19th December
written by Sam Strike

Graph taken from the NPR unemployment poll available at the link below.

National Public Radio (NPR) and The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released the results of a study of long-term unemployment in America.  The study surveyed a nationally representative, random sample of working age adults about their employment.  The study included both the long-term unemployed and the long-term underemployed.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of people who have been unemployed long-term (defined as: for more than one year) have a “not too confident” to “not at all confident” outlook on being able to find a job that will let them get by.  While the study was generally balanced age-wise, the majority of the long-term unemployed were also employed only briefly, two years of less, at their last job before being laid off, possibly the result of “first in, first out” personnel policies.  The majority of those surveyed also reported that their last job paid less than $30,000.

When asked what they think would be helpful if provided by the government, most people said that job training, job placement, and extended health insurance coverage would be “very” or “extremely helpful.”  Unemployment benefits and relocation assistance were also seen as helpful, but less so.  Most of the respondents had never received, and even more were not currently receiving unemployment benefits, anyway.

Most respondents said that systemic problems such as the global economy and outsourcing are at fault for their unemployment, more so than bad luck or lack of skill on their part.  Most also say that discrimination has not been a factor in their failure to find a job.  However, a significant portion of those who responded said that it was a minor or even a major reason why they are still unemployed.  The most common complaint regarding discrimination was age discrimination, followed by race, gender, and others.

A significant portion, though not most, of the respondents said that they had at some point in the past two years: had to borrow money from family or friends, moved in with family or friends in order to save money, postponed getting married or having a child for financial reasons, had their utilities turned off, sold personal belongings to help pay the bills, or taken money out of their savings or retirement account.

When people who have been unemployed for long periods of time eventually run out of their savings, or their family becomes unable to help them out, they become homeless.  It is important to ensure that these people who are in danger of becoming homeless are prevented from becoming homeless in the first place.  The key here is the same thing that will end homelessness completely: Housing First.  It is important to also cover the under- and unemployed with health insurance; more than half of those surveyed here did not have any kind of coverage, including Medicaid.  But safe, stable, and affordable housing should be our end goal.  The long-term unemployed will have a little more breathing room if they don’t have to worry about spending a huge chunk of what little income they can muster on their housing, and those who are now homeless will be able to have a home.

You can find the full study here.

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7th November
written by Pete Witte

Here are the eye-popping facts taken from the October report authored by the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, Veteran Homelessness: A Supplemental Report to the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress:

  • On a given night in 2010, more veterans were homeless than in 2009 (76,329 compared to 75,609);
    • Nearly 33,000 of those veterans were living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in cars, or other places non intended for human habitation;
    • Veterans make up nearly 12 percent of the total homeless population;
  • From October 2009 to September 2010, almost 150,000 veterans spent a night at a shelter or in transitional housing;
    • About one-third of those veterans were sheltered in suburban or rural areas;
  • Nationally, the rate of veterans homelessness is 35 out of every 10,000 veterans are homeless;
    • There are 12 states where this rate is higher (see map above); and
    • In Washington, DC, the rate is 190 per 10,000 veterans;
  • More than half (51 percent) of sheltered homeless veterans have a disability;
  • Veterans are more than twice as likely to be homeless as non-veterans;
  • If you are a female veteran, you are two and a half times more likely to be homeless as non-veteran females;
    • If you are a poor female veteran, you are nearly three and a half times as likely to be homeless as non-veteran poor females;
  • Among minority groups, poor veterans’ risk of homelessness is higher;
    • Poor Hispanics and Latinos veterans are nearly three times more likely to be homeless than non-veteran poor Hispanics and Latinos;
    • Poor Hispanics and Latinos veterans are nearly three times more likely to be homeless than non-veteran poor Hispanics and Latinos;
    • Poor African-Americans veterans are more than two times as likely to be homeless than non-veteran poor African Americans;
  • A veteran aged 18 to 30 is more than twice as likely to become homeless as a non-veteran of that same age cohort;
  • Among the 18 to 30 age cohort, if you are a poor veteran you are nearly four times as likely to be homeless as a non-veteran in your cohort.

And while I just laid out the “eye-popping” facts, I want to leave you with an important, departing (and encouraging) fact.

In November, 2009, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary, General Eric Shinseki said, “[The VA is] committed to ending homelessness among veterans within the next five years. Those who have served this nation as veterans should never find themselves on the streets, living without care and without hope.”

I agree.

And if you’ve read this far, then I imagine that you’ll want to know more about what can be done to ensure that all veterans maintain permanent housing. To find out more about how to end homelessness among veterans and to hear about associated activities that VA and HUD have taken up, see Alliance veterans’ policy analyst Ian Lisman’s blog article here.

For a one-pager on veterans homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.

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31st October
written by Anna Blasco

According to the Pew Center on the States, between 1973 and 2009, the nation’s prison population grew by 705 percent, resulting in more than 1 in 100 adults behind bars. When this growing population exits the corrections system, they are frequently at risk for homelessness, which can in turn increase the likelihood of another imprisonment. People leaving incarceration tend to have low incomes, and, often due to their criminal history, lack the ability to obtain housing through the channels that are open to other low-income people.

Recently, the Baltimore-based organization Health Care for the Homeless released a report on the link between incarceration and homelessness. This study focused on the situation in the Baltimore region, which has a particularly large population of people in jails and prisons. According to the report, among the cities with the largest jails, Baltimore has the highest percentage of its population in jail, more than three times that of New York City or Los Angeles County.

This report draws a very direct line between housing and homelessness. For example, 74 percent those surveyed who reported experiencing homelessness before their incarceration reported that stable housing would have prevented their incarceration. In Baltimore City, people experiencing homelessness spend an average of 35 days in jail annually.

It is important to point out that the connection goes both ways – incarceration often leads to homelessness, and homelessness can result in incarceration. This report found that the number of people who lacked stable housing after being released from incarceration almost doubled, from 35 percent having unstable housing prior to their most recent incarceration to 63 percent 6 months after being released.

Investing in housing solutions may be the answer to Baltimore’s predicament. When you take into consideration that incarceration costs $2,200 per person per month in Maryland, housing certainly starts to look like a good answer. On our website, we have looked at some successful models for addressing this, including re-entry housing and stabilizing families. Among the report’s recommended courses of action for Baltimore is to expand Housing First models of permanent supportive housing.

11th October
written by Catherine An

In the veterans supplement to the AHAR last week, we learned that the point-in-time count of veterans experiencing homelessness rose one percent to 76,329 from 2009 to 2010. In the same time period, year-round counts of homeless veterans seeking services decreased by 3 percent, to 144,842.
There were a number of other observations and statistics presented in the report, which covered

  • estimates of homelessness among veterans
  • demographic characteristics of sheltered veterans
  • risk of homelessness among veterans, examining gender, race/ethnicity, age, and disability status
  • location of homeless veterans
  • veterans’ access and use of the shelter system
  • permanent supportive housing use by veterans

Among the many findings presented in the report, I was struck by two in particular, both pertaining to the risk of homelessness among veterans.

First is the widely-reported idea that female veterans are at higher risk of homelessness than their male counterparts. The report suggests that the wide reporting is based on fact, suggesting that female veterans are twice as likely as their non-veteran counterparts to experience homelessness. Poor female veterans are three times as likely to experience homelessness as their non-veteran counterparts living in poverty. In fact, it can be said that military service heightens the American woman’s risk of experiencing homelessness.

I was also taken by the racial breakdown of risk. As the Alliance has observed before, African Americans are strongly overrepresented in the homeless veterans population. African Americans make up approximately 35 percent of the homeless veteran population but only 10 percent of the veteran population (and only 13 percent of the American population). Likewise, Latino/Hispanic veterans constitute 12 percent of the homeless veterans population but only 8 percent of the veteran population.

But I also noticed that Asians, while being underrepresented in the homeless veteran population (only 0.5 percent of the homeless veteran population and just over 1 percent of the total veteran population) were at particularly high risk of experiencing homelessness. At higher risk, according to the chart presented, than either their African American and Latino/Hispanic counterparts.

For more information about this report on veterans or to access it online, please click here.

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6th October
written by Anna Blasco

Recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released the second annual veteran-specific supplement to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). This report provides one-day and one-year estimates of the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States, as well as the demographic characteristics of the veterans experiencing homelessness.

The report found that veteran homelessness in 2010 changed only slightly from 2009. The one-day estimate, called a Point-in-Time count, increased by 1 percent, from 75,609 homeless veterans on a single night in 2009 to 76,329 homeless veterans on a single night in 2010. The one-year count of sheltered veterans decreased by 3 percent between 2009 and 2010, from 149,635 to 144,842.

The demographic characteristics of homeless veterans were also largely unchanged. Homeless veterans in 2010 were slightly older, slightly more likely to be white, and slightly more likely to be disabled than they were in 2009.

One aspect of this report was particularly worrisome considering the Obama Administration’s plans to bring home large numbers of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the report, young veterans (between 18 and 30) are more than twice as likely to be homeless than non-veterans, and young veterans living in poverty are almost four times as likely to be homeless as non-veterans. Veterans about to return from our current conflicts will face a difficult economy and job market and may need extra support to ensure they don’t experience poverty or homelessness as they rejoin civilian life.

Finally, while all states have homeless veterans, four states account of 50 percent of homeless veterans in the country: California, New York, Florida, and Texas.

You can find the report here:

5th October
written by Anna Blasco

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, passed in 1987, provided children without a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” some stability in the form of school.

Thanks to McKinney-Vento, children have the right to stay in their school of origin, despite the upheaval of homelessness. This means that even if kids have to move out of their original school district (because, for example, assistance is not available in that original district), students experiencing homelessness are able to continue attending their school. Because research has shown that students perform better when their school environment is stable, McKinney-Vento requires that school districts must provide transportation for the homeless student to the school of origin.

In recent recessionary years, the cost of bussing homeless students from shelter to school has been debated. States like Massachusetts have declared that they can no longer afford the cost of bussing; others have stopped paying for it outright. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty recently released a report, “Beds Not Buses: Housing vs. Transportation for Homeless Students,” arguing that a focus on housing will benefit the student and community more, while also cutting the high cost of bussing.

More specifically, the report calls for communities and schools to work together to create more affordable housing, which will prevent children from becoming homeless in the first place. The Law Center analyzed data from the Seattle area and found that “the costs to house unaccompanied homeless youth in supportive housing, or to place a homeless family in a two bedroom apartment with a Section 8 voucher, are less than or equal to the likely costs associated with providing special transportation.”

This shifting focus requires collaboration from a number of key stakeholders, including school administrators, local government officials, students and parents, and affordable housing and homelessness prevention advocates.

But the benefit is real. Not only will school districts be able to stretch their limited funds farther, but investing in affordable housing measurably and practically ends homelessness for individuals and families.

Image by Asim Bharwani

28th September
written by Catherine An

So we’ve spent a lot of time talking about increases in poverty. The recent Census Bureau report has confirmed what many Americans had already been thinking: poverty is growing.

As it turns out, increases in the number of people living in poverty (and other effects of the poor economy) may lead to a five percent increase in homelessness over the next three years. This increase totals approximately 74,000 additional homeless people.

The Alliance just penned a short report about this projection (which you can find on our website). The report projects increases from a current baseline estimate of 1.6 million homeless people (estimate courtesy of the AHAR) and takes into account increases in deep poverty, which is defined as people with household incomes below half of the poverty line and considered a risk factor for homelessness. According to the Census, deep poverty affected an unprecedented 20.5 million people in 2010.  Nationally, 6.7 percent of people live in deep poverty.

What does this mean? And what can we do?

It means that, without intervention, another 74,000 people will experience homelessness. And in fact, as we explain in the report, that may be a conservative estimate. The economy has been  hard on everyone but it’s been especially hard on poor people, are facing stagnant unemployment, declining incomes, and rising severe housing cost burdens (which is when you spend 50 percent or more of your monthly income on rent).

But what about those interventions? These projections are made at a time funding for programs that prevent and end homelessness may face significant cuts at the state, local, and federal levels, leaving many without any public resources to weather their economic turmoil.

But we can make another choice. As the Alliance recommends in the report, we can choose to reinvest in housing-focused homeless assistance programs to deter a growth in homelessness.

We’ve done it before – and successfully. In 2009, the Alliance projected that homelessness would increase significantly due to the recession. That increase was mitigated by the stimulus funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). In fact, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HPRP has prevented and ended homelessness for one million Americans.

And now, as the effects of the down economy persist, we can do it again. We can take the steps necessary to prevent the projected increases in homelessness and assist vulnerable people back into stable housing. But we need to choose to make ending homelessness a national priority.

The question is – will we?

You can find this publication, Increases in Homelessness on the Horizon, on the Alliance website.

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13th September
written by Pete Witte

This post is part of a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert will take the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today’s post comes from Peter Witte, Research Associate at the Alliance.

In unsteady economic times, the release of a data report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage are sure to bring forward predictable news on the poor conditions so many Americans are faced with in today’s economy.

Today, the Census Bureau released its annual report, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010,” and the major findings present data that show that, yes in fact, conditions are worsening.

For example, here are the major findings for each of the three categories examined (income, poverty, and health insurance):

  • Real median household income declined 2.3 percent to $49,445,
  • The official poverty rate increased for the third consecutive year to 15.1 percent, and
  • The rate of health insurance coverage stayed flat, with 16.3 percent of the population lacking coverage.

Perhaps, though, most dire of all the findings: 46.2 million people are in poverty, the highest number recorded in the 50-plus years that poverty numbers have been published. This is the fourth consecutive year that the number of people in poverty has increased. And, as this group of readers knows, at the same time that poverty has increased, so too has homelessness (see the bar charts attached for the numbers).

What’s most disconcerting about the increase in poverty is that homelessness is a lagging indicator. In other words, with the level of real income decreasing, the number of uninsured staying high (nearly 50 million people), and poverty growing, many people who do fall into hard times (a loss of a job or continued unemployment, a huge hospital bill, etc.) will use up all of their few resources just to maintain a roof over their heads. If they lose the roof over their heads, as a last resort people will often go to live with family, friends, or in a hotel. What the lagging indicator means is that there is a real concern that homelessness will continue to increase in the coming years.
But it doesn’t have to.

While the economic times are pushing more and more people into vulnerable positions, we also know that there are policies we should prioritize and solutions we should implement. For example, to name just a couple, we can prioritize McKinney Appropriations so that services are available for families and individuals when needed (in particular, we should ensure that there are enough funds to implement the HEARTH Act). We can also lower costs of health care with strategic use of community resources.

And there is more we can do.

Let’s not let the damper of a news day keep us from fighting the good fight. Let’s keep advocating for what we know works. Let’s keep fighting to end homelessness. Together. Get the word out there that even during these economic times, we can and should prioritize ending homelessness in our communities. Thanks to all of you advocates out there for all you do. Keep looking up!

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6th September
written by Catherine An

It’s a week about employment.

Yesterday, the country celebrated Labor Day (the federal holiday intended to honor the economic and social contributions of workers ) and the country is awaiting President Obama’s jobs speech which is slated for this Thursday (after quite a hullaballoo).

While we’ve been plagued with worries about the high rate of unemployment for years now, we haven’t acknowledged the hurdles that poor employed people face. As New York Times contributor Paul Osterman asked in an editorial yesterday, “yes, we need jobs, but what kind?” Osterman astutely points out that despite job growth in Texas, many people are still struggling to make ends meet as the jobs that were created were low-wage and unskilled.

Late last year, the Alliance highlighted a similar point in Economy Byte: Working Poor People in the United States brief. Nearly six percent of the general working population live at or below the federal poverty line and nearly 20 percent of all poor people work. Though they might be employed, their economic fragility leaves that at elevated risk of experiencing homelessness.

Worth noting, I think, are the federal poverty levels definitions:

Persons in Family 48 Contiguous States and D.C.
1 $10,890
2 $14,710
3 $18,530
4 $22,350

Given these poverty levels, it’s no wonder that that any individual or family living at or below the federal poverty level is at risk of homelessness. With so little income, any unplanned or unexpected expense could cripple a household.

As we discussed in the brief, there are some specific challenges that poor people face that are indicators for homelessness: severe housing cost burden (paying 50+ percent of monthly income on housing) and doubled up living situations (living with extended family, friends, or other non-relatives due to economic hardship), volatile occupations (including service and retail sector jobs), and tenuous work relationships (studies show working poor people work less than their non-poor counterparts).

Combined with low earnings, these factors lead to higher risk of homelessness for working poor people. (For more information about this Economy Byte, please reference a previous blogpost.)

As the country moves the discussion about jobs further this Thursday, let’s not forget to attend to the needs and challenges of people at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Employment should help people move towards economic freedom, self-sufficiency, and more opportunities; together, we can work to make sure it does.

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1st September
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Alliance research associate Pete Witte.

Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the Homelessness Pulse Report: First Quarter, 2011, which attempts to provide a timely sense on how sheltered homelessness is changing in a number of communities. The major findings show that sheltered homelessness increased in three-quarters of the CoCs included in the report, but that the newly sheltered homeless population decreased in greater than half of the CoCs.

But, as is so often the case with data reports, in HUD’s latest homelessness report the devil’s in the details.

First, a little background.

HUD views the purpose of the Pulse Report as twofold: to disseminate data more frequently than the AHAR and to monitor progress against the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

To this aim, the Pulse Report presents quarterly trends of homelessness data with a view on two data points: (1) estimates of sheltered point-in-time counts (i.e. “Are we ending homelessness?”) and (2) estimates of newly sheltered homeless (i.e. “Are we preventing homelessness?”). These data points are analyzed at quarterly intervals ending with January, 2011 and are also broken into two subpopulations, members of families and individuals (though there are also minimal data on newly sheltered unaccompanied youth). The report provides data from a total of 23 CoCs (representing 361 counties and 422 cities). It’s also worth noting that the participating CoCs are selected because they have a history of quality data.

Now, the details.

When looking at trends for changes over time among any data, two periods within a timeframe are used for gaining a better sense for what’s going on within the data: the prior 3-month period (usually, the prior annual quarter) and the same 3-month period one year ago. With that in mind, the current report does not shed much light on trends in homelessness.

Here’s why:

Again, the major finding in the point-in-time counts of sheltered homelessness is that the population increased in 75 percent of CoCs (between October, 2010 to January, 2011). However, this is probably mostly explained by the fact that shelter populations usually trend upward during this period due to cold weather. The other trend period analyzed is sheltered PIT counts at the 10-month interval, which shows that 75 percent of CoCs experienced an increase in sheltered homelessness (shelter PIT count dates in the Pulse are being realigned to match the January PIT counts so that 12-month intervals will be used in future Pulse Reports beginning with the Fourth Quarter, 2011). But the 10-month trend’s usefulness is minimized by the fact that only four CoCs had data available to analyze for the report.

Among the newly sheltered homeless population findings, there was a decrease in 55 percent of CoCs (when comparing October to December, 2010 with January to March, 2011). The 12-month trend of the newly sheltered homeless population showed that 50 percent of CoCs experienced a decline in population. But, as with the sheltered PIT counts, the longest trend period had analyzed data for only four CoCs.

“So,” you ask, “then what does it all mean?”

“Well,” I finally get to the point and respond, “it means not much.”

At least, as it relates to gaining a greater sense as to the “pulse” of the nation’s homelessness problem, it means not much just yet. The only thing of import that we can definitively say about HUD’s most recently released homeless data report is that sheltered homelessness increases—both overall and among newly homeless populations—during periods of cold weather. But we already knew this to be the case.

Well, we can also definitively say that future Homelessness Pulse Reports will be more informative beginning with the Fourth Quarter 2011 report. The alignment of the shelter PIT counts with the annual January PIT counts and the inclusion of a larger sample of CoCs in this Pulse Report are steps in the right direction. These changes to the Pulse Report will help to shed greater light on how well we are doing with ending and preventing homelessness. But all this is down the road when we are able to look at trends that are not affected by weather or whose impact is minimized by small sample sizes.

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