A little housekeeping: It’s T – three business days before the start of the National Conference to End Homelessness! All of us at the Alliance are busy preparing to offer informative workshops, inspiring plenary sessions, and a great time overall. We’re all looking forward to seeing you there!
In the news this week: This morning, I ran across an opinion piece Rosanne Haggerty penned in the Huffington Post. The title, “Homelessness is a Solvable Problem” is exactly the message the Alliance has long been trumpeting – that with the right solutions, strategies, and dedication, we can ensure that everyone has a safe, stable place to call home. Our kudos to Roseanne and Community Solutions for reminding us of this simple, radical concept.
Our friend Pam Fessler of National Public Radio showed us people who have experienced homelessness sharing their stories this week. The National Coalition for the Homeless runs a speakers bureau of people who have experienced homelessness and are willing to inform others about the realities people face when confronted with dire economic circumstances and very tough decisions. Often times, Pam notes, the goal of the storytelling is the get people to change their perceptions of homelessness and homeless people.
A similar story came out of South Carolina this week. In The State, writer Adam Beam writes about the growing number of homeless families in Columbia and across the Midlands. He starts the story with a 14-year old boy who asks his father about going back home, to which his father replied, “Son, we don’t have no home.” Adam includes a number of other families faced with homelessness.
This morning, I ran across NYT writer David Brook’s column entitled, “The Unexamined Society.” In it, he encourages investment in understanding human behavior and using that understanding to improve public policies aimed at solving problems like poverty and homelessness. It’s an interesting read, like these others – you should check it out.
We saw a great story in CQ Politics that trumpeted President Obama’s success at keeping the number of people experiencing homelessness down. You may remember that during the release of the last Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the Department of Housing and Urban Development remarked that the marginal increase was a notable success (we mentioned it in our own press release as well). This sentiment seems to have gathered traction, according to CQ.
Just yesterday, the story about housing for veterans in Los Angeles continued (we wrote about the beginning three weeks ago). The LA Times offers insight about legislation taking shape in the Senate that will ensure that homeless veterans can access housing.
The Washington Post, on the other hand, takes serious issue with Section 8. Though the writer at the Post seems to suggest that the housing vouchers are a “golden ticket to pricey suburbs” for people who might not otherwise be able to afford housing, we know that housing vouchers are often the solution to homelessness for people in poverty. Our friends at the National Housing Conference offered their thoughts about this article on their blog.
The New York Times seems to understand that people in poverty shoulder “an unfair burden” in this economic climate. An NYT editorial points out that critical social service programs – including Medicaid, unemployment benefits, food aid, and TANF – are on the chopping block during this age of austerity which would disproportionately affect people who are financially vulnerable already. While this is an astute and worthwhile observation, I only wish that the NYT would’ve seen fit to add “housing” to that list.
Something to think about poolside.
More state budgets in the news again: Massachusetts estimates it will have spent $29 million in motel bills for homeless families by June 30, the end of their fiscal year. A new program called HomeBASE is slated to start July 1 which will provide 60 percent of families facing homelessness with housing rather than shelter. Hopefully, the program will prevent family homelessness in the first place, avoid the high cost of homelessness for both the family and the state.
California is considering redefining who is eligible for supportive housing assistance, to make sure the most intensive (and expensive) services are going to those who really need them. This is a great way to help more people with the same resources you already have – we call it “targeting.” You can find out more about targeting at our National Conference on Ending Homelessness – are you coming?
An article about a program taking the housing first approach to ending chronic homelessness in West Virginia included this great quote:
“This was a pretty radical philosophy when we first started because it was different from the way people had always dealt with homelessness. Normally, we expect people to get a job and get sober to get help. What they need is a place to live first and foremost,” said Corey Ingram, development and public relations manager for the Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless. “With this, we give people a place to live first and then place those support services around them.”
And finally, the Alliance made a little news of our own this week when we released a progress report on the one-year anniversary of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness. While we applaud the U.S. Interagency Council for their bold ambitions, we observed a distinct lack of real progress in the first year. If we’re going to end homelessness, we have to commit to making the hard changes; investing in affordable housing, economic opportunities, and systems change. It’s hard work but together, we can do it.
This week HUD released their Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, showing that that homelessness went up one percent overall from 2009 to 2010. Our President Nan Roman was on NPR earlier this week and wrote a piece for The Hill today discussing what this means in light of the recession and proposed cuts to assistance programs.
We noticed a lot of discussion, and rightly so, on the AHAR’s report that people using shelters or transitional housing in suburban and rural areas increased 57 percent from 2007 to 2010. It is great to seen rural homelessness getting some press, because homelessness is often seen as mainly an urban problem. (More on in the next couple weeks.)
In the foreword to the AHAR, Secretary Shaun Donovan pointed to the stimulus funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program’s (HPRP) impact. In this blog we pointed out that this three-year program ends next year, leaving a big hole in the budgets of many local homeless assistance programs. The Center for American Progress’ Think Progress blog argued this shows greater investment is needed during economic downturns.
As a final note, the Washington Post covered the great job our neighbors in Fairfax County are doing to end homelessness.
Perhaps the biggest news this week was that the lawsuit between the ACLU and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Over land in Los Angeles, the ACLU is alleging that the land, deed to the VA to provide housing for homeless veterans, is not being used as it was intended. The NYT offered an editorial about the situation this week.
Secretary Shaun Donovan had a thing or two to say about veteran homelessness on the HUD blog, The HUDdle. Writing about his experience before the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, he called the effort to end homeless veterans, “beyond political” – a sentiment that we can all get behind.
But some things are political.
According to a piece in the NYT, state judiciaries are getting into the game of balancing state budgets. As governors and legislators try to balance their budgets, some are being taken to court over their decisions. And some judiciaries are reversing budget decisions, compelling lawmakers to respect constitutional standards despite their empty pocketbooks.
And the effects of these decisions are tangible at the local level. Today, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran a touching story about the impact of reduced assistance on one crisis center serving far too many people and families experiencing homelessness. While the staff there clearly does what they can, slashed budgets – and an end to rent subsidies – are leaving people with few, if any, options.
For more news clips from the week, check out the Alliance website.
We started the week with Memorial Day, honoring the men and women who sacrifice so much service to our country. Our own Corey Frost – Alliance policy intern and West Point student – wrote his thoughts on veteran homelessness on the blog for Memorial Day, check it out.
The issue of LGBTQ homeless youth is still hot in the news. Our thanks to Huffington Post reporter Jason Cherkis who wrote a comprehensive article on the issue, including information about the federal response to LGBTQ youth homelessness, city and state reform efforts, and foster care. For more information about LGBTQ youth homelessness, check out our website.
The impact of natural disasters on homelessness is also still popping up. We noticed new information in the Times-Picayune just this morning about new homeless numbers coming out of New Orleans and we also read about tornados in Minneapolis in the Star-Tribune. We wrote about the relationship between natural disasters and increased homelessness on the blog last week; let us know if your own communities are affected.
A little economics to round out the week: yesterday, there was a piece from the Associated Press about unemployment numbers positing that weary job seekers who have given up the search are shifting the data to suggest that unemployment is down. We examined unemployment and its relationship to homelessness in our first State of Homelessness report; a dwindling labor force and persistent joblessness is something we’ll be keeping an eye on for the next one.
And on a final note, today we bid farewell to M William Sermons, director of the Homelessness Research Institute and a guiding force behind this blog, our Twitter account, the Facebook page, and all ways we now talk to you online. He’s been a tremendous leader, colleague, and friend and while we wish him the best moving forward, his presence at the Alliance will be sorely missed.
We were happy to hear that Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced a bill which would expand education and employment opportunities for veterans. At a time when over 76,000 veterans are experiencing homelessness and the economy is still on the mend, the “Honoring All Veterans Act of 2011”is a welcome bill indeed.
But it’s not just veterans who need a hand. Cuts to HUD programs, including CDBG and HOME, will mean that fewer resources are available to low-income people and families. The Detroit Free Press painted a grim picture of what CDBG cuts will mean to community services that financially vulnerable people – including the elderly and disabled – have come to depend on.
And the cuts aren’t isolated to the federal level. In Mother Jones, reporter Stephanie Mencimer reports that “as need grows, state slash welfare benefits.” While all of us have long been aware that states budgets are in a precarious state, we also know the need for cash assistance, social services, and homelessness prevention strategies remains persistently high in communities across the country.
And the week after Sen. John Kerry (D – MA) introduced his bill to address LGBTQ youth homelessness, the Washington Post ran a story about the Wanda Alston House, a DC shelter specifically for LGBTQ homeless youth. Such stories have been popping up here and there, largely based on anecdotes and profiles. (Have you seen any?)
And finally, the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building had big news of its own! The first in a number of publications on front-door strategies is out. Kim Walker penned a brief on coordinated entry that we wrote about this week – don’t miss it!
Happy Memorial Day weekend, all.
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.
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 National League of Cities underlines both the risks HUD takes in creating affordable housing and the many successes the department has had.
- The Council of Large Public Housing Authorities calls the series “off target” emphasizing both the urgent need for affordable housing and the role HUD programs play in creating them for low-income families.
- And finally, HUD comes to it’s own defense on the department blog, announcing that The HOME Program works!
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!
There were two excellent articles this week about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program (sometimes called welfare); these articles made some excellent points about this important and at-risk program.
In Greg Kaufmann’s piece for The Nation he quotes Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services in Ohio, who talks about his clients “doubling and tripling up” in housing and “forgoing medical treatment” to meet their work requirements to receive assistance. The poignant testimony Frech offers is a vivid look at both escalating need and outdated regulations attached to federal assistance.
Nancy Folbre, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, delved deeper into the reasons many families are unable to access benefits in a New York Times piece. She makes the case for subsidized jobs programs that she says both work and need to be scaled up to meet increasing need.
But the money for these programs has to come from somewhere. Representative Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) offers a bold look into some possibilities in his opinion piece in the Washington Post. Wolf argued that in terms of deficit reduction, everything must be on the table – including “sacred cows” on both the left and the right.
And as a final note, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness has completely redesigned their website. The new site offer heightened usability and a wealth of new resources. Check it out!