Archive for September, 2012
Today’s guest post is from Geoff Millard, director of special projects at the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, a service provider based in D.C. Millard spent 9 years in the U.S. military, including 13 months in Iraq.
September 11, 2001, is a day that will “live in infamy” for my generation, just as Pearl Harbor does for the generation who lived through World War II. This is especially true for those of us who were serving in the military at the time. As most Americans watched with shock and horror as the second plane hit the twin towers, I was driving towards my unit in the New York Army National Guard, already knowing that I was activated.
As the rest of the military readied itself for war in the days following 9/11, I helped secure what became known as “ground zero”. I would soon be readying myself for war too. And war…well, that’s exactly what we got for the next 11-plus years.
The wars Iraq and Afghanistan permanently changed an entire generation of veterans. More than 2.5 million served in combat zones, and more have served at bases across the globe. This generation of service members is now being discharged and becoming veterans. An influx of 2.5 million people would stress any system, let alone one as severely underfunded as the Department of Veterans Affairs historically has been.
Still, the Obama Administration has, for the first time, taken on the task of ending veteran homelessness. It is such a powerful proposal that, in what is possibly the most gridlocked Congress in history, this idea has bipartisan support, true bipartisan support – not the two-votes-from-the-other-side-type bipartisan support often touted on The Hill.
While this effort must focus on the bulk of the problem, homelessness among the generation of veterans who served in the Vietnam era, we are planning new and innovative ways of meeting the needs of Afghanistan- and Iraq-era veterans. Take, for example, the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which just passed at $300 million for FY13.
Because so few of my generation of veterans require permanent help, the program is designed to get veterans back into housing soon after they become homeless, and meet the needs of veterans who need short-term help to avoid homelessness. This program is a critical component in our strategy to end veteran homelessness. It really could be the safety net that prevents another generation of veterans from struggling with homelessness for the rest of their lives.
The SSVF program is modeled after the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP), which the National Alliance to End Homelessness credits for the 1 percent nationwide drop in overall homelessness during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
VA officials intend to use the prevention component of SSVF to ensure that another generation of veterans won’t face the prospect of living on the streets for any period of time, while they intend to use the rapid rehousing component to ensure that veterans who do experience homelessness have resources to return to permanent housing as quickly as possible.
The more time a person spends living on the street, the worse the problems that got that person there get. The effects of street living take a toll on one’s physical health as well as one’s mental health, and increases the likelihood of self-medication through drugs and alcohol. By getting people back into housing fast, we can preserve their health and humanity.
The SSVF program also includes a new component for VA: families. Traditionally, VA has offered homeless services only to the veterans themselves, turning away veteran families who were in need of services. At Friendship Place, one our top concerns for our program is reuniting participants with their families; this is true for veterans and non-veterans alike.
When our nation was in shock and fear, a new generation of service men and women answered the call to protect the nation. Their selflessness has earned them a great debt from this country that we must pay if we are to remain a light for the world in dark times. VA officials have an actual plan to end veteran homelessness that has a real chance at success. The question that remains is whether we are prepared to see it through to the end, and fund it in full.
The photo above, which shows Geoff Millard with VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, is courtesy of the Friendship Place. For more information on Friendship Place please visit www.FriendshipPlaceDC.org.
Last month, nearly 1,500 people traveled from all over the country to Washington, D.C. for the Alliance’s National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Almost a quarter of those people participated in Capitol Hill Day, and visited their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill to update them on local progress in ending homelessness and to urge them to make ending homelessness a federal priority.
Based on our State Captains’ “report backs” from more than 289 meetings, we’ve compiled a 2012 Capitol Hill Day Report and Summary. The report highlights the major successes of this year’s Capitol Hill Day. For starters, more than 360 participants went on more than 289 meetings. Five states, including Arkansas, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Dakota, had a 100 percent participation rate, meaning that every person from the state who registered for our conference participated in Capitol Hill Day.
In the 289 congressional meetings, more than 75 of which involved a member of Congress (another record broken over last year), advocates made the case for the following Hill Day Policy Priorities:
- Provide $2.23 billion in FY 2013 for HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants Program;
- Provide $127 million in FY 2013 for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) Programs;
- Provide $1.35 billion for VA’s targeted homeless veteran programs, including $300 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program;
- Provide $100 million for SAMHSA Homeless Services Programs in FY 2013;
- Renew all existing Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers in FY 2013, and provide $75 million for about 10,000 new HUD – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program vouchers; and
- Prevent further cuts in non-defense, discretionary spending for affordable housing and targeted homeless assistance programs.
It is worth noting that funding for the McKinney-Vento program was the subject of discussion in more than 233 meetings – that’s approximately 81 percent of all the meetings!
This year, the appropriations process has been on a “hurry up and wait” timeline. Both the House and Senate made great strides in producing and passing the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bills. But they stalled toward the end of June before the process was completed, promising to take the measures back up following the election. This put Capitol Hill Day in a slightly different context than previous years. There were no “Dear Colleague” congressional sign-on letters circulating in either the House or Senate, and unfortunately, Hill Day advocates had few concrete, immediate actions they could ask their Members to take.
Instead, advocates focused on inviting their Members on tours of local programs during the upcoming congressional recesses. In fact, they invited nearly 75 Members of Congress on a site visit – that’s more than twice as many invitations as were extended last year! This certainly helped lay the groundwork for the McKinney-Vento Site Visit Campaign, launched in early August, close on the heels of Capitol Hill Day.
As always, the best part of Capitol Hill Day is that the full impact of these 289 meetings could extend beyond the immediate successes outlined in this report. Capitol Hill Day participants realized valuable opportunities to create and strengthen relationships with members of Congress and their staff members. These bonds will prove to have an incalculable impact in the coming weeks, months, and years, particularly as Congress works to finalize the FY 2013 funding bills and tackles some of the bigger budget issues.
The success of this year’s Capitol Hill Day wouldn’t have been possible without people from around the country coming together. The effort of each person, and particularly the 73 volunteer State Captains, who spent countless hours organizing each state’s efforts, allowed this year’s Capitol Hill Day to be one of the most successful yet.
Thanks again to all our wonderful advocates and for yet another fantastic Capitol Hill Day!
I lived in the Philly suburbs in Pennsylvania for my entire life (until now!), and recently graduated from Muhlenberg College with degrees in Psychology and Political Science. My passion for ending homelessness was sparked on a poverty-focused advocacy trip to DC, and I have since dedicated myself to the cause. Academically, I researched housing policies and completed a senior thesis on perceptions of homelessness.
In the Allentown, Pennsylvania community, I interned at the Sixth Street Shelter where I later began a tutoring program for adult residents. I am very excited about this opportunity to serve as the assistant to the Alliance’s President, Nan Roman, as well as help out with policy outreach through working on the Alliance’s strategic advocacy campaigns!
I am very grateful to be working with a team that has such a vast wealth of knowledge about the issue of homelessness, and am excited to begin working with other advocates as well! In my free time, I enjoy ethnic food, theater, and any activity involving good conversations with people.
So far, I am really enjoying living in DC, (particularly all of the events and how accessible everything is here)! I look forward to further exploring all that my new home, the capital city, has to offer!
With the end of August comes the end to summer vacations for students across the country. My summer vacation is no different. As I write this blog post I am sitting in my Research Methods class at The George Washington University.
I can say with a good degree of certainty that my months away from academia were unique. As most of you know, I worked at a youth homeless shelter in Oklahoma that I once called home. Formerly named “Independent Living Services for Youth,” Bridges has become an innovative program that sets education above all else. For the many young adults living on the streets or couch-surfing, Bridges was more than a homeless shelter, it was an education program, a support system, and a family that many had never had before. Bridges was all these things to me and so much more.
Bridges is a part my story, and part of the reason I am living my dream of higher education. Thus, when I won GW’s Shapiro Public Service Award, which gave me the chance to study Bridges’ programs from ‘the other side’ I was ecstatic, and even more so when I learned I could share my thoughts with the Alliance’s community.
Over the summer, I learned more about how a nonprofit works and also, most importantly, how others perceive homelessness. So many negative thoughts and conceptions are associated with the word ‘homeless.’
During my stay in Oklahoma, I was able to fight these and the ignorance surrounding homelessness and, in particular, youth homelessness. If I were to describe all that I learned during this research adventure, I feel as though I would have to write a book. My hope is that those of you who have kept up with my posts are left feeling like you learned something about the Bridges program, and perhaps even me.
Coming back to DC always reignites a sense of community in me. By community I mean that I feel so connected to the rest of the world, and I feel as though I can make a difference in areas that matter to me. Seeing Bridges and its workings this summer makes me want to continue to educate people on homelessness and strive to rid them of their misconceptions.
I am incredibly thankful to have been given the chance to be heard, and record my findings here on The National Alliance to End Homelessness blog. For those of you who are students, good luck with your academics, but for those of you that are in the working world, keep on chuggin’!
PS. Always remember to vote!
As we return to work after the Labor Day long weekend, we at the Alliance would like to recognize all those whose experience of homelessness is related to unemployment or underemployment. Labor Day is “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the Department of Labor.
At the height of the economic crisis a number of years ago, we completed a short series of briefs called Economy Bytes, which explored various economic indicators and their relationship to homelessness: Doubled Up in the United States, Working Poor People in the United States, and Effect of State and Local Budget Cuts on Homelessness. Until now, we have been unable to explore these economic challenges in greater depth.
After spending the summer as the Alliance’s Youth Policy Fellow, I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to spend the upcoming semester in the new role of Economic Development Policy Fellow. In this new capacity, my primary emphasis will be on investigating employment initiatives for different sub-populations experiencing homelessness.
I’ll also be examining federal policies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, exploring projects devoted to asset building and microenterprise, compiling a brief assessment of what other countries have done to address similar issues, and so forth.
This undertaking is long overdue, and we at the Alliance are excited to launch this new initiative. If your community or region has implemented innovative employment practices or economic policies for populations experiencing homelessness, we’d love to hear from you.
We’d like to wish you a belated Happy Labor Day!