18th August
written by Catherine An

This month, our friends at the Urban Institute released a brief on the role of TANF during the recession.

The news is not so good.

According to researchers Sheila Zedlewski, Pamela Loprest, and Erika Huber, TANF did not play a significant role in keeping families economically stable during the recession. In fact, there were many states in which the number of people enrolled in the TANF program declined (this study specifically looks at years 2007 to 2010) while unemployment rose dramatically. Of particular note is the state of Arizona, where TANF rolls declined by 48 percent while unemployment in Arizona rose by 134 percent.

The finding is curious. TANF is meant to assist poor families with cash assistance and promote self-sufficiency and work. Why then, during a time of economic turmoil and high unemployment, would poor families not take advantage of TANF benefits?

Reduced TANF use has left a number of families in dire financial situations, what the writers of the brief call “disconnected.” “Disconnected” families have no earnings of cash government assistance of any kind. The writers found that in 1996, one in eight low-income single mothers was disconnected; that jumped to one in five disconnected single mothers from 2004 to 2008.

And this is the kind of economic vulnerability that leads to homelessness.
Mainstream welfare programs, like TANF, are often a bridge for many poor people and families between homelessness and housing. Most poor people – and people who become homeless are typically poor people – have scant resources. Depriving a family of even one of those resources can lead the family to tumble into homelessness.

At the end of the brief, the Urban Institute recommends policy measures that could improve the utility and effectiveness of the TANF program, especially during recessionary periods. Among the recommendations are:

  • encouragement of subsidized job programs
  • allowing training and job education to count towards work activity requirements during times of high unemployment
  • permitting federal block grant funds to rise automitcally for states experiencing high unemployment

And finally, the brief concludes with a sentiment that is often felt in our offices. While the temptation to cut such social programs, especially in this fiscal environment, may loom large, we must not forget the role that these precious programs play in the lives of people who have few if any other resources.

To read the full brief by the Urban Institute, please visit their website.

16th August
written by Kim Walker

Today’s guest post is written by Alliance Capacity Building Associate Kim Walker.

Hi all!

We’ve been moving forward with our development of “front door” materials (have you visited our Front Door Strategies page?), and this week we’re unveiling our new brief on shelter diversion!

What’s diversion, you ask, and why do we care? Glad you asked.

  1. Diversion is defined by the point at which intervention occurs and the type of assistance a household is seeking. At the Alliance, we say that in order for the intervention to be diversion, the household being served must be coming to the homeless assistance system specifically seeking shelter.  Target households for diversion believe they have need somewhere to stay that night.
  2. Diversion reduces homelessness. Shelter diversion works by helping individuals and families seeking shelter find alternative housing options (such as staying with friends or family members).  Diverting households, then, means fewer households will be entering homelessness.  Reducing entries into homelessness is one of the stated goals of the HEARTH Act.  Diverting households from shelter also can reduce the stress and disruption that shelter entry may cause in a household’s daily life. [CA1]
  3. Diversion conserves resources. By finding other housing options for some households, communities can ensure that shelter beds are reserved for those households that literally have nowhere else to go.  Successful diversion, therefore, can ease the demand for shelter beds and reduce the need for overflow shelters and hotel/motel rooms.
  4. It’s not for everyone, but everyone should be assessed for it. Everyone coming to the homeless assistance system should be assessed for diversion eligibility. However, communities should not hesitate to admit people to shelter if they are ineligible to be diverted. Additionally, in situations where a household’s safety may be compromised by being diverted (e.g., the family is fleeing domestic violence and their abuser may be able to locate them if they stay with known family or friends), they should be sent to the safest possible program that can meet their needs.
  5. Service coordination is crucial. Having services available that do not require shelter entry is key to making diversion work. Providing case management at the intake center or where the household is currently living that provides crisis stabilization as well as connection to mainstream resources is just one way communities can make this happen.
  6. The ultimate goal is a return to permanent housing. Although diversion includes a temporary stay somewhere, ultimately the intervention is about getting people back into permanent housing. Therefore, traditional rapid re-housing activities such as housing location and the provision of short-term subsidies or financial assistance are important pieces of a successful diversion program.

We hope you’ll check out the paper to learn more about this approach. As always, I encourage you to connect with me or any of us at Capacity Building if you have any other questions or thoughts!

Comments Off
2nd August
written by Catherine An

In light of the debt ceiling agreement, we thought we’d keep our eyes on the economic climate. There’s little doubt that the agreement reached by Congress and the Administration will have an impact on the next budget process – and the homeless assistance funds that get appropriated during that process – and we’ll be posting about that as soon as we have a clearer picture.

But today, we turn our eyes to our latest publication. In this edition of our Economy Bytes series, we examine state and local budgets and how they affect funding for direct services to people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The Economy Byte is complemented with the first in a new series – Data Point ­ - which examines homeless assistance program funding at the state/local and federal levels.

What we find is this: 54 percent of funds for homeless assistance programs come from state and/or local resources – resources that are jeopardized given the fiscal climate that many states are experiencing. States across the country have had to make sometimes severe budget cuts to balance their books at the same time that lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are tightening their belts reducing the aid going to states.

Hardly a promising picture for ending homelessness.

Moreover, in the Economy Byte, we go one step further to gauge risk factors for homelessness. Using data that we collected in The State of Homelessness in America, we determine vulnerability of homelessness. We took into account:

  • States where the rate of homelessness is higher than the national rate (21 per 10,000 people),
  • Existing risk factors for homelessness as outlined in The State of Homelessness in America, an Alliance report released in January 2011,[1]
  • State cuts to cash assistance or public sector jobs.

We found that nine states experienced all of the following: 1) rates of homelessness higher than the national rate, 2) multiple risk factors for homelessness identified in State of Homelessness in America, and 3) cuts to cash assistance or public sector jobs. The states include Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and the District of Columbia.

Of these nine states, four have experienced the first two factors as well as cuts to both cash assistance and public sector jobs at the state and local levels; these states include Arizona, Louisiana, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

Suffice to say that the budget situations at the state, local, and national levels – and the resulting cuts to assistance programs, specifically assistance programs targeted at very low-income people and families – may increase the risk and incidence of homelessness in the country.

Is this what you’re seeing in your community? How have budget constraints and concerns affected your local programs? Please let us know!

To find both Economy Bytes: Effect of State and Local Budget Cuts on Homelessness and Data Point: Homeless Assistance Program Funding – Federal vs. State and Local Assistance, please visit the Alliance website.

[1] Risk factors include unemployment, foreclosure, housing cost burden, uninsurance, and doubling up.

Comments Off
27th July
written by Anna Blasco

There are a number of systems that serve people currently or at-risk of experiencing homelessness. All of these different programs and entities may do important work, but opportunities can be lost when they don’t work together effectively.

A recently released brief, co-authored by the Alliance’s Samantha Batko and Debra Medeiros from The National Center on Family Homelessness, discusses how one project in Chicago created a Systems Integration Manager position, currently filled by Ann Marie Grimberg, to better coordinate services for families experiencing homelessness. The project is called FACT (Family Assertive Community Treatment), and is a collaborative project between Beacon Therapeutic Diagnostic and Treatment Center and the Heartland Alliance.

You can read more about FACT and the impact the project and the new position are having on families in Chicago in the brief, but I’ll leave you with Ms. Grimberg’s advice for other communities trying to create greater collaboration between systems:

  • Identify the service needs of the consumers and target those goals. Conducting a needs assessment of the gaps in services for the population you serve can provide a short list of the most important needs to target.
  • Start with those groups who want to work with you. Many agencies and programs would greatly benefit your work. Go where there is energy and synergy—engage invested programs that you think can make simple changes to improve the situation of your population dramatically. After a few successes, others will not only follow, but will actually contact you to participate and ask for advice.
  • Be neutral—do not judge current practices. The goal of systems integration is not to lay blame on a particular system for “failing” a family or individual. Instead, the idea is to build a foundation of cooperation and information sharing that can create positive changes for vulnerable populations. Often, an agency or program is not aware of the unintended effect of policies or procedures.
Comments Off
28th June
written by naehblog

We’re a little late to this party, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive us. Today, we’re going over the findings in Priced Out, a housing report released by the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) on Monday, June 20.

The report examined Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is targeted at disabled adults who have limited income and resources. Specifically, SSI is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenue to help blind, aged, and disabled people who have little or no income and provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

Unfortunately, as the TAC report found, monthly SSI benefits amount to approximately $674/month. State supplements bring the national average up to $703/month. This is still low enough to be priced out of every single rental housing market in the country for a one-bedroom apartment, according to the report.

Even in more affordable rental markets, even for studio/efficiency housing units, rents are at least 60 percent of total monthly SSI benefits, including state supplements. This is far above the 30 percent mark, which defines of “affordable housing” and even above the 50 percent mark, which is the threshold for experiencing “severe housing cost burden.” As a national average, a person receiving SSI benefits would need to pay 112 percent of their monthly income to rent a modest, one-bedroom apartment.

As people interested in homelessness and homeless programs and policy, we know that severe housing cost burden and poverty put people at risk of experiencing homelessness; it seems that SSI recipients experience both. In order to make this federal program work for the people it serves, we need to respect the dignity of the program’s constituents and not relegate them to a life of poverty.

As of 2010, over 4.4 million non-elderly adults rely on SSI payments. Out of Reach suggests that over 1.2 million non-elderly people live in homeless shelters, public institutions, nursing homes, other care homes, or segregated group quarters.  An estimated 700,000 are doubled up with aging parents.

In order to serve these millions of people with disabilities, we need to better assess the housing needs of this community and work to meet them in a productive way. Find out more about this report and SSI by reading the report, available on the TAC website.

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.

Comments Off
15th June
written by Catherine An

In case you missed it, HUD released the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress yesterday, showing that homelessness went up one percent overall from 2009 to 2010. For the major numbers, check out the post from yesterday.

Here at the Alliance, we were surprised that homelessness in the United States did not increase more significantly despite the effects of the recession. We surmise that the flat numbers, in spite of an idling economy, are a testament to improved homeless assistance systems and the adoption of housing-based strategies to end homelessness.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. Like we’ve been saying for months, budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels could break the dam that’s been keeping increased homelessness at bay for the last couple of years.

And it’s not just budget cuts that we’re concerned about. For the first time, the impact of the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) was included in the AHAR. The $1.5 billion program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), offered communities significant new resources to curb homelessness resulting from the recession. And communities used that money – in the first year, HPRP funds prevented and ended homelessness for an estimated 690,000 people. Those funds are also credited with decreasing the length of time people stayed homeless in suburban and rural communities, where the average length of stay in an emergency family shelter declined from 62 days to 40 days.

The three-year stimulus program ends next year and it’ll leave a big hole in the budgets of many local homeless assistance programs – a hole that will only grow wider with the aforementioned budget cuts. Coupled with cuts to mainstream poverty programs, local and state services, and the relentless rise in need, it’s possible that homelessness may rise in the coming years.

So what can we do? Maybe we can’t fix the economy, unemployment, or the housing crisis – but we can make our voices heard. Tell your community leader, your legislator, your Members of Congress that we will not risk increased homelessness in the United States. Let us know you’re interested and we’ll tell you how to get involved.

14th June
written by Catherine An

Hi guys!

If you follow our Twitter or Facebook accounts, you know that HUD released the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR) today. This annual compilation of homelessness data is one of our best barometers of how we’re doing:  is homelessness going up? Going down? Chronic, individuals, youth, families? How are we doing?

Over here, we’re busy reading and digesting and figuring out what all the numbers mean (you can figure it out with us if you want; here’s the report.)

We’ll have a more comprehensive post later but in the meantime, here are the numbers:

According to the findings, levels of homelessness in the United States have stayed flat from 2009 to 2010. Overall homelessness increased by one percent, rising to 649,917 according to the annual point-in-time counts.  The number of homelessness individuals, unsheltered homeless persons, and homeless persons in families all showed marginal increases of 0.75 percent, 2.76 percent, and 1.61 percent, respectively. The number of chronically homeless individuals declined by one percent; the steady and continual decline of chronic homelessness reflects the success of local and federal efforts to implement best practices to serve chronically homeless people.

The report, aside from offering the annual point-in-time counts,  also offers findings from HMIS data and – for the first time – offers insight into the impact of the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).

Visit again tomorrow for more!

6th June
written by Catherine An

A hat tip to the National Low Income Housing Coalition for letting us know that the Joint Center on Housing Studies at Harvard University released the 2011 State of the Nation’s Housing report today.

I love this report. I started reading it last year and while the prospects never look good, the report is a wealth of information about the housing landscape as it affects all kinds of people.

This year was no different.

In good news, the rental market is growing rapidly. Some renters are waiting for the housing market to settle down before buying and some owners, having suffered the effects of the housing market over the last few hours, have come back into the rental market.

Housing vacancy rates are holding fairly steady (partly because of the number of previously-owned houses that have entered the rental market) but rents appear to be on the rise. Increases vary from market to market; JCHS reports that “in traditionally tight markets such as New York, San Jose, and Washington, DC, nominal rents climbed by more than 5 percent in 2010. In contrast, the average increase was just 1.7 percent in the West and 2.5 percent in the South.”

This is troubling news when contextualized by the fact that the supply of affordable housing is ever eroding. 12 percent of the low-cost rentals that existed in 1999 were gone by 2009, according to JCHS, meaning that one affordable and available unit existed for every 2.9 low-income renters in need of such a unit.

This leaves too many low-income households housing cost burdened. As we showed in the State of Homelessness in America, severe housing cost burden is one risk factor of homelessness and today’s report shows that well over one-third of US households is cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. An unprecedented 19.4 million are severely housing cost burdened – spending more than half of their monthly income on rent. The report notes that the latter number climbed by 725,000 in 2009 alone.

The problem is manifold but two contributors stick out:

  1. Real incomes (also highlighted in SOH), have declined people in the bottom income quartile, and
  2. The supply of affordable, available rental housing units is diminishing.

I’m sure it goes without saying that people most vulnerable – including low-income families with children and minority communities – are hit hardest. The recession has turned many low-income families from two-income to one-income households and their situation is aggravated by the need to find safe, child-friendly, near-public school rental units. Inner city neighborhoods, often home to immigrant and racially diverse communities, have suffered hardest from the effects of the housing crisis.

Among the most notable things I noticed in this report was the overt mention of homelessness; the report referenced a finding in the last Annual Homeless Assessment report (authored by HUD): “although the incidence of chronic homelessness fell, the number of families with children that used homeless shelters at least once increased …from 2007 to 2009…”

Moreover, the outlook for federal assistance seemed as grim as some of the findings. Citing the economic and political climates, the report suggested that little could be expected in terms of federal assistance, even as need – especially among low-income families – continues to mount.

Which doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. As the Alliance has long proclaimed, access to affordable housing is the key in ending homelessness. If people can acquire housing they can afford, they can end their homelessness. By making this problem – and this clear solution – a national priority, we can end homelessness.

Let us know if you’ve read the report and what you think! Leave a comment here or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

Comments Off
25th May
written by Kim Walker

Today’s post comes to us from Kim Walker, capacity building associate at the Alliance.

The Center for Capacity Building just released our paper on developing a coordinated intake system for homeless families!

We’re so excited because we’ve gotten so many requests for more information on this approach from participants in our HEARTH Academies and other providers across the country. (Need a refresher on what coordinated entry is? Check out this blog post from Norm from a few months back.)

So, what kinds of things do we cover in this paper? Answers to questions like:

  • What are the different types of coordinated entry models?
  • How are other communities doing coordinated entry?
  • What changes will my system have to make in order to adopt coordinated entry?
  • How will I be able to tell if our coordinated entry system is functioning properly?

Not enough coordinated entry content for you?

Lucky for you, we have two webinars on coordinated entry in June.

  • On June 9 at 2 p.m. ET, we’ll host a webinar with Joyce Probst MacAlpine from Dayton/Montgomery County, OH, who just completed a six-month review of their brand new coordinated intake process. You can register for that webinar here.
  • Toward the end of June (date and time TBD), we will highlight the coordinated entry model in Columbus, OH and provide insight into their systems for singles and for families.

Still not enough? No worries – we’ll be rolling out more and more “front door” related materials, including papers and interactive tools, as the summer goes on, including resources on prevention targeting and diversion (which we know are also hot topics out there in the field).

We hope, as with everything else we do, that you find the materials we provide useful to you in your daily work. If you have any questions about anything, please feel free to contact the Center for Capacity Building at