Archive for October, 2012
The conference will take place this February at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel in Seattle, Wash., where 800 to 900 attendees are expected to convene to share and learn about the latest tools and the most effective solutions going in the homeless assistance field today. We are in the midst of the planning process, and working hard to make sure you get the most out of the experience.
Although the conference website is always being updated, you can always find important details about the conference, including the conference agenda, registration rates, hotel information, travel information, as well as important information about scholarship and volunteer opportunities. We will be posting more information as it becomes available.
We encourage you register early to take advantage of the early rate for substantial savings. The deadline for early registration is 3 p.m. ET, Monday, Dec. 17. If you are registering by mail, your form must be postmarked on or before Monday, December 17.
For organizations sending three or more individuals to the conference, the early registration cost for the first two registrants to attend the conference is $425 per person. For each additional individual, the fee is $375.
For more information about deadlines and fees for other registration rates, please see the conference website registration rates page. You can also keep up with Alliance news on our blog, on our Facebook page, on Twitter and in our newsletter, where we will be posting updates and reminders as these dates approach.
We hope to see you in Seattle this February!
Earlier this week I had the honor of attending a planning session in Bloomsburg, Pa., sponsored by the Pennsylvania Housing Alliance and Bloomsburg University. The session kicked off planning in the two rural counties around Bloomsburg. It was an opportunity to review some of what we know about homelessness and how to approach it in rural and small-town America.
For years, the Alliance has done deliberate work to focus on rural communities. Homelessness is often thought of as an urban problem, and of course most homeless people are in cities. But homelessness definitely exists in rural areas as well. The impacts of rural homelessness are just as devastating to those experiencing it, while rural areas are less likely than cities to have programs specifically designed to help homeless people.
Rural communities seeking to end homelessness need the same broad categories of change as cities, although they will take different forms. Rural communities need a clear consensus on the goal, as well as commitment from the entire community and a sense of urgency about solving the problem. Rural communities also need a way to monitor progress and effectiveness in addressing the issue, and enough resources to get the job done.
That being said, there are a number of challenges that are unique to rural areas:
- The scale of the problem of homelessness in rural areas is limited, compared to urban areas, which means that extensive programs specific to homeless people are unlikely to exist. Many rural areas have no shelter at all, and homeless people often must live outside or in cars or abandoned buildings. Doubling up is common, as it is in urban areas.
- Progress will require that mainstream antipoverty programs take a leadership role. Mental health agencies and TANF agencies are often the key leaders on solving the problem of homelessness.
- There is often no particular person or agency that is an easy fit for the task of developing and monitoring the implementation of a plan to end homelessness. Where it works, this role may be filled by a particular county official, a faith or business leader, an educational institution, or an influential volunteer.
- Coordination is especially important. Progress will rely on a set of people for whom addressing homelessness is only part of their job duties.
- A range of housing options will need to be considered. Typical urban apartment buildings are often not where most lower-income people live. There may be no expertise to back up a housing development strategy.
- Working with state government is particularly important. Many of the federal resources designed for rural areas flow through the state.
In many rural communities, the idea of rapid re-housing is a natural fit. People working in human services have the attitude that someone who loses their housing should receive immediate help finding new housing, and they will do whatever is necessary to make that happen.
I’m happy to say that everyone who attended the session in Bloomsburg was devoted to aggressively tackling these challenges , as many people in rural communities around the country are also doing.
The Alliance already has a number of useful resources on the Rural Homelessness Section of our website that people working to end homelessness in rural communities will want to investigate.
Today’s guest blog was contributed by Peg Hacskaylo, the Executive Director of the District Alliance for Safe Housing, Inc. (DASH), the largest dedicated housing provider for victims of domestic and sexual violence in the District of Columbia. For more information about DASH, visit www.dashdc.org.
Trudy had been living in an apartment with her boyfriend and their son for about 2 years when the abuse from her boyfriend became more frequent and more intense. She wanted to move out but couldn’t afford to live on her income from her job as a cashier at a local retail store. One night, when her boyfriend had another violent outburst, Trudy called the police. When they arrived, an advocate was with them to help her determine what services she needed. She said she couldn’t stay in their home because, if her boyfriend went to jail, she couldn’t afford the rent and, if her boyfriend was released, she wouldn’t feel safe there. So the advocate placed her and her son in a hotel paid for by compensation available to crime victims. She could stay at the hotel for up to 30 days while she tried to figure out what she would do.
By her second week in the hotel, Trudy had called every resource given to her to find another place to live, to no avail. She finally went to the city’s intake center for homeless families but they told her that she wasn’t considered homeless because she wasn’t living in a shelter or on the streets. By the end of the month, Trudy went back to live with her boyfriend, who had been released from jail, because she had run out of time and had nowhere else to go.
But when her boyfriend’s abuse continued, Trudy again began searching for another place to live. She reached out to the local battered women’s shelters and was eventually able to get space for herself and her son for up to 90 days. When her time there was about to run out, she again went to the central intake center, only to be told that she was still ineligible for housing because the shelter she was living in wasn’t part of the city’s homeless housing system. Trudy left the shelter to live in a friend’s basement until she could figure out her next step.
Stories like Trudy’s are all too common in the District of Columbia and throughout the U.S. Women are one of the fastest growing groups of homeless people in the country (Goodman, Fels, & Glen, 2011), and domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among single women and women with children (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2005). In one large-scale study, 92 percent of homeless mothers reported experiencing sexual or physical abuse in their lifetimes (Browne & Bassuk, 1997). The limited availability of safe and affordable housing options frequently results in women falling into homelessness after exiting abusive situations (National Institute of Justice, 2008), and homelessness dramatically increases their risk of suffering episodes of sexual assault and other kinds of abuse (Goodman, Fels, & Glen, 2011).
When we founded the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) in 2006, our initial plan was to create a safe emergency-to-transitional housing facility for survivors of domestic violence. At the time, the demand for housing for victims displaced from their homes was overwhelming and the resources to meet the need were scarce. The D.C. police annually received over 30,000 calls for domestic violence incidents and approximately 1,200 families were being placed in hotels for lack of available emergency shelter beds. There were then a total of 48 beds for women and children escaping abuse and fewer than 200 units of transitional and long-term housing for families exiting shelter.
We soon realized, therefore, that our primary objective would help only a fraction of those who needed it. We spoke to women on a daily basis who told us that they needed help not just accessing safe housing programs, but permanent safe housing. We heard from advocates that survivors needed help keeping their permanent subsidized housing or getting into affordable, rental housing. We needed a broader strategy to solve this problem.
Our strategy, a combined effort on three fronts to achieve greater housing accessibility for survivors from shelters to permanent housing, involves:
- Creating additional safe housing
- Facilitating access to existing housing programs
- Preventing victims’ fall into homelessness
Under this strategy we worked with homeless and housing providers to ensure their housing was accessible and safe for victims. We worked with landlords to ensure they didn’t inadvertently discriminate against victims in rental housing. And we worked with domestic violence service providers to help them advocate for victims in the District’s complex housing system. As our strategy developed, so did our programs, and soon we had a continuum of housing support for survivors, wherever they turn for help.
Notably, our strategy has evolved into something more than just creating more, and more responsive, housing for women and families. It’s become about changing the way we see the problem, which lies directly at the intersection of domestic violence and homeless/housing services. Because at that nexus there is a disconnect that creates a sort of double-jeopardy for victims – putting them further at-risk of homelessness and abuse. We learned that domestic violence service providers and homeless service providers function in numerous parallel ways – in the same jurisdiction, with many of the same sources of funding, and almost always serving the same clients – but generally remain siloed and apart.
Domestic violence service providers traditionally focus on crisis intervention with victims, with an emphasis on protecting them from the threat of violence. Homeless and housing providers traditionally have focused on protecting their programs from the potential for transience, in the belief that survivors of domestic violence won’t last in their programs because they will leave to reconcile with their abusers, and the threat of violence that survivors present, thereby screening survivors out of their programs. While these concerns may be legitimate, they may also serve to keep women in perpetually unstable situations or force them to return to abusive homes for lack of other safe housing options.
Fortunately, with the advent of Rapid Re-Housing and Trauma-Informed service models, both domestic violence and housing/homeless service providers have excellent tools to begin addressing this gap. At DASH, we help families move into permanent housing units straight from crisis and bypass the range of emergency, transitional, and permanent housing programs, allowing them to “transition in place” and facilitating moves for families at-risk of imminent violence to other units within the city. We also work with survivors to help them cope with the trauma they’ve experienced and regain a sense of self-determination. And all of this is accompanied by constant Wellness and Safety planning to help survivors effectively ensure their own safety from abuse.
The elimination of homelessness is the express goal of advocates, funders, and governments across the country and has been for a long time now. And while a good deal of progress has been made in getting individuals and families housed, preventing their fall into homelessness, and increasing the availability of options across the housing spectrum, victims of domestic and sexual violence have, until now, seemed to defy conventional wisdom. With these new models of service, this doesn’t need to be the case – not for Trudy or anyone else.
 Not her real name, based on a true story.
Last week the Alliance and co-sponsors held a webinar on counting youth experiencing homelessness during the HUD mandated point-in-time counts that will be held in January 2013.
The webinar explored what three communities — San Jose, D.C., and southern Nevada — have done to effectively count youth experiencing homelessness. We had a fantastic turnout and received great feedback.
The Alliance would like to thank our partners who contributed to the webinar: the John Burton Foundation for Children without Homes (JBF), National Network for Youth (NN4Y), and the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA).
To build on this momentum, the Alliance is producing yet another webinar (with co-sponsors the NN4Y and DCAYA) titled “Youth Targeted Point-In-Time Counts: What You Need to Know!” This time the webinar will feature Peter Connery of Applied Survey Research and will focus on:
- Developing Key Partnerships;
- Safety and Privacy Concerns;
- Recruiting Volunteers;
- Deployment of Teams to Conduct the Counts;
- The Survey Process;
- Rural Communities; and
- Take Aways.
Per usual, we will have time for a robust Q&A session to answer as many questions as possible.
Please join us on Thursday, October 18, at 1:30 P.M. EST by registering for this important webinar.
The HEARTH Act has kept our homeless assistance community abuzz for some time now. One of the things that we have heard a lot of “buzzing” about is the role that transitional housing programs will play in local Continuums of Care (CoCs).
While we know that transitional housing is an eligible activity with the recent release of the interim CoC rules, we also know that many programs and communities are exploring how to best use transitional housing resources to retool their homeless system to meet the HEARTH Act’s key performance measures.
Last week, we held a webinar about retooling transitional housing. We know that many organizations are in very different stages of retooling. Some of you are just beginning to think about retooling and are looking for additional information; some of you are ready to do something, but are not sure where to start; and a number of you have already started the process and are looking for additional direction and assistance in the details. During the webinar, we talked about reasons for retooling, options to consider with a focus on rapid re-housing models, and the process that organizations ready to take the plunge into retooling can use.
We hope the recorded version of the webinar will help everyone, no matter where you are in the process of retooling. We will continue to provide resources on retooling transitional housing over the next several months. It takes a time and energy to begin the retooling process, and regardless of where you are in the retooling process it is important to take the time to regularly assess and evaluate your program, measuring your effectiveness in ending homelessness in your community.
The following article originally appeared in the Missing and Exploited Children’s Program Newsletter, October 1, 2012.
Although current data on the extent of youth homelessness are limited, previous studies have estimated that approximately 1.7 million youth under the age of 18 have run away or are homeless in the United States each year. Several factors contribute to young people leaving home. One of the primary factors is intense family conflict, which can take the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or non-acceptance of a youth’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
When young people are out of the home unaccompanied and trying to navigate life on the streets, they become susceptible to many horrors, including commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) and trafficking. Estimates are that some 2.2 percent of children under the age of 18 who have a runaway or homeless episode — approximately 39,000 children annually — are sexually assaulted or become victims of CSE.
The relationship between youth homelessness and CSE and/or trafficking arguably begins as soon as a youth leaves home. The Dallas Police Department has found that the more times a youth runs away from home, the more likely that youth is to be victimized. Unaccompanied youth living on the street are particularly vulnerable to such victimization because they are not in a position to meet their immediate needs for food, shelter and safety. This makes them a target for people who may exploit them. A study of shelter and street youth indicated that approximately 28 percent of street youth and 10 percent of youth in shelters reported trading sex (called survival sex) to meet their basic needs.
Oftentimes the discussion about sexual exploitation among homeless youth overlooks males, who are also at risk for CSE. Many of those who are exploited and recruited for trafficking self-identify as gay or bisexual. Although the dynamics of providing services and shelter to young men is different (including the response by the justice system), more gender inclusive policies must be developed to effectively house, treat and protect male survivors. Nationally, fewer than 100 beds are designed specifically to meet the needs of survivors of exploitation.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness believes that minimizing the time youth and young adults are homeless can reduce their risk of sexual exploitation. Communities can implement a number of strategies to achieve this goal. First, we can ensure that youth exiting the foster care and/or juvenile justice system are not discharged into homelessness. Thoughtful strategic planning can prevent that outcome. Second, we must improve our crisis response to runaway youth and youth on the street to help move them quickly into safety and out of harm’s way. Third, we can implement family intervention strategies that will help prevent youth from running away in the first place and help those who have run away to return home when it is safe to do so. Finally, we must increase investments in housing for youth who are unable to return home. All of our programs and services need to recognize the special needs of survivors of CSE and trafficking.
“You don’t need a home to vote, ” as the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) reminds us on the cover of its 2012 Voting Rights Manual. The NCH and its national partners are wrapping up National Homeless and Low-Income Voter Registration Week, which runs from September 30 to October 6. Voter registration deadlines for the upcoming November elections in the majority of states are fast approaching, but registration will be open in more than a dozen states for at least another week. You can find out the registration deadline in your state from the NCH manual, or look for this information on the website of your state elections office. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has a list of state links for state-specific information and registration tools.
The NCH manual offers general tips about registering homeless voters. If there is still time to help homeless citizens register in your state, here are some key points you should keep in mind:
- Homelessness is not, in any state, a sufficient condition for denying a person the right to register to vote.
- Community agencies and homeless advocates can help by making registration materials available to clients and other visitors.
- Registration materials should be kept separate from other materials and must not feature or accompany messages that favor one party or one candidate over another. A best practice is to avoid naming any candidates or identifiable campaign themes. Keep messages non-partisan – aimed at voting and civic engagement, without regard to party or candidate.’
- Be aware of the types of the addresses that your state accepts when registering homeless people, as well as any requirements to report about duration of residency.
- Know how to document and report any apparently unlawful or unusual restrictions on voting registration.
If the registration deadline in your state has passed, you still have time to plan ways to help people experiencing homelessness participate if they are already registered.
- Service agencies and community organizations can help citizens with transportation to polling sites. Contact your state or local elections office for up-to-date information about polling sites near shelters or major service agencies and other key sites. Again, it is important to remain non-partisan when helping in this way.
- Be familiar with and be able to explain procedures for casting a provisional ballot, just in case there is a problem at the point of voting.
- Know how to document and report apparently unlawful or unusual restrictions on the exercise of voting rights.
- Visit NCH’s website at nationalhomeless.org for more resources and connections to help homeless and low-income citizens exercise their voting rights. And look for a guest blog post from an NCH advocate on the Alliance website later this month.
U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a website of the federal government
This Is My Vote, a project of the NAACP
Ex-Felons and Voting Rights, a map of state policies from the American Civil Liberties Union
At our conference this summer, I had the privilege of moderating a session on “Retooling Your Transitional Housing.” One of our speakers for the session was Vera Beech, Executive Director of Community Rebuilders in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The title of her presentation was “Families in Transition – a Successful Precedent for the Re-Design of Transitional Housing Programs.”
Vera shared with the participants the journey that Community Rebuilders took in 2007 to retool their scattered site traditional transitional housing program into a rapid re-housing approach. The program shift involved amending a HUD Supportive Housing Program-Transitional Housing (SHP-TH) grant, reallocating a $300,000 supportive service line item to the leasing budget. As a result of the shift, the renamed “Transitional Assistance” program is serving more households than before and achieving better housing outcomes, including reduced length of program stay and increased cost-effectiveness.
The retooled Transitional Assistance model is scattered site and uses private market rentals with the lease in the consumer’s name. The program uses a rapid re-housing approach with the length of program assistance, including rental assistance, averaging eight months. Significant changes included adopting a consumer centered and strength based approach, making service participation voluntary, emphasizing consumer housing choice, and all leases being in the consumer’s name where consumers can stay after program involvement ends. These changes increased stability for families and encouraged connections to their community.
Two key focuses that steered the retooling journey for Community Rebuilders included “readying the resources” and “keeping your eyes on your priorities.” Vera shared that the retooling process took time, but by focusing on the resources at hand and the organization’s priorities, the retooled program resulted in an increased effectiveness in meeting the needs of the families experiencing homelessness in the Grand Rapids Community.
You can see Vera’s PowerPoint presentation from our conference here.
Today’s guest blog post was written by Kristin Pazulski, Development Director and Managing Editor for the Denver VOICE. It includes an excerpt from the 2012 issue of the Denver VOICE, written by Raelene Johnson.
Raelene Johnson spent years living on the streets of Boulder. The shady space under a bridge was her home. She scraped by on the money earned the typical way on the street, her drug habit keeping her in a cycle of poverty and homelessness.
In 2008 Johnson discovered the Denver VOICE, a street paper in Colorado. As soon she walked through the vendor office door, she was given the opportunity to work. She received one hour of training and a badge with 10 free papers in exchange for the promise to conduct herself professionally while selling the VOICE.
Grabbing her first paper and ducking into the lanyard that held a tag with her face, name and vendor number, Johnson had no idea she was embarking on a journey very different from the one she’d been on.
There are 122 street papers around the world, more than 30 in North America. These papers are connected through two large networks—the International Network of Street Papers and the North American Street Newspaper Association.
Some are volunteer-based, while others have large staffs and monthly circulations exceeding 100,000. A wire service similar to the Associated Press allows street papers around the world to share their stories. Thanks to this service, smaller street papers can produce quality content on a shoestring budget.
Many individuals on the street battle daily with substance abuse, mental illness, disability or other obstacles that prevent them from working a typical job or connecting with services available to people experiencing homelessness.
Street papers can give people like this the opportunity to earn money in a manner more dignified than panhandling, and can even provide them with an opportunity to express themselves.
As of this fall, Johnson is two years sober and clean and she’s celebrating her fifth year anniversary with the VOICE.
Here is her story in her own words.
A Life Change by Raelene Johnson (Excerpted from The Denver VOICE, August 2012)
July 14, 2012 marked my four-and-a-half year anniversary with the Denver VOICE. My life has really changed since I started working with the VOICE. Most of my life, I was told I was dumb, I was stupid, I was no good. I have had many head injuries, so trying to hold down a real job was very hard for me. I had no self-esteem or self-worth. I have been homeless most of my life.
On Jan. 14, 2008, I started selling the VOICE. When I first started, I was sleeping under a bridge. At first, it was hard for me to sell papers. After the first three or four months, I started to do well. It felt good that for the first time in my life, I was making money.
One of the best things about the VOICE is even if you have no high school diploma, no job reference, no home, no ID, a felony or whatever it may be, you walk into the distribution office and you walk out with a job. I could not believe how easy it was to get a job!
By the time it came to my year anniversary of working for the VOICE, I was the top female vendor. I felt good about myself for the first time in my life. People started telling me how good of a job I was doing. It felt great because all of my life I was told I was no good and couldn’t do anything right.
As my second anniversary came, I was the best female vendor and placed first or second in the top ten over everyone for two years! Boy, did that make a change in me. At that time, I was very tired of doing drugs.
The last two years have been the best so far in my life. We build self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence. Most of the vendors you see have gotten off the streets. Not bad for a $2 donation.
As of July 1, I am 22-months clean of a crack cocaine habit and two years clean of alcohol. I never knew how happy I could be once I believed in myself and became drug-free.
By telling people my story, I am doing what I can to help others. The best thing that I can say to everyone is, believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are worthless or no good. Everyone is God’s child. Treat everyone with kindness. Help someone; even just a kind word can change someone’s life.
I wanted to tell my story about what the VOICE has done for me. I wanted to let the buyer of the VOICE know how this paper has changed so many lives, not just mine, but thousands of people since 1997. So, for all of us, we thank you for caring about the VOICE and all us vendors.
October is domestic violence awareness month, which presents us with an opportunity to reflect on how domestic violence impacts the lives of people we serve. Many people enter the homeless service system fleeing domestic violence, and many more have experienced domestic violence in their past. As we work to improve our local homeless service system, we need to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of these survivors.
HUD is now requiring communities to establish a coordinated entry and assessment process for homeless services. As communities begin this important work, it is critical that the needs of survivors of domestic violence are not overlooked. Homeless system planners should consult with domestic violence experts as they develop coordinated assessment procedures. Ideally, local domestic violence partners should be involved in the day-to-day work of establishing a coordinated assessment process and ensuring that the safety, confidentiality, and well-being of survivors are protected.
We at the National Alliance to End Homelessness invite you to review resources which are already available on our website about preventing and ending homelessness for domestic violence survivors. Checklist: Incorporating Domestic Violence Providers into a Coordinated Assessment Process and Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing for Survivors of Domestic Violence may be of particular value as planners begin to develop a coordinated assessment process.
More resources, including webinarson on Homelessness Prevention for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Successful Partnerships to Serve Survivors of Domestic Violence are available on the Domestic Violence page of the Alliance website.
In recognition of domestic violence awareness month, we plan to feature guest blogs from domestic violence providers and advocates who are helping to transform their community’s response to survivors in order to help them stay safe and avoid lengthy periods of homelessness. We invite you to share your community’s successes in promoting the safety and well-being of domestic violence survivors while also helping to end their homelessness.