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.

26th April
written by Kim Walker

Last month, the Center for Capacity Building brought you the Coordinated Assessment Toolkit to help you design, implement, and evaluate an efficient coordinated process at the front door of your system. But, as many successful communities and a few Alliance staff members will tell you, the best coordinated assessment processes incorporate prevention and diversion at their assessment points by screening for eligibility for these strategies and providing the associated services before admitting a household to a shelter, transitional housing, or rapid re-housing program.

This initial screening process can help people salvage housing situations without having to enter shelter, or provide viable temporary housing options outside shelter. Prevention and diversion, in many cases, do not require a major investment of money or resources (and in some cases, as we often hear, require no financial assistance at all), and are therefore quite cost effective compared to an avoidable shelter entry, even more so when you consider that prevention means avoiding robbing another person of a bed that they desperately need.

That’s why we published our Prevention and Diversion Toolkit yesterday, which we hope communities will use in tandem with the Coordinated Assessment one to develop the most comprehensive and effective front door process they can. As with the Coordinated Assessment Toolkit, we’ll be updating this over time as we learn more and gather more information. The reason we’re able to bring you these resources is that we are able to learn from and connect with communities across the country, so please continue to send us things! We take questions, comments, and feedback as well – please send any of the above to Please keep learning and sharing with us!

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16th April
written by Pete Witte

Map of Washington, D.C. Metro Area Homelessness, 2011Renowned urban thinker Anthony Downs wrote: “No jurisdiction is an island. Every suburb is linked to its central city and to other suburbs.” But intra-regional social and economic dynamics can sometimes make it appear as though there are actual oceans separating jurisdictional boundaries. The intra-regional social dynamic of homelessness is no exception.

Are there actually homelessness disparities within a region? If so, how large? I examine these questions in this article using the specific case of the national capital region.

But first, some background.

In The State of Homelessness in America 2012 (SOH12), we included an appendix with 2011 homelessness data for the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), as measured at a point-in-time. This includes data on nearly all of the metro areas in the country with populations over 500,000 people. Homeless point-in-time counts are reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at the geographic level known as the Continuum of Care (CoC), which is a local planning network designed to facilitate and encourage coordination of local efforts to address housing and homeless assistance. These CoC boundary lines are organized based on numerous local decisions of which the primary consideration should be to design a system that will most effectively meet the needs of the homeless population.

CoC boundaries may or may not reflect other demographic patterns or economic realities that shape how people interact in the physical environment. MSA boundaries, on the other hand, are determined by commuting to work/employment patterns and, therefore, are more likely to reflect the full human ecosystem. But the truth about MSA boundaries is that they are not representative of an incorporated jurisdiction, like a city or a town. Instead, MSAs are simply a statistical measurement instrument used by the U.S. Census and researchers alike to more effectively comprehend regions.

I’m going a long way to describe CoC and MSA boundaries here for two reasons. The first reason is so that I can say that coming up with estimates for metro areas required some spatial analysis work of matching CoC with MSA boundaries since point-in-time counts data are only reported at the geography of the CoC.

But the other reason I expounded on and on about the geography of the data was to show the value of work that derives estimates for metro area homelessness. And the value is that with such data we can have a more nuanced picture of the regional shape of homelessness in any particular metro area, especially when we take into account other factors, such as the general population. By taking population into account, we can look at rates of homelessness and make comparisons. More specifically, we can identify geographic disproportionality by comparing the rate of a single CoC to the rate of the whole MSA, or the rate between CoCs within an MSA. [1]

Data on the Washington metro area homeless population show that an estimated 13,205 people were homeless at a point-in-time in 2011, which ranks the area as the 8th highest total homeless population in the country. The area’s homelessness rate is 24 homeless people per 10,000 in the general population (~5.5 million people). Though ranking in nationally at number 8 in overall homeless population, D.C.’s homeless rate ranks as the 21st highest in the country. D.C.’s rate is lower than many major metropolitan areas, including Boston (ranked 20th), New York (13th), San Francisco/Oakland (12th), Los Angeles (6th), New Orleans (2nd), and Tampa/St. Petersburg (1st).

The more interesting data on Washington metro area homelessness, I believe, are found when you look at the geographic distribution of the population in the region (see the map above and table below). Nearly half of the metro area’s homeless population lives in the District of Columbia. Fairfax-Falls Church has 12 percent of the population, followed by Montgomery County (9 percent) and Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties (9 percent). Prince George’s County is the only other jurisdiction with at least 5 percent of the metro area’s total population. The remaining 15 percent of the population lives in the 6 other CoCs.

But when you take the general population data into account and look at rates of homelessness within the metro area, you can see the disproportionality among the jurisdictions. Four of the eleven CoCs in the Washington metro area have rates of homelessness that are higher than the national rate of 21 per 10,000. These four CoCs are: Arlington (22 per 10,000); Alexandria (30); Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s Counties (34); and the District of Columbia (109), which has a rate over 4 times that of the region as a whole and more than 5 times that of the nation as a whole.

The jurisdictions with the three lowest rates of homelessness in the region are: Prince George’s County (9 per 10,000); Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania and Stafford Counties (7); and Loudon County (5).

There are certainly a number of regional and CoC-level dynamics that account for the variation in the rates of homelessness in the Washington metro area—such as differences in housing affordability, jobs, etc.—but one thing that’s clear is that there is significant variation in the available data.

[1] One thing to note about the analysis of all the jurisdictional variation is that when making comparisons across CoCs, caution should be used as jurisdictions’ methodologies for estimating their population counts do vary. But, still, the rates of the point-in-time counts of people experiencing homelessness do provide us with a method for making reasonable comparisons.

4th April
written by Kim Walker

Last week, we released our Coordinated Assessment/Coordinated Entry Toolkit. In it, we provide tools to help communities plan, implement, and evaluate a coordinated entry system. We’re going to continue to build on the toolkit, adding to it and updating it as new information comes in. And remember – we want you to be a part of that, so keep sending suggestions and feedback to me at

The reason we’re excited about this tool is that we know that coordinated assessment is something that gets results. The perfect example of this is in Dayton/Montgomery County, OH. Though they switched over to a coordinated assessment approach somewhat recently – August 2010 – they have already seen major results. These are just a few of them:

  • 18% of families over the past 7 months have been diverted from entering shelter. The vast majority of these families are being diverted without receiving any financial assistance – many of them are able to secure housing outside of shelter with the help of a case manager mediating on their behalf.
  • Emergency shelters that had up to 40 families a night last summer now have 7 families per night.
  • There were 12% fewer families who had a night of shelter in 2011 than in 2010.

We’ve seen similar results in other communities that are adopting this approach. By using a consistent assessment and referral process with a permanent housing focus, people are entering the system less, moving around within it less, and getting to the program that is best fit to serve and re-house them more quickly. And it’s not just communities that are seeing results – consumers have also reported that the coordinated assessment approach makes things much easier for them, too. Our promise to is that we’ll keep giving you news about interventions that, based on data, are effective for preventing and ending homelessness as long as you keep sharing your successes with us!

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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.

30th March
written by Pete Witte

Well, it’s that time of year again when we start to see media stories come in from across the country that report the results of January 2012 point-in-time (PIT) counts. The Alliance is collecting and mapping these media accounts—or when/where available the Continuum of Care (CoC) reports—in order to provide a sense of the changing homeless situation in communities across the country.

Once again these collected reports are the basis of our new interactive 2012 Counts Media Map. In our map, we examine changes in overall homelessness (increases are noted by a red placemarker and decreases by a green placemarker). At the time of this article, we currently have 14 reports. Fifty percent of the communities (7/14) included in the map show that, locally, there have been increases in overall homelessness. The largest community featured to date is San Diego County, which has seen a 9 percent increase in overall homelessness, going from 9,020 people in 2011 to 9,800 in 2012.

We need your help!

Has a media source or a CoC in your community released a report that shows changes in overall homelessness between the January 2011 and January 2012 counts?

Please let us know. You can email me directly and I’ll be sure to add your community’s results to our interactive map.

The map provides a sense about how homelessness is changing in communities across the country. This is especially important amid current economic and budgetary conversations when local homeless, health care, employment, and other aid programs are increasingly at-risk of being cut.

It is also important to track changes this year as we know that communities’ Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) resources are running out, if they aren’t already gone. As a matter of fact, if you have insight about how the end of HPRP resources is affecting homelessness in your community, let us know about that, too.

We know that the most recent national data as reported in our The State of Homelessness in America 2012 show that homelessness increased by 1 percent between 2009 and 2011. As the national 2012 PIT counts data are not available until later this year, tracking the 2012 PIT counts also provides an opportunity to gain a sense about how much progress is being made with ending homelessness at the federal level since 2011.

So, a big thank you in advance for keeping your eyes peeled looking for media stories and CoC reports to send to us.

We will add reports as they come in, so please keep on coming back to view our 2012 Counts Media Map.

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28th March
written by Kim Walker

Yesterday, we released our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit (also known as our Coordinated Entry/Coordinated Intake Toolkit)! It’s been a labor of love for the Center for Capacity Building, and we’re very excited to have it out on the website at last.

But…it’s not finished.

Don’t get us wrong – there’s lots of great stuff in there already. The toolkit has four sections: Planning and Assessment, Data and Implementation, Evaluation, and Community Examples and Materials. The Planning and Assessment section has materials to help get you started in thinking about what coordinated assessment is and how it could look and function in your community. Data and Implementation gives you some information on how to collect and share data in an effective way when doing intakes and assessments and making referrals. Evaluation is all about measuring and continuing your success. The Community Examples section provides materials from communities that have done this already and information on how they’ve made everything work.

But we need, and want, more. We know there a lot of communities that have started to plan for and implement this approach, and we want to share your products and lessons learned with everyone else. Send us your checklists, assessment and intake forms, policy and procedure documents, and data reports. And send us your suggestions and feedback as well. Specific information about including domestic violence survivors and youth is also coming but we would like input in these areas as well.

Just like with any other practice or intervention we use at work, the toolkit will grow and evolve. We hope you’ll keep checking in to make sure you’re getting the latest and greatest. And keep your eyes peeled for our companion toolkit on prevention and shelter diversion!


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28th February
written by Pete Witte

Hello fellow homeless advocates, policy wonks, and friends of data!

It’s been just over a month since the Alliance released The State of Homelessness in America 2012 and in that time the report has been picked up by numerous national and local media sources.

The report’s one-sentence take-away—that homelessness has decreased by one percent nationally from 2009 to 2011 and that this decrease is in large part explained by HPRP, a program funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—has been the main story line in many of the media articles.

While the national decrease and the reason behind the decrease in homelessness are in the headlines for a reason, I thought it’d be useful to spend some time pointing out some of the data nuggets that you may have overlooked when you paged through the report last month. (And if you haven’t taken a look at the report yet, knock yourself out.)

Today’s data nugget: Homelessness in Metro Areas.

Homelessness in America is disproportionately found at higher rates in metropolitan areas of the country. Nearly 70 percent of the homeless population lives in the 100 largest metro areas, while a comparatively smaller percentage of the general population lives in these areas (65 percent). In Appendix One of the report, overall homeless population data are provided for the 100 largest metropolitan areas for the year 2011. In addition to a look at how many people are homeless in a given metro area at a point-in-time, homelessness rates were calculated.

For this blog post, I put together a “top 20 list” of metro areas with the highest rates of homelessness. While places such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle are each on the short list, none are at the top.

The five metro areas with highest rates of homelessness belong to (1) Tampa, FL, (2) New Orleans, LA, (3) Fresno, CA, (4) Las Vegas, NV, and (5) Honolulu, HI. All of the top five metro areas have rates that are more than twice as high as the U.S. rate of 21 people per 10,000 in the general population.

You might be surprised to see some of the other areas that made the short list and some that are noticeably absent. One notable trend is that among the top 20 list there is not a single metro area from the Census Bureau’s Midwest region (i.e. not Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, etc.).

Take a look at the table below for a list of the 20 highest rates of homelessness. If you have any thoughts about the list or want to know more, let us know in the comments and I’ll try to respond to you as soon as I can.

Metropolitan Areas with the Highest Rates of Homelessness, 2011

Source: HRI calculations based on data from HUD and 2010 ACS 1-Year files.
Rate of Homelessness is x homeless people for every 10,000 in the general population.

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.

23rd January
written by Catherine An

On Wednesday, January 18, the Alliance released The State of Homelessness in America 2012. The second in a series, this year’s report finds that the slight decrease in homelessness between 2009 and 2011 can be largely attributed to the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), the stimulus-funded program aimed at curbing homelessness resulting from the recession. Moreover, the report found that indicators associated with homelessness, including severe housing cost burden and doubled up households, increased.

The story is basically this: homelessness is down mainly because of HPRP, and risk of homelessness still looms as HPRP funds diminish and risk indicators rise.

A breakdown of major findings:

  • The nation’s homeless population decreased 1 percent, or by about 7,000 people between 2009 and 2011; it went from 643,067 (2009) to 636,017 (2011). Most of the examined subpopulations, including families, chronically homeless people, and individuals, experienced a decrease in population. The only increase was among people who were unsheltered.
  • The largest decrease was among homeless veterans, whose population declined 11 percent. The number of homeless veterans went from 75,609 in 2009 to 67,495 in 2011, a reduction of about 8,000.
  • Chronic homelessness decreased by 3 percent from 110,911 in 2009 to 107,148 in 2011. The chronically homeless population has decreased by 13 percent since 2007. The decrease is associated with an increase in the number of permanent supportive housing units from 188,636 in 2007 to 266,968 in 2011. Permanent supportive housing ends chronic homelessness.
  • The number of poor households that spent more than 50 percent of their incomes on rent – defined by HUD as households that are “severely housing cost burdened” – increased by 6 percent from 5.9 million in 2009 to 6.2 million in 2010. Three-quarters of all poor renter households had severe housing cost burdens.
  • The “doubled up” population (people who live with friends, family or other nonrelatives for economic reasons) increased by 13 percent from 6 million in 2009 to 6.8 million in 2010. The doubled up population increased by more than 50 percent from 2005 to 2010.

So the work ahead is far from done. The heartening decrease in homelessness, especially in the face of a recession, indicates that the federal intervention to curb and prevent homelessness did what it was supposed to do. But now, as HPRP ends and budgets grow tighter and tighter across all levels of government, people are left still at risk and soon without resources. Without intervention, homelessness could rise in the years to come, as we’ve predicted.

Tell us what’s happening in your neighborhood and if these findings are true for you.

The State of Homelessness can be found on Alliance website: