16th May
written by Sharon McDonald

View Rapid Re-Housing: Ending Family Homelessness in a larger map

On Thursday, the Alliance will host a Congressional Briefing, “Rapid Re-Housing: Ending Family Homelessness.”  The briefing, sponsored by Senator Patty Murray, will provide a glimpse in to how rapid re-housing is revolutionizing how we are responding to family homelessness.

Homeless program administrators across the country provided an enthusiastic (shall we say overwhelming?) response to the Alliance’s request for data to help inform the audience about the impact that rapid re-housing is having.  The compelling data the Alliance received is showing the successes communities are having helping families move out of homelessness with rapid re-housing.  A small sample is included below:

  • Alabama rapidly re-housed 431 persons in homeless families through HPRP grants from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs with a median of 4 months of assistance. Over 80 percent of families assisted with three months of assistance or more exited homelessness for a permanent destination, as did virtually all families provided with less than three months of assistance.
  • Bakersfield and Kern County, California rapidly re-housed over 500 families. The new HPRP-funded prevention and rapid re-housing resources contributed to a 12 percent reduction in family homelessness between 2009 and 2011 despite a persistent double digit unemployment rate.
  • Palm Beach County, Florida has rapidly re-housed 154 homeless families.  Nearly all (96 percent) of the households were re-housed directly from an emergency shelter or domestic violence program and most (69 percent) were re-housed within 30 days of entering shelter.
  • New York City, New York rapidly rehoused 16,500 families with locally-funded housing subsidies and services supported by HPRP.  More than 90 percent of families assisted with rapid re-housing have not re-entered shelter.
  • Rochester, New York has re-housed 286 families with children with HPRP funds.  Twelve months after receiving assistance, 60 percent remain stable in the same housing unit they moved into and less than 5 percent have returned to homelessness.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania rapidly re-housed 648 homeless families.  Only 11 households (1.7 percent) have had a subsequent homeless episode.
  • Snohomish County, Washington provided rapid re-housing to 107 homeless families with an average of $1,411 in rental assistance.  Less than 2 percent of families assisted have had a subsequent homeless episode.

It is clear that rapid re-housing is making a difference for families.  It is succeeding.  It is important that proven, cost-effective strategies that end homelessness like rapid re-housing continue to be supported.  The Alliance hopes that you will ask your congressional representatives to join us for the briefing at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 17.  We also ask that you join us in urging Congress to provide at least $2.231 billion for the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Grants Program in FY 2013 so that rapid re-housing programs can continue to serve families

4th May
written by Sam Batko

I used to work in the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building and spent a lot of time in local communities working with providers and local governments to implement rapid re-housing programs.  About a year and a half ago I shifted to our policy team and the amount of time I spent in communities doing trainings decreased significantly.  I spend much more time up on the Hill now—educating Congressional staff and analyzing federal programs and policies to try and improve the national response to homelessness.  This week provided me with the opportunity to get back out in the field and talk to providers about a topic I am particularly passionate about—making sure that survivors of domestic violence are able to safely access the housing they need to move forward in their lives.

Yesterday, I presented at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness’ (CCEH’s) 10th Annual Training Institute in Meriden, CT.  Approximately 300 attendees representing homeless service providers and government agencies from throughout Connecticut attend the training institute to learn about what is happening on the federal and state level as well as learn about successful strategies being implemented by other communities in the state.

I was joined in my session by Shakeita Boyd from the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) in Washington, DC and we presented on the basics of the rapid re-housing model, survivor specific adaptations to the model, examples of successful programs, and systems level considerations to make the homelessness assistance system more responsive and safe for survivors.  At the start of the presentation, no one in the room was currently using rapid re-housing to serve survivors and, in fact, some programs were actively screening survivors out of their rapid re-housing programs.  But, by the end of the presentation, I think we had them convinced: rapid re-housing is a successful model for ending homelessness for families and individuals and that it can be just as effective and intervention for survivors of domestic violence as non-survivor households when implemented properly.

The Alliance has a variety of resources available online that communities can use to begin to implement a rapid re-housing model for survivors, including a 45 minute video training, sample safety planning tools for staff and survivors, and case studies of successful programs.  Additionally, DASH has a Housing Resource Center that has extensive online resources.  The presentation Shakeita and I gave yesterday will be available on the CCEH website as well.

30th April
written by Sam Batko

On Thursday, April 26, the U.S. Senate voted to pass S. 1925, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 in a vote of 68 to 31.  This reauthorization, sponsored by Senator Leahy from Vermont and co-sponsored by 61 bipartisan Members of the Senate, has stronger language to help protect LGBT, tribal, and immigrant survivors which gained the bill its 31 “nays” in the Senate and fairly wide media attention.

Perhaps of more importance in the field of homelessness assistance is another provision of the bill, it would provide particular protections for survivors in a variety of HUD programs.  Current law provides survivors with protections from eviction and the opportunity to transfer in Section 8 and Public Housing.  This reauthorization bill would extend those protections to a variety of other HUD programs, including McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance grant, Sections 202 and 811, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, among others.  And, if transfer is not possible, it requires HUD to establish a policy for how a survivor can access a Section 8 voucher instead.

VAWA was first passed in 1994 and since then has created a number of successful programs to help protect survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  One of those programs, the Office of Violence Against Women’s (OVW) Transitional Housing Grants administered by the Department of Justice helps survivors leave abusers and access safe housing with voluntary support services to help the survivor and their family stabilize in housing.  Providers who implement these programs often utilize a transition in place model that provides survivors with the security of permanent housing and a lease in their own name.

Now that the bill has passed in the Senate, it will be taken up in the House where there are three versions of a reauthorization bill introduced all of which have been referred to committee.  A mark-up is scheduled for May 8 for the bill sponsored by Congresswoman Adams (R-FL) which is similar to a Republican alternative to the Leahy bill (S. 1925) that just passed in the Senate.

24th April
written by Sam Batko

Two weeks ago, we highlighted the importance that housing stability plays in a variety of outcomes for survivors of domestic violence.  Housing stability improved the safety of survivors and their children, the job stability and income of survivors, and the behavioral and educational outcomes of the children of survivors.

Building on that knowledge and on the contributions of numerous experts in the domestic violence field, the Alliance created a toolkit on providing homeless survivors of domestic violence with housing through a rapid re-housing model.  This toolkit reviews the basics of rapid re-housing, including working with housing assessments, working with landlords, and structuring subsidies with particular adaptations to the model for survivors of domestic violence.

Additionally, the Alliance hosted a series of webinars focused on a variety of ways to ensure housing stability for survivors.  The recordings of and resources from those webinars are now all available online:

Moving forward, the Alliance will be continuing to highlight ways for communities and organizations to improve their homelessness and housing responses to survivors of domestic violence.  As communities begin to create coordinated assessment processes and begin to implement rapid re-housing through the Emergency Solutions Grant, the Alliance will be creating products to help communities address the safety and housing needs of survivors.

Additionally, the upcoming National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC on July 16-18 will feature an extensive track on meeting the needs of survivors as well as a 3 hour pre-conference session specifically on keeping survivors safe, best practices for service provision to survivors, and how to build partnerships to address both the housing and service needs of survivors.

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3rd April
written by Sam Batko

A little over a year ago, the Alliance released a paper on using a rapid re-housing model to end homelessness for survivors of domestic violence.  This paper was based on the successes and lessons learned by community programs using a rapid re-housing model to serve survivors.

One of the programs featured in that paper and also featured in a separate best practice on the Alliance website is Home Free, a Volunteers of America – Oregon program.  Home Free recently participated in a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study that examined the link between stable housing and domestic violence.

Recently, the Alliance hosted a webinar that highlighted some of the findings from that study, including that as housing stability increased:

  • Women and children were safer,
  • Women had greater job stability and improved income, and
  • Children missed fewer days in school and displayed fewer behavior problems.

Perhaps most strikingly, when women who participated in the study were asked what made the biggest difference in their life, they said “having housing.”  And, when asked what agencies did that was the most helpful, they stated the provision of housing services.

If that weren’t enough, the study also estimated the cost savings of housing survivors on the basis of decreases in their need of emergency services, including police, emergency medical care, and safety net programs. The total savings for emergency systems based on estimated costs was $535,000.

To learn more, please join the Alliance’s next webinar on April 12 at 3 pm ET , featuring  Melissa Erlbaum from Clackamas Women’s Services and Megan Owens of Hamilton Family Center, who will focus on the partnerships between homelessness assistance providers and domestic violence service providers to help survivors access permanent housing.

Image courtesy of  NoVa Hokie.

26th March
written by Andre Wade

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has made it clear that it wants to take the lead among federal agencies in promoting equality and inclusion for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. On January 30, HUD announced new regulations intended to ensure that HUD’s core housing programs are open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. These regulations, called the Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs – Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity regulation, makes housing available for everyone by prohibiting discrimination and promoting diversity. There are four basic principles of the policy:

  • General equal access provision. makes housing available and is new in the final rule, and acts as a catch-all for what’s not covered elsewhere.
  • Clarification on the definition of family.
  • Prohibition of inquiry of sexual orientation and gender identity for the purposes of determining eligibility. This provision does not prohibit voluntary and anonymous reporting of sexual orientation or gender identity that can aid in data collection requirements.
  • The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) cannot discriminate. Final rule adds sexual orientation and gender identity

This rule will affect a number of lives across the nation and will cross economic lines as well. It communicates that housing discrimination is not acceptable. For more information, watch HUD’s webinar on the new regulation, below.

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2nd February
written by Catherine An

It’s been all over the news.

A few days ago, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he wasn’t concerned about the very poor because we have a social safety net – and, when prodded, he said he would mend the safety net if necessary.

The candidate has been hounded by news outlets since the misstep. The Daily Beast, the Washington Post, and the TakeAway have all pointed out that the Romney should, in fact, show concern for the [growing] very poor population in America. The New York Times even ran an editorial on “the darkening tone of the primaries,” specifically citing this gaffe.

Needless to say, we here at the Alliance are very concerned about the very poor.

As has been widely reported, a full 15 percent of Americans live below the poverty line (which is $18,530 for a family of three) and 6.7 percent of Americans live in deep poverty (defined as half the poverty line.)  Half of all Americans are either poor or low-income, living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

While the last few years have, as the candidate notes, been hard for middle-class Americans, it has been a troublesome time for low-income and poor Americans as well. Recessionary times can be especially difficult for those households with little to no financial resources who suffer the same challenges as middle-income Americans including unemployment and housing crises. Unlike middle-income Americans, however, low-income and poor Americans often do not have the resources to buttress or recover from such economic hurdles. Without substantial savings or other assets, these hurdles can leave low-income and poor households facing very difficult circumstances, even homelessness.

This can be seen in our latest report, The State of Homelessness in America 2012. Severe housing cost burden for poor households* rose 6 percent from 2009 to 2010 (as it has steadily for decades) and the number of people living doubled increased by 13 percent**. While overall homelessness in the country stayed fairly steady between 2009 and 2011, the indicators associated with homelessness – including unemployment, poverty, housing burden, and the like – paint a picture of a low-income and poor community in need of – at the very least – concern.

*severe housing cost burden is defined as households paying 50 percent of more of their monthly income on housing.
**”doubled up” refers to a low-income individual or member of a family who is living with friends, extended family, or other non-relatives due to economic hardship.

3rd January
written by naehblog

With our National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness a mere month away, we revisit a blog post originally written in September of this year by Director for Families and Youth Sharon McDonald.

Last month marked the 15th anniversary of welfare reform.  The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act(PRWORA) is often heralded as a success.  With the flexibility of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant, many states provided work supports that helped thousands of families transition off of financial assistance and enter the workforce.

The recent recession, however, highlighted some of the weaknesses of the program.  The program did not adequately respond to the increased needs of families suddenly without work and whose unemployment insurance ran out, leaving them teetering on the edge and on their own.  From its inception, the program has allowed too many families to fall through the cracks and into deeper poverty.  Primary among them are families who experience homelessness.

Less than 20 percent of homeless families report receiving financial assistance from TANF agencies.  Studies demonstrate that families who lose TANF assistance often include family members with a disability and other serious barriers to economic self-sufficiency.  While some families may lose TANF financial assistance, other eligible families may never apply.  With the hope of finding a new job quickly, parents experiencing a short-term economic crisis turn instead to extended families and friends.  Many double up.  When doubling up results in conflict, they turn to homeless programs.

TANF programs can be more effective in preventing homelessness.  States can adopt policies that make it easier for families to apply for and receive financial assistance.  They can work to reduce the number of families who are sanctioned off of cash assistance and who lack the means to care for themselves or their children, particularly families that include parents or children with disabilities.  States can also increase benefit levels and provide emergency assistance so that families who do receive TANF can pay for housing.

TANF programs can also be more effective in ending homelessness.  In communities across the country, local welfare agencies are partnering with programs serving homeless families to rapidly re-house families.  In Salt Lake City, for example, the Department of Workforce Services works closely with The Road Home to help families move quickly out of shelter and back into housing of their own.  The Road Home provides housing search assistance, landlord negotiation, and home-based case management to families.  Workforce Services works with the Road Home to provide short-term benefits to help families pay for housing in the first few months and provide employment search assistance so families will be able to pay for housing on their own over the long-term.  The evidence is clear that this approach is working.  Family shelter stays are minimized and over 90 percent of the families served successfully retain their housing with the short-term, upfront help the program provides.

The 15th anniversary of welfare reform provides an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from PRWORA on how TANF programs can be improved.  TANF programs can be a more effective buffer to prevent family homelessness and a critical partner in re-housing families who do become homeless.  Ending family homelessness requires the investment of state and local TANF agencies.  With sufficient political will, the 20th anniversary of welfare reform can provide an opportunity to reflect on the great advancements made by TANF agencies to end family homelessness.

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24th November
written by Andre Wade

Family reunification is one of the many interventions used to end youth homelessness.

Runaway and Homeless Youth Basic Center Programs reunify 80 percent of youth under the age of 18 who need reunification services; Basic Centers are designed to provide counseling and referrals to facilitate the return of homeless youth back home. Case planning with the youth and his or her parents/legal guardians are conducted to assess the safety and well-being of the youth returning home.

This can often be the ideal situation for runaway and homeless youth. Reunifying with the family, with the facilitation of adept case managers, can end homelessness and provide the services needed to repair the conflict that precipitated the runaway episode in the first place.

If one of the main factors that lead to a youth running away is conflict over the youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity, then working with a youth and their family on the subject can be a very sensitive and delicate matter when the family is not accepting. Assessment tools, counseling, and family engagement practices should take into consideration the dynamics of family conflict when the family’s rejection of a youth’s self-identified sexual orientation or gender identity is at the core of the issue. Providers and practitioners should be aware of the symptoms of a family’s non-acceptance, including depression, low self-esteem, and increased risk of HIV and STDs.

To better ensure that youths and their families receive the necessary support and access to resources to address their crisis, we need to ensure that the Basic Center Programs funded by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs are adequately funded. These programs:

  • Implement evidenced-based practices,
  • Implement culturally competent practices and intervention tools,
  • Maintain enough counselors to facilitate family reunification and after care services,
  • Evaluate the success of their interventions to capture outcomes of youth who exit the program.

For more information about family reunification or about other issues affecting homeless youth, please visit the Alliance website.

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31st October
written by Anna Blasco

According to the Pew Center on the States, between 1973 and 2009, the nation’s prison population grew by 705 percent, resulting in more than 1 in 100 adults behind bars. When this growing population exits the corrections system, they are frequently at risk for homelessness, which can in turn increase the likelihood of another imprisonment. People leaving incarceration tend to have low incomes, and, often due to their criminal history, lack the ability to obtain housing through the channels that are open to other low-income people.

Recently, the Baltimore-based organization Health Care for the Homeless released a report on the link between incarceration and homelessness. This study focused on the situation in the Baltimore region, which has a particularly large population of people in jails and prisons. According to the report, among the cities with the largest jails, Baltimore has the highest percentage of its population in jail, more than three times that of New York City or Los Angeles County.

This report draws a very direct line between housing and homelessness. For example, 74 percent those surveyed who reported experiencing homelessness before their incarceration reported that stable housing would have prevented their incarceration. In Baltimore City, people experiencing homelessness spend an average of 35 days in jail annually.

It is important to point out that the connection goes both ways – incarceration often leads to homelessness, and homelessness can result in incarceration. This report found that the number of people who lacked stable housing after being released from incarceration almost doubled, from 35 percent having unstable housing prior to their most recent incarceration to 63 percent 6 months after being released.

Investing in housing solutions may be the answer to Baltimore’s predicament. When you take into consideration that incarceration costs $2,200 per person per month in Maryland, housing certainly starts to look like a good answer. On our website, we have looked at some successful models for addressing this, including re-entry housing and stabilizing families. Among the report’s recommended courses of action for Baltimore is to expand Housing First models of permanent supportive housing.