HEARTH Act Implementation

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.

25th July
written by Kim Walker

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at and moderating the Coordinated Assessment workshop at our 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. We had a big audience and some fabulous presenters. Though I’d like to think everyone came to our session because of their passion for the topic (and certainly some people did!), I have a feeling the release of the new HUD Continuum of Care regulations that mandated that communities adopt the approach probably played a bigger part in the attendance.

Communities want to make sure they’re doing things right, and because of that, we’ve had a lot of questions about how communities should get started, what they should think through carefully, and who to involve in their coordinated assessment plans. We’ve been fortunate that some communities who have developed resources for use in their own coordinated assessment processes have generously agreed to share those resources with other communities who are just now getting started.

This has allowed us update our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit with even more tools from a number of communities, including Philadelphia, PA; Memphis/Shelby County, TN; Dayton/Montgomery County, OH; and Minneapolis/Hennepin County, MN.

These new tools will help communities develop:

  • An assessment tool to use upon a household’s arrival to a coordinated assessment center
  • A data release authorization form that ensures the protection of client confidentiality
  • Ideas about how to staff a coordinated assessment process
  • A better understanding of how the coordinated assessment process should flow

These are the newest tools in our collection, and you can expect more over the coming weeks. Beginning in late August, we’ll host a series of webinars on coordinated assessment, each covering a crucial aspect of the topic.

Finally, my usual refrain: we are always looking for more community submissions. So if you have something that has helped your community with the process of developing coordinated assessment, please send it to us!

17th July
written by Emanuel Cavallaro

This year will be a year of change for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and, by extension, for advocates and people working on behalf of people experiencing homelessness, said HUD’s acting assistant secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development, Mark Johnston.

Speaking at the opening plenary session of the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness on Monday, July 16, Assistant Secretary Johnston addressed what is perhaps the most significant piece of news circulating the conference, the release on Saturday, July 15 of the Continuum of Care interim regulations under the HEARTH Act.

Assistant Secretary Johnston reminded the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials, and advocates at the conference that the new regulations will alter how communities manage and distribute resources in the future, but will also provide communities with important tools that have the potential to strengthen prevention and rapid re-housing efforts.

He noted that the HEARTH was signed into law in 2009, the same year as the Recovery Act, which created the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). Developing and implementing both policy initiatives have been a challenge for his agency, he said, but doing so has taught HUD officials a great deal about homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing.

“In retrospect, it was great timing,” he added.

HUD officials have incorporated lessons learned from  the implementation of HPRP into their regulations for the HEARTH act.

But Assistant Secretary Johnston also acknowledged the difficult fiscal environment in which agencies and advocates must operate. The funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, which had been growing year after year, he noted, has flattened out over the last several years.

“Funding…at federal, state and local levels is getting very, very tight, forcing us to become even more efficient and even more strategic,” he told the audience.

Assistant Secretary Johnston said he expects another HEARTH Act regulation for the Rural Housing Stability Program to be released sometime in the coming weeks.

In his remarks, Assistant Secretary Johnston also praised the interagency collaboration between HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the implementation of HUD – VA  Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, which he said has helped put the nation on track to meeting the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Between 2009 and 2011, veteran homelessness decreased by 11 percent. Assistant Secretary Johnson noted the decline in veteran homelessness in recent years is “stunning,” particularly considering the economic situation.

“I worked for the VA for many, many years, and I can attest that we’ve had the strongest relationship in the last two to three years than we’ve ever had before,” he said.

16th July
written by Norm Suchar

Just in time for our conference, HUD has published an interim rule for the new Continuum of Care program (CoC program). The regulations follow the HEARTH Act closely, so if you’ve read any of our material about the changes made by the HEARTH Act, you already know much of the story. However, there are a few new and interesting things.

First of all, the regulations provide a little more detail on what will be expected with coordinated assessment systems. Your CoC will have to develop a process that assesses people’s need for housing and services. There are numerous ways HUD will allow you to structure a coordinated assessment system, including having one centralized location where the assessments take place, using a 2-1-1 based system, or having multiple entry points. In addition to conducting the assessment, CoCs will have to have uniform process for evaluating eligibility for different types of assistance for determining how people will be prioritized for different types of assistance. We discuss a lot of these issues in our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit.

There are now two types of permanent housing–permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing. Permanent supportive will generally look and function as it does currently, however, there are a several changes. The match will be 25 percent cash or in-kind as it will be for all activities except for leasing, which has no match requirement. Projects will be allowed to get funding for rental assistance and services in the same grant. There are also numerous other changes to the development process, including the removal of the cap on how much can be used for capital expenses. Although many CoCs have used SHP grants to create rapid re-housing programs, the new CoC program will make that process much more simple and straightforward. Rapid re-housing funded through the CoC  program looks a lot like the rapid re-housing provided through the new Emergency Solutions Grant. I expect that a few existing transitional housing providers who utilize a transition in place model will find that their programs align better with a permanent housing-rapid re-housing grant.

There will now be funding available for planning and administration of the CoC. In most cases, it will be up to three percent of a CoCs final pro-rata need. For CoCs that decide to consolidate all of their grants into one, up to six percent will be available. Just because the regulations allow it doesn’t necessarily mean that Congress will provide enough funding to ensure that everybody gets the full amount, but this is a very welcome change. Along with this funding, HUD will be expecting a more formal structure for CoCs, including a formal board, and CoCs will have up to two years to establish a board if they haven’t already. In traveling to communities around the country, I have continually been reminded of how important good management and planning are to homeless assistance.

One of the things that wasn’t included in the interim regulation that we’ll see later on is more detail about performance measures and expectations. While the expected outcomes are defined in the HEARTH Act, the details about how the measures work will come later.

The regulations will go into effect 30 days from when they are published in the Federal Register, which should happen in the next few days. Nevertheless, there is still an opportunity to comment, and HUD frequently makes changes based on comments. The Alliance will develop comments, and I would encourage everybody who’s interested to do so as well. They make a big difference

Overall, these regulations are very good and fill in a lot of the important details for implementing the HEARTH Act. We’ll have more detailed analyses in the days and weeks to come.