22nd June
written by Catherine An

Today is the one-year anniversary of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness. One year ago, the federal government committed to ending chronic and veteran homelessness in five years; homelessness among families, children, and youth in ten years; and moving the country toward ending all homelessness.

The Alliance released a Progress Report on the federal plan today; the Progress Report reveals that while there was a great deal of activity on the 52 strategies the Plan identified to meet the goals, measurable progress has been made on only 18 strategies. The two-part report assesses the Plan’s success on its own terms, measuring how much progress (none, some, or measurable) was made on each of the 52 strategies identified to achieve the goals. The second part of the report looks at a set of available local counts of homeless people to assess whether or not the number went up or down during the Plan’s first year.

Ultimately, we find that while the member agencies of the USICH have clearly been active, results have not yet started to emerge from the activity. External factors such as the economy and the budget deficit played a role in deterring progress on the Plan but they were hardly the only factor; an emphasis on coordination and information strategies rather than more substantive housing, treatment, and jobs strategies has also hindered progress.

Finally, data show a potential increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness since the time the Plan was released. While not conclusive, an examination of certain point-in-time counts shows a slight increase in homelessness during the Plan’s first year.

Today, USICH is hosting a stakeholder call in which all interested parties are invited to weigh in on the plan, it’s progress, and it’s future. Let them know what you think! We know that the federal plan was a critically important step towards ending homelessness in our nation – but in order to make real, discernable progress, we all need to take bolder steps in creating jobs, affordable housing, and economic opportunity.

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20th May
written by Catherine An

The unavoidable story of the week was the Washington Post series on the HUD HOME Program. We wrote about it earlier this week and pointed to some organizations that refuted the article’s accusations (including a blogpost directly from HUD). Other organizations have come out to respond to the article but we want to know your response: what do you think of this series and what it says about the housing program?

In other news, our good friend Judy Lightfoot highlighted the work of our colleagues at Building Changes in Washington. The organization is working with homeless families to make strides toward employment – a key element to both ending homelessness and gaining economic self-sufficiency.

Both San Francisco and DC are facing some troubles as local counts and the local budget – respectively – point to continued challenges in ending homelessness. San Francisco continues their ongoing battles to reduce homelessness despite economic hurdles and DC fights to maintain local funding for homeless assistance programs.

Late last week, Sen. John Kerry introduced a bill in the Senate that would, among other things, help fight LGBTQ youth homelessness. We’ve long talked about how youth homelessness has been an overlooked problem in the field – and certainly the same notion applies to LGBTQ youth homelessness. We’re excited to work on this new legislation; we’ll keep writing about it as events progress.

Happy Friday!

17th May
written by Catherine An

As you undoubtedly caught in this past weekend’s Washington Post, the newspaper is doing a series of articles about the HOME Program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The series kicked off with a biting piece unveiling what the writer describes as a “dysfunctional system that delivers billions of dollars to local housing agencies with few rules, safeguards, or even a reliable way to track projects.”

Affordable housing advocates and other homelessness and housing community members talked back, offering counter arguments.

The piece created a strong buzz in the housing community and will hopefully create a healthy dialogue about the imperative need for affordable housing and innovative new ways to meet that need.

The Post writer herself takes a first stab at illustrating the need with her accompanying story about a mother’s route from homeless to home, the story of a young woman and her fraught efforts to acquire affordable housing. The story illuminated a point that often gets lost: affordable housing is a key to ending homelessness.

Did you notice the series this week? What did you think? Share your ideas, thoughts, comments, and concerns with us here and on our social networks!

25th April
written by naehblog

Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released national data showing that the number of homeless people was essentially unchanged from 2009 to 2010.

The number, based on counts conducted by localities and states across the nation in January 2010 (called point-in-time counts), increased one percent, rising from 643,067 to 649,879. There was a three percent increase in the number of homeless people who were unsheltered and a 1.5 percent increase among families experiencing homelessness. Chronic homelessness declined by 1 percent, continuing a downward trend begun in 2005.

The 2010 PIT counts were the first to reflect the impact of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded program aimed at curbing homelessness resulting from the recession. Housing inventory data released in conjunction with the PIT counts showed that, at the time of the 2010 PIT counts, the stimulus program was funding 19,842 homeless assistance beds.

In 2009, the Alliance projected that without effective intervention, homelessness would increase dramatically as a result of the recession. These numbers show that our investment in homelessness prevention and housing-based strategies averted what could have been an alarming increase in the number of Americans experiencing homelessness, according the to Alliance.

Still, the recessions’ full impact on homelessness has yet to be seen. In 2010 the Alliance report The State of Homelessness in America noted that certain key economic factors associated with homelessness were on the rise. These included the number of poor households doubling up, unemployment, and severe housing cost burden. Homelessness is a lagging indicator of economic tides and although the HPRP funds will be available to communities for another year, upward pressures on homelessness will also continue.

To access the 2010 HUD PIT counts data, please visit their website (PDF). You can look up state-by-state numbers here.

You can also find our press release on our website.

Image courtesy of Jenny Leigh.

18th April
written by naehblog

After a long and contentious process, Congress has finally passed a budget for fiscal year 2011. HUD’s homeless assistance grants, will receive a $40 million increase, which is a much smaller increase than we were hoping for, but not as bad as some of the worst-case scenarios that were possible. What does that mean for HEARTH Act implementation?

The short answer is that it means new funding for prevention and rapid re-housing programs, but little to implement changes to the Continuum of Care program.

While the overall increase was $40 million, Congress chose to increase funding for the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) by $65 million. The HEARTH Act changes the ESG program to include both the traditional shelter activities, which ESG has always funded, and also the prevention and rapid re-housing activities of HPRP. The $65 million increase will go almost entirely to prevention and rapid re-housing. For most jurisdictions receiving ESG, this will mean an increase of about 35 percent. While it will certainly not replace all of the funding provided by HPRP, it will help sustain some of these programs.

For the Continuum of Care program, things are more complicated. The HEARTH Act combines the Supportive Housing Program, Shelter Plus Care, and Moderate Rehabilitation/Single Room Occupancy programs into a single Continuum of Care program that still funds all of the eligible activities of the previous programs. The amount provided by Congress is enough to fund all renewals, but little will be left for new projects or to implement many of the HEARTH Act’s other changes, and HUD will have to make some hard decisions.

For the first time in many years, the focus will not be on new CoC projects. Instead it will be on setting up ESG to be a regular source of funding for prevention and rapid re-housing, and on deciding whether and how to reallocate CoC resources to higher priority activities.

For more information about the federal budget and it’s impact on homeless assistance programs, please see other blogposts or check out our website.

11th April
written by Catherine An

Last week, the government avoided a shutdown when Speaker John Boehner and President Obama reached an agreement on the federal budget. (Here’s a nice summary of what happened.).

Today we await the details of that budget, which cut $38.5 billion as compared to 2010 spending. We (here at the Alliance) are hoping to have enough time to read it, discuss it, and jot down the highlights as they affect homeless assistance funding.

While we both wait, please feel free to follow our thoughts and news on our social networks; we’re on both Twitter and Facebook.

Photo courtesy of Dave Stokes.

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10th February
written by Anna Blasco

We have more information about veteran homelessness than we have ever had thanks to a report released today by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – “Veteran Homelessness: A Supplement to the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.”’

First, some major findings from the report:

  • An estimated 136,334 veterans spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009; or 1 of every 168 veterans.
  • Veterans are overrepresented among the homeless population. Approximately 10 percent of all people who experienced homelessness over the year identified themselves as veterans.
  • Minorities are over represented among homeless veterans. Rates of homelessness among veterans living in poverty are particularly high for veterans identifying as Hispanic/Latino (1 in 4) or African American (1 in 4).
  • One-half of homeless veterans on a single night are located in just four states: California (26 percent), Florida (9 percent), New York (8 percent), and Texas (7 percent).

I was very interested to see how much the risk for becoming homeless varied among sub-populations. Veterans, the report noted, have higher median incomes than the U.S. average. But once a veteran slips into poverty, they are more likely to become homeless. Although there are a small number of female veterans, they are even more at risk than male veterans. They are actually twice as likely to experience homelessness than not.

The report also shows that young veterans – those most likely to be discharged from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – are a high-risk population. There may be a lag time, however, between becoming a veteran and experiencing homelessness, meaning we may see higher rates of homelessness among veterans of these two wars in the future. This will definitely be something to watch.

Top image courtesy of Kate Gardiner.

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7th December
written by Catherine An

As the only non-researchy member of the Homelessness Research Institute at the Alliance, I felt especially privileged to be a guest at today’s meeting of the Research Council – a gathering of the leading thinkers on homelessness. I was lucky to be seated at a table with Dennis Culhane, Jill Khadduri, Mary Beth Shinn, Bob Rosenheck, and representatives from a smattering of federal agencies: HHS, Commerce, HUD, Census, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

And after a morning spent going around the table to discuss everyone’s latest research efforts, those agency liaisons took their turns. We eagerly anticipated learning what, if anything, our federal partners are doing to advance the research necessary to end homelessness. What projects are they initiating? What questions are they asking and answering? What are they doing to bring us closer to a country where everyone has a place to call home?

This and that, it turns out.

By far the most impressive agency was the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They’re pursuing a number of reports and studies to examine the effects of some of the most promising strategies to end homelessness, including: research on the Housing and Services for Homeless Persons Demonstration, research on youth aging out of foster care, and research on the effectiveness of prevention (to name just a few). What’s admirable about the array of research topics is not how widely varied they are – but how they represent the leading emerging strategies to fight homelessness. If these studies are conducted well, they will offer a wealth of new information that could really push homeless assistance forward.

The other agencies represented also expressed an interest in pursuing research topics related to homelessness – important not only because the agencies provide resources and administer programs that help people experiencing homelessness, but because interagency effort, as emphasized in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness, is imperative to end homelessness. This is not a mission that one body should – or could – execute alone. It hinges on leveraging the array of resources we have available to assist vulnerable people and families toward independence.

And good data is an incredible resource.

As we say, in order to effectively solve a problem, we must first fully understand. Meetings like today will help us learn more and more about homelessness – and what we can do about it. And slowly but surely, we’ll be able to end homelessness together.

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25th October
written by naehblog

Today’s blog post comes from Steve Berg, Vice President for Programs and Policy at the Alliance.

As a member of the Alliance’s policy team, I have the privilege and responsibility of meeting with elected officials, members of President Obama’s administration, national advocacy groups, and other stakeholders in the world of homelessness and housing. We share ideas, challenges, strategies, and innovations to best meet our common goals.

Earlier this month I had the distinct honor of attending a White House-sponsored gathering called Next Generation Housing Policy: Convening on Rental Housing. A policy that could do more to help the lowest-income Americans afford decent housing would provide a powerful wind at the back of everyone who works to end homelessness – so the issue is key to our work.

The event took place in a building that looks like a small warehouse, planted in an internal courtyard of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), next door to the White House. Inside was a comfortable, well-appointed auditorium. About 200 people were there – federal officials, people from the development and financing industry, researchers who study housing, and advocates for low-income people.

Speakers included members of the Obama Administration: Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council; Larry Summers, Director of the National Economic Council. Academics, advocates, and practitioners from the affordable housing world also spoke, offering their ideas for change. Among them was our friend and colleague Rosanne Haggerty of Common Ground, who gave an astute pitch for supportive housing and its positive impacts for homeless people.

A number of messages relevant to homelessness came through in this event.

  • The need for a more active policy on affordable rental housing has captured the Administration’s attention.
    This was evident from the fact that this session was taking place, the time devoted to the session by members of the Administration, and the clear commitment expressed to develop a policy proposal that would address the problems people are having affording rental housing.
  • The Administration and others see wide ranging benefits in increasing the amount of affordable rental housing. Melody Barnes spoke about affordable rental housing improving joblessness and revitalizing communities. Panelists addressed how a better housing policy can combat poverty, address social inequity, create incentives for wealth building, and promote fair housing. Linking housing policy to these broader goals draws in new allies and builds a stronger case for investments. (The more modest goal of ending homelessness has been embraced by this Administration and is on the list.)
  • A universal policy, of decent, affordable housing for everyone, as an end in itself, may not be on the short-term agenda. Concern about the amount of federal debt and resulting difficulty enacting new spending programs was on everyone’s minds. If the policy being developed, however, is one for the next generation (i.e. the next 25 years or so), it will be appropriate to keep a universal approach as a longer-term goal while pursuing partial solutions over the next couple years that either don’t cost a lot or save money elsewhere.
  • Housing produces results that can save money, but the savings are hard to predict. In fact, sometimes these savings don’t “count” in deliberations by Congress or the Administration for a number of reasons. Since the publication of research showing the cost-effectiveness of supportive housing, people working on homelessness have been struggling to realize these savings in a concrete way. It’s up to us – housers, policymakers, and advocates – to clearly demonstrate how housing is not only an effective solution but a cost-efficient one as well.

The convening closed with Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President and an important mover for the Obama Administration’s policies related to homelessness. Douglas said that staffers at the White House will be developing a policy proposal and that he expects that there will be additional consultation with people who attended this gathering about key details.

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21st October
written by naehblog

On Tuesday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the Fifth Quarterly Pulse report – a snapshot of homelessness in eight communities across the country. This latest report covers the time between January to March 2010.

The moral of the story, as conveyed by the current report, is that homelessness is mostly down.

  • There was a one percent decrease in the overall shelter count between the fourth and fifth quarters. (All but NYC reported decreases in their local counts.)
  • There was a four percent decrease in the number of sheltered persons in families between the fourth and fifth quarters (All but the Richmond, VA community reported decreases in their local family counts.)
  • There was a three percent increase in sheltered homeless individuals between the fourth and fifth quarters. (Despite notable decreases in some areas – VA, CT, and KY – increases in other communities, including OH and NYC, contributed to a rise in this number.)

We also noted a couple of economic indicators:

  • When comparing January – March 2009 to January – March 2010, seven of the eight sites showed increased joblessness. (LA showed a 0.1 percent improvement in joblessness.)
  • Five communities experienced increased joblessness between the fourth and fifth quarters.
  • Half of the sites had increased rates of foreclosure activity.

Another point of concern (that’s often reported in news outlets) is the number of newly homeless. In this quarter’s Pulse report, we see that:

  • In the eight communities surveyed, the number of newly homeless served decreased by 12 percent as compared to the previous quarter.
  • Six sites showed – all but AZ and LA – showed decreases in the number of newly homeless served with OH and NYC leading the pack with 57 percent fewer new clients and 10 percent fewer new clients, respectively.
  • About half of new clients were in families, as was the case in the past four quarters. But in a few communities, the proportion largely tilts towards individuals, including DC (80 percent of new clients are individuals), LA (80 percent individuals), and VA (76 percent individuals).

Also of note with this new group: 91 percent of new clients entered an emergency shelter and 31 percent of new clients were children (1 percent of them were unaccompanied youth).

The Pulse report includes the following communities:
Phoenix/Mesa/Maricopa County, AZ
Bridgeport/Stratfod/Fairfield, CT
District of Columbia
Frankford, Elizabethtown, KY
Shreveport, LA
New York City
Cleveland/Cuyahoga County, OH
Richmod/Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover Counties, VA

In the following months, HUD aims to include more communities in the Pulse report and continue to pursue a represent all different types of jurisdictions and geographies. For more information about the Pulse report – and to access the latest report – please visit the HUD Homelessness Research Exchange website.