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27th August
2012
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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12th July
2012
written by naehblog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19th June
2012
written by naehblog

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

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting for the Research Council, a group comprised of prominent researchers in the areas of homelessness and housing from around the country. The Council meets to gather and share their new information and recent research activities, propose new research to fill existing gaps, and guide the agenda of the Homelessness Research Institute, the research division of the Alliance.  At the end of most meetings some kind of research agenda is prepared from the meeting’s conversation.  This time the Council was visited by several researchers from HUD who were able to listen and respond to the suggestions that the researchers made.  Besides being among greats within the homelessness and housing sphere, it was really cool to be able to see how the Alliance sets its research agenda and interacts with agencies like HUD.

The meeting covered a vast swath of topics, from youth homelessness, to child welfare and housing instability, to homelessness among veterans and single men. The conversation was a whirlwind of acronyms, abbreviations, and statistics, most of which went way over my head, but all of which are extremely important to know and definitely expanded my understanding of all things related to homelessness. Many of the ideas that the Council discussed have been questions that researchers have been trying to answer for years but have not been able to definitively address for one reason or another, so it was interesting to hear it all in one place!

Though the conversation was rife with interesting facts and research, perhaps the most interesting was about the “Cohort Effect” among the aging homeless population.  Within the shelter system, the population is heavily skewed toward single adults, particularly older men, with the median age hovering around 50. The Cohort Effect suggests that during the 1980s, when widespread homelessness appeared in the US in its current form, several factors—such as an economic recession and the emergence of crack cocaine—led to persistent and chronic homelessness among the single adults.  Isolation from the job market during the recession followed by the drug epidemic in the mid-80s conspired to keep this cohort out of the housing market and legal economy.  This is especially interesting because of the implications this effect has for providing health care to an aging homeless population.

The two most dominant ideas, both of which ended up being placed on the research agenda and suggested to the visiting HUD researchers involved using the pre-existing social system to analyze the efficacy of several programs.  The first suggested using the structure of the emergency shelter system to see if the levels of alcohol consumption or intoxication allowed in a shelter (e.g. whether that shelter is dry, damp, or wet) affects how utilized that shelter is.

The second idea suggested using the Family Unification Program (FUP) to look at how the program’s voucher could be better utilized for children who receive FUP support.  In addition to those two ideas, suggestions about researching the success rates of rapid re-housing, particularly about recidivism rates of individuals leaving rapid re-housing programs, made up the bulk of the research agenda suggestions.

At the end of the day my head was spinning and I left the meeting with the same feeling that exchange students have after their first day speaking their new language: I could understand everything that was being said to me, but responding was another issue altogether.  Even though the meeting was like diving headfirst into a pool without really knowing how to swim, I learned more about the American social service system in one day than I have in any research setting prior and I felt like I had accomplished something.  I’m really excited to keep having this feeling throughout my internship (especially the part about feeling accomplished; there’s nothing like a good ego boost every once in a while!).

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15th June
2012
written by Kate Seif

Every summer, the Alliance gets a big boost of help – our summer interns! They’re here to help with the conference, assist the policy team, and generally make the Alliance offices an even livelier place. Today, we introduce our summer crew and provide a little information on why they’re here, what they’re doing, and their thoughts on their summer home! They hail from all over the country and have already made big contributions. We look forward to working with them this summer, and we hope you get a chance to meet and interact with them throughout the summer and at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness. And without further ado….

Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern
My name is Christian Brandt, and I’m from the illustriously un-illustrious town of Moscow, Idaho and just graduated from Dartmouth College in June with a Bachelor’s in Anthropology.  I am currently working at the Alliance as a Federal Policy Intern doing various things for various people on the Program and Policy team.  I wanted to intern at the Alliance because of its emphasis on policy and research, a duo that I haven’t really combined in my previous experiences with homelessness and housing.  I hope to greatly expand my knowledge of legislation and policy regarding those two issues (got a leg up with the Research Council Meeting; talk about Baptism of Fire! Check out my recap blog next week.), and to hone my research skills in both areas.  DC has been great so far (especially the concerts in the sculpture garden!).  Except for the humidity – that I could do without!  And the heat.  Too. Much.

Nichole Friday, Meetings & Events Intern
My name is Nichole Friday, a rising senior at Louisiana State University down in the good ole bayou. I am the Meetings & Events Intern here at the Alliance and I am working with D’Arcy on the National Conference on Ending Homelessness that will be taking place in July. In particular, I will be working closely with the volunteers as well as the scholarship recipients. I hope to learn more about the meetings and events side of a nonprofit organization while I work at the Alliance this summer. I also hope to learn more about policy and other issues that surround the homelessness problems we are experiencing in the US. I am from the Washington, DC area and continue to expand my love for the city the older I get (being a new 21-year-old sure helps to expand my options!) and look forward to what the rest of the summer has in store for me here!

Amanda Jensen, Federal Policy Intern
My name is Amanda Jensen and I hail from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (the steel/Christmas city). I am a rising senior at American University, and hope to graduate by December. I am a federal policy intern at the Alliance and while here, I hope to generally gain experience working in a nonprofit through the internship experience. More specifically, I am interested in expanding my knowledge on legislation vital to ending homelessness and I also hope to see the impact of the Alliance’s policy work on federal legislation through my time here.  The best thing about DC would have to be the endless opportunities to acquire free food, and the worst part is undoubtedly the constantly out-of-service Metro escalators. I was just not meant to walk that much.

Tessa Knight, West Point Fellow
My name is Tessa Knight and I’m from Boise, Idaho. I am second-year cadet (sophomore) attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. I applied for this academic trip with the intent of learning as much as I can about the situation of homelessness, an issue that really speaks to me as a national priority. As one who has never participated in either government/nongovernment organizations, I seek to understand and define my future role in the system. Working with the Alliance fits with how I think I personally might “change the world,” for I always go back to the basics: feeding the hungry, taking care of the poor, housing the homeless, etc. While I’m at the Alliance, I hope to undertake a lot of research and perhaps create some sort of synopsis on the effectiveness of certain veterans’ programs for the future use of the Alliance. As far as being in Washington DC, well, there are a lot of cool things to do, but people really need to smile more. In Boise, everybody smiles! If you’re in DC reading this, please work on that.

Eduardo SanFilippo, Youth Policy Fellow
Hola, me llamo Ed, and I’m this summer’s Youth Policy Fellow. I was born in California but spent nearly my entire childhood in the Canadian Prairies. I returned to CA for my undergrad at San Diego State University (Aztec for Life!) and completed degrees in Religious Studies and Political Science. In the fall, I’ll be starting my last year of law school at the University of Pittsburgh, where my focus is on how the structure of law/legal structures can be used to advance social change. I promise this is a lot more exciting (and fulfilling) than it sounds. I’m excited to work with the Alliance because I was homeless for a short time and view this as a terrific opportunity to give back and help those still struggling. My big projects for the summer focus on LGBTQ and rural youth and I look forward to contributing to the wellbeing of these populations. I previously did homeless outreach with the Hot Metal Faith Community in Pittsburgh and I’m sure I’ll find similar organizations here. DC is my favorite American city so I’m excited to actually spend some time here and see the sites. The humidity leaves a lot to be desired (especially for a kid from Canada) but that’s a fairly nominal complaint. I hope to spend the summer working and checking out the whole region on my bike.

Maulin Shah, Federal Advocacy Intern
Hi! My name is Maulin Shah, and I’m this summer’s Federal Advocacy Intern at the Alliance working on Capitol Hill Day. While originally from Nashville, TN, I’m currently a rising junior at Birmingham Southern College studying Math and Chemistry. The opportunity to work at the Alliance appealed to me for several reasons: the most prominent being that it gave me an opportunity to ground myself in the context of what homelessness is. Sometimes it becomes hard to fathom that you can deal with issues like homelessness when confronted with the somewhat overwhelming size and scope of those issues. Working at the Alliance gives me a chance to try and begin to understand the structural aspects of the issue which in turn changes it from being an impossible series of numbers to a focused set of strategies. By working here, I’m not trying to just put one issue in context, but rather I hope to gain a greater understanding for the process by which you assess and create when addressing problems of seemingly insurmountable scope. I can’t say getting to try and do so in DC isn’t a really big perk, though. Thus far, my favorite part about the city is the food trucks. The only thing that could make them better is if there were any 24-hour ones. If you know of any please feel free to contact me.

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