recovery for people experiencing mental health and housing crises
  • Housing First approaches with person-centered services and coordinated care
  • A focus on economic impact and sustainability
  • An  outcome-oriented, data-driven system redesign

The Alliance agrees with Tulsa that  communities dedicated to ending chronic homelessness need to incorporate these vital steps in their plans. We look forward to participating as a partner in the conference next month, and getting better acquainted with the great work going on in Tulsa. It’s not too late to join us!

Photo by Justin Cozart.

22nd August
written by Norm Suchar

One of the challenges to measuring the performance of homelessness assistance programs is comparing performance between programs that serve different populations. Risk adjusted performance measures can help. Risk adjustment means that different performance standards are set for programs depending on the population they serve. For example, a program that serves people with no income would have fewer people exiting to permanent housing than a one that serves people who are currently employed.

One of the easiest ways to do risk adjustment is to base it on the barrier screening tools your community is using. Barrier screening tools are used to identify how many barriers a household has to moving into, and stabilizing in, permanent housing. Many communities are already using barrier screening tools them as part of a centralized intake or coordinated assessment process, and the new CoC regulations brought about by the HEARTH Act require that communities use some sort of a coordinated assessment process. (For those who are interested, here is an example of a barrier screening tool.)

If your barrier assessment tool has three categories, you can then use those categories to do the risk adjustment. For example, you could compare performance serving people in each category to other programs or benchmarks for that category. You might get an extra point for being above average, 2 extra points for being more than 10 percent above average, etc. You can also combine the categories using a weighted average.

Without something like a uniform barrier assessment process, things get a little trickier. An alternative would be to look at characteristics in your HMIS data, such as income or chronic homelessness. This will likely require an analysis of your data to determine what characteristics need to be adjusted for.

If you haven’t read it, we have a good publication on performance measurement called What Gets Measured Gets Done: A Toolkit on Performance Measurement for Ending Homelessness, and there’s a section on risk adjustment that starts on page 41.

Image courtesy of S@Z.

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21st August
written by Sharon McDonald

In July, researchers contracted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided an update on a study that examines the comparative impact of various housing and service interventions on families experiencing homelessness. To date, more than 2,000 families in 12 communities have enrolled in the Family Options Study. While the current data available is limited to the baseline level, some findings do raise questions about how well we are using our homeless and mainstream resources to prevent and end homelessness.

Readers who are interested in listening to an audio recording of HUD’s July 19 presentation on this study can download Part 1 of the recording here, and Part 2 here.

Here’s a look at the study’s findings:

  • Resources for homelessness prevention: As in other studies, the data indicate that parents in homeless families are very young. Nearly 30 percent of the mothers are under the age of 25. They are also very poor, with an annual income averaging around $7,500. Significantly, more families are coming from doubled-up situations than are being evicted from housing they hold in their own name. This is useful information when it comes to assessing our use of homelessness prevention resources and the characteristics of the kinds of families most likely to fall into homelessness. It tells us that we should be targeting our resources at multi-generational and doubled-up families, families with very young parents, and families with minimal incomes.
  • Resources for vulnerable and low-income families: The findings also provide further evidence that the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is underserving families: only 41 percent of the families reported receiving income from the TANF program. The data also show that a larger percentage, 27 percent, of parents enrolled in the program spent at least parts of their childhood and adolescence in foster care, though it remains unclear how many aged out of foster care and how many were reunified with their family. Though incomplete, this finding is important. If we are to improve the services that children and youth in foster care receive in their transition from the welfare system to their families of origin (or independent living) we must have a better understanding of this relationship between child welfare and subsequent homelessness.
  • Resources for homeless families: Perhaps one of the most surprising findings, and one that should give pause to all homeless service providers and system planners, concerns the use of transitional housing. Nearly 80 percent of the families the researchers referred to a project-based transitional housing were denied admittance to that program. Indeed, the eligibility criteria for many of these programs, which are supposed to offer service-rich interventions for homeless families, screen out all but a small segment of that population. Given the relative cost of transitional housing, this finding alone should generate some critical evaluation of how local communities are using scarce resources to assist at-risk and homeless families.
20th August
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog is from Dana L. Niemela, homeless veterans reintegration program coordinator at the the Denver Department of Human Services.

After spending eight years on active duty, I decided to put the military far in my rearview mirror. I didn’t access the services to which I was entitled until I had been out for five years. When I finally did, I found it to be a tremendous struggle. Fortunately, I’m a resourceful, assertive individual who doesn’t respond well to stagnation or hearing the word “no.” I pressed on, but often wondered to myself, “what is happening to the veteran who may be 24 years old, served multiple combat tours and doesn’t feel as empowered as I?” The short answer is that I imagine that veteran would give up. In my opinion, that is completely unacceptable. So I got into the business of ensuring access to services for all veterans.

In doing my work, I learned that there are a tremendous number of resources for veterans in the community. We are very fortunate that we live in a time where being a veteran and helping a veteran is “sexy.” Everyone wants in on the game, for better or worse. It was not the same for those veterans who came before us. These veterans were disenfranchised from the system, spent decades fighting it only to be disappointed or discredited, and found themselves in a chronic condition that led them to believe they are not worth a good job, a roof over their heads, and a life of self-determination. It has become my mission to help them understand that things are different now. No matter how many times you have come through the door before, this time may be different. I ask the questions, “How badly do you want to be off the streets?” “Isn’t it a good feeling to be able to provide for yourself?” “Wouldn’t you love to be an active participant in the community and give back?” The answer is always an emphatic YES. And so I set out to ensure they have the tools to do exactly what they need to do.

The beautiful thing about working with veterans is that we have the unique ability to push each other a little harder. We can set higher expectations for one another and hold each other accountable for reaching each milestone along the way. After spending five years in the corporate world, I was horribly disappointed by the lack of individual accountability. I desperately wanted people to expect more of me, to raise the bar, and expect me to excel. I don’t believe that to be a uniquely veteran thing – I believe it’s a basic human need.

After joining a group called Veterans Expeditions, I went on an excursion into the mountains led by a former Army Ranger by the name of Nick. The physical test that I was put through on this expedition was unlike anything I had ever experienced. When Nick pointed out the route up the mountain, I didn’t understand. This was not a route that was meant for human beings to traverse. Mountain goats, maybe, but alas I am not a mountain goat. I thought I was in way over my head. When I told Nick that I didn’t know how to do what he was asking me to do, he taught me. He instructed me on what to do, and then expected me to do it. At that point it wasn’t a matter as to whether or not I had the tools to complete the mission, it was a matter of whether or not I had the intestinal fortitude to overcome my fears and push through the mental blocks. There was no way I was going to quit when Nick expected me to succeed. I made it to the top of the mountain, and when I turned around to look at the path from which I had just come, I cried. I was shaking as the adrenaline rushed through my body, and I just looked at Nick and said, “Thank you.”

I never would have even tried to push those boundaries if Nick hadn’t set the expectation that I could do it. Today I see a disturbing trend. I recently met with a 25-year-old combat veteran who told me that when he got out of the Army they handed him his VA paperwork and his unemployment application and said, “Go fill this out. You can live off this for the next 18 months.” What kind of bar are we setting for these young people when we encourage them to live off the system right from the start? I’ve seen too many young veterans walk through my door who have access to supports the likes of which the veterans who came before them only dreamed and have no idea what to do with the gift they have been given. What do you expect of a young man or woman who comes back from combat and is handed a “golden egg?” I know what I would have done when I was 25 years old, and it would have ended badly.

In the business of working with the homeless, there is a fine line between empowerment and enabling. We owe these veterans more than a hand out. It is my bet that they yearn for more than that. They look for leadership and guidance from those who are “in” the system as to how to best utilize the resources available to empower themselves to do better. We call that “self-determination.” No one should be a victim of these behemoth bureaucracies. They don’t have to be. As a service provider, I believe my role is to be their advocate, to help them access this horribly complicated system, and to leverage the multitude of resources available to them in order to empower them. The goal isn’t to put a bandage on the wound we call homelessness. The goal is to END it. “I love you my shipmate, but I don’t ever want to see you here again… so let’s see what we can do to make that happen.”

17th August
written by naehblog

During our 2012 conference, many of you shared with us that you proudly wear your Alliance ‘End Homelessness’ t-shirts on the job, while you volunteer, and have even given them as gifts and prizes to colleagues and family. We’ve sold over 700 shirts over the last year, and we’re proud that so many of you are spreading the message that we can and must end homelessness. Now we want to see where you are wearing your shirt. So send us a picture!

How does it work?

All you have to do is grab your phone or camera and take a photo of yourself in your shirt wherever you are working to end homelessness (workplace, state capitol, new housing location, etc.) and then share it with us directly via social media or email.

Sharing your photos is easy!

Facebook: Search “National Alliance to End Homelessness” into Facebook’s search-bar, and simply post it to our Wall. Don’t forget to tag yourself and ‘Like’ our page too.

Twitter: Simply upload the photo in a tweet and include the hash-tag #workingtoend.

Email: Not into social media and would rather email your photo directly to us? Just send it to with “End Homelessness Photo Campaign” in the subject line.

Tell us how YOU are ending homelessness!

Don’t forget to tell us how YOU are helping to end homelessness in the post! Maybe you are helping re-house a Veteran or family, meeting with your Continuum of Care, or educating you elected officials. Maybe you just have an awesome advocacy team and want to tell us how passionate you all are. Tell us and let us share your efforts! We will re-tweet, repost and may feature the photos on the Alliance blog as well as a Facebook gallery.

Need another End Homelessness T-shirt?

If you don’t have an End Homelessness T-shirt, or just want a new one to share, you can order them through our website. A t-shirt costs $20 plus shipping and you have two alluring colors to choose from: Navy blue and Maroon.

In the future, we may use photos and responses in media and messaging, so sharing your photo with us will help us spread our message that ending homelessness is possible!

Disclaimer: By submitting a photo, submitter grants an irrevocable, non-exclusive worldwide royalty-free license to the National Alliance to End Homelessness to use the photograph for any purposes. This license grant includes permission for the National Alliance to End Homelessness to grant third parties the right to use the photograph.

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