21st August
written by Sharon McDonald

In July, researchers contracted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided an update on a study that examines the comparative impact of various housing and service interventions on families experiencing homelessness. To date, more than 2,000 families in 12 communities have enrolled in the Family Options Study. While the current data available is limited to the baseline level, some findings do raise questions about how well we are using our homeless and mainstream resources to prevent and end homelessness.

Readers who are interested in listening to an audio recording of HUD’s July 19 presentation on this study can download Part 1 of the recording here, and Part 2 here.

Here’s a look at the study’s findings:

  • Resources for homelessness prevention: As in other studies, the data indicate that parents in homeless families are very young. Nearly 30 percent of the mothers are under the age of 25. They are also very poor, with an annual income averaging around $7,500. Significantly, more families are coming from doubled-up situations than are being evicted from housing they hold in their own name. This is useful information when it comes to assessing our use of homelessness prevention resources and the characteristics of the kinds of families most likely to fall into homelessness. It tells us that we should be targeting our resources at multi-generational and doubled-up families, families with very young parents, and families with minimal incomes.
  • Resources for vulnerable and low-income families: The findings also provide further evidence that the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is underserving families: only 41 percent of the families reported receiving income from the TANF program. The data also show that a larger percentage, 27 percent, of parents enrolled in the program spent at least parts of their childhood and adolescence in foster care, though it remains unclear how many aged out of foster care and how many were reunified with their family. Though incomplete, this finding is important. If we are to improve the services that children and youth in foster care receive in their transition from the welfare system to their families of origin (or independent living) we must have a better understanding of this relationship between child welfare and subsequent homelessness.
  • Resources for homeless families: Perhaps one of the most surprising findings, and one that should give pause to all homeless service providers and system planners, concerns the use of transitional housing. Nearly 80 percent of the families the researchers referred to a project-based transitional housing were denied admittance to that program. Indeed, the eligibility criteria for many of these programs, which are supposed to offer service-rich interventions for homeless families, screen out all but a small segment of that population. Given the relative cost of transitional housing, this finding alone should generate some critical evaluation of how local communities are using scarce resources to assist at-risk and homeless families.
7th August
written by Andre Wade

January 2013 will be here before you know it. And what does that mean? In January many communities across the country will be conducting point in time (PIT) counts of persons experiencing homelessness.

Why Are PIT Counts Important?

  • Collecting and using data on both sheltered and unsheltered unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness can help communities improve policies and programming;
  • Data can provide communities with a baseline of the number of unaccompanied youth to determine if there are increases or decreases over time;
  • Data can be used to help with requesting funding through the grant process;
  • Results of the PIT count can raise awareness of the issue of youth homelessness.

Why is Including Youth Important?

  • Historically, unaccompanied youth are undercounted during PIT counts; therefore, many communities do not have an accurate estimate of the prevalence and nature of youth homelessness.
  • Annually, HUD is mandated to submit a report to Congress called the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). The report describes the number and characteristics of all people experiencing homelessness across the nation. If youth are left out, then Congress is not provided with that data within the report and they will have less information to make informed decisions about funding and resources at the federal level.

Alliance Tools and Resources

The Alliance has developed tools and resources to help communities purposefully include youth in their PIT counts. Over the next few months we will do even more to help everyone plan, organize and execute a successful count.

Toolkit: The toolkit outlines six recommended steps to include youth in PIT counts.

Webinars: There are two webinars available. The first emphasizes the importance of improving the quality of data we have on the prevalence of youth homelessness. The second webinar features an in-depth case study of the specific actions San Jose, CA took to include youth in its PIT counts.

Practice Briefs: Profiles of San Jose and Washington, D.C. provide information about the planning, implementation, methodology, and use of data of each community’s targeted youth PIT counts.

Map:  A map was developed for educational purposes, to indicate which communities across the U.S. have completed targeted youth counts. The map includes the results of the counts and the methodology used.

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6th August
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog is from Maddison Bruer, who we will be hearing from periodically on our blog this summer as she updates us on her work with Bridges of Norman.

Hi ya’ll! It seems the longer I stay here in Oklahoma, the more my southern roots take over. I hope all of you are having a fantastic summer, as I have been. One of my part-time jobs this summer is working under the supervision of a Geography professor at Oklahoma University doing research on one of the predominant Native American tribes, the Chickasaw, and how tobacco use impacts their nation.

The reason I mention this is twofold, one being that it has taught me a lot about research methods, which I believe is important for my work on the youth homelessness front, two being that while visiting the small town of Ada, Oklahoma (the capital of the Chickasaw Nation) to conduct some field research, I stumbled upon a youth shelter. At first glance, I was astounded to have found another youth shelter. As many of you probably know, youth shelters here are few and far between.

I asked my team to stop and I hopped out to do some investigating. The building was very new looking and well maintained, but I must say I was slightly shocked to see babies of all ages just sitting on the sidewalks, half clothed, and some crying.

This was the first difference I noted between this place and Bridges (the nonprofit I lived in that takes in homeless youth who wish to continue their education), but after speaking with the director I soon realized there were huge differences between this shelter and the one I had once called home.

This Ada shelter only housed up to eight youth, ages ranging from 0 to 18, and would only accept youth who were checked in by the courts or a parent or guardian. Basically, one has to be a ward of the court or willingly given up by a parent to gain access to this shelter. Another large difference derives from the shelters’ priorities; Bridges’ focus is on education, while the Ada Area shelter’s focus is on providing shelter, no more, no less.

I also have spent the summer working with Debra Krittenbrink, the executive director of Bridges.  She and I have been tapping into our inner Batman and Robin by tackling the misconceptions of youth homelessness in our community. Throughout the summer we have spoken to a few organizations to spread the word about the growing number of homeless teens in our state as well as the ways Bridges helps these individuals.

One of these organizations was the student congress of my former high school, Norman High School, which has led to Bridges being selected as the recipient of its annual fundraiser, called Tigerpalooza. This is fantastic news for Bridges and will certainly lead to a more connected and informed community; something both Debra and I are very excited about.

If my working with Bridges and the University of Oklahoma has taught me anything, it’s that information is key. So get out there and spread the word about what you care about, it could bring about unforeseen opportunities.

I’ll be back in D.C. soon, folks, but until then stay cool up there!

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2nd August
written by Sharon McDonald

States have an important new opportunity to improve the employment outcomes of low-income families. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released an Information Memorandum indicating the Administration’s interest in granting waivers to states for the administration of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. States may now seek waivers from the administration that allow them to experiment with new strategies to help low-income parents on TANF connect with employment.

States are required to demonstrate that 50 percent of the TANF caseload complies with work activity requirements. Advocates have long been concerned that the federal rules regarding “what counts” as a work activity is often a poor match for what many parents need to successfully prepare for, or enter, the workforce. Families in which a parent or a child has a disability are often poorly served under the current rules. Some are unable to meet the required number of hours in a work activity. Others require work preparation activities that are not countable, and so are simply not offered.

The mismatch between what families need to transition to work and what TANF agencies can provide has important consequences. Some households face impending time limits for cash assistance without ever receiving the individually tailored supports that could help them succeed in the workforce.  High numbers of families, including those that include a member with a disability, lose cash assistance because they are unable to comply with work participation requirements. This contributes to the growth in the number of families living in extreme poverty without income from employment or social benefits. It also places families at greater risk of becoming homeless.

Waivers that allow States to expand the services they offer can help those with the most significant barriers to employment succeed and help them avoid falling deeper into poverty. When TANF agencies are able to successfully transition families into the workforce, they also reduce their vulnerability to homelessness. Ensuring States have the flexibility to deploy the tools that work to help families quickly connect to work can also help reduce their need for homeless services, allowing those scarce dollars to go further and help other vulnerable families in need.

Homeless service providers and advocates should explore how their State plans to take advantage of the new opportunity made available to improve employment services to low income families. For more information, contact Sharon McDonald at smcdonald@naeh.org.

13th July
written by Sharon McDonald

On Wednesday, July 12, the White House and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness recognized some of the foremost leaders in responding to youth homelessness at Champions of Change: Fight Against Homelessness. The 13 awardees shared their own experiences serving youth in two panel discussions hosted by the Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Bryan Samuels of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.

A recurring theme of the day was the shortage of resources needed to address the problem of youth homelessness. During the discussion, one panelist speculated that New York City’s subway system could be that city’s largest provider of overnight accommodation for homeless youth.

Panelists also spoke about the importance of helping youth and their families reconnect and ensuring that appropriate services are in place for them when that is not possible. In Santa Clara, CA, up to a third of youth served by the Bill Wilson Center have homeless parents, which has led the agency to increase the resources it provides to help families and their children stay together.

Panelists explored how to improve services for youth, many of whom have complex needs. Awardee Sherilyn Adams of Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco noted that the difficulty lies not in dealing with the kids themselves but, rather, contending with the insufficient systems meant to support them.

To learn more about the Champions of Change, visit the USICH website. A video of the event is also available online.

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29th June
written by Sam Batko

In 2010, the most recent annual data we have from HUD, there were nearly 170,000 homeless households with children in the nation.  We know that a large number of those households are headed by young parents.  In fact, the Alliance estimates that over 25 percent of homeless families are headed by a young adult under the age of 25—that’s approximately 50,000 to 60,000 families a year.

Because these families are accessing the homeless services through the adult family system, their needs as developing young adults may not necessarily be noticed or attended to and there may be some solutions to their homelessness that are being overlooked.

We know that the majority of homeless youth return home to family and that family intervention is a strategy that can effectively end homelessness not just for youth under the age of 18, but also for youth over the age of 18.  When serving a family headed by a young adult, providers should be attentive to whether or not there is a parent or extended family member that is willing to take in the young parent and their child(ren).  This may provide a more stable and supportive living arrangement for a young parent.

For young parents that cannot be reunified with family or a caring adult, rapid re-housing, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing have all proven effective in ending a young parents’ homelessness when properly targeted.  The Alliance has created a new page on its website dedicated to young parents.  The page provides more detail on what families headed by young parents look like, the interventions that may be appropriate for them, and a number of resources that provide more details on those interventions.

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4th June
written by Sam Batko

Last week, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hosted the 15th Annual Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference in Washington, DC.  This conference provides welfare and poverty researchers, state and local administrators, practitioners, and Federal officials to meet and discuss research, programs, and policies that impact welfare and related programs.

This year, the conference featured tracks on TANF, education and the labor market, child and youth well-being, fatherhood, evaluation of social programs, and alleviating poverty and strengthening the safety net. While a number of the sessions at the conference had implications for homeless families, individuals, and youth, there was a session specifically dedicated to the role that TANF and other human services programs play in ending family homelessness.

The session was moderator by the Alliance’s own Sharon McDonald, Director of Families and Youth, and featured:

  • Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania who provided an overview of his widely accepted typology of homeless families and discussed the important role that short- and medium-term rent assistance in ending homelessness for a large proportion of homeless families;
  • Frank Cirillo of the Mercer County Board of Social Services in New Jersey who discussed the successful efforts in Mercer County to fund rapid re-housing for families using TANF funds; and
  • Alvaro Cortes from Abt Associates who provided a broad overview of findings from a study that looked at how communities are linking housing supports with social services.

A detailed agenda of the conference is available and electronic copies of powerpoint presentations from the above workshop as well as from other workshops from the conference are available upon request via email.

22nd May
written by Andre Wade

On June 14 at 2 p.m. ET the Alliance is holding a webinar on using family intervention to reunify and connect homeless youth with their parents. Family intervention is a strategy used to link unaccompanied runaway and homeless youth, regardless of age, to their family or a caring adult. It provides an avenue for families in crisis to work on core issues that led to a youth leaving the home, identify extended family members who they’d like to be a part of the process, and learn to identify resources that can mitigate future crises.

A number of strategies fall under family intervention, such as family reunification, family connecting, family finding, and even aftercare services.  Family intervention should be made available to all unaccompanied runaway or homeless youth, including:

  • Youth over the age of 18,
  • Youth that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ),
  • Youth who access street outreach, basic center, transitional living and other housing programs,
  • Youth who are in need of a caring adult in their life, and
  • Youth who have the desire to be reunited or connected with their family when it is safe to do so.

There are several evidenced-based family intervention models available for providers looking to implement this strategy. The Support to Reunite, Involve, and Value Each Other (STRIVE) model will specifically be discussed during the webinar. Other models include:

To learn more about family intervention, sign up for our webinar on June 14!

21st May
written by Sam Batko

This coming July, the Alliance’s National Conference on Ending Homelessness to be held in Washington, DC, will feature a variety of workshops that are designed to help domestic violence service providers find ways to better meet the housing needs of survivors in their programs as well as help homeless service provides better provide safety and services to survivors in their housing programs.

To kick off the conference, the Alliance is hosting a pre-conference session that is intended for homeless service providers who are interested in more effectively addressing the needs of survivors in their housing programs.  The session will address increasing safety for survivors, best practices for case managers, and developing successful partnerships that benefit survivors.  Speakers in the session will be from domestic violence programs that successfully implement a variety of housing models and are experts in adapting those housing models to survivors.  While preregistration for this session is not required, we are asking that interested persons email their intent to attend this preconference session to Samantha Batko at sbatko@naeh.org so that we can track anticipated attendance.

Additionally, throughout the conference, participants will find content on better serving survivors in a number of sessions, including, but not limited to those focusing on:

  • Successful partnerships between domestic violence serving agencies, homelessness assistance programs, and employment programs,
  • Overarching strategies for ending family homelessness and rapid re-housing for survivors,
  • Research on homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing,
  • Development of and implementation of a coordinated entry system,
  • Landlord engagement and rental assistance stratagies,
  • Using a voluntary services model, and
  • Partnering with public housing authorities to end homelessness.

These workshops and other content of survivors of domestic violence are strategically placed throughout the conference to allow attendees to attend as many sessions on survivors as possible.  This will truly be a conference not to be missed for anyone working to end homelessness for survivors of domestic violence in their community.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The early registration rate for the conference is only available online until  10am EST on Wednesday, May 30, 2012.  Or, you may mail in your registration form postmarked by Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

Image courtesy of  NoVa Hokie.

18th May
written by Sam Batko

On Thursday, May 17, the Alliance hosted a Congressional Briefing, “Rapid Re-Housing: Ending Family Homelessness.”  The briefing was sponsored by Senator Patty Murray, and provided a glimpse into how a couple of communities are using rapid re-housing to revolutionize how they are responding to family homelessness as well as the critical important role that federal funding plays in continuing the success of these programs.

In addition to the Alliance’s own Nan Roman, the speakers included:

  • Matt Minkevitch, Executive Director of The Road Home in Salt Lake City, UT, who discussed how they have used rapid re-housing to prevent an increase in family homelessness during the recession by helping over 1,000 families move out of shelter and back into their housing using both TANF and HPRP funds;
  • Nan Stoops, Executive Director of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in Seattle, WA , who shared the important benefits they have seen for both survivors and their families as well as to providers through the work they have been doing with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide grants and technical assistance to providers that help survivors get rapidly re-housed or safely stay in their own housing; and
  • Kelly Thompson, from Humility of Mary Shelter, Inc. in Davenport, IA, which has just begun to implement a rapid re-housing model with a grant from the Supportive Services for Veterans Families Program and has already seen the impact it has had on both the families it has served and their own capacity to serve families they were not able to before.

The panel also included the voice of a father who experienced homelessness with his family after unexpectedly losing his job.  He detailed the challenges he, his wife, and his children faced while trying to navigate homelessness and the dramatic difference that rapid re-housing provided in the lives of himself and his family.  His daughter has returned to school and he happily reported that he is going to take it easy on her, despite her getting a “93 on an English test.”

This briefing highlighted what we know to be true across the country: rapid re-housing is working to end homelessness for families, it is helping them get their lives back on track and helping providers serve more families in need, but HPRP funding is disappearing, and without federal support, the great progress made by these programs is in danger.