21st September
written by Catherine An

Anna and I are back!

Hope you enjoyed the guest bloggers/social networkers in our absence. I thought the blog last week was particularly terrific (though I may be biased) – from Elizabeth’s presentation of the Alliance Annual Report, to Norm’s data-rich explanation of Alameda County’s homeless system outcomes, to Lisa’s discussion of how Medicaid can help end chronic homelessness, and Pete’s rundown of the Census poverty numbers. And we were lucky to have fan favorite Steve Berg, Alliance VP of Program and Policy, return to make the case for investing more federal resources in the McKinney-Vento program.

As you can see, we’re lucky to have experts on a wide range of topics – from health care to research to housing. Homelessness is a complex issue, one at which a number of disciplines intersect, and we at the Alliance examine the problem from many, varied perspectives and distill those disparate ideas into efficient, effective solutions to homelessness.

In order to turn our analyses and observations into solutions, we:

Review research: Our resident researcher reads up on homelessness data and research as well as homeless-related indicators and issues, including poverty, deep poverty, housing cost burden, and unemployment. Our research series, including Economy Bytes, Data Points, and other reports crunch the numbers and try to understand what they mean about homelessness.

Improve policy: Not only is our research helpful to our friends, colleagues, and you – this research is also helpful to our policy team. Armed with the latest research and statistics, we explain to lawmakers why it’s important to invest in the policies and programs that prevent and end homelessness. Making the case to invest more money in McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants is much more convincing when paired with data about rising levels of poverty, increased homelessness, and persistent unemployment.

Build capacity: When policies are enacted and approved, there’s work to be done on the field. While the role of federal policy is significant, ending homelessness is ultimately a local task. Our Center for Capacity Building travels directly into cities and towns to conduct clinics and trainings, they create tools to explain best practices and promising strategies, and they explain how to improve systems by collecting and using data.

For more information about the Alliance or to find ways you can get involved with our mission, please visit the website or contact us.

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31st August
written by Catherine An

Monday was the six year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on southern Louisiana. Today – six years later – people in the Gulf Coast are still struggling to recover from the devastating effects of the storm.

National Public Radio ran a couple pieces this week about the struggle of some communities to secure housing. In one story, the reporter discusses the plight of people along the Mississippi coast – communities that were overlooked by state agencies and federal aid. While some assistance is reaching them now, some posit that the help is both little and late.

In a second NPR story, a reporter profiles Pamela Landry, a woman who built a house with two sheds after her mobile home was destroyed by the hurricane. The makeshift home was a step up from the FEMA trailer that she lived in for two years following Katrina but still lacks insulation and heating, among other amenities.

Earlier this year, the Alliance re-examined homelessness in the Gulf Coast, explicitly noting the great increases in homelessness in Louisiana/Mississippi region, largely attributable to people left vulnerable to housing instability after Katrina came through the area. On this, the 6th anniversary of that terrible natural disaster, we remind ourselves of the damage the storm caused to so many communities and the vast number of people out there still awaiting the aid necessary to rebuild their lives. (To see the insert about Hurricane Katrina in The State of Homelessness in America, see page 10.)

It is up to us to ensure that people are not left behind again. In the wake of some unusual natural disasters in the country(a mid-Atlantic earthquake and Hurricane Irene come to mind), we realize that the unexpected can strike at any time, causing chaos and havoc for ordinary citizens. We urge local, state, and federal agencies to commit themselves to help people affected by disaster – we can work to ensure that their lives resume normalcy as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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22nd August
written by naehblog

On Friday, our dear federal policy intern Rricha left us to go back to law school. But before she left, we asked her to list some things she learned during her time at the Alliance.

  1. Runaway and homeless youth are especially susceptible in falling victim to commercial sexual exploitation.
  2. Thirty years ago, homelessness wasn’t as big of a problem as it is today- it is possible to end homelessness with clear and directed federal policies.
  3. Don’t bring an [empty] travel mug with you to the Capitol Visitors Center – they will throw it away (even if it’s new and from Starbucks!)
  4. We need better data on how many homeless youth there are in this country so we can shape policies that most affect and empower this population.
  5. It is much cheaper to house a homeless person than to pay the costs of incarceration or medical expenses over his or her lifetime.
  6. The phones at the Alliance are very musical.
  7. Foster care children who age out of the child welfare system are at high risk for becoming homeless.
  8. Making a personalized google map isn’t as difficult as it sounds!
  9. All the programs related to helping homeless populations have a sustainability component – a long term plan to keep them off the streets.
  10. Andre Wade, youth policy analyst, cannot function without his iPad.
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10th August
written by naehblog

Today, we’re running a repeat of an oldie but a goodie. In this slow summer month, we take a moment to revisit (like we did with “Nan’s post) a fundamental question in our field: why Housing First?

First we ask: What is Housing First?

Housing First is a concept that was pioneered by Dr. Sam Tsemberis of the NYU School of Medicine and an organization in New York called Pathways to Housing.

The premise of the Housing First campaign is the housing is a basic human right and should not be denied to anyone, regardless of their habits or circumstances. Housing First prescribes providing the homeless permanent supportive housing – which includes supportive services coupled with permanent housing (not shelter). The supportive services address addiction, mental health, case management and the like, and provides stability for homeless individuals. These services increase the ability of homeless individuals to maintain permanent housing and achieve self-sufficiency.

It’s important to note that this approach is a significant departure from the traditional way the country approached homelessness before. In the old system, homelessness management was emphasized through shelter, mental health services, medical services, and the like before permanent housing was even considered an option. The premise of this old program was that homeless people had to “earn” permanent housing – an unintentionally patronizing framework. Housing First, as the name suggests, emphasizes housing first, coupled with services, bypassing shelter altogether.

Why Housing First?

Put simply: it works. Studies have shown that those communities who implement Housing First strategies have successfully helped people achieve self-sufficiency and get out of homelessness.

In May of this month, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story about some of the successes the Housing First model has seen in the last few years:

“To cite two: 85 percent of formerly homeless adults have maintained a permanent home after five years in the organization Beyond Shelter’s housing-first program in Los Angeles. And in Pathways to Housing’s program for formerly homeless people with psychiatric disabilities in New York City, 88 percent have been able to maintain a permanent home, compared with only 47 percent of the residents in the city’s traditional program.”

In fact, between 2005 and 2007, the nation saw a nearly 30 percent decrease in the chronic homelessness population, much of which has been attributed to the Housing First approach.

Not only does it work, but it’s cost-effective for the chronically homeless population. While people tend to shy away from the Housing First model over claims of high overhead costs, it turns out to be much more cost-efficient in the long run that temporary shelter.

Consider the cost of the average chronically homeless person in an urban area – say, New York City. Between accessing government services, emergency care at hospitals, run-ins with law enforcement, incarceration, and the like – the cost of an average chronically homeless to the state is quite high. Higher, it turns out, than permanent supportive housing – which would not only provide the chronically homeless person the services he/she needs to better their well-being, but remove them from the streets altogether and place them in stable housing.

(I’ve cited this story before, but Malcolm Gladwell, of Blink, Tipping Point, and Outliers fame, wrote a story demonstrating just that called “Million Dollar Murray”.)

Housing First is a definitive, effective, and significant step for a systemic change in the way we approach homelessness – one that has been embraced by advocates and elected officials alike.

And that’s why Housing First.

For more about the Alliance’s take on Housing First – check out our website.

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12th July
written by naehblog

If you attend the National Conference on Ending Homelessness this week, you’ll meet the newest member of our staff Ian Lisman, Senior Program and Policy Analyst on Veterans Homelessness. And if you can’t join us, you can learn a little about him here.

Hello, my name is Ian Lisman, I’m the newest staff member at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. I am working here as the new Senior Program and Policy Analyst on Veterans Homelessness (try saying that three times fast!).

In all seriousness it is an honor and a privilege to be working here at the Alliance.

Before coming to the Alliance I worked in Denver, Colorado as a case manager, then program coordinator/director, for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) grant with the Denver Department of Human Services (DDHS) for the City and County of Denver. I have a degree in Human Services with a concentration in counseling and mental health.

Veterans are disproportionally represented among homeless people and this is a national disgrace, especially considering our country is engaged in several ongoing military conflicts. There will be many more service members returning from combat to civilian life with many challenges facing them (fewer job prospects, family issues, mental and physical health issues, etc.). Ending up on the streets should not be one of those issues.

The Alliance has already sent me to the “front lines” of ending veteran homelessness. Fewer than three weeks in and I’ve already met with VA officials, Hill staffers, DOL representatives, think tanks, and other community providers working on ending homelessness.

I have a special place in my heart for my brothers and sisters in arms. I served in the U.S. Army and am a combat veteran of the first Gulf War. I am a member of the Human Services Honor Society, the American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

The new emphasis by the current administration to end homelessness, especially homelessness among veterans, gives me hope that our country can come together on this issue. VA Secretary Shinseki stated: “President Obama and I are personally 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 wholeheartedly.

I look forward to doing my part to ensure that we achieve that goal and look towards a day when all veterans can return to a safe, stable place to call home.

5th July
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post comes to us from Kate Kelly from Monarch Housing in New Jersey.

On Tuesday, June 21, 2011, Bergen County Community College’s Institute for Public Policy (Paramus, New Jersey) hosted the event which featured an expert panel of presenters including:

  • Dr. Sam Tsemberis, founder & CEO, Pathways to Housing;
  • Lisa Stand, senior analyst for program and policy, National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH);
  • Tom Toronto, president, Bergen County’s United Way; and
  • Julia Orlando, director, Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center.
  • Dr. Ron Milon, Vice President, Bergen Community College, welcomed the audience and Clark Lamendola, president, LaMendola Associates, moderated the expert panel.

Permanent, affordable housing was the dominant theme of the panel presentations. Dr. Tsemberis stressed that small scale solutions are not enough to end homelessness and instead, the Housing First model – affordable housing without the prerequisite of treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues – is the solution.

Lisa Stand highlighted communities across the country that have had success in ending family homelessness by using the rapid re-housing model – moving quickly to get families immediately back into affordable housing. Family homelessness increased slightly last year but more alarmingly, the problem is moving from the cities to the suburbs.

Tom Toronto talked about his visit to the Pathways to Housing program in New York City and how the Housing First model could successfully be implemented in New Jersey.

And lastly, Julia Orlando described how the Bergen County Center works locally to end homelessness in the County. The agency’s first goal is to obtain permanent housing – everyone who walks through the Center’s doors is evaluated for housing.
Attendees responded to the panel with a variety of questions.

The forum was prompted by College President Dr. G. Jeremiah Ryan’s shock and dismay over the lack of attention given to homelessness in one of America’s most affluent counties. Bergen County, New Jersey is the 21st most affluent county in the U.S. Yet, over the course of last year, an estimated 942 Bergen residents – our neighbors – went to sleep without a roof over their heads.

You can view videos from the event on the Monarch Housing website.

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7th June
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post comes from Alliance Vice President of Programs and Policy Steve Berg.

Bob Hohler, Executive Director of the Melville Charitable Trust, passed away suddenly while hiking with his family in England last Thursday, June 2.

For two decades Mr. Hohler worked tirelessly and gracefully behind the scenes to help establish the Melville Trust as a courageous leader in the philanthropic community, moving the country toward a solution to homelessness.  He was also the Chairman of the Board and a founder of Funders Together to End Homelessness; and a leader on the boards of several nonprofits in Connecticut with which the Melville Trust is involved.

Prior to his role at Melville, Mr. Hohler enjoyed a long career as an activist in the civil rights and anti-war movements, as a lay minister, and as an anti-poverty fighter.  A native of South Boston, he grew up in extreme poverty, leading him to understand first-hand the struggles of those he set out to help.

Mr. Hohler did his work with a keen commitment to justice, and an equally strong commitment to concrete results.  He never shied away from honest anger, but was always ready to extend a hand.  His tireless work, his positive outlook, and his concern for everyone who is part of this movement made him a hero.  Hundreds of thousand of Americans, living tonight in modest apartments instead of on the streets and in shelters, testify to the strength of his legacy.  His legacy will inspire us, in memory, to never quit.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the Melville family, and to all who will feel a gap in our lives and our work at the loss.  We will all do our best to live by his example and fill that gap.

For more information about Bob Hohler, please see the obituary in the Connecticut Mirror.

Photo courtesy of the Melville Charitable Trust.

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30th May
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post was written by Alliance summer intern and West Point student Corey Young.

On, Wednesday, May 25, I attended the annual Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony hosted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Along with members from Rolling Thunder, Inc. and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association – both veterans-focused organizations – I stopped by to honor veterans from our nation’s past and current wars.

As a cadet, it was humbling being there with men and women who had fought for their country and are still fighting to help their fellow soldiers still.  However, it was still troubling to realize that there are still large numbers of men and women veterans that don’t have homes.

The ceremony started with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan  addressing the crowd, reminding us that veterans too often return home from conflicts to experience homelessness.  Thanking veterans for their service, the Secretary called for HUD to continue its efforts to strengthen the family and life that veterans return home to by creating affordable housing and aiding service members in buying their first home.

The keynote speaker for the afternoon was Major General Errol R. Schwartz, Commanding General of the DC National Guard.  Gen. Schwartz thanked HUD and other groups for their ongoing work to provide homes for veterans in need.  He also made it a point to specifically thank veterans that served during the Vietnam era for serving during a controversial time in America’s history and making up one of the largest groups of veterans who are homeless.

Both General Schwartz and Secretary Donovan talked a lot about providing affordable housing to veterans and trying to combat homelessness.  To me, this shows that the government sees the importance of the role it plays in making sure that our men and women who are fighting for our country overseas have a home to come back to when they return.

The ceremony came to an emotional close when Chaplain Luis Ganaway put into words the reason why groups like the Alliance and HUD do what they do.  He said, “We provide a service because we care for those who serve.”

I hope everyone has a happy Memorial Day.

For more information about veterans homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.

24th May
written by naehblog

This morning, the Associated Press reported that the tornado that came through Missouri City was the deadliest in the past 60 years, killing an estimated 117 people.

This tornado comes shortly after the storms and tornados that hit six Southern states in late April; Alabama bore the brunt of 300+ deaths resulting from those.

While the human toll that such events take elicits our immediate concern, the long-term damage is often overlooked. Often, natural disasters destroy homes, businesses, social services, and the infrastructure needed to start recovery – leaving many people homeless.

For a vivid example of what can happen, you need look no farther than New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast in 2005 killing nearly 2,000 people and creating nearly $81 billion in damage.

Even now, six years after the hurricane has come and gone, residents of New Orleans still struggle to regain their lives. The loss of 82,000 rental housing units, an escalation in fair market rents (an increase of 45 percent from 2005 to 2010), and a loss of health care institutions (5 hospitals and nearly 4,000 beds) create a situation where too many people are still facing homelessness.

In The State of Homelessness in America, we note:

  • Total homelessness in Louisiana increased from 5,476 people experiencing homelessness before the storm to 12,504 people in 2009, the first data point available after the storm,
  • Chronic homelessness in Louisiana increased from 939 people in 2005 to 4,815 people in 2009,
  • Family homelessness in Mississippi increased from 210 homeless people in families in 2005 to 954 people in 2009,
  • and unsheltered homelessness in Louisiana increased from 1,225 unsheltered homeless people in 2005 to 8,386 people in 2009 and in Missisisppi from 365 people in 2005 to 1,579 people n 2009.

The consequences of natural disasters – even long after the event occurs – are clear.

Like the people still struggling in New Orleans, the residents of Missouri City will need new homes, social assistance, jobs, health care, and other services to start recovery.

We, as a national community, have a responsibility to ensure that these resources are available and accessible to the victims of the tornado so that they can swiftly resume their lives with little additional disruption. By rapidly responding to the needs of Missourians, we can make sure that we keep homelessness at bay for those affected by the tornado.

Let’s make sure that we do not allow increased homelessness to be the legacy of any more natural disasters.

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video.

23rd May
written by naehblog

It’s that time again! As schools close their doors for the summer, a new crop of bright, ambitious interns descends on the District and we at the Alliance are lucky to be having so many of them join our staff for the summer.

Name: Cecilia Mills
School: Arizona State University
Discipline: Earning her Masters in Public Administration
Internship: Cece will be assisting our federal policy team on issues including mental health, family and youth homelessness, and LGBTQ matters.

In her own words: I’m compelled towards humanitarian efforts and social justice causes. The Alliance sounded like a perfect fit – I could [learn about] all issues related to poverty, health care, and social injustices.

It’s amazing how far reaching the effects of homelessness are. [I] never realized the full scope; it’s shocking to see the lack of appropriate services to help those in need.

One day, I’d like to become a policy director for a nonprofit or government agency that specifically deals with poverty related issues and alleviation. My dream job growing up was working with the UN Human Rights Council….maybe one day!

Name: Swaroop Vitta
School: Birmingham-Southern College
Discipline: Economics, Biology/Chemistry
Internship: Swaroop will be assisting with our annual Capitol Hill Day at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness.

In his own words: Our school’s Hess Fellows program provides fellowships for students interested in getting involved with advocacy. I have been involved with organizations addressing affordable housing and homelessness from a direct service standpoint so I was very excited about the possibility of working at the Alliance in order to better understand the advocacy side of these issues. I want to understand how advocacy works in general, and I want to know see what we can effectively accomplish through advocacy. Also, I hope to learn as much as I can about policies addressing affordable housing and homelessness.

Also, Sumeet Singh, my best friend since high school, my current roommate, and intern to the Alliance last summer, told me great things about the organization. Naturally, it was my first choice during the selection process.

The most interesting thing [I’ve learned about homelessness] is that it’s solvable. I grew up thinking that homelessness was just like any other big social problem. I understood that it existed and my parents taught me to be thankful for what I have and to show it by giving back by serving the needy. However, only recently did I understand that this is an issue that can be eliminated, and to think that it might happen during my lifetime is pretty exciting.

I finished taking my MCAT the day before I left to D.C. and have just started medical school applications. Though I hope to spend a good deal of time serving patients directly after I’m done with medical school (40 years from now), I definitely want to get involved with broader public health issues later. Public health and homelessness are heavily related to each other so that’s yet another reason I’m glad to be here.

Name: Amy Motyka
School: George Washington University
Discipline: Earning her Masters in Tourism Administration
Internship: Amy will be assisting our event planning staff with the National Conference on Ending Homelessness.

A Washington, DC native, Amy has her BS in marketing from the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining the Alliance, she worked as a graduate assistant for the Office of University Events at George Washington University where she assisted in planning Commencement on the National Mall for 25,000 graduates and guests.

She looks forward to working with D’Arcy to make the 2011 annual conference a success!

Name: Corey Young
School: West Point
Discipline: American Politics
Internship: Corey will be assisting our federal policy team on issues including veteran homelessness.

In his own words: Hey, my name is Corey Young. I’m an American Politics major at West Point.

One reason why homelessness is compelling to me is that it’s a problem that you can see all around you no matter where you go. Walking through any town or city, all you have to do is look and you can see people affected by homelessness right in front of you.

I come to the Alliance through an opportunity that my school offers to students from my major who are interested in understanding the way things work in Washington. I hope to gain an understanding of the American political system from a different perspective than what I already have.

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