5th May
written by Catherine An

While need isn’t seasonal, charity typically is. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that giving, at least to our organization, peaks during the holidays.

In my daily hunt for clips (news articles about homelessness that you can always find on our website), I caught a little piece about giving from the Daily Camera in Colorado.

It was the title that caught me: Helping the homeless year-round.

I’ve done my fair share of serving meals on Thanksgiving and caroling during the holidays but I can’t remember the last time I volunteered for a homeless organization in the summer. I’ve adopted families in December and made donations in the winter but rarely do I think about charity when the flowers bloom.

And while I’m not knocking wintertime charity, the reality is this: homelessness exists year-round. There are people in need everyday. And while our contributions are welcome during winter, they’re just as welcome – and perhaps even more needed – during the warmer months.

The economic downturn and high unemployment are driving the number of homeless people up in many places across the country and we at the Alliance are working hard to help communities address these increases and implement successful, cost effective solutions. While you’re helping out in the soup kitchen, remember that the Alliance is working hared to find ways to truly end homelessness – effectively and permanently.

If you can, please contribute to this mission and make a gift to the Alliance. Be assured that it will go toward vital efforts to prevent and end homelessness in America.

For more information about giving and great nonprofits, please visit Charity Navigator and Great Nonprofits.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Kris.

13th April
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Suzannah Young, Communications Officer at FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless). Suzannah thanks the Alliance for inviting her to write.

FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless, is an umbrella of NGOs which contribute to the fight against homelessness in Europe.  It is the only major European network that focuses exclusively on homelessness in the European Union (EU).

I’m grateful for this opportunity to tell you about FEANTSA and hope it will be interesting for you too.  Actually, our Director recently took part in a meeting on homelessness involving Australia, Canada, Europe and the USA and enjoyed the opportunity to share best practices.  So, as part of a big sharing exercise, this post should clarify how FEANTSA tries to tackle homelessness in Europe, working with NGOs and other stakeholders in the fight against homelessness: local authorities; national governments; legal and health professionals; the EU institutions; the housing sector (public and private); transport companies; human rights organizations; academics, etc.

The NGOs we work with are largely our members – more than 100 national or regional umbrellas of homeless service providers, operating in areas including housing, health, employment and social protection, in 30 countries.  We have close contact with the EU institutions (mainly the European Parliament[1] and the European Commission,[2]) and have consultative status at the Council of Europe[3] and the United Nations.

One of FEANTSA’s main roles is to promote the exchange of expertise on homelessness.  Another, which has developed over time as it has become the authority on homelessness in the EU, is to advise the EU on how best to tackle homelessness, by recommending the examples of best practice it has gathered through 20-plus years of pooling expertise.

One way in which expertise is gathered is through working groups, which focus on thematic priorities.  Members appointed to the working groups analyse issues like housing, housing rights, employment, health and social protection, data collection and participation.  Other ways are transnational exchange initiatives – side projects which focus on specific dimensions of homelessness – for example Housing Rights Watch, a network of legal professionals committed to promoting and protecting the right to housing for all, and the European Network of Homeless Health Workers.  FEANTSA also has a Research Observatory, uniting academics researching homelessness in most European countries.  We include the research findings in our lobbying.

FEANTSA also organises events, which permit homelessness sector professionals to work together.  We have an annual theme and our discussions lead to policy statements, reports and a conference; this year, FEANTSA is focusing on Quality in Social Services from the perspective of services working with homeless people.  Other events include European seminars on local homelessness issues.   The seminars were an initial response to requests for information on how to tackle homelessness coming from local authorities.  Plus, in 2009, FEANTSA helped launch HABITACT, a European exchange forum on local homeless strategies.

FEANTSA believes homelessness can be ended.  For us, one of the key roles of EU Member States (countries) should be to aim towards this by creating national homelessness strategies.  We also support the development of an EU Homelessness Strategy.  In order to encourage policy makers to embrace this goal, FEANTSA launched a campaign in 2010, and created a Handbook with examples of effective approaches to ending homelessness from across Europe.  Moreover, we recently supported a Written Declaration promoting an EU Homelessness Strategy, which was adopted by the European Parliament.

Our future goals include developing expertise on migration and homelessness and youth homelessness in Europe, two emerging issues.  We will also be monitoring progress towards the development of an EU Homelessness Strategy, the parameters of which were recommended in the conclusions of the European Consensus Conference on Homelessness, co-organised by FEANTSA and held last December.

Thanks for reading about FEANTSA.  Keep up-to-date with our activities on our website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

You can also contact me if you have any questions.

[1] To see the kinds of things we do: http://feantsa.horus.be/code/EN/pg.asp?Page=1160

[2] The context in which we work with the European Commission is outlined here: http://feantsa.horus.be/code/EN/pg.asp?Page=1114

[3] In particular relating to situations where countries breach the revised European Social Charter on  the right to housing, to the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection and to non-discrimination.

7th April
written by Catherine An

The Alliance offers our sincere congratulations to Funders Together, a philanthropic organization committed to ending homelessness.

Today, the group launches as an independent organization of private philanthropies supporting housing-based strategies that have been shown to end homelessness among youth, individuals, families, veterans, and other groups.

As a member of the nonprofit community, we know that the role of philanthropy is critical in ending homelessness. Foundations and funders have the ability to turn best practices into plans into reality by providing the resources necessary to implement strategies that lead to outcomes.

We extend our thanks to Funders Together for the brave and courageous step forward in the fight to end homelessness and wish them best of luck as they move forward!

10th March
written by Anna Blasco

It is easy to forget that HIV/AIDS is an ongoing epidemic – not only around the world – but right in our own backyard. As March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I thought this would be a good time to look at how this epidemic relates to homelessness.

In the beginning of the epidemic, women frequently stepped forward to help friends, neighbors and family members struggling with severe acute illness and social isolation. Since then, better treatment has made it possible to cope physically with HIV/AIDS as a chronic health condition. Also since that time, women – particularly women of color – have had to face their own HIV/AIDS diagnoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV/AIDS diagnoses now affect nearly 280,000 women in the United States.

What does this have to do with homelessness?

With the costs of treatment as high as ever, HIV/AIDS still makes people poor, often to the point where they lose their homes. Since women tend generally to have lower incomes, those women who face HIV/AIDS as a fact of life may experience homelessness at higher rates, and for longer periods. According to a recent brief from the National AIDS Housing Coalition, homelessness and HIV/AIDS are closely intertwined:

  • People who are experiencing homelessness have rates of infection that are almost 16 times higher than people with housing stability.
  • At least half of people living with HIV/AIDS experience homelessness or housing instability.

As with all chronic health impairments, having HIV/AIDS makes every day a challenge. Permanent supportive housing can improve housing stability, which in turn offers people with HIV/AIDS a secure place to get the health care and other supports they need. Housing assistance like Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) and treatment programs like the  Ryan White CARE Act make it more likely that appropriate services will pair up with housing solutions. These are not programs exclusively for women; however, they do enable comprehensive approaches when women with HIV/AIDS experience homelessness as a complication.

Visit our website for more on mental and physical health

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9th March
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post was written by Alliance senior policy analyst Lisa Stand.

It seems that some news media and headline editors took shortcuts when they covered the 345-page government report on overlap and duplication in federal programs. A smattering of headlines: “Too Many Agencies in the Kitchen,” “In GAO report, Congress has proof of waste,” “Room to Cut.”

“Waste” is a good, short word for headlines but it’s a little misleading in this case. We at the Alliance were well aware of what the report supposedly unveiled about federal homeless assistance programs: “there are 20 programs targeted to address the various needs of persons experiencing homelessness.”

Needless to say, the joining of the words “waste” and “homeless programs” caused a stir but before getting riled up, you may want to know more about what the GAO report actually said about homeless assistance programs. To begin: “Some federal programs may offer similar types of services and serve similar populations, potentially leading to overlap or fragmentation.” [Emphasis added]. This is quite a bit more nuanced than “room to cut.”

And the report continues (page 129) with the reminder that the GAO already recommended better coordination of federal agencies in an earlier review – and that the “agencies concurred with these recommendations and to date have taken some actions to address them.” Further, the report gives a hat tip to Opening Doors. Opening Doors is “an important first step,” and the GAO encourages its implementation while acknowledging the challenges in rallying the 17 or so agencies that work together on the plan.

Finally – and maybe most importantly - the GAO report does not recommend eliminating or consolidating homelessness programs, though it does signal a plan to “examine potential benefits” of doing so in the future, along with other options to “address fragmentation and overlap and achieve operational improvement.”

Homelessness is a complicated problem. Most homeless people need some kind of housing subsidy. Some homeless people have mental illness. Some homeless people are veterans, are individuals, are families, are children. There are legitimate reasons to serve homeless people from a variety of different agencies – because different people require different services.

We can – absolutely – do a better job of reducing duplication and refining cooperation in our federal agencies but in a way that acknowledges the complexities and nuances of our most pressing social problems.

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1st March
written by naehblog

Today’s post comes to us from Alliance research associate Pete Witte.

Earlier this year I wrote here about the annual point-in-time (PIT) counts being conducted across the country, and explained why the PIT counts are so important for helping us to understand homelessness and measure progress we’re making toward ending the problem.

Well, it’s that time of year again when local media stories announcing the results of their January point-in-time (PIT) slowly begin to sprout up in daily clips.

The Alliance is collecting and mapping these media accounts or, when available, the Continuum of Care (CoC) reports in order to provide a sense of the changing homeless situation in communities across the country. These reports are the basis of our new and—considering federal budget conversations where homeless programs are at-risk of being cut—timely, interactive 2011 Counts Media Map, which tracks reports on changes in overall homelessness (increases are noted by a red-colored placemarker and decreases are in green).

Amid current economic and budgetary conversations, providing a sense about the change in homeless counts across the country is important and timely, especially considering how homeless, health care, employment, and other aid programs are increasingly at-risk of being cut.

Tracking the 2011 PIT counts also provides an opportunity to get a sense on how much progress is being made at ending homelessness at the federal level, since the 2011 PIT counts will be the first count where both HPRP and Opening Doors have had the opportunity to affect communities.

And what’s more – we need your help!

Has a media source or CoC in your community released a report that shows overall homeless changes between the January 2011 count and the last January count? Please let us know; you can email me directly and we’ll be sure to add your community’s results to our interactive map.

Thanks in advance for your help!

A note about what we’re looking for: the Alliance mapped media reports back in 2009 – the last time that all CoC’s were required by HUD to conduct a PIT count. In that map, we tracked a number of different factors in the counts. This time around, however, we’re only interested in mapping overall population increases or decreases to present a visual picture of the state of homelessness in the country. For more information or clarity about our map, please email us.

23rd February
written by Catherine An

So Anna and I just got off a webinar about the new Facebook pages offered by Andrew Cohen, managing editor at Forum One. (Disclaimer: Forum One is our internet strategy/website development/all things geeky consultant. But they do offer some good notes about Facebook for new users!).

Yesterday, Anna sat in on a call hosted by Network for Good on ways to improve web writing and compose better micro-content for social networks (specifically, fundraising on social networks).

And just this morning, I got a call from an eager outreach officer asking me to embed some video on our social networks to support a homelessness radio marathon streaming live from Kansas City, MO.

And so I find myself again at that juncture between social change and social media.

At the Alliance, we continue our struggle to find the right balance between traditional and social media outreach. We work hard to assess and re-assess the value and return of our Facebook page, our Twitter account, our blog. And based on the community online, based on the emails I receive, and based on the chatter around the office, I know that we’re not the only ones to struggle with these not-really-new-anymore mediums.

Me – I’m a luddite-in-disguise (and it’s not a great disguise either). As much as I like the new and shiny tools online, I’d really rather not have to learn a whole new thing – especially if it’s going to take more than two minutes.

But here’s what keeps me tweeting away: the way people consume information has fundamentally changed (just ask the print industry). And while some people may cling to the newspapers and weeklies, they’re hardly in the majority anymore. News breaks on blogs, announcements happen online, and when I want a brief overview of what’s happened overnight, I pull up my Twitter feed – not the New York Times.

And as an organization dedicated to informing the field of homelessness, it’s our responsibility to reach people where they are.

That’s just the view from here. What conversations are you having in the office about social media and online outreach?

Image courtesy of Matt Haughey.

9th February
written by Catherine An

I waitressed my way through college and hostessed my way through my first few jobs in D.C. so I picked restaurant server as my job. And while I made it through the month – with a toothache – I attribute my decision-making abilities to the scrappiness I developed as a kid.

What am I talking about? This really awesome new game called SPENT, developed by Urban Ministries of Durham and the aptly-named advertising agency, McKinney. (Why’s the ad agency aptly named? Because the largest federal investment in homelessness assistance is called the < a href=http://www.endhomelessness.org/section/policy/legislative_updates/mckinney>McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs. Cool, right?)

The game asks you to slip on the shoes of a low-income person who has to find a job, take care of a kid, and make the day-to-day economic decisions to ensure that your family stays out of homelessness. Not that it sounds easy – but let me assure you that the decisions are hard. On top of it all – they game throws a few roadblocks along the way: job loss, an unexpected bill, family mishaps. The aim? To make it through to the end of the month without running out of money – and then to do it all over again.

It’s a great experience – especially because it really brings the reality of an at-risk person much closer to home. If you flipped through our latest report, you know that we found that not only did homelessness rise from 2008 to 2009, but those populations at-risk of experiencing homelessness – those housing cost-burdened, unemployed, or in specifically at-risk populations –stayed stagnant or grew as well.

It’s like Urban Ministries of Durham points outs, “Spent is not just a social networking campaign, but an immersive online experience created and donated by McKinney. Raising awareness of the complex issues involved with poverty and homelessness and galvanizing the support needed to address those issues, are important components of our work…”

And if you don’t believe us, you can check out the video (below).

And don’t forget to play the game!

27th January
written by naehblog

A few days ago, Catherine talked about point-in-time counts.

As a researcher, I can’t begin to tell you how important that raw data is to both understanding homelessness and measuring whether or not we’re making any progress on the problem. In fact, point-in-time (PIT) counts were pivotal to The State of Homelessness report.

The PIT counts are a census conducted on a single night in January by communities across the U.S (over 450 communities participated for the last count). This PIT count is not the only data available on the homeless population; there’s also 12-month data collected by these communities. However, the PIT counts have a clear advantage over the 12-month data because the PIT data captures data on the unsheltered populations as well as sheltered populations.

But getting this wonderful data – now that’s another thing altogether.

Imagine for a minute the logistical nightmares of conducting the PIT counts across the boundaries of an entire community, block by block, in order to capture that unsheltered data. Despite participation in the census by a large contingent of volunteers and an expert group of homeless service workers, it still sounds challenging, doesn’t it? Each year, though, communities are continually learning from their experiences, and their methodologies for conducting the census continue to improve.

The reality is, while imperfect, the PIT counts provide the best available data on what the homeless population “looks like” on a given night. And the reality of increasing homeless counts among the total population and each subpopulation—families, family households, individuals, chronic, and unsheltered—is unsettling.

While The State of Homelessness in America provides a disquieting picture of increased homelessness, the report also marks a continuation of something started with the original Counts report. That is, The State of Homelessness report will continue to monitor changes in homelessness and check on progress we are making as a nation on ending homelessness in America.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the counts data. Leave them in the comments!

26th January
written by naehblog

Today’s post comes to us from Alliance research associate Pete Witte, who was inspired to geek out after watching the State of the Union last night.

Last night’s speech by President Barack Obama marked the 221st State of the Union (SOTU) address given in U.S. history. At yesterday’s morning staff meeting, some of us at the Alliance wondered if the President would mention homelessness in his speech.

He didn’t.

But yesterday’s meeting piqued my curiosity. While watching the speech last night, I thought, “I wonder how many times a President has used the words “homeless” or “homelessness” in a State of the Union address?”

And once the question’s asked, I have to find the answer! It was relatively easy to do with a cool online tool provided by a guy named Brad Borowitz. His website allows you to search the all SOTU addresses and offers graphs, charts, and other visual illustrations of all the SOTU speeches.

So allow me to geek out a bit here: in the 221 SOTU addresses in history, a total of 1,676,558 words have been used, of which 26,789 are unique (these numbers do not include common words such as “and,” “the,” and “state”). “Homeless” has been used a total of seven times and “homelessness” has been used two times over the course of seven SOTU addresses by a total of four Presidents: George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Harry Truman.

Now, what exactly this means, if anything, I leave up to you to interpret.

Listed below are the dates of the speeches, the President giving the address, and the paragraph where the word was used, which I have extracted from the speech.

Data and image taken from http://www.speechwars.com/sou/index.php.

January 20, 2004, George W. Bush:
“In the past, we’ve worked together to bring mentors to children of prisoners, and provide treatment for the addicted, and help for the homeless. Tonight I ask you to consider another group of Americans in need of help. This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison. So tonight, I propose a four-year, $300 million prisoner re-entry initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups. (Applause.) America is the land.”

January 28, 2003, George W. Bush:
“Our fourth goal is to apply the compassion of America to the deepest problems of America. For so many in our country – the homeless, the fatherless, the addicted – the need is great. Yet there is power – wonder-working power – in the goodness, and idealism, and faith of the American people.”

February 27, 2001, George W. Bush:
“And my budget adopts a hopeful new approach to help the poor and the disadvantaged. We must encourage and support the work of charities and faith-based and community groups that offer help and love one person at a time. These groups are working in every neighborhood in America to fight homelessness and addiction and domestic violence; to provide a hot meal or a mentor or a safe haven for our children. Government should welcome these groups to apply for funds, not discriminate against them.”

January 31, 1990, George H.W. Bush:
“It’s no secret that here at home freedom’s door opened long ago. The cornerstones of this free society have already been set in place: democracy, competition, opportunity, private investment, stewardship, and of course leadership. And our challenge today is to take this democratic system of ours, a system second to none, and make it better: a better America, where there’s a job for everyone who wants one; where women working outside the home can be confident their children are in safe and loving care and where government works to expand child-care alternatives for parents; where we reconcile the needs of a clean environment and a strong economy; where “Made in the USA” is recognized around the world as the symbol of quality and progress; where every one of us enjoys the same opportunities to live, to work, and to contribute to society and where, for the first time, the American mainstream includes all of our disabled citizens; where everyone has a roof over his head and where the homeless get the help they need to live in dignity; where our schools challenge and support our kids and our teachers and where all of them make the grade; where every street, every city, every school, and every child is drug-free; and finally, where no American is forgotten — our hearts go out to our hostages who are ceaselessly on our minds and in our efforts.”

“We’ll do what it takes to invest in America’s future. The budget commitment is there. The money is there. It’s there for research and development, R&D — a record high. It’s there for our housing initiative — HOPE — to help everyone from first-time homebuyers to the homeless. The money’s there to keep our kids drug-free — 70 percent more than when I took office in 1989. It’s there for space exploration.”

February 9, 1989, George H.W. Bush:
“We must care about those in the shadow of life, and I, like many Americans, am deeply troubled by the plight of the homeless. The causes of homelessness are many; the history is long. But the moral imperative to act is clear. Thanks to the deep well of generosity in this great land, many organizations already contribute, but we in government cannot stand on the sidelines. In my budget, I ask for greater support for emergency food and shelter, for health services and measures to prevent substance abuse, and for clinics for the mentally ill. And I propose a new initiative involving the full range of government agencies. We must confront this national shame.”

February 4, 1986, Ronald Reagan:
“And we see the dream born again in the joyful compassion of a thirteen year-old, Trevor Ferrell. Two years ago, age eleven, watching men and women bedding down in abandoned doorways–on television he was watching–Trevor left his suburban Philadelphia home to bring blankets and food to the helpless and homeless. And now, 250 people help him fulfill his nightly vigil.”

January 6, 1947, Harry S. Truman:
“However, insofar as admitting displaced persons is concerned, I do not feel that the United States has done its part. Only about 5,000 of them have entered this country since May, 1946. The fact is that the executive agencies are now doing all that is reasonably possible under the limitation of the existing law and established quotas. Congressional assistance in the form of new legislation is needed. I urge the Congress to turn its attention to this world problem, in an effort to find ways whereby we can fulfill our responsibilities to these thousands of homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths.”

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