13th August
written by naehblog

It has been almost a month now since the Alliance’s National Conference on Ending Homelessness, and we have been doing our best to make sure that you have access to as much of our conference materials as possible. All the workshop materials that presenters provided to us have been placed on our website here, where they are available for download. We will continue to update the page as we receive materials.

Finally, we have already received numerous requests for the keynote remarks that our CEO and President Nan Roman delivered at the conference, so we thank you for your patience. We have finally published them on our website, and we are including them in this blog post below.





President and CEO

July 16 2012

Good afternoon and welcome to the 2012 National Alliance on Ending Homelessness. I want to extend our most heartfelt and deep thanks to all of you for being here today. We have over 1400 people in attendance – a record! Most of you are here because you have a burning desire to learn from your colleagues what you can do to improve your own approaches to ending homelessness. You want to know about the most effective practices and the most promising innovations that will work for you. Many of you have traveled far and put a lot of resources into making it here to D.C. for our conference, and we want you to know how deeply we appreciate that. I promise you that the Alliance staff has put tremendous effort into making sure that you have plenty of content here to chew on.

My job today is to tell you what we at the Alliance see as the current lay of the land: where we stand, what has worked, what has not, and what the future holds. I think we are at a pivotal moment on the issue, because things are very difficult now.

It seems that 2008 and 2009 should have been the most difficult years with respect to homelessness, with the huge spikes in unemployment, plummeting family incomes, a massive number of foreclosures, and painful cuts in state and local budgets. Many nonprofits lost big chunks of their budgets, and many households found themselves either on the brink of, or falling into, homelessness. These were, indeed, bad years, but we had some things going for us. We had the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP), and housing costs were going down. And when you have less to work with, you are spurred to innovate, to work harder, to try new things. It may have been a frightening time, but the sense of urgency it inspired was a shot of adrenaline that pushed us forward.

I fear that today is, in some ways, a more dangerous time. We may have arrived at a new status quo. I fear that the sense of urgency has diminished, and that the mood of the nation has taken an alarming turn. Politics have become ugly. Bipartisanship, once seen as something to be aspired to, is now reviled as an indication that one or the other side must have “given in.” Our sense of mutual responsibility is diminishing, perhaps because people are increasingly fearful about their own financial security. Rather than compassion towards people who live in poverty, there is animosity or contempt. There is little acknowledgement that our futures are bound together.

And we still have high unemployment, foreclosures, falling incomes, and budget cuts, although this time those cuts are threatened from the federal government as state and local budgets start to level out. Housing costs are going up, and we are losing HPRP, a program that has done so much to address the problem of homelessness and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

These are alarming developments, but we are not powerless to affect them. If we believe that a defining value of our nation is the conviction that the most vulnerable people among us should be supported and treated with compassion, we must stand up and say that. If we believe that our nation, which remains the richest nation in the world in spite of its current economic woes, has the capacity to provide children, veterans, people with mental illness – indeed, anyone in need – with food, clothing and a place to call home, we must stand up and say that.

And of course, now is the perfect time. We are in an election cycle. Whatever political party you belong to, now is the time for you to make yourself heard. Now is the time to make sure that people who share your convictions do the same. You are the ones who care the most about poor people and solving their problems. If you do not speak up about it, who will? So make sure to vote; make sure you participate; and, most importantly, make sure that everyone you work with, especially consumers, is registered to vote and participate.

If you want to know how to do that, we have a workshop here that can show you. The Alliance for Justice and the National Coalition for the Homeless both have tables outside where you can get information. Everyone should be registered to vote, and should vote. Your participation will make a difference.

Lately there has been a great deal of discussion in homelessness assistance field about new strategies and how we can do things smarter. That’s a discussion we need to have, because the reality is that we are likely going to learn how to do more with less. Already 40 percent of people who are homeless are unsheltered, according to the most recent HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, and the Alliance expects the number of people experiencing homelessness to rise. We issued a report late last year estimating that, based on increases in deep poverty, homelessness might be expected to increase a minimum of 5 percent over the next few years. Because of the fiscal perfect storm that threatens 2013 – the end of the Bush-era tax cuts, the sequestration of federal spending, and the approach of the debt ceiling – we may have fewer federal resources to draw upon in the future.

So the key thing to keep in mind here is that, if we want to keep families and children and youth and vulnerable people off the streets, we are going to have to be smart about it. If we can do something that is equally effective and costs less, we need to do that. And that means change.

Our experience with HPRP has taught us that rapid re-housing linked with services works better and is more cost-effective than interventions like transitional housing. Don’t expect, however, to get more money for rapid re-housing. Instead, we will need to re-allocate funding from other interventions such as transitional housing to rapid re-housing.

We also need to think about effective targeting. Over the past few years, using the permanent housing set aside, HUD-VASH and other permanent supportive housing funding, we have created a lot of permanent supportive housing. Between 2007 and 2011 the nation’s permanent supportive housing inventory increased by 40 percent, or nearly 60,000 units. Chronic homelessness went down, but its decline was not commensurate with that increase in housing inventory.

Chronic homelessness is a complex problem, so there could be several causes for that discrepancy. The one thing we can be certain about, however, is that people experiencing chronic homelessness are not receiving enough of the permanent supportive housing. If we are going to have the impact we want – if we are going to end chronic homelessness – we need to target these units at the most vulnerable people. We need to identify and house the people with the greatest need and the longest spells of homelessness. We have seen, in community after community, that this sort of deep targeting is what brings the numbers down. So we must target the less intensive interventions at the people who are the easiest to serve, and save the most intensive interventions for the people who are the hardest to serve. And we must do this on a community-wide level.

There are two other issues I want to talk to you about today: youth experiencing homelessness, and the crisis system.

While good work has been done on youth homelessness, we are still not where we should be. We still lack crucial information about the size of the population of youth experiencing homelessness; we still lack a definitive typology; we still do not know which interventions work best and for whom. As a result we have not been able to generate the will to go to scale; we have not been able to increase resources appreciably; and we have not made much progress.

At the Alliance, we took a preliminary stab at remedying this by sizing the population and identifying its segments. We used federal survey data and academic typologies. The data are weak, but segments of the population have emerged in our research, and we have arrived at some ideas about how to move forward. Here is what we found.

  • A great many youth between 12 and 24 become homeless every year. The number is somewhere around 1.9 million. But the vast majority – 70 percent or 1.3 million – experience homelessness for a relatively short period of time.
  • The rest stay homeless longer, but they eventually return home or find housing rather quickly; and those under 18 remain connected to family or school.
  • About 80,000 youth have more serious problems, and about half of those have disabilities.
  • About 60,000 of these youth are the heads of young families of their own.

Admittedly, this typology is based on less than perfect data, and it does not tell us everything. We still need more research and more data on the population of LGBTQ kids, and on the causes and effects of the sexual exploitation of homeless youth. And the child welfare system still requires our attention: it remains unclear why anyone under 18 is homeless, given that minors are the responsibility of the state child welfare system.

What does this typology tell us? Well, just as in the population of adults experiencing homelessness, the population of youths experiencing homelessness can be divided into two groups: a large group with less intensive needs and a much smaller group with more intensive needs. For the first group, we clearly need a more robust crisis system. These youth may not be homeless for very long, but bad things can happen to them even in a few hours. And for the youth in that group who eventually return home, we need to focus more on family intervention to ensure that their return happens as quickly and safely as possible.

For the second group, where the need is the greatest, we should focus on ending their homelessness by targeting Runaway and Homeless Youth Act resources at them and ramping up housing and services. The number of high-need youth is small, making this a very solvable problem. Nevertheless, youth in this group are often screened out of programs.

When it comes to young homeless families, we need to add developmental programming and family intervention to the general homeless family system, which is where most members of young homeless families receive services.

This typology also has many policy implications. For instance, it shows that we must obtain data faster, and include youth experiencing homelessness in the 2013 point in time count. It also underscores the fact that homeless providers, advocates and researchers still lack a single, definitive management information system for the collection and reporting of outcomes on the size and characteristics of the homeless population, which means that we should merge the Runaway and Homeless Youth Management and Information System (RHYMIS) with the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). We also should incentivize existing homeless youth providers to serve the highest need kids. We can scale up the family intervention services provided by child welfare, juvenile justice and the Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) Act. And we must engage to improve our child welfare and family support programs, because much of the problem of youth homelessness can still be traced back to large holes in this vital safety net.

The problem of youth homelessness will be a big issue for us in the year ahead, and we already have great partners like the National Network for Youth who are committed to making a big push to end youth homelessness.

The other issue that we at the Alliance have been examining is the homeless crisis system: how it should be sized and what it should look like. For many years now the design of the crisis system has largely been neglected, and the idea of emergency shelter as a solution has been demonized, and characterized as inadequate, as a mere “Band-Aid.”

It’s true that the shelters ALONE are not the solution, but it is equally true that the majority of people who become homeless are single, able-bodied adults for whom the interventions of permanent supportive housing and transitional housing are too intensive. As we do with other human service programs, we tend to think of the crisis system in terms of the people who stay there the longest. But in reality, the majority of people who enter emergency shelters quickly move in and then move on. For them shelter is an effective short term solution – as it was designed to be.

For most people, the shelter serves its purpose as a temporary place to stay while they work out whatever kind of housing crisis they are experiencing. Most people do not stay in the system long, and they typically do not come back, or only come back once.

The crisis system also serves a vital sorting function. People enter the system when they need to, but because it is so bare bones and so unpleasant, they have little incentive to stay longer than is absolutely necessary. In this way the system sorts the people with the greatest need, the people who require the most intensive interventions, from the majority of people who are experiencing a crisis that they can handle more or less on their own.

To design a good shelter or crisis system, we must answer the following questions.

  • What should it do?
  • What should be its overall size?
  • What types and number of specialized beds should be available? Most jurisdictions have a good number of beds for single adult men, but have few or none for couples, youth, people with pets, or for people who have active substance abuse issues.
  • Who should manage the shelter system, and who should be responsible for determining how many and what kind of beds are needed, and who gets each bed?
  • What is the relationship between shelter, detox and rehab, and what should it be?
  • What should be the length of stay?
  • How should the shelter system link to the back door?
  • Do the centralized one-stop-shops and campuses really work? Are they more effective or less effective than a decentralized approach?
  • If you want to fix your shelter system, where do you start? What is the first thing to take on, what is next, etc.?

Today we recognize that, if we are to end the problem of homelessness, we must transition from a program-based approach to a systems-based approach. Figuring out what the crisis system should look like is a crucial part of that, because it is sure to remain the front door and the point of assessment for further interventions. Re-tooling this system is absolutely critical, and something we are anxious to explore with you over the next year. But if you thought I would have answers to the questions above – not yet! We do, however, have a few ideas.

We firmly believe that the time a person spends in shelter should be very short. One key goal set by the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act is that no one experience homelessness for a period longer than 30 days. Ideally, people should move through the shelter system fast. The faster people leave, the greater the turnover rate, the fewer the number of beds needed, and the greater the likelihood that the quality of shelters can be addressed, which is important, because right now the quality of shelters must be improved. In many places the standards remain very low.

To accomplish this, shelters should be a place of assessment, and shelter personnel should have a variety of tools to draw upon in order to provide the help people need to move on. More rapid re-housing tools would certainly facilitate this process, and people in the shelter system could be connected to community-based service slots. In short, shelter personnel could probably empower people in the shelter system to accomplish on their own many of the things that transitional housing and other back end interventions currently do for them.

These are some of the many things that we, at the Alliance, have been thinking about recently: how to target our resources better, how to retool programs to increase their effectiveness, how to move forward on ending youth homelessness, and how to improve our crisis systems.

Of course, I want to re-emphasize how important it is that we continue to advocate for meeting the needs of poor and homeless people, and how important it is that we make our voices heard. There is a national political debate going on about the role of government, and part of that debate concerns our mutual responsibility for each other and for the least among us. It is easy to feel like a mere observer in this debate. And if all you do is observe, that’s all you’ll be.

As I said earlier, if the people who care the most about this issue don’t speak out, who will? To make your voices heard you do not have to lobby. You do not have to be an expert on all the details of legislation. You just need to be able to express your concerns and those of your community. At present, our voices and our concerns are not being heard. If you speak up, your voice may not have an immediate impact. That’s why we need to keep speaking up, because if we don’t, I can guarantee you that we will not get anything for the people we care about.

Thank you so much for being with us at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness. The conference is going to be terrific, and it is because of all of you. We at the National Alliance to End Homelessness are tremendously grateful, and as always we are deeply honored to be your partners in the effort to end homelessness.

10th August
written by naehblog

The following blog post is adapted from “Tackling Veteran Homelessness with HUDStat,” the lead story of the summer issue of Evidence Matters, a publication by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

More than 2.4 million American soldiers have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom since September 11, 2001.2 Hundreds of thousands of these men and women have returned from Iraq, and many more will be returning from Afghanistan in the next few years.

“Soldiers are returning with higher rates of injury after multiple deployments with severe economic hardships,” says John Driscoll, president and chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Studies show that nearly 20 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced a traumatic brain injury, and 10 to 18 percent suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that post-9/11 veterans found the transition to civilian life harder and had higher rates of post-traumatic stress than veterans who served in previous wars. Rates of military sexual trauma, which is associated with an increased risk of developing PTSD, are high among female veterans, who make up more than 11 percent of veterans of these two wars. For both male and female veterans, PTSD is linked to an increased risk of depression and substance abuse, which exacerbate social isolation and make employment difficult.

The economic downturn and high unemployment rates add to the challenges these soldiers face on returning from active duty. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that veterans between the ages of 25 and 34, who make up more than half of post-9/11 veterans, had a 2011 unemployment rate of 12 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for nonveterans. Among veterans aged 18 to 24, the unemployment rate is much higher — 30.2 percent.

All of these factors contribute to an increased risk of homelessness for returning veterans, even though they have higher education levels (62 percent of veterans over the age of 25 have at least some college compared with 56.4 percent of nonveterans) and higher median incomes compared with the general population. Female veterans and younger veterans are more than twice as likely to be homeless as their nonveteran counterparts.

According to HUD’s 2011 Point-in-Time (PIT) Estimates of Homelessness, veterans constitute 14 percent of the homeless population, although they represent only 10 percent of the U.S. adult population. This PIT count documented 67,495 homeless veterans on a single night in January, a number that is 12 percent lower than a year earlier. Throughout the entire year that ended in September 2010, nearly 145,000 veterans were homeless for at least one night.

Ending homelessness among veterans is a top priority for the White House, HUD, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This commitment is reflected in the nation’s first comprehensive plan to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors. Released by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) in 2010, the federal plan sets the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

To achieve this goal, Opening Doors calls for breaking down institutional silos, increasing collaboration among and within all levels of government, and improving data collection and analysis. Accordingly, HUD collaborates with other federal agencies to collect data and target assistance programs to move veterans from the street into permanent supportive housing — a critical component of the USICH plan.

To learn about how HUD is tackling veteran homelessness with HUDStat, a new data-driven performance management tool, see the 2012 issue of Evidence Matters.

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24th July
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog is from Stacy Vasquez, the Deputy Director for Homeless Veteran Initiatives at the  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

As a member of the fourth generation in my family to serve in the armed forces, I feel a particular affinity for current and former soldiers, sailors, Guardsmen, airmen, and Marines. As a child, I lived in a battered women’s shelter, so I also have a deep concern for those who have no place to call home.

I am grateful for the chance to put all of my experiences to use in my most important mission yet: ending homelessness among Veterans.

The risk factors that lead to homelessness are universal. Job loss, health problems, a missed rent check: these are setbacks that can affect any one of us. But they can be particularly acute for Veterans who have made so many sacrifices both stateside and abroad to fulfill their military duties.

My father, who served in the Navy in Vietnam, suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. This led to an inability to work, along with alcoholism and even violence. When I was 9, my mother removed my brother and me from the situation and our home.

Eventually, my father reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for help. He received counseling, got sober, remarried, and by all accounts was a good husband to his second wife. But he never saw my brother or me again. Had he or my mother known earlier about the resources available to him, our family’s situation might have turned out differently.

My mother went on to earn a college degree and she built a permanent home for my brother and me. But other children out there aren’t as fortunate. We need you to help spread the word that Veterans are eligible for assistance. VA can provide health care, employment assistance, job training, as well as access to education and housing.

Veterans and their loved ones can call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-4AID VET (1-877-424-3838) at any time to speak with a trained responder. Veterans can also access these resources online at

If you know a Veteran who is experiencing homelessness or who is at risk, please encourage him or her to call the hotline.

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20th July
written by Steve Berg

We’d like to thank the nearly 1,500 practitioners, public officials and other stakeholders who took time out of their busy schedules to attend our 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. For us in the Alliance, the level of enthusiasm and positivity on display in the plenary sessions and workshops was immensely gratifying. The homeless assistance community has come far, in terms of its overall level of sophistication and focus on implementation in order to get results, and the conference was a great opportunity for people to share what they have learned, as well as for those of us in the community to engage in a discussion about what we still must do to achieve our goals.

In her remarks at the conference’s closing plenary, Alliance CEO Nan Roman touched on a few of the themes that emerged over the course of the three days. I’ll expand on some of those here.

Targeting – The message came through loud and clear: there are a range of interventions to draw upon, but for an intervention to be successful it must be targeted at the right people. Specifically, supportive housing is our most intensive intervention, and it is designed for the most vulnerable population with the most severe disabilities. If such people are screened out in favor of people with fewer challenges, they will live and probably die on the streets.

Olmstead – The Olmstead case reminded us that large programs devoted solely to housing people with severe mental illness are seldom the best way to serve people, and often are not what people in such programs would choose for themselves if they had more reasonable options. In some cases, such programs actually violate civil rights laws. This challenges people who run housing programs for people with disabilities to consider when it might be appropriate to develop mixed-use projects.

Rapid Re-housing – Somebody once said that the only people who believe in rapid re-housing are everyone who’s ever tried it. Now that virtually every sizeable community around the country has tried it, thanks to HPRP, there is a consensus that it’s the right model for moving most people who are experiencing homelessness into housing. With HPRP winding down soon, much of the talk at the conference was about how to maintain funding for rapid re-housing programs. Fortunately, new HUD regulations make it easy for communities to use Continuum of Care and ESG funds for this purpose, and many communities have also identified other funding sources for rapid re-housing.

Youth and youth counts – The homeless assistance community has begun developing a range of ideas about a more systemic approach to ending youth homelessness. A double track of workshops about youth homelessness, as well as increasing collaboration with the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Families and organizations like the National Network for Youth, focused on advancing these ideas. When the January 2013 point-in-time counts roll around, expect a stronger push for a more accurate count of youth experiencing homelessness.

Veterans’ money and leadership – During the conference, VA announced the awards for about $100 million in grants for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which funds community-based organizations that run rapid re-housing and emergency homelessness prevention programs for veterans and their families. This announcement drew attention to the fact that VA now has a full array of programs to address homelessness, and that those programs are on their way to being funded at the scale necessary to end homelessness among veterans.

The struggle over other federal money – It’s clear that federal money for HUD programs has been harder to come by in the past two years, and that this will continue to be the case. Many communities are increasingly turning to the large antipoverty entitlement programs – TANF, SNAP, SSI, and Medicaid, for example – where federal funding has not been cut, while programs for veterans, which are less threatened by budget cuts, must serve as examples of what can be accomplished with the proper funding. Homeless assistance practitioners are also turning to more efficient models like rapid re-housing, which require less money per household. And they are making sure that their representatives in congress, who determine the funding levels, know about the good that their programs do.

Medicaid – The prospect of funding most services and treatment for chronically homeless people through Medicaid appears closer to reality that anyone would have thought possible only a few years ago. The Affordable Care Act will allow states to expand eligibility in 2014, and the majority of states will opt to do so. A lot of work behind the scenes has already gone into ensuring that the right kinds of services will be funded by Medicaid, but it will take new partnerships, particularly at the state level, to make the most of these new opportunities.

Progress – Perhaps the most rewarding part of the conference for us in the Alliance was seeing the resolve of advocates, in the face of enormous obstacles put up by the economy and the political system, to try new options, discard methods that are less effective, and work smarter and more efficiently to develop programs that, for thousands of people, mean the difference between housing and homelessness.

6th July
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Tessa Knight, West Point Fellow with the Alliance.

There’s this idea in my mind that someday I want to be part of changing lives, and I really can’t think of a better way to directly influence people than by housing and clothing them. So when West Point offered this three week summer academic enrichment opportunity at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, I jumped at it.

At the Alliance, I got  a comprehensive view of the problem of homelessness in the United States as well as its potential solutions. The multiple meetings, conference calls, webinars and seminars that I sat through only helped to reinforce the notion that so many people (and more than a few organizations nationwide) are working to ending this epidemic. This is exciting.

Working with Ian Lisman, the veteran’s policy analyst, gave me insight into how government organizations work with one another. I was constantly looking for the biggest factors and reflecting on how I could make an impact someday. Ian allowed me to develop a research and project plan, and answered all of my questions fully and effectively – so well, in fact, that I think I may now actually have an idea of what all these acronyms mean…

The substance of my project consisted of interviewing and analyzing the responses of recipients of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Grant (SSVF), a new grant awarded last year by Veterans Affairs to 85 programs nationwide. I found that, by encouraging collaboration between organizations with different services to offer, this specific grant has been rather effective in serving homeless veteran families. And I was impressed with the degree of passion there is out there to help homeless veterans—passion that, with proper funding, could be turned into action.

Soon I hope to get my boots dirty, so to speak, by serving on the streets and gaining a deeper understanding of homelessness. My current knowledge of government organizations, nonprofits, the lawmaking process, and homelessness is not something I could have gained at the Academy, because there is nothing like a cultural immersion. I will take these skills back to the classroom, and eventually into my future career. The Alliance does quality work, and you can be sure I will be using them as a resource in whatever path I choose.

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19th June
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern for the Alliance.

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting for the Research Council, a group comprised of prominent researchers in the areas of homelessness and housing from around the country. The Council meets to gather and share their new information and recent research activities, propose new research to fill existing gaps, and guide the agenda of the Homelessness Research Institute, the research division of the Alliance.  At the end of most meetings some kind of research agenda is prepared from the meeting’s conversation.  This time the Council was visited by several researchers from HUD who were able to listen and respond to the suggestions that the researchers made.  Besides being among greats within the homelessness and housing sphere, it was really cool to be able to see how the Alliance sets its research agenda and interacts with agencies like HUD.

The meeting covered a vast swath of topics, from youth homelessness, to child welfare and housing instability, to homelessness among veterans and single men. The conversation was a whirlwind of acronyms, abbreviations, and statistics, most of which went way over my head, but all of which are extremely important to know and definitely expanded my understanding of all things related to homelessness. Many of the ideas that the Council discussed have been questions that researchers have been trying to answer for years but have not been able to definitively address for one reason or another, so it was interesting to hear it all in one place!

Though the conversation was rife with interesting facts and research, perhaps the most interesting was about the “Cohort Effect” among the aging homeless population.  Within the shelter system, the population is heavily skewed toward single adults, particularly older men, with the median age hovering around 50. The Cohort Effect suggests that during the 1980s, when widespread homelessness appeared in the US in its current form, several factors—such as an economic recession and the emergence of crack cocaine—led to persistent and chronic homelessness among the single adults.  Isolation from the job market during the recession followed by the drug epidemic in the mid-80s conspired to keep this cohort out of the housing market and legal economy.  This is especially interesting because of the implications this effect has for providing health care to an aging homeless population.

The two most dominant ideas, both of which ended up being placed on the research agenda and suggested to the visiting HUD researchers involved using the pre-existing social system to analyze the efficacy of several programs.  The first suggested using the structure of the emergency shelter system to see if the levels of alcohol consumption or intoxication allowed in a shelter (e.g. whether that shelter is dry, damp, or wet) affects how utilized that shelter is.

The second idea suggested using the Family Unification Program (FUP) to look at how the program’s voucher could be better utilized for children who receive FUP support.  In addition to those two ideas, suggestions about researching the success rates of rapid re-housing, particularly about recidivism rates of individuals leaving rapid re-housing programs, made up the bulk of the research agenda suggestions.

At the end of the day my head was spinning and I left the meeting with the same feeling that exchange students have after their first day speaking their new language: I could understand everything that was being said to me, but responding was another issue altogether.  Even though the meeting was like diving headfirst into a pool without really knowing how to swim, I learned more about the American social service system in one day than I have in any research setting prior and I felt like I had accomplished something.  I’m really excited to keep having this feeling throughout my internship (especially the part about feeling accomplished; there’s nothing like a good ego boost every once in a while!).

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31st May
written by Amanda Benton

As regular readers of this blog know, we write fairly often about federal homelessness appropriations – what’s happening, how you can get involved, and what various proposals would mean for your daily work on the ground to prevent and end homelessness. But we haven’t written about appropriations (the federal funding process) in several weeks, so you may be wondering: what’s the latest news?

The House and Senate are both busy working on their fiscal year (FY) 2013 funding bills. We have been tracking three particular bills very closely, so read on for more information on each of those funding measures!

HUD. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its FY 2013 bill to fund the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The full Senate has yet to vote on the legislation, though it may do so in the coming months. The Senate’s version included $2.146 billion for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs – not as much as the $2.231 billion requested by the President, but still a $245 million increase over FY 2012!

The House has not yet released its FY 2013 HUD funding bill, though it is expected to do so shortly. (Sign up for our McKinney-Vento Campaign list or our Advocacy Updates for the latest details!)

VA. The Appropriations Committees in both the House and Senate have approved their FY 2013 funding bills for programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – including targeted homeless veteran programs. Both bills would provide the Administration’s requested 33 percent increase to $1.35 billion for VA’s homeless veteran programs, including $300 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. The full House may vote on this legislation this week.

HHS. Each year, one of the most difficult bills to pass is the one that funds programs like the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA ) programs within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – largely because it is such a big bill and includes such a huge range of programs. As a result, it’s often one of the latest to be released. So far, neither the House nor the Senate has released its proposal for the FY 2013 HHS funding bills, and no timeline has been announced for doing so. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more!

As you can see, Congress is definitely making progress with these bills, though nothing has been finalized yet. As of now, Congress is not expected to finalize any of its FY 2013 funding bills prior to the start of the fiscal year on October 1. Instead, Congress will likely pass one or more stopgap funding measures (called continuing resolutions) until after the election before finalizing their funding decisions.

So, there is still plenty of time to get involved! Though in most cases, the Appropriations Committees have released their decisions, when the legislation goes to the House or Senate floor, every vote counts! Your Members of Congress need to hear from YOU on the importance of these programs and how they make a difference in the lives of people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. If you would be interested in getting involved in any of our campaigns to provide funding for homelessness programs, please let us know!

Image courtesy of 401K.

28th May
written by Ian Lisman

The Alliance and its partners have formed the Homeless Veteran’s National Advocacy Working Group. This group is dedicated to ending homelessness among veterans through sensible policy and targeted programs. Among other things, the group is putting on a series of Congressional briefings. The first one was this last Wednesday, May 23. This was a joint briefing for both Houses of Congress and both parties. It was sponsored by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who also provided opening remarks. Attendees included staffers from the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees and the MilCon-VA and T-HUD Appropriations Subcommittees, as well as non-Congressional staff.

Antonia Fasanelli, chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, acted as moderator and introduced our panel. She spoke to the need for continued funding of these programs, and introduced Senator Burr.  The Senator spoke to the need to use data-driven resources wisely, but to never forget the human faces of the people that these programs serve. Barbara Poppe with USICH covered a brief overview of veterans homelessness, and progress in the federal government’s five-year plan to end veterans homelessness; and expressed an impassioned plea to keep the plan on track through continued funding and support.

The HUD-VASH program overview was briefed by Vince Kane with VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans. Vince brings a broad perspective, showing the evidence-based, pragmatic approach to properly targeting the higher-cost, case-management-intensive intervention of VASH.

The SSVF grant was discussed by John Kuhn, National Director of Homeless Evaluation and Supportive Services for Veteran Families. John explained how the SSVF grant represented a new approach to ending veterans homelessness by focusing on prevention, rapid re-housing and expanding VA’s reach to include children and spouses of the veteran.  SSVF provides a whole array of services not traditionally offered by VA. The panel addressed the need for community partnerships, acknowledging that VA can’t end veteran homelessness alone, and its community partners have the relationships with clients and knowledge of the community to help VA leverage its resources.

The final speaker was Eloise Wormley, an SSVF consumer from the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place in Washington, DC.  She gave a moving speech about her experiences and how the program helped her. The difference that being housed made in her life was evident. The pride having her own apartment and being self-sufficient, with a little help from the SSVF grant, was apparent to everyone in attendance.

The takeaway is that these programs work, and as a responsible society, we must continue to fully fund and support these sensible and much-needed interventions. Staffers got a good sense of how these programs operate, why they make sense and their place in the critical mission of ending homelessness among our nation’s heroes.

25th May
written by Ian Lisman

Today’s post comes from Ian Lisman, Program and Policy Analyst on Veterans Homelessness. Ian is also a U.S. Army combat veteran of the first Gulf War.

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, it is nice to have time to spend with family, enjoy a barbeque, and get ready for summer. It is also a time to reflect on the sacrifices the men and women in uniform have made over the years. Wherever you weigh in on the various wars and conflicts our country has been involved in over the years, one thing transcends the political discussion of our nation’s foreign policy outcomes: the dedication of our armed forces.

These service members come from all backgrounds: socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, and political viewpoint. They take an oath to serve a cause greater than themselves: the Constitution of the United States of America. These service members commit themselves to defend and uphold our laws and values. By doing so, they give up a portion of those very rights they are charged to defend.

The sacrifices are many: separation from families and loved ones; long working hours in harsh environments; the obligation to obey lawful orders they may disagree with on personal, political, or even religious grounds.  And, in keeping with Memorial Day, they may give the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.

Why would someone choose to sacrifice so much, in return for so little? The personal reasons people make the decision to join the military are as varied as the uniqueness of their background. Some join because of family tradition, patriotism, seeking a challenge or adventure, serving a cause greater than themselves, to escape a desperate environment, seeking opportunities, and on and on.

In return for their service, veterans ask for very little:  a job and education, respect, dignity. One thing service members should not have to worry about when they return from their service in an uncaring, ungrateful nation that forgets the sacrifices we have made. Ensuring that no veteran is homeless has got to be a part of the nation’s response.  As our nation’s first President, George Washington, noted: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”

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17th April
written by Ian Lisman

As we have discussed on this blog many times, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has set a clear goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015.

The recent fiscal year (FY) 2013 VA budget proposal shows a strong commitment to this mission of ending homelessness among veterans. As part of a recent webinar on the budget proposal, I went over VA’s ask for a 33 percent increase in its budget for homeless veteran programs. This remarkable increase fully funds the transitional housing Grant and Per Diem (GPD) and permanent supportive housing (HUD-VASH) programs, as well as tripling in size the rapid re-housing and prevention model program, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).

This budget proposal takes a hard look at what it will take to end veteran homelessness over the coming years and lays out concrete funding recommendations for these programs at a scale that will accomplish this. VA is the only agency so far to so clearly lay out its year by year goals and propose funding to achieve those objectives. By expanding SSVF, this budget takes into consideration the large number of new veterans expected to return to our communities, and the resources needed to assist these returning heroes. By continuing to fund HUD-VASH, it also provides funding for chronically homeless and the most vulnerable veterans from previous conflicts.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the VA’s model consists of implementing a broad spectrum of programs directly through its own healthcare system, as well as through community based organizations. By directly providing assistance through its Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) programs at local VA medical facilities, administering HUD-VASH housing vouchers, and partnering with community organizations to distribute GPD funding and SSVF grants, VA programs cover the range of services, housing, prevention, and rapid re-housing. All of this adds up to the full range of interventions needed to reduce and ultimately end veteran homelessness.

We at the Alliance commend VA for its leadership on this issue, and advocate for Congress to fully fund this budget, as well as provide future funding that that will make homelessness a thing of the past for veterans. VA has projected what it will take to end homelessness among veterans by 2015 and this budget reflects a solid plan to do just that.