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Today’s guest blog post was contributed by Erin Bock, assistant director of the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless of Omaha, Neb.
At my most recent visit to Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns’ Office on Capitol Hill Day, I was gearing up to make a request. Over the last couple of years, I hadn’t had much luck. So you can imagine my surprise when he said “yes” to my request that he come and see the great work being done at a homeless service provider within the Continuum of Care (CoC) in Omaha, Neb.
From there, it was easy. Senator Johanns had signed into law significant behavioral health reforms while he was governor in 2004. Our CoC, also known as Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless, or MACCH, had many success stories that linked with those reforms, especially our local 100,000 Homes Campaign.
The Senator and his staff arrived at Omaha’s Community Alliance on a Tuesday afternoon in August. We met in roundtable fashion, the discussion being led by the leadership from MACCH’s interagency housing team. Not only did local homeless service providers showcase MACCH’s collective success in serving the community’s most vulnerable, but we were able to show how federal funding streams make this kind of work possible.
We also gained greater insight into the political world that senators inhabit. I can’t imagine being informed about the myriad of constituent groups, legislative priorities, and funding streams that senators have to keep track of. I left our meeting with tremendous appreciation for the work our elected officials undertake every day.
Since that meeting one month ago, Senator Johanns’ office has participated in our local homeless symposium, sought information about acting to further our collective work and acted with us on specific efforts aligned with our mission. We believe this synergy was a direct result of our active engagement of public leadership. It re-enforces the value that can come from both hill and site visits.
My boss and I call our work with the Continuum of Care in Omaha an extreme sport. We’re figuring this out as we go. The lessons learned from Senator Johanns’ visit are thus:
- Even tiny organizations can have an impact. We’re a two-person entity but have the partnership with our CoC providers, funders and advocates aligned toward the goal of preventing and ending homelessness in our community;
- Consistency of effort pays off, even if it’s effort at a modest scale;
- Elected officials need help to stay on top of the federal legislation that is so important to helping us achieve our goal; and
- The National Alliance for Ending Homelessness is a valuable resource in assisting organizations with their local advocacy work.
Photo: Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns and staff from the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless of Omaha, Neb, August 7, 2012.
Today’s guest post comes to us from Aaron Bowen, Chief Operating Officer at the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties.
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”
In the Oscar award-winning, Sidney Lumet-directed film “Network,” protagonist Howard Beale is just fed up – and I think many of us in the homeless assistance community can sympathize with his frustration.
Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, just over 830 people in a city of around 250,000 were identified as homeless during our January 26, 2011 Point in Time count. Though our overall homeless count dipped slightly from last year—thanks to a very well-run Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program—we remain worked up knowing that so many people still are homeless in Lincoln.
The trouble is, every group, task force, or coalition that does get together enters the strange and often frightening world of “planning” which can sap the life out of groups attempting to tackle the issue that matters to them most. But, like holding a magnifying glass at just the right angle to gather sunlight to its hottest point, planning is necesary in order to focus that “mad as hell” moment into a powerful force for change.
In Lincoln, that’s just what our Continuum of Care did—we planned! Partnering with experts from the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s Center for Capacity Building, we laid Lincoln’s homelessness services system on the table for dissection. We talked candidly about what we believe we do well and where we continue to stumble.
Through this work, we zeroed in on four main objectives:
- To assess and get folks appropriately housed as quickly as possible;
- to increase employment options for our consumers;
- to tackle youth homelessness; and
- to build more effective partnerships with landlords and realtors who may house the people we serve.
This resulting plan is something we’re proud of, but it’s the planning itself that produced something even more important. The process brought that magnifying focus to our work, helping us to find clarity in the midst of the million things we know must be done or changed to get and keep everyone housed, healthy, and safe.
We’re getting somewhere more quickly than we would have otherwise. We’re developing a shared housing assessment for local HMIS users. An initiative to make sure kids graduate is in the works. Landlords have assisted in drafting partnership agreements, and we’re focusing more on building and showcasing the employability of our consumers rather than on combating the barriers that stand between them and a good job.
My message to other communities out there: Your planning might not be perfect or all that pretty. Goals may shrink, go dark, and then resurface. People might not be as committed once they have to commit. But you’ll get better each time you try it. New people will listen and want a piece of the plan. You’ll find new purpose and perhaps new support, and you’ll likely lead some other coalition or continuum to planning.
Best of all, through it all, you can still be mad as hell.
Today’s guest post is the next – and last! – installment of our Nebraska series from Kim Walker of our Center for Capacity Building. For more about the Center for Capacity Building and the services they offer, check on the Training section of our website.
Believe it or not, our time in Lincoln is at an end!
This last visited was from September 29 – October 1. The bulk of this last visit was a presentation to the larger Lincoln community, particularly targeting those whose work touches homeless individuals and have not been present for our meetings thus far. It’s about rallying community support and understanding that in order to make big change, we have to all be willing to invest in that change.
For our piece, we’ll review the process we’ve gone through with the Lincoln Homeless Coalition, including the data we collected through our survey and data analysis. Then we’ll turn things over to the Coalition members, who will talk in-depth about each of the goals they have for Lincoln’s system and invite the audience to become involved. This is where, if all goes well, we’ll see our hard work turn to into collective action as the larger community takes ownership of the work ahead.
In addition to presenting, we’ll be visiting the Coalition’s Project Homeless Connect event. Like other communities across the country, Lincoln puts on this one-day event that brings together different service providers to give the homeless individuals in the area a temporary one-stop shop to get as many of their needs as possible addressed. Our friend Erin Anderson at Lincoln’s own Journal Star has written about the event.
While we’re wrapping things up, though, we’ll also need to be looking forward. Though this may be our last physical visit to the city, we’ll be discussing how we can help them over the coming months, whether that’s with conference calls, collecting data to check their progress, or connecting them with other communities doing similar work.
As the great Ted Kennedy once said, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” We’re ending homelessness one community at a time!
I am going to start off with the good news first because I know the East coast has had a rough week! We at the Alliance got a little recognition today for our work helping the The Lincoln Homeless Coalition revamp the way they serve homeless families. Which, faithful reader, you already know all about from this blog. So kudos to our CAP team! (Want the CAP team in your community? Check out the website.)
Working at the Alliance may make me biased but I was convinced even more this week about the importance of homelessness research. In order to effectively solve a problem, we must first fully understand it. And the research can be hard to swallow – like this report from Toronto – which indicates that homeless youth, particularly lesbian and bisexual women and young people of color, are overwhelmingly victims of crime. Why on earth would anyone victimize a homeless kid?
But with every cloud comes a silver lining. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has urged members of the Senate to designate these kind of violent attacks against people experiencing homelessness as hate crimes. This act, the “Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act,” would lead to stiffer penalties for perpetrators and mandate the collection of data on this problem – which hopefully will lead to better solutions. All this because of reports that violent attacks of this nature have been on the rise here in the United States. See how important data can be??
Speaking of research, despite overwhelming evidence and countless case studies, some people are still apprehensive about Housing First programs. Nashville has struggled with this, as well as New Orleans, this time against units that would provide permanent supportive housing. Admittedly, it’s not a popular strategy, especially for community members. But it’s one that has repeatedly demonstrated success – and it’s the best strategy we know to effectively end homelessness. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Finally, the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) expired yesterday. The New York Times profiled a community in Tennessee that expects to be hit hard by this loss, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities rounded up how some states will feel the burn. This is disappointing news, but now is not the time to throw in the towel!
We know that our supporters are committed to ending homelessness – roadblocks or no roadblocks! You can still make an impact – call your senators and speak to the housing staffer. Tell them their boss should commit to restoring TANF ECF and capitalizing the Trust Fund this year. Let us know in the comments how it goes! (Find you Senators’ phone number through the congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121.)
You may remember that Kim Walker of the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building is launching a new tool to end homelessness in Nebraska. Today – while she and our colleague Sam are en route to the Lincoln, she shares thoughts for their next trip!
It’s back to Lincoln tomorrow – and this time, my fellow Capacity Building Associate, Samantha Batko, will be joining me! Our mission for the visit is to finalize the plan that Lincoln started the first time around. This will entail doing some refining of the Lincoln Homeless Coalition members’ initial ideas, particularly the five goals they chose as the most important in helping them shift their system in the direction of ending family homelessness. Last time around, there were a lot of different strategies and resources suggested to help Lincoln accomplish their goals, but now it’s time to decide which strategies and resources are the best and most promising ones. Completing a workable timeline is also of the utmost importance with this visit.
Beyond just finishing up the plan – which is no small feat – we also hope to get the group jump-started with implementation. We are hoping to get the ball rolling so by our next visit, Lincoln will be able to report some progress on each of the five goals they’ve selected. While we at the Alliance our big plans of comprehensive and thoughtful planning, what we are really after is successful implementation that gets positive results.
Until next week!
For more information about the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building – including information about the Center’s new Ending Family Homelessness Tool and Pilot Project – please visit the website.
Today’s post is a follow up from Kimberly Walker, a Capacity Building Associate here at the Alliance.
Well, I’m happy to report that things in Lincoln went very well! Our first day there, Iain and I spent the morning meeting the members of the Lincoln Homeless Coalition (all wonderful, engaged people!) and listening to a presentation about their homeless system. We had a diverse group that included providers, a representative from the state, a liaison from the public school system, and the administrator of the HPRP grant. Iain and I spent that first afternoon presenting our findings to the group. A lot of our recommendations centered on how the Coalition could shift their system toward an approach focused on rapid re-housing.
Our second day was all about facilitation. We split our group into two and, after a brief recap of what we had discussed the day before, put them to work on deciding on and prioritizing goals for their system based on the gaps we had identified the day before. From their original list of thirty, Coalition members selected the five that were most important to them. After the goals had been selected, each group engaged in an exercise in which they connected each goal to potential strategies, resources, timelines, and evaluation methods.
Our next visit, in a little less than three weeks, will focus on fine-tuning the beginnings of the plan the group developed. Next time around, I hope to be able to report on the quality of the local cuisine as well…this time I only made it to Outback steakhouse .
Today’s post comes from Kimberly Walker, a Capacity Building Associate here at the Alliance.
Hello all! Kim here. As part of the Center for Capacity Building, my job is to help communities improve their homeless systems. As part of that mission, I’m working on the Center’s new Ending Family Homelessness Tool and Pilot Project (or the EFHT/PP). I’ve been told this may be of interest to our blog readers, so I thought I’d give you a synopsis of what exactly it is.
This tool turns what the Alliance staff has learned over the years about best practices in ending homelessness, what we’ve learned from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), and the new Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act requirements into a measuring stick for communities. The EFHT will hopefully encourage communities to use these standards to judge where their system is now and where it needs to be in order for them to end family homelessness.
The tool has several different parts (some that are finished, some that are still being developed/considered):
1) A set of three surveys regarding what communities think about their homeless system
2) A data collection worksheet
3) A resource list
4) A planning document
5) A check-in document (after a plan has been made), and
6) A community forum
As a final product, we hope to create a completely web-based version of these documents that communities can use to analyze their data and create an action plan without Alliance intervention. Communities wanting technical assistance, like Lincoln, NE, will have the option of working with us more closely. Speaking of Lincoln…
The Pilot Project
Iain DeJong of OrgCode Consulting, Inc. and I will first be piloting this project with Lincoln, NE. This week is the first of a total of three visits we’ll be paying them. In preparation for it, homeless providers, staff, and consumers are taking our surveys, and Iain and I have been reviewing the data they’ve sent to us about homelessness in Lincoln. On Day 1 of this initial visit we’ll be getting to know Lincoln’s key stakeholders and presenting our findings (based on our analysis of the aforementioned data and surveys). On our second day there, we’ll present the group with a document to help them prioritize which problems to solve, think through next steps, and decide which resources to use in their search for solutions. By the end of our two-day stay, we hope to have the beginnings of a plan that will get our friends in Nebraska confident that they will be able to change their system for the better.
I’m Nebraska bound on Wednesday evening – wish me luck! I’m excited to A) have the chance to be working with a community on an issue I’m passionate about, B) put what we’ve done with the tool so far to the test, and C) cross Nebraska off my “States I’ve Never Been To” list. I’ll be reporting back once I return…until then!
This just in: the Senate just passed the first piece of the Jobs bill (recap: once upon a time, there was one giant Senate Jobs bill. But some people thought it’d be better to break it up into a bunch of little bills). This $15 billion bill is focused primarily on providing tax credits for employers who are hiring – and especially hiring the unemployed.
More, similar legislation will be coming down the pike, but no where in the distance is one key element that we – the Alliance and homeless asisistance providers and advocates – are looking for.
Additional funding for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). As a part of the Jobs Bill, we at the Alliance are hoping for $1 billion. Here’s why:
The unemployment outlook has worsened significantly since HPRP was created last year, which puts more people in danger of becoming homeless. It was designed to help 600,000 people, but communities are finding there are more people who need assistance than we’d planned for.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), communities from states – including California, Michigan, Nebraska, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, and South Carolina – have reported that there are far more families who are homeless or at-risk than there is money to help them get back on their feet. An additional $1 billion to extend HPRP would prevent and end homelessness for an estimated additional 200,000 households.
What’s more, HPRP is creating jobs. According to our analysis, current allocations create one full-time, three-year job for each $600,000 of HPRP funding allocated – this means 2,500 jobs through the existing funding. The remaining money provides temporary rent subsidies to landlords, funding more jobs in the rental housing industry and helping with historic high vacancy rates for rental housing.
I know it’s not the easiest concept to wrap around, but the moral is this: providing more prevention and rapid re-housing assistance not only helps individuals and families stay out of homelessness – but it creates jobs in the process. As we move toward creating legislation to improve the economy, let’s make sure to keep an eye on those who need the most.
It’ll be an uphill battle, but help for the homeless belongs in the Jobs bill. Let’s make it happen.