An estimated 400,540 children and youth were in foster care on September 30, 2011, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) preliminary report released July, 2012. AFCARS is a child welfare federal reporting system that collects case-level information on all children in foster care for whom state agencies are responsible for placement, care or supervision.
By and large, the number of children and youth in foster care has decreased over the years, as has the amount of time they spend in the system. However, challenges remain for older youth emancipating from foster care, who may not receive the proper tools and opportunities to succeed through the case planning process. Homelessness is a particular horrific outcome for youth who don’t receive strategic and thoughtful case planning.
Selected AFCARS Data (FC = Foster Care)
Fiscal Year (Total # of Children & Youth in FC)
# of Youth Ages 12-20 in FC
# of Youth in Supervised Independent Living
# of Youth w/ Case Goal of Long Term FC
# of Youth w/ Case Goal of Emancipation
# of Children & Youth in FC over 2 Years*
# of Youth Who Exited FC at the age of 17 and Older
*Youth who exited foster care
An estimated 20-25 percent of the 26,286 youth who exited foster care in FY2011 will experience at least one night of homelessness. For a youth exiting foster care, the initial homeless episode usually doesn’t occur immediately after leaving foster care, but in the months or even years that follow. Through better case planning, increased housing options, and employment opportunities, youth emancipating from foster care can avoid any episode of homelessness.
AFCARS is a child welfare federal reporting system that collects case level information on all children in foster care for whom State agencies are responsible for placement, care or supervision. Some of the information reported in AFCARS includes demographic information on the child, the number of removals from a placement a child has experienced, the number of placements in the current removal episode, as well as the current type of placement such as foster family or adoptive placement. Moreover, AFCARS captures information about children and youth exiting foster care such as their age, race, length of time in care, and reason for their discharge.
In July, researchers contracted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided an update on a study that examines the comparative impact of various housing and service interventions on families experiencing homelessness. To date, more than 2,000 families in 12 communities have enrolled in the Family Options Study. While the current data available is limited to the baseline level, some findings do raise questions about how well we are using our homeless and mainstream resources to prevent and end homelessness.
Here’s a look at the study’s findings:
- Resources for homelessness prevention: As in other studies, the data indicate that parents in homeless families are very young. Nearly 30 percent of the mothers are under the age of 25. They are also very poor, with an annual income averaging around $7,500. Significantly, more families are coming from doubled-up situations than are being evicted from housing they hold in their own name. This is useful information when it comes to assessing our use of homelessness prevention resources and the characteristics of the kinds of families most likely to fall into homelessness. It tells us that we should be targeting our resources at multi-generational and doubled-up families, families with very young parents, and families with minimal incomes.
- Resources for vulnerable and low-income families: The findings also provide further evidence that the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program is underserving families: only 41 percent of the families reported receiving income from the TANF program. The data also show that a larger percentage, 27 percent, of parents enrolled in the program spent at least parts of their childhood and adolescence in foster care, though it remains unclear how many aged out of foster care and how many were reunified with their family. Though incomplete, this finding is important. If we are to improve the services that children and youth in foster care receive in their transition from the welfare system to their families of origin (or independent living) we must have a better understanding of this relationship between child welfare and subsequent homelessness.
- Resources for homeless families: Perhaps one of the most surprising findings, and one that should give pause to all homeless service providers and system planners, concerns the use of transitional housing. Nearly 80 percent of the families the researchers referred to a project-based transitional housing were denied admittance to that program. Indeed, the eligibility criteria for many of these programs, which are supposed to offer service-rich interventions for homeless families, screen out all but a small segment of that population. Given the relative cost of transitional housing, this finding alone should generate some critical evaluation of how local communities are using scarce resources to assist at-risk and homeless families.
Over the last few years, host homes have gained traction as a means of housing youth experiencing homelessness in rural areas. Host homes entail a formalized, mutual agreement between a community member and a service provider. The community member provides shelter, food and sometimes transportation for youth, while the provider delivers case management services. Community members typically receive a small stipend and undergo training and background checks.
One of the great strengths of host homes is their flexibility, since communities can adapt the model to fit localized needs and budget limitations:
The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) initiated the Rural Host Home Demonstration Project to serve youth who live in rural areas not served by shelter facilities. In this program, youth under age 18 can receive:
- Shelter for up to 21 days;
- Assistance staying connected to their school; and
- An aftercare plan with continuing support upon exiting the program.
Youth Advocates of Sitka, Inc., in Sitka, Alaska, implemented a resource home program through their Transitional Living Program (TLP). Youth up to age 21 can receive:
- Housing for up to 18 months;
- Active resource parent involvement through age 18;
- Mentoring to develop independent living skills through age 21;
- Counseling and case management; and
- Access to housing vouchers and affordable housing.
Resource homes receive:
- A stipend of $30 per day per child; and
- Extensive training opportunities, including open invitations to staff training sessions.
The benefits of host homes are significant:
- They are more economical
- No physical facility needed
- Cost savings of paying ‘resource/host parents’ rather than extensive support staff
- They overcome a local lack of affordable rentals for permanent living spaces;
- They allow youth to build stronger relationships and interpersonal skills, experience stability in their home life, learn positive life skills that will help them transition to independence, and help motivate them to attain this quality of life in adulthood.
How can your community use host homes for youth experiencing homelessness?
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.
NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ENDING FAMILY HOMELESSNESS
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.
January 2013 will be here before you know it. And what does that mean? In January many communities across the country will be conducting point in time (PIT) counts of persons experiencing homelessness.
Why Are PIT Counts Important?
- Collecting and using data on both sheltered and unsheltered unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness can help communities improve policies and programming;
- Data can provide communities with a baseline of the number of unaccompanied youth to determine if there are increases or decreases over time;
- Data can be used to help with requesting funding through the grant process;
- Results of the PIT count can raise awareness of the issue of youth homelessness.
Why is Including Youth Important?
- Historically, unaccompanied youth are undercounted during PIT counts; therefore, many communities do not have an accurate estimate of the prevalence and nature of youth homelessness.
- Annually, HUD is mandated to submit a report to Congress called the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). The report describes the number and characteristics of all people experiencing homelessness across the nation. If youth are left out, then Congress is not provided with that data within the report and they will have less information to make informed decisions about funding and resources at the federal level.
Alliance Tools and Resources
The Alliance has developed tools and resources to help communities purposefully include youth in their PIT counts. Over the next few months we will do even more to help everyone plan, organize and execute a successful count.
Toolkit: The toolkit outlines six recommended steps to include youth in PIT counts.
Webinars: There are two webinars available. The first emphasizes the importance of improving the quality of data we have on the prevalence of youth homelessness. The second webinar features an in-depth case study of the specific actions San Jose, CA took to include youth in its PIT counts.
Map: A map was developed for educational purposes, to indicate which communities across the U.S. have completed targeted youth counts. The map includes the results of the counts and the methodology used.
Hi ya’ll! It seems the longer I stay here in Oklahoma, the more my southern roots take over. I hope all of you are having a fantastic summer, as I have been. One of my part-time jobs this summer is working under the supervision of a Geography professor at Oklahoma University doing research on one of the predominant Native American tribes, the Chickasaw, and how tobacco use impacts their nation.
The reason I mention this is twofold, one being that it has taught me a lot about research methods, which I believe is important for my work on the youth homelessness front, two being that while visiting the small town of Ada, Oklahoma (the capital of the Chickasaw Nation) to conduct some field research, I stumbled upon a youth shelter. At first glance, I was astounded to have found another youth shelter. As many of you probably know, youth shelters here are few and far between.
I asked my team to stop and I hopped out to do some investigating. The building was very new looking and well maintained, but I must say I was slightly shocked to see babies of all ages just sitting on the sidewalks, half clothed, and some crying.
This was the first difference I noted between this place and Bridges (the nonprofit I lived in that takes in homeless youth who wish to continue their education), but after speaking with the director I soon realized there were huge differences between this shelter and the one I had once called home.
This Ada shelter only housed up to eight youth, ages ranging from 0 to 18, and would only accept youth who were checked in by the courts or a parent or guardian. Basically, one has to be a ward of the court or willingly given up by a parent to gain access to this shelter. Another large difference derives from the shelters’ priorities; Bridges’ focus is on education, while the Ada Area shelter’s focus is on providing shelter, no more, no less.
I also have spent the summer working with Debra Krittenbrink, the executive director of Bridges. She and I have been tapping into our inner Batman and Robin by tackling the misconceptions of youth homelessness in our community. Throughout the summer we have spoken to a few organizations to spread the word about the growing number of homeless teens in our state as well as the ways Bridges helps these individuals.
One of these organizations was the student congress of my former high school, Norman High School, which has led to Bridges being selected as the recipient of its annual fundraiser, called Tigerpalooza. This is fantastic news for Bridges and will certainly lead to a more connected and informed community; something both Debra and I are very excited about.
If my working with Bridges and the University of Oklahoma has taught me anything, it’s that information is key. So get out there and spread the word about what you care about, it could bring about unforeseen opportunities.
I’ll be back in D.C. soon, folks, but until then stay cool up there!
On Thursday, June 28, 2012, Congressman Mike Honda and his colleagues launched the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus (CABC). The CABC is a bipartisan caucus made up of members of Congress who are “committed to the belief that all communities deserve a safe environment to thrive, and that our nation is in urgent need of solutions that stop bullying – both offline and online – now and forever.”
While the link between bullying and homelessness might seem remote, youths often cite school issues as a factor in their pathway to homelessness. Bullying can enhance feelings of isolation and can contribute to a youth feeling disconnected from their community. Problems at home only exacerbate this problem. As a colleague recently stated, if a youth feels marginalized at school and misunderstood (or worse) at home, they might see leaving as their only option.
“More than thirteen million children are teased, taunted, and physically assaulted by their peers each year,” Chairman Honda said in a statement. “This bullying is not confined to classroom walls; the fear and hurt that so many people feel in America today is an urgent call to action.”
The CABC is seeking to address the bullying component of this problem, and the Alliance is one of the organizations formally supporting the caucus. Our focus, however, remains on finding solutions for youth homelessness and seeking strategies to prevent it when possible. Family interventions might be one prevention method with ties to the bullying issue. For example, the Family Acceptance Project is an initiative that works towards helping ethnically, socially, and religiously diverse families decrease rejection and increase support for their LGBT children. Youth who feel accepted and supported are more likely to remain in their home, stability which can have long-lasting positive outcomes, and which might help mitigate any harassment faced at school.
Readers interested how bullying has affected the lives of youths can find personal stories online at Congressman Honda’s web site.
The Alliance remains committed to exploring prevention strategies and solutions to youth homelessness. We look forward to seeing the results of CABC’s efforts.
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.
On Wednesday, July 12, the White House and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness recognized some of the foremost leaders in responding to youth homelessness at Champions of Change: Fight Against Homelessness. The 13 awardees shared their own experiences serving youth in two panel discussions hosted by the Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Bryan Samuels of the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.
A recurring theme of the day was the shortage of resources needed to address the problem of youth homelessness. During the discussion, one panelist speculated that New York City’s subway system could be that city’s largest provider of overnight accommodation for homeless youth.
Panelists also spoke about the importance of helping youth and their families reconnect and ensuring that appropriate services are in place for them when that is not possible. In Santa Clara, CA, up to a third of youth served by the Bill Wilson Center have homeless parents, which has led the agency to increase the resources it provides to help families and their children stay together.
Panelists explored how to improve services for youth, many of whom have complex needs. Awardee Sherilyn Adams of Larkin Street Youth Services in San Francisco noted that the difficulty lies not in dealing with the kids themselves but, rather, contending with the insufficient systems meant to support them.
The Alliance estimates that, over the course of a year, approximately 550,000 homeless youth and young adults are in need of emergency shelter, with some of them requiring even longer-term housing options. Additionally, there are approximately 1.3 million youths under the age of 18 who are absent from their homes for shorter periods of time that may need short-term emergency housing. Unfortunately, the current emergency shelter capacity in our country is not large enough to handle this volume of young people, and the adult emergency shelter system is not always a safe or accommodating option.
On Wednesday, July 11, from 2 to 3 p.m. ET, the Alliance will host “Improving the Crisis Response for Youth,” a webinar that will focus on keeping youth off the streets and away from the dangers of life on the streets, like violence, drugs and sexual exploitation. This webinar will discuss host homes and other alternatives to physical shelter beds, as well as ways of improving the responsiveness of the adult crisis system to the needs of youth in crisis.
The webinar will feature Samantha Batko, Program and Policy Analyst at the National Alliance to End Homelessness; Kristen Granatek, Manager of Technical Assistance and Program Services at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness; and Mark Kroner, Director of the Lighthouse Training Institute out of Lighthouse Youth Services.