Archive for December, 2012

19th December
written by Norm Suchar

During last summer’s conference, we did an exercise that demonstrates to an audience how a progressive engagement process works. Progressive engagement refers to a strategy of providing a small amount of assistance to everybody who enters your homelessness system, then waiting to see if that works. If it doesn’t, you provide more assistance and wait to see if that works. If not, you apply even more, until eventually you provide your most intensive interventions to the few people who are left. We did the exercise with an audience of about 75 people. Here’s how it worked:

Step 1: Everybody in the room stands up signifying that they are entering a shelter.

Step 2: People with birth dates in January through March sit down. They represent the roughly quarter of the the homeless populations whose homeless episode is a week or less. (This is calculated using data from HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report. The figure was actually 27.8 percent.)

Step 3: People with birth dates in May through December sit down. They represent the people served through a rapid re-housing intervention. HPRP rapid re-housing programs re-house approximately 90 percent of people who enroll. The people born in April (who are standing that this point) represent people for whom rapid re-housing is more challenging, including people who are on sex offender registries, for example.

Step 4: People with November and December birthdates stand back up. They represent the ones for whom a small amount of rapid re-housing assistance, which may include short-term rental assistance, did not entirely solve their crisis, so more assistance was needed. For those individuals, a more intensive re-housing intervention, which may include one to two years of housing subsidy and intensive case management, is provided. Once this is explained, the November and December birthdays sit back down as their housing was again stabilized.

Step 5: The December birth dates stand back up. They represent the small number of people for whom the more intensive intervention will not entirely solve the problem. These are people who need long term housing and services to remain in stable housing. They are provided with permanent supportive housing and sit back down.

The precise proportions of people who fall into these categories involves some guesswork. I used data from the typologies of single adults and families with children that were published by Culhane, et al. The single adult data, for example, showed that 10 percent of single adults experience chronic homelessness and need permanent supportive housing, roughly equivalent to one month’s worth of birthdays.

I also used data from other cities such as Salt Lake City, Utah to try to identify what percentage of people who need more intensive re-housing and case management. If anything, I believe that the exercise generally overestimated the share of people who needed more intensive assistance to remain in permanent housing, but it was close.

There is obviously much more nuance involved in designing a progressive engagement process, and our National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Seattle will go into much more depth. However, this provides a general sense of how the process works.

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18th December
written by Steve Berg

On Monday, December 10, The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released national numbers from the January 2012 Point-In-Time (PIT) Counts, which give an estimate of the number of people sleeping in shelters and other housing for homeless people and also in places not meant for human habitation (aka “the streets”) at a single point in time. In this case, that point in time was mid-January, 2012.

Since a lot of people around the country are entering the final month of preparation for the 2013 PIT count, I want to start by saying that having these numbers every year has turned out to be extremely important. The enumeration is not perfect. But PIT Counts have become more rigorous over the years, and we believe they provide a reliable and worthwhile estimate. We have to thank everyone who works so hard to make these numbers as reliable as they are. The PIT numbers remind everyone that continued high unemployment leaves hundreds of thousands in shelters and on the streets every night, and that service providers and system managers around the country have worked heroically to keep the numbers from skyrocketing.

Looking at the overall PIT counts, here’s the trend in overall homelessness from 2005 to 2012:

As has been the case since the national unemployment rate skyrocketed above 7 percent in early 2009 (and over 10 percent by late 2009), the number of homeless people stayed about the same between early 2011 and early 2012. Given the continued problems with the job market and the fact that rents started to rise again in many communities that year, holding the line is a remarkable accomplishment.

Less reassuring is the fact that 2011 was the last full year when funding under the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) was available. When HPRP first passed as a three-year program, we all hoped that, by the time it expired, the economy would be in better shape. The first HPRP grants were released right around the time the national unemployment rate topped out over 10 percent, but it’s only in the last few months that it’s dropped below 8 percent. By contrast, during most of the period 2005 to early 2007 when the number of homeless people dropped so substantially, it was around 4.5 percent, “full employment” by most accounts.

Here are trends for some of the most discussed subpopulations from 2005 to 2012:

Veteran numbers only go back to 2009, the first year when HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) worked together to establish a solid methodology for including veterans in the PIT counts. The number of homeless veterans went down largely due to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, the beginning of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, and an increasingly intense focus by VA staff in headquarters and around the country.

With the full implementation of SSVF and continuing work on effective implementation of housing and prevention strategies, this curve could move sharply downward in the next couple years, as long as implementation is strong and employment numbers continue to improve.

Chronic homelessness also declined in 2011, at a somewhat faster rate than in the previous two years. Some of this is due to HUD-VASH, since the PIT numbers for chronic homelessness include veterans experiencing chronic homelessness. Some of it is due to coming online of Continuum of Care (CoC) program-funded permanent supportive housing that Congress funded before recent fiscal tightening.

Some of the progress on ending chronic homelessness is no doubt due to communities using other resources like Section 8 to get the most vulnerable people off the street, part of the work of the 100,000 Homes campaign, and displayed in a recent report from Los Angeles showing over 2,300 chronically homeless people housed there in the most recent three months.

To end chronic homelessness by the end of 2015, the goal of the federal strategic plan, “Opening Doors,” declines like these will need to accelerate over the next few years. If communities and Congress make ending homelessness enough of a priority, that’s a possibility. If one of the results of fiscal face-offs in Congress is continued reduction in HUD funding, efforts to end chronic homelessness will be severely hampered.

For families, as for homeless people overall, the story is still one of holding the line. We’ve always known that, compared to other subpopulations, families experiencing homelessness are affected most by widespread joblessness. This is an area of particular concern for the future as well, since families overwhelmingly benefited from HPRP. If the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH) of 2009 is funded at the level Congress said it intended in the Act, families would benefit from expanded Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding. So far, that hasn’t happened. It will be a high priority for the Alliance in 2013.

As a final note, this is the last annual point-in-time count that will lack an overall count of youth homelessness. HUD has already issued guidance to communities that they should note the number of young people aged 18-24, as well as unaccompanied minors. This is an important step that will increase both the political pressure and the capacity to make more serious progress on ending youth homelessness.

I hope all our readers have a happy holiday season and new year. I’ll have another blog right after the first of the year, talking about some of the things we at the Alliance are resolving to do in 2013.

14th December
written by Jeni Gamble

Attention readers! The Alliance’s blog has been updated. We are currently in the process of transitioning from a WordPress blog to an integrated blog on our website. The new blog has the same content, but now comes with more bells and whistles to make your experience more interactive. We also now have a favicon, the logo icon that appears when you bookmark our page in your Bookmarks Toolbar. (It’s the small touches that matter.) The new and permanent location for our blog on our website is here, so please update your bookmarks.

A few new things you will notice:

  • You can now share the individual blog post via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and email. Please share broadly to your networks.
  • With an easy right-hand sidebar link, subscribing to the blog has never been easier. Subscribe today and don’t miss out on daily posts.
  • A Twitter feed is now included on the right-hand sidebar, so you can stay tuned to the most current Alliance Tweets, allowing you to reply, retweet, mark a tweet as your favorite, and tweet to us!
  • When you search the Alliance Library, you will now find blog posts too, and you can still filter posts by specific categories.
  • The blog is now fully integrated into our website, located under the News and Events tab, with the same look and feel.
  • We have moved our blog-roll, which lists the blogs of our partners in the field, from the page footer to a more visible spot on the right-hand sidebar
  • We are working out our archiving function, but you can currently navigate older blogs using the page numbers and arrows located on the bottom of the page.

Needless to say, we are still working out a few kinks that are typical with content migrations, some more noticeable than others. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be going back and fixing older blog posts, which now appear without some of the original spacing and paragraph breaks, and other minor issues we have noticed. We appreciate your patience as we tackle these fixes.

As always, you can count on the Alliance blog to feature the same authoritative content on the homeless assistance field, with guest posts from such important voices as the  Director of the Office of HUD’s Special Needs Assistance Programs, Ann Oliva.

And we will continue to provide moving personal stories, commentary on the latest developments in homelessness, helpful advice for advocates and practitioners in the field, and important information about the Alliance’s own activities and events.

Stay tuned!

14th December
written by naehblog

As we approach the fiscal cliff, there is a common misperception that, since Congress exempted all programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from sequestration in the Budget Control Act of 2011, programs that assist low-income and homeless veterans are safe from spending cuts. That’s not quite true.

Low-income and homeless veterans receive a lot of assistance from HUD funded programs as well as from VA, which means cuts to domestic discretionary spending under sequestration would have serious consequences for the most vulnerable of them. This budgetary impasse has the potential to undo our historic progress toward ending veteran homelessness (a 17.2 percent reduction since 2009).

On Thursday, December 6, the Alliance and its partners took this message to the senate, at a congressional hearing, “Discretionary Budget Cuts: Impact on Veterans,” which was hosted by the Homeless Veterans National Advocacy Working Group.

We were joined by Jonathan Harwitz, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Programs, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who you can see in this video explaining how important the interagency collaboration between HUD and VA has been to reducing the number of homeless veterans, (down 7 percent from last year) and how cuts to discretionary domestic spending threaten their efforts.

Also on the panel was Michael DeHart, the Housing Coordinator for Community Connections, a HUD-funded assistance services provider that serves veterans. He spoke about the clients that his program serves, and elaborated on the real human cost of the spending cuts.

A client of Community Connections and a formerly homeless, Shauna Curley, bravely shared her moving story, and described how DeHart’s program helped her and her children get back on their feet.

Lastly, Doug Rice, a Senior Policy Analyst from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, spoke about the realities of the budgetary impasse, describing where the spending cuts will be made and explaining that a deal to avert sequestration might also to spending cuts that could hurt low-income and homeless veterans.

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12th December
written by Norm Suchar

Earlier this week, I participated in a webinar with our friends at the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and Joyce Probst MacAlpine from Dayton/Montgomery County, Ohio about thinking strategically about the NOFA for the the Continuum of Care (CoC) Program. The webinar should be posted on USICH’s website in the next few days. In the meantime, it’s worth reiterating and expanding on a few points about the tiering process and how to get the most out of it.

Across the board cuts are probably a bad strategy.
Many CoCs are struggling with how to prioritize renewals, and are considering an across the board cut approach, but that could hurt your CoC. Let’s take a simple hypothetical example of a CoC that has an annual renewal demand of $1 million, which consists of 10 renewal projects that are each $100,000. The across the board cuts approach would be to cut each project’s renewal by 3.5 percent. That CoC would put all of their renewals in Tier 1 at $96,500 each, and they would likely be funded. The overall amount the CoC receives would be approximately $965,000. There would be little likelihood of getting any more funding because the CoC would have no renewals in Tier 2.

Now let’s assume that CoC instead placed the nine best performing renewals in Tier 1 in their entirety ($900,000) and reallocated $65,000 of the funding from the lowest performing renewal project and placed the reallocation in Tier 1, leaving $35,000 for that lower performing project and placing it in Tier 2. That CoC would likely get the same $965,000 for their Tier 1 projects, and they would have a reasonable chance of getting the additional $35,000 for the Tier 2 renewal.

Reallocating projects and placing them in Tier 1 is a good strategy.
One of the important features to understand about this NOFA is that reallocation projects that are placed in Tier 1 are as safe as renewal projects placed in Tier 1. That is, if the project crosses threshold requirements, it will get funded. In addition to the safety of the reallocation strategy, the NOFA describes additional points that CoCs can receive through reallocation. For example, points will be awarded for CoCs that “specifically describe how the length of time that individuals and families remain homeless will be reduced,” and for CoCs that “increase the number of permanent housing beds specifically for chronic homeless individuals and families in the jurisdiction.” A reallocation project can help with both of these criteria.

One thing that is much less certain is the fate of reallocated projects in Tier 2. Nobody knows how much funding will be available for Tier 2 projects, however, there is a good chance that there will only be enough for some of the Tier 2 renewals, which would mean that Tier 2 new or reallocation projects would not get funded.

The best strategy for the long run is to “put your best team on the field.
Sports analogies may be overused, but this one fits. When deciding which programs to place in Tier 1, CoCs should prioritize the ones that will give them the best outcomes on HEARTH Act measures, including reducing homelessness the most, reducing lengths of homeless episodes, reducing returns to homelessness, and increasing income and employment.

This NOFA is a marked change from previous NOFAs because it places much more emphasis on performance. I did a rough calculation of how many points are performance related. Of the 130 points available, 91 are related to performance—26 points for collecting data related to performance, 22 points for the actual outcomes achieved, and 43 points for strategies that improving performance. That’s a lot of points, and future CoC NOFAs will likely continue or expand this performance focus.

Underscoring all these strategies is the need for an objective process for determining which projects contribute most to performance. There are many programs that are viewed in their communities as good performers that really aren’t. The opposite is true as well. I have spoken with many providers who ironically don’t think very highly of their own programs, even when their CoC’s HMIS data show that they are performing very well.

If you have additional tips, comments, or questions, please send them our way.

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11th December
written by Ian Lisman

This week the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released some encouraging numbers on veteran homelessness. The number of the homeless veterans recorded during the January 2012 PIT count was 62,619. That’s down 7.2 percent from last year’s count.

That number represents a greater than 17 percent reduction compared to 2009 levels, which means that, even though there are still lot of veterans out there who need our help, we’re making real and significant progress. That’s great news, indeed. However, if we are to meet the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, we will need to achieve even more dramatic decreases in the coming years (particularly in 2013 and 2014).

As Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki noted, “This report continues a trend that clearly indicates we are on the right track in the fight to end homelessness among veterans. While this is encouraging news, we have more work to do and will not be satisfied until no veteran has to sleep on the street.

There’s a lot of hard work left to be done. The coming years will be “make it or break it” time in the five year plan to end veteran homelessness. Our success will rely on the provision of a full spectrum of services, from the transitional housing programs and permanent housing programs that congress has robustly funded in recent years, to rapid rehousing and prevention that VA has supported by funding the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program at historic levels.

Speaking of which, VA recently posted a Notice of Funding Availability for the SSVF program, and the Alliance is partnering with the agency on a webinar tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET. Anyone interested applying for funding under the SSVF program should check it out. We’ll be going over the application process and helping current grantees optimize their programs and fine-tune their interventions.

The deadline for SSVF grantee applications is Friday, February 1. So now is the time to put together your applications. For those of you whose organizations have received HPRP grants that are expiring, remember: the SSVF grant is modeled after HPRP; your experience with rapid rehousing will be an asset in applying for this grant to help veterans and their families.

10th December
written by Darcy Klingle

The Alliance’s 2013 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness is right around the corner, and we at the Alliance couldn’t be more excited about it. We can’t wait to see you in Seattle for what’s sure to be another successful and productive event!

The deadline for early registration is fast approaching. If you haven’t registered yet, you should do so as soon as possible as you don’t want to let this great opportunity for significant savings sneak by you. The deadline is 3 p.m. ET on Monday, December 17. If you’re registering by mail, your form must be postmarked on, or before, Monday, December 17. Visit the conference registration page for more information about deadlines and registration rates.

This year’s two-day conference will take place at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel on February 21 and 22. Those of you who have been following my conference blogs know that we’re still in the midst of planning it, and that we have a lot in store for you. Visit the conference website to learn all about the conference sessions, workshops, and the special reception hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

We expect approximately 800 to 900 attendees to gather in Seattle this February to learn and discuss best practices and effective solutions for ending family and youth homelessness. We hope to see you there!

7th December
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog post was contributed by Ann Marie Oliva, the Director of the Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs (SNAPS) at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the office that manages HUD’s homeless programs.

Since the implementation of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, we have made good progress in ending homelessness for veterans and the chronically homeless, and along the way have learned a lot about what works. As we move forward, we want to be sure that preventing and ending homelessness among unaccompanied youth is a priority at both the national and local levels. Getting better data on this population is the first step in making progress towards that goal.

In the past, HUD’s homeless assistance grants programs defined youth as persons less than 18 years old, and adults as persons 18 years of age and above. We realized, however, that this definition didn’t allow us to really understand how many young people are homeless and what their specific needs are.  HUD decided to change this definition – in part to align with other federal agencies’ definitions – in the implementation of the new Homelessness HEARTH Act programs.  The final rule on the Definition of Homeless, which took effect this past January, expands the definition of homelessness to include unaccompanied youth under 25 years old.   This will allow us to count the number of homeless youth more accurately, and to help them with the housing and services that match their needs.

In the upcoming January 2013 Point-In-Time count, HUD is expanding its data collection efforts to differentiate persons under the age of 18, those between 18 and 24, and persons over the age of 24.  This will be the first time that we are requiring communities to report to us on the number of homeless children in families, the number of unaccompanied youth, and the number of homeless transition-aged youth. It is an important step in making progress towards ending youth homelessness by 2020 – one of the four major goals of Opening Doors.

We need the help and focus of all of our grantees and partners to make that step a success.  Once we have this important data, the objectives and strategies outlined by the USICH to improve the educational outcomes of children experiencing homelessness and to prevent and end homelessness for unaccompanied youth – as described in their most recent amendment to Opening Doors – can be more fully implemented.  And that is the next step towards meeting the goal we all have – making sure no child is forced to live on our streets.

More information about the requirements for the 2013 Point-In-Time Count and about a new special initiative underway to improve counting and reporting on homeless youth can be found on our web site at

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6th December
written by Anna Blasco

Today we’ve released the fifth and final training module in a five-part training series on rapid re-housing. In this short video, Alliance Capacity Building Associate Kimberly Walker discusses outcomes and evaluations, and provides community examples. When we conduct our rapid re-housing clinics in person, this portion of the training is usually where participants have the most questions and feedback.

If you have missed the previous modules, don’t worry, you can find them here:

  1. Housing Barriers Assessment,
  2. Housing Search and Location/Developing Relationships with Landlords,
  3. Designing Subsidies, and
  4. Voluntary Service Provision.

We love to receive your questions and feedback! Email us at or leave a comment below.

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5th December
written by Lisa Stand

With elections nearly a month behind us, advocates are honing strategies to approach leaders and legislatures, new and old. With so much focus on federal budget and policy, it’s easy to overlook that all but half a dozen state legislatures will be in session by the time President Obama is inaugurated for a second term. At that time, state legislators will already be addressing budgetary issues and health care reform, two factors that will play huge roles in homelessness assistance next year.

A lot of the action on the issue of homelessness will be taking place in state capitals, and advocates can learn more about how to get involved on Tuesday, December 18, at 3 p.m. ET, when the Alliance hosts a live webinar, “Strategies to End Chronic Homelessness: Pursuing Innovative Policies at the State Level.” Field experts will show you and your community partners how to can make the most of new opportunities in your state. You can register for the webinar here.

The political landscape in the states has shifted a bit since the 2012 elections. So advocates in these 50 separate arenas must tailor their approaches in light of the election results in their states. Five new governors will assume office in 2013, but only in North Carolina did the gubernatorial seat change party hands. Party control shifted in just four states (Arkansas, Maine, Minnesota, and New Hampshire), and a handful of state legislatures are nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Homelessness advocates are going to have to involve themselves in what’s happening in their state legislatures, and that means keeping track of the activities of leaders, lobbyists and grassroots organizations, and answering questions like, “Is the issue of homelessness on the state agenda? Are the leaders even interested in addressing homelessness? Do we as state advocates have the kind of access to leaders and influence that we need to affect state policies?

Every state is different, but here are a few points worth noting, from a national vantage. First the bad news:

  • As in the federal arena, programs require funding, so a lot of the big state policy decisions will be made during the budget debate. Unlike the federal government, however, many states are required by their constitutions to balance their annual budgets, which means more pressure to get the bottom line right year to year. Legislators may be tempted to skimp on state funding for housing and assistance in the expectation that federal programs and local coffers will make up the difference.
  • Though the economy is improving, states continue to feel the effects of the recession. Many states last year had to contend with shortfalls in state revenues, and they made up for the shortfalls with spending cuts. Again, the openings for advocates to propose and enact new policies – even cost-effective ones – are few and far between.

Now, the good news:

  • For people working to end chronic homelessness, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will present real opportunities as it moves to the states. In the next two years, a number of states (hard to know how many) will expand their Medicaid programs to cover many homeless adults who have gone without health insurance, for years or perhaps their entire lives.
  • A number of states will choose still other options under the ACA – such as Medicaid health homes – that will add capacity to the systems of care for chronically homeless people.

The Alliance’s policy team has been thinking about new ways to help our advocates affect state policymaking, particularly with regard to identifying and making the most of ACA opportunities. This fall, we reached out with an online survey to learn what issues are most pressing in the coming year when combatting chronic homelessness. Respondents from 32 states answered the call, and identified four relevant policy topics:

  • Funding for state mental health programs that offer supportive housing;
  • Expansion of Medicaid to cover all adults up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level;
  • Policy decisions to increase Medicaid coverage for behavioral health care; and
  • Funding for state programs to help people exiting jails and prisons.

We also learned that there is a nearly unanimous need for state-level strategies and tactics for addressing these challenges, with state advocates citing “data” as the primary tool that they lack

The Alliance has already begun to respond to these needs, with Alliance tools and materials and by connecting people with outside experts and resources. Now is the time for homeless advocates and their partners to define their role for 2013 in their states.

Here are some basic steps to get started:

    • Know your key statewide coalitions and make sure they know you.
    • Stay current on state legislative affairs – through your state representatives, local news sources and opinion-leaders, and state think tanks. Understand the big picture.
    • Prep your champions and spokespersons– are their messages up-to-date and relevant?
    • Have an “ask” for your state legislators that will engage them in your most important issues – whether it’s funding for behavioral health, public investment in supportive housing, or reporting of data needed to advance state solutions.
    • Build relationships for the long-term. Keep up with your contacts working in state policy settings, and inform them about your issues and your goals

The Alliance’s Economic Development Policy Fellow, Edward J. SanFilippo, contributed to this blog post.