As the federal budget tightens and the growth of programs targeted for the homeless slows, it is more important than ever for homeless advocates and service providers to engage in a more meaningful way with Public Housing Agencies (PHAs). After all, these agencies administer billions of dollars nationally in rental and other housing assistance and, in many communities, are on the front lines of preventing and ending homelessness.
Over the past two years, we at the Corporation for Supportive Housing(CSH) have focused more of our resources and advocacy efforts on programs integral to the success of PHAs, such as Section 8 rental assistance, Section 8 administrative fees and Public Housing operating funds. We’ve also looked closely at the work of PHAs to identify issues preventing PHAs from doing more to end homelessness. It has become clear to us that non-profit organizations like CSH and the Alliance, as well as government agencies such as HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, need to do more work to build capacity and know-how among PHAs, to debunk myths about restrictions on who can be housed in federally-assisted housing, and to help share best practices from successful communities.
We also have seen that PHAs and homeless service providers can have a complementary relationship, with PHAs and providers helping each other achieve their respective goals. PHAs want to improve relationships with landlords; they want to score well on federal funding competitions that often give points for targeting assistance to the most vulnerable people in the community; and they want to accomplish their mission of providing housing to low-income people. Homeless service providers can help PHAs accomplish many of these goals by providing the support services that increase the chances for success.
Conversely, providers are looking for rental assistance, reduced barriers to housing, and for PHAs to provide priorities and preferences for people who are homeless. PHAs can provide that rental assistance, clarify their intake procedures, allow for more flexibility and become a part of community- planning efforts to end homelessness.
On September 10, we launched one of the outcomes of our recent focus on PHAs. Our new PHA Toolkit is an interactive resource for the PHAs and partners interested in pursuing supportive housing as way to fight homelessness. We included in the Toolkit specific strategies and concrete examples of the roles PHAs can play to create supportive housing. Also included in the toolkit:
- Profiles of how PHAs have worked to reduce homelessness
- Sample documents and agreements
- A glossary of service terms
- Models for partnering with other systems in the community
We are grateful for the collaboration and feedback provided by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, HUD and others in making this toolkit a reality. The toolkit is online now at csh.org/phatoolkit.
By working together and using some of the tools in CSH’s Toolkit, PHAs and community partners can achieve our shared goal of ending homelessness for good.
This January communities will feverishly conduct Point-in-Time counts of people experiencing homelessness. And guess what – for the first time youth ages 18-24 will be included as a specific population that will be counted and reported to HUD. This means that Continuum of Cares (CoCs) will need to develop key partnerships with youth providers and youth stakeholders to ensure a successful count. This also means that communities will need to know what methodologies have been proven to work. So, to help communities with the planning process, the Alliance is co-hosting a webinar titled, “It’s a Data Driven World: Making the Most of the 2013 Youth Inclusive PIT Count.”
The webinar will highlight three communities (San Jose, So. Nevada, and D.C.) that have successfully performed targeted youth counts. The webinar will discuss:
- How to partner with Continuum of Care (CoC) bodies to ensure a successful count;
- Concrete strategies for Coc’s regarding promising practices, methodologies, and lessons learned;
- How to incorporate these strategies into the youth inclusive Point in Time count in 2013;
- Guidance on how to incorporate school data into point-in-time counts; and
- Effective strategies for counting youth in rural communities.
Please join us on Thursday, October 4, at 1:30 P.M. EST by registering for this important webinar.
For some time now, we have been telling you about big federal budgetary issues, and how these issues could affect efforts to end homelessness. A recent report to Congress by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), requested by Congress in the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, is a reminder of the impact these issues can have.
We’ve already told you about “sequestration,” the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect in three and a half months under the Budget Control Act that Congress passed and the President signed into law in early 2011.
Now, a recent report to Congress by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has spelled out, for the first time, which programs in the federal budget will be exempt from sequestration, and how much funding each nonexempt program will lose in January.
According to the report, sequestration would cut the HUD Homeless Assistance line by $156 million, with HUD deciding how much of this cut would come from the Emergency Solutions Grants, and how much from the Continuum of Care. Either way, existing programs would need to be scaled back or shut down.
Our funding analysis shows that these programs need approximately $2.1 billion in FY 2013 appropriations to remain funded at their current level. If homeless assistance is funded at the Continuing Resolution amount, which is already insufficient, and then cut by $156 million under sequestration, we would end up with funding at $1.757 billion, a shortfall of 16 percent.
The local impacts of that shortfall are not hard to calculate. Just take the amount necessary to renew your existing Continuum of Care project or ESG grant, and subtract 16 percent. The effect such a dramatic cut in spending would have on our efforts to address homelessness would be grim and profound.
Sequestration was never meant to be good policy; it was designed to be so bad that Congress and the Administration would have no choice but to work together to find a better way to reduce the deficit. So far that hasn’t happened.
If Congress is going to address the deficit now, it should use a balanced approach that takes account of the severe cuts in spending that have already taken place in the “domestic discretionary” category. HUD programs and other programs like Health Care for the Homeless, SAMHSA programs that help homeless people with disabilities (and many others) have already been cut too much.
Congress created the sequestration rule, so it has the power to reverse it and replace it with something else. If it decides that the economy is too fragile for a big deficit reduction effort now, it doesn’t have to replace it with anything at all.
Members of congress already face a lot of pressure from critics of the policy, so odds are decent that congress may put some other plan in its place. The question is whether Congress will replace it with a policy that is better or worse for the most impoverished Americans.
What is needed is a realistic policy that properly funds the federal role in protecting the most vulnerable Americans, housing people who can’t afford even the most minimally decent housing, and helping people without jobs get employment.
As the Alliance’s Policy Outreach Coordinator, I spend a lot of time working with many of you to help you build and strengthen relationships with your Members of Congress in order to ensure preventing and ending homelessness is a federal priority. But there’s another aspect to this that goes beyond Capitol Hill – working with the Administration.
Of course, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) holds authority over many homeless assistance and housing programs. Now you have an opportunity to tell them what you think! In July, HUD released the interim rule for the Continuum of Care (CoC) program within the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. The interim rule went into effect on August 30, but the public has until Monday, October 1 to comment on the rule. HUD will process the comments and eventually release a final rule. Basically, although your comments won’t immediately affect the program, they’ll have a significant impact in the way the program is ultimately designed over the long run.
If your community has any concerns, or if you particularly like something and want to make sure it stays in the final rule – now is your chance to let HUD know!
To help get you started, we’ve released a draft of our own comments. You are welcome to use our comments to help craft your own, but we’re also releasing them to solicit your feedback! We want to hear from you what you think about our comments and the rule itself – concerns? Dislikes? Likes? Let us know!
The rule will have a significant long-term impact on the tools communities have at their disposal to prevent and end homelessness Please let me know what you think! We hope you’ll take the time to submit comments to HUD, and I look forward to hearing from you!
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.
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.
This summer, we’ve heard a lot about how there may not be enough funding in fiscal year (FY) 2013 to cover all Continuum of Care renewals within HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. With the release of the CoC interim rule (HEARTH Regs) and the prolonged August congressional recess and seeming quiet from Capitol Hill, it is easy to forget that this short-funding remains a very real possibility.
Fortunately, there’s still plenty we can do about it! The House’s proposed funding level for the McKinney program of $2.005 billion – aka the increase that isn’t really an increase – is not yet finalized. Anyone concerned about potential funding cuts to their CoC program should act now! Members of Congress are home in their states and districts until Monday, Sept. 10, so advocates and any concerned stakeholders have a perfect opportunity to show them the positive impact these programs are having in their districts!
Conduct a Site Visit!
The Congressional Management Foundation recently reported that Members of Congress rate site visits (tours of or visits to local, federally-funded programs) as one of the most valuable ways to collect constituent views and information. Take this opportunity to join the McKinney Site Visit Campaign and invite your Member of Congress to tour your McKinney-funded program!
To help you plan and execute your visit, we’ve created a website where you can find sample materials and a recording of a webinar held on Thursday, August 2, which included funding updates on the McKinney program and tips and tricks for a successful site visit. Our site visit toolkit includes a checklist to give you an idea of what you might need when planning your visit. In addition, the Alliance is here to help! Just email me with any questions or other requests!
Get on the Map!
To show that this is really a national effort, we have created a map that includes markers on the communities planning or conducting a site visit. A few site visits have already been scheduled! If you’d like to conduct a site visit and get on the map, let me know! If your community or organization is already planning on conducting a visit, but it’s not included on the map, let me know and I’d be more than happy to include it!
We need to make sure that as many Members of Congress understand the great work these programs are doing in preventing and ending homelessness in our community. The best way to do that, and make your case for increased funding for these programs, is to SHOW them!
The following blog post is adapted from “Tackling Veteran Homelessness with HUDStat,” the lead story of the summer issue of Evidence Matters, a publication by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
More than 2.4 million American soldiers have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom since September 11, 2001.2 Hundreds of thousands of these men and women have returned from Iraq, and many more will be returning from Afghanistan in the next few years.
“Soldiers are returning with higher rates of injury after multiple deployments with severe economic hardships,” says John Driscoll, president and chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Studies show that nearly 20 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced a traumatic brain injury, and 10 to 18 percent suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that post-9/11 veterans found the transition to civilian life harder and had higher rates of post-traumatic stress than veterans who served in previous wars. Rates of military sexual trauma, which is associated with an increased risk of developing PTSD, are high among female veterans, who make up more than 11 percent of veterans of these two wars. For both male and female veterans, PTSD is linked to an increased risk of depression and substance abuse, which exacerbate social isolation and make employment difficult.
The economic downturn and high unemployment rates add to the challenges these soldiers face on returning from active duty. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that veterans between the ages of 25 and 34, who make up more than half of post-9/11 veterans, had a 2011 unemployment rate of 12 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for nonveterans. Among veterans aged 18 to 24, the unemployment rate is much higher — 30.2 percent.
All of these factors contribute to an increased risk of homelessness for returning veterans, even though they have higher education levels (62 percent of veterans over the age of 25 have at least some college compared with 56.4 percent of nonveterans) and higher median incomes compared with the general population. Female veterans and younger veterans are more than twice as likely to be homeless as their nonveteran counterparts.
According to HUD’s 2011 Point-in-Time (PIT) Estimates of Homelessness, veterans constitute 14 percent of the homeless population, although they represent only 10 percent of the U.S. adult population. This PIT count documented 67,495 homeless veterans on a single night in January, a number that is 12 percent lower than a year earlier. Throughout the entire year that ended in September 2010, nearly 145,000 veterans were homeless for at least one night.
Ending homelessness among veterans is a top priority for the White House, HUD, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This commitment is reflected in the nation’s first comprehensive plan to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors. Released by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) in 2010, the federal plan sets the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.
To achieve this goal, Opening Doors calls for breaking down institutional silos, increasing collaboration among and within all levels of government, and improving data collection and analysis. Accordingly, HUD collaborates with other federal agencies to collect data and target assistance programs to move veterans from the street into permanent supportive housing — a critical component of the USICH plan.
To learn about how HUD is tackling veteran homelessness with HUDStat, a new data-driven performance management tool, see the 2012 issue of Evidence Matters.
We’d like to thank the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials and other stakeholders who took time out of their busy schedules to attend our 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For us in the Alliance, the level of enthusiasm and positivity on display in the plenary sessions and workshops was immensely gratifying. The homeless assistance community has come far, in terms of its overall level of sophistication and focus on implementation in order to get results, and the conference was a great opportunity for people to share what they have learned, as well as for those of us in the community to engage in a discussion about what we still must do to achieve our goals.
In her remarks at the conference’s closing plenary, Alliance CEO Nan Roman touched on a few of the themes that emerged over the course of the three days. I’ll expand on some of those here.
Targeting – The message came through loud and clear: there are a range of interventions to draw upon, but for an intervention to be successful it must be targeted at the right people. Specifically, supportive housing is our most intensive intervention, and it is designed for the most vulnerable population with the most severe disabilities. If such people are screened out in favor of people with fewer challenges, they will live and probably die on the streets.
Olmstead – The Olmstead case reminded us that large programs devoted solely to housing people with severe mental illness are seldom the best way to serve people, and often are not what people in such programs would choose for themselves if they had more reasonable options. In some cases, such programs actually violate civil rights laws. This challenges people who run housing programs for people with disabilities to consider when it might be appropriate to develop mixed-use projects.
Rapid Re-housing – Somebody once said that the only people who believe in rapid re-housing are everyone who’s ever tried it. Now that virtually every sizeable community around the country has tried it, thanks to HPRP, there is a consensus that it’s the right model for moving most people who are experiencing homelessness into housing. With HPRP winding down soon, much of the talk at the conference was about how to maintain funding for rapid re-housing programs. Fortunately, new HUD regulations make it easy for communities to use Continuum of Care and ESG funds for this purpose, and many communities have also identified other funding sources for rapid re-housing.
Youth and youth counts – The homeless assistance community has begun developing a range of ideas about a more systemic approach to ending youth homelessness. A double track of workshops about youth homelessness, as well as increasing collaboration with the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Families and organizations like the National Network for Youth, focused on advancing these ideas. When the January 2013 point-in-time counts roll around, expect a stronger push for a more accurate count of youth experiencing homelessness.
Veterans’ money and leadership – During the conference, VA announced the awards for about $100 million in grants for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which funds community-based organizations that run rapid re-housing and emergency homelessness prevention programs for veterans and their families. This announcement drew attention to the fact that VA now has a full array of programs to address homelessness, and that those programs are on their way to being funded at the scale necessary to end homelessness among veterans.
The struggle over other federal money – It’s clear that federal money for HUD programs has been harder to come by in the past two years, and that this will continue to be the case. Many communities are increasingly turning to the large antipoverty entitlement programs – TANF, SNAP, SSI, and Medicaid, for example – where federal funding has not been cut, while programs for veterans, which are less threatened by budget cuts, must serve as examples of what can be accomplished with the proper funding. Homeless assistance practitioners are also turning to more efficient models like rapid re-housing, which require less money per household. And they are making sure that their representatives in congress, who determine the funding levels, know about the good that their programs do.
Medicaid – The prospect of funding most services and treatment for chronically homeless people through Medicaid appears closer to reality that anyone would have thought possible only a few years ago. The Affordable Care Act will allow states to expand eligibility in 2014, and the majority of states will opt to do so. A lot of work behind the scenes has already gone into ensuring that the right kinds of services will be funded by Medicaid, but it will take new partnerships, particularly at the state level, to make the most of these new opportunities.
Progress – Perhaps the most rewarding part of the conference for us in the Alliance was seeing the resolve of advocates, in the face of enormous obstacles put up by the economy and the political system, to try new options, discard methods that are less effective, and work smarter and more efficiently to develop programs that, for thousands of people, mean the difference between housing and homelessness.
We at the Alliance are getting increasingly excited for tomorrow, July 18 – the official Capitol Hill Day 2012! Capitol Hill Day is held every year in conjunction with our National Conference on Ending Homelessness. This year, conference participants from an astounding – and record-breaking! 44 states will head up to Capitol Hill to meet with their senators, representatives, and their staff members. They are scheduled to attend upwards of 250 meetings.
We’ve been extremely busy! Conference participants have been stopping by the Advocacy Information Table at the conference to pick up Capitol Hill Day Packets that contain information on each of the official Capitol Hill Day policy priorities. Advocates will then educate members of congress and their staff about the great work being done in their communities to solve homelessness, and explain the impact of these policy issues on their efforts.
If you’re unable to attend the conference, please keep an eye on this blog next month for a full report of the success of this year’s Capitol Hill Day. In the meantime, you can always check out last year’s report and get involved in the Alliance’s advocacy efforts by checking out our ongoing campaigns.
But if you ARE at the conference, we hope you plan to participate in Capitol Hill Day 2012! It couldn’t be any easier. Your state captains have been busy scheduling meetings. They just need YOU to participate! Stop by the Advocacy Information Table to get more information on how to get involved.
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.