As the founder of the consulting firm Asset Building Strategies (ABS), Heather McCulloch, notes in her primer “Asset Building 101,” “Income enables families to get by. Assets enable them to weather financial crises, invest in their children and their community, plan for a secure retirement, and pass resources on to future generations.”
Assets, as you probably already know, can be anything from cash savings to home equity, and as you probably also know, it’s really important for your financial health to have them. But it might seem strange to talk about asset building for people who are experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of falling into homelessness, as they tend to have few, if any, assets.
Nonetheless, in many instances asset building can be an effective tool for preventing or shortening the length of an episode of homelessness. That’s because of the opportunities that assets provide for banking, for business and for home ownership.
Asset building can serve as an effective intervention:
- When someone’s inadequate financial literacy (poor budgeting or a poor understanding of credit and financial instruments) leads to an episode of homelessness; and
- When someone is unable to open bank accounts due to poor credit and/or a lack of a physical address (a situation that could worsen if the individual must resort to costly check-cashing venues for financial transactions).
Obviously, that’s far from an exhaustive list. There are many other of cases in which asset building can come in handy, and you can learn about them on Wednesday, December 5, when the National Alliance to End Homelessness hosts, “Asset Building and Financial Literacy for Populations Experiencing Homelessness.”
This webinar will explore how Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, two members of a coalition of municipal governments committed to improving the financial health of their residents (Cities for Financial Empowerment), are working to incorporate asset building and financial literacy components into their homeless service delivery systems.
The webinar also will cover policy recommendations by the CFED (Corporation for Enterprise Development)for more effectively integrating these initiatives into service delivery.
Speakers will include:
- Tina Lentz, Executive Administrator of Louisville Metro Community Services and Revitalization;
- Jerry DeGrieck, Senior Policy Advisor to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn; and
- Edward SanFilippo, Economic Development Policy Fellow at NAEH.
Please consider participating in the webinar on Wednesday. You can register here.
Image courtesy of www.sweetclipart.com.
In July, The White House recognized Frank Cirillo, Director of the Mercer County Board of Social Services (MCBOSS) in Trenton, NJ as a “Champion of Change” for his work on ending family homelessness. It was well deserved recognition.
Cirillo’s agency, which administers the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, has taken a leadership role in the effort to end family homelessness in Mercer County. The agency’s efforts have paid off. Over a two year period, the number of families experiencing homelessness on any given day in Cirillo’s county decreased by 20 percent. The number of families receiving a motel voucher because they had nowhere else to stay declined by 66 percent.
How did this happen? It happened because this TANF agency and its partners focused on helping families in the Mercer County homeless service system exit homelessness faster by providing:
- Temporary rental assistance;
- Help negotiating with area landlords;
- Assistance finding employment; and
- Supportive Services.
When families move out of homelessness faster, the numbers of families in shelters each day decline. That means that the county doesn’t need to rely as heavily on motels when shelters are full. This strategy can free up funding, which can be used to help families move back into housing.
Leaders of the TANF agency were so pleased with the results that they decided to expand rapid rehousing capacity in the community by creating an in-house rapid re-housing unit. The agency staff of this unit help families look for housing in the community, negotiate with landlords (often achieving rent reductions), and ensure that families access employment services, so they can transition from temporary rental assistance to paying their rent independently.
It was the work of homeless advocates that led TANF leaders to make this investment in rapid re-housing. The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness engaged TANF agency leaders and other local funders in an exploration of how the county’s homeless assistance system could be improved, which led to a commitment by funders to supporting rapid re-housing.
On Thursday, December 6 at 3 p.m. EST, the National Alliance to End Homelessness will host a webinar that will explore how homeless advocates and service providers are effectively partnering with TANF leaders in their communities to promote rapid re-housing.
The webinar will explore the rapid re-housing models in use in three communities and how the local leaders on homelessness successfully built partnerships with their local TANF agency leaders to rapidly re-house families.
Speakers will include:
- Herb Levine of the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness
- Michelle Flynn of The Road Home in Salt Lake City, and
- Greg Morris of CATCH, Inc. in Boise.
Please consider participating in the webinar on Thursday. You can register here.
Last night NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams ran a short news segment about two homeless families. It was a rare instance of a national television network sharing with the nation the plight of homeless families and the issues they face.
One of the families spotlighted in the program received shelter from a church program that required them to move to a different church every week; while the other family faced the threat of being broken up because of the scarcity of shelters that accommodate large families or families with older male children.
A particularly heartbreaking image from the segment that has stuck with me is of the nine-year-old daughter of the first family tightly clutching a pink Popsicle stick bird house that reminded her of the home she used to have.
As a nation, we have a responsibility to prevent children like her from falling into homelessness, or to divert them from becoming homeless, whenever possible. Where prevention or diversion fails, we must reduce the trauma they experience by re-housing homeless families as quickly as possible.
We know that rapid re-housing is a successful and cost-effective intervention for family homelessness. Unfortunately, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan points out in this story, we need more resources to meet the increases in family homelessness.
Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Seattle, the city that will be playing host to the Alliance’s more than 800 attendees during our 2013 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness this February.
As the Alliance’s Director of Meetings and Events, I always visit the host venue for each of our conferences two to three months in advance to get a feel for the space as it relates to our conference schedule, and to choose conference menus and get a general lay of the land.
I hadn’t ever been to Seattle, but I wasn’t shocked to be welcomed by a few rainclouds upon my arrival at Sea-Tac airport. The clouds broke shortly after I made it downtown, however, and I enjoyed sunshine the rest of the day. Here’s hoping we are so lucky in February!
The first thing on my agenda at the hotel was the tasting. I have helped mount a number of the Alliance’s conferences, so I have a pretty good idea what kind of menu items are popular. I always keep our attendees’ preferences in mind (in addition to the Alliance’s budget) when I choose items for the tasting menu.
At the tasting, I was joined by the hotel convention services manager and the hotel chef, who described the menu items – their ingredients, how they’re prepared, etc. – and answered my questions about the food.
I had a chance to sample a bit from each dish on the tasting menu: three first courses, six second courses and three deserts! This is probably the most difficult part of my job here at the Alliance, mostly due to the fact that I need to be rolled out after the meeting.
After the tasting, I chose the conference menus, discussing with the hotel chef various dish modifications to ensure that they’re just right for our attendees. I hope you all like what I chose this year!
Afterwards, the convention services manager and I moved on to the walkthrough, which is a tour of all the spaces in the hotel where our event will be held: the main ballroom, the breakout rooms, our staff office, the meeting foyers, and other spaces.
The walkthrough is extremely important, as it gives me a chance to discuss with the convention services manager how each room should be set, where we want to place certain sessions, information tables, registration, etc. The goal is to ensure it’s as convenient for our group and our schedule as possible.
This may sound simple, but really it is incredible how helpful walking through the space with a firm event schedule in mind is. The process allows you to visualize everything coming together; it’s the last piece of the puzzle.
After the walkthrough, I took a field trip to the campus of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to see where the foundation will be hosting our conference reception.
The trip over to Gates alone was an adventure itself! There is a Seattle Monorail station located just blocks from the conference hotel, and it dropped me only a couple short blocks from the Gates Foundation campus.
The monorail ride took me past the Experience Music Project Museum, which was designed by famous architect Frank O. Gehry. It’s quite the spectacle. Upon exiting the monorail station at my destination I came within steps of the Seattle Space Needle, one of the biggest Seattle tourist attractions. Just peaking at it from afar was pretty neat.
At the Gates Foundation, I was amazed by the cutting-edge, floor-to-ceiling, LEED-certified building, where our reception will take place. Gates is excited to host us and we are grateful to them for inviting all of us to join them in February for what is sure to be a delightful occasion.
That concludes my brief visit to Seattle. It was informative and exciting. I hope that you have a chance to get to Seattle this February for our conference and to see the few sites I was able to take in, as well as the ones I missed (there are quite a few!). If you have not yet registered, make sure to register today!
As soon as the elections were over (literally, the next day), the nation turned its attention to the impending “Fiscal Cliff.” The fiscal cliff is a complicated amalgam of the immediate fiscal issues our nation faces – including debt, revenue, spending, and a few other things. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities does a much better job explaining it here.
One truly important thing to know about the fiscal cliff, though, is that it includes sequestration. Sequestration, as we’ve discussed on this blog before, is a fancy term for automatic, across-the-board cuts to non-defense, discretionary spending. Which, for our purposes, is a longer way of saying the fiscal cliff includes cuts to nearly all federally-funded affordable housing and homelessness programs, 8.2 percent in cuts that will take place on January 2, to be exact. These cuts would immediately impact thousands of our nations’ most vulnerable people, and their impact would eventually affect hundreds of thousands over the coming months.
In essence, sequestration is a policy that would go a long way toward walking back a lot of the great work we’ve seen in the past few years, work that has held back the tide of rising homelessness, and in many cases reversed it. Fortunately, though, we now have an opportunity to impact the congressional decision-making process and educate our Members of Congress on the importance of HUD programs in our community in preventing and ending homelessness.
That’s why we’ve made this week “National Sequestration Call-in Week!” We need advocates like you to call your Senators and Representatives! It’s time to explain how important federal funding is for ending homelessness, and warn your members of congress about the negative consequences sequestration cuts would have on your community. We have talking points to help guide your conversation and we can help with anything else you might need!
If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that people experiencing homelessness aren’t lost in the budgetary shuffle, cuts under sequestration to affordable housing and other programs targeted at low-income families and individuals could potentially create huge increases in homelessness in the coming months and years.
Call your Members. Tell them that cuts to HUD and other homeless assistance programs are unacceptable! Let me know who you contacted!
The holiday season is a time to be thankful and a time to make a difference in the lives of others! This Black Friday, instead of scouring advertisements or waiting in long lines to buy things that may or may not fit, consider giving a gift that supports the Alliance’s work to end homelessness. Here’s how:
- Make a Donation. A meaningful way of honoring someone on your gift list who may already have one of everything is to make a donation to the Alliance in that person’s name. The person will receive a handwritten holiday card saying that your contribution in their name will help end homelessness. Your donation to the Alliance can be made in recognition of the the positive influence someone has had on your life, or as a celebration of something special.
- Get a t-shirt. This holiday season, we are excited to offer End Homelessness t-shirts. They come in two colors, navy and maroon, and a variety of sizes. These were very popular during our summer conference, so we decided to make them available during the holidays too. They make a great stocking-stuffer. (We even have an End Homelessness T-Shirt campaign. Just snap a picture of yourself wearing your End Homelessness T-Shirt and send it to us via Facebook, Twitter or email. What better way to show your dedication to ending homelessness without ever saying a word!)
- Shop online. When you’re shopping online, don’t forget to use GoodSearch.com to make purchases from your favorite stores and outlets. A percentage of your purchase will be donated to the Alliance.
- Or… Through the kindness of our partners, we are also offering holiday cards and handmade jewelry options. You can support the Alliance with each purchase.
With all of these great gift options, you can avoid the Black Friday madness, and instead spend the day after Thanksgiving sleeping in, staying warm and doing something you love!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and as we look forward to spending time with our families and loved ones, it is time for showing gratitude and giving thanks. It has been a busy year for the Alliance. Yesterday, I spent a little time speaking with some of our staff in an effort to get an idea of where the Alliance stands as we enter the holiday season. It turns out that the Alliance has a lot to be thankful for.
Lisa Stand, senior policy analyst, is thankful for the strong presence she saw at the Alliance’s Medicaid preconference in July, where attendees were energized by the recent Supreme Court Decision on the Affordable Care Act. As she works with advocates on state strategies to integrate supportive housing and health care, she’s continually heartened by how savvy and engaged they are.
André Wade, policy and program analyst, is thankful for the strong lead by the administration on youth homelessness, including USICH’s recent amendment to Opening Doors, which is focused on ending homelessness for youth by 2020. He is also thankful for new focus by HUD on the 18 to 25 transition age range for the January Point-In-Time Counts.
D’Arcy Klingle, director of meetings and events, is thankful for the 1,500 advocates, practitioners and officials who traveled from all over the country to Washington, DC, to trade best practices and learn about the most promising innovations going in the homeless assistance field today at the Alliance’s 2012 National Conference.
Ian Lisman, program and policy analyst, is thankful for the continued bipartisan support in congress for ending veteran homelessness. The VA has set the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, and since 2010, we have reduced the number of veterans experiencing homelessness by 20 percent.
Kate Seif, policy outreach coordinator, is thankful for all the heard-working advocates we collaborate with year-round. These advocates are doing such a tremendous job educating congress on the issue of homelessness, and that’s having a noticeable impact on policymaking and federal funding levels.
Jennifer Olney, development and administrative associate, is thankful for our generous donors and sponsors who have shown continued support for the Alliance and its mission of ending homelessness.
Norm Suchar, director for the Alliance’s center for capacity building, is thankful for all the community leaders in the Alliance’s capacity-building network. They’re bringing their time and expertise to the field of homeless assistance and fighting homelessness at the local level.
We hope you all have the opportunity to spend time with your families this Thanksgiving, and we urge you to keep in your hearts and thoughts the plight of the most vulnerable of us, who may be spending their holidays, either alone or with their families, in a shelter or on the street. As we give thanks, it is important to remember that some of us may have more to be thankful for than others.
Today’s guest blog post was contributed by Paul Gionfriddo, a former Connecticut State Representative and Mayor, who also served as a nonprofit CEO for more then fifteen years. Gionfriddo currently works as a consultant and writes a health and mental health policy blog, Our Health Policy Matters.
Many people think that people are chronically homeless because they have serious mental illness or addictions. They are wrong. They are homeless because of the way we treat their behavioral illnesses. Or fail to treat them.
Recently, I argued this point in an essay for Health Affairs that later appeared in the Washington Post. I wrote that the mistakes of an earlier generation of policy makers – a generation of which I was a part – caused so much of the problem.
Many years ago, we emptied our state psychiatric institutions for good reasons. They were often monuments to neglect or abuse. But when we emptied them, we failed to put in place the community-based service delivery system we needed.
Perhaps we had an excuse. We were in over our heads. No one knew much about the importance of behavioral health and primary care integration in the 1970s and 1980s. We had little understanding of PTSD as a debilitating mental illness. We had even less experience with educating children with serious behavioral illnesses in regular schools.
All we did was create a new revolving door, from brief hospitalization to incarceration to homelessness. I learned firsthand about this revolving door when my oldest son Tim entered it when he was just a teenager, after his behavioral health needs were often ignored or neglected throughout his school years.
This revolving door – this system that isn’t – is the reason people like my son become homeless. And, unless our policies change, it is the reason why young men and women like Tim will continue to become homeless.
For Tim and people like Tim, finding housing is not a start; it’s the end of a long process. And policymakers today have no excuse; they know what this process must be.
It should begin in our pediatricians’ offices, by mandating periodic screening of every child for mental illness and its risk factors. It should continue in our schools, by providing every student who has a mental illness with a meaningful special education program (and paying for it, as the law requires) that ensures they will graduate from a high school or vocational school.
It must be carried on by behavioral health service providers in the community, who can offer families all the supports they need when their children are living at home, and who can offer young adults like Tim all the treatment and supports they need when they are on their own.
And we must do everything we can to keep courts, sheriffs, and jails out of the treatment mix. After all, we don’t send people with cancer to jail just because they are symptomatic and noncompliant with their treatment, do we?
Doing these things will help to prevent chronic homelessness. And they will do something else, too – give some people who happen to be homeless today a real opportunity to become well and housed.
It will be a challenge for this generation’s policy leaders. Let us hope that they are up to it.
Two weeks or so out from the excitement of the election, it may seem that not much has changed in the grand scheme of things. Not so! Due to redistricting, retirement, resignation, and competitive races, there will be many new faces around Capitol Hill this January. Already last Tuesday, eighty or so members of the freshman class of the 113th Congress arrived on Capitol Hill for their New Member Orientation. With all those new Members and with committee selections to be finalized around February, we can expect a lot of new people will be occupying significant decision-making positions.
New Members will likely begin considering a wide array of issues and forming relationships with advocates early on. So, for advocates who want to help Members-elect better understand the issue of homelessness in their districts, the next few months will be a crucial time to pick up or begin the conversation around homelessness. With federal budget issues looming large and the new Congress set to take up federal spending issues soon after their swearing-in, we need to engage and educate these new Members on solutions to homelessness and the importance of making ending homelessness a federal priority.
Here are some effective approaches for educating or connecting with your new Member before they arrive in DC in January for their swearing in:
- Request a meeting with the Member before they begin their term. Often, you can find contact information for your new Member on their campaign’s website. Contacting a member of campaign staff through a general campaign email address or campaign phone number could be a simple but effective way of reaching your new Member.
- Write an Op-Ed in your local paper directed at your new Member. Call on the new Member to make ending homelessness a federal priority and a focus of their work in Congress. Explain what homelessness looks like in your community and what the Member-elect should do to support your programs and efforts. An Op-Ed will have the added benefit of reaching a wider audience and educating others in your community about homelessness locally.
- Send your new Member information about homelessness in your district. Sending a letter is an equally great way of opening the lines of communication and creating a dialogue around homelessness. Members will have a lot on their plates as soon as they arrive on the Hill, so make sure your letter is concise and offers data and a clear ask of your Member to focus on the issue of homelessness. Follow up on your letter when the Member has an established office in January.
- Reach out to your Member in early January. If you are unable to reach your Member-elect while they are still at home, consider reaching out to them in January. If the member hasn’t established a full staff yet, work with the member’s Chief of Staff to pass your message along on making ending homelessness a federal priority.
If you have any questions about these advocacy actions, just let us know and we’ll be happy to help you strategize and reach out! Finally, if you have a reason to believe that your newly-elected Member of Congress might be supportive of efforts to prevent and end homelessness, or if you have a connection to a new member or their campaign, please share the name of that member with us!
Elections always provide opportunities for change. The impact the results of this election will have on the issue of homelessness will depend on how successful those of us who care deeply about this issue are in educating our representatives and ensuring that they make ending it a priority. With change in the air and tough budgetary decisions ahead, there is truly no time like the present to advocate on the behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society.
In recognition of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, we at the Alliance are highlighting the issue of youth homelessness in our blog. For this blog entry, Jimmy Ramirez, a formerly homeless youth who went on to become an advocate for homeless youth, shares his story.
My name is Jimmy Ramirez, and I’m from Oakley, California, a small town in the Bay Area just outside of San Francisco. I am currently a sophomore at Georgetown University, studying Government in hopes of pursuing a career in public service. I am a former homeless youth.
In 2010, at the beginning of my senior year of high school, my mother, sister, and I found ourselves without a place to stay after my mother lost her job and the bank foreclosed on our house, which left our family facing a seemingly insurmountable amount of financial and emotional stress.
As you might imagine, without a stable roof over my head, I was frequently absent from school. I lost interest in my academics and extra-curricular activities. This was uncommon for me, a student who had an A average for most of my academic career. During this period, faculty members at my high school and members of my community noticed changes in my behavior and attitude. They responded with understanding and inclusiveness.
For example, my school district’s McKinney-Vento liaison, Sarah Singrin,, provided my sister and me with important supplies like laundry detergent and toiletries. And one of my teachers, Fidel Garcia, took me into his home, and helped me pay for college application fees and SAT tests.
Looking back on my own experience, I realize now that I, like all homeless youth, had little control over the circumstances that led to my homelessness. There was no way I could magically prevent my mom from losing her job, or the bank from foreclosing on our house.
But at the time I refused to think of myself as “homeless.” That word applied only to the stereotype of the chronically homeless that I saw so often on TV and in the media, unkempt men sleeping on benches. But after a good deal of reflection I eventually came to terms with my situation. I may not have been sleeping on a bench, but I did not have a place to call home.
My struggle has made me stronger. Since that vulnerable time in my life I have felt a deep, personal desire to make a difference and work toward a day when no child has to endure what my sister and I did.
The love and support of my community, and the blessing of the people who believed in me, allowed me to graduate from high school as valedictorian and president of the student body. I applied to Georgetown University, my dream school, at the end of my senior year, and I was accepted on a full ride.
Now Georgetown University is my home. At Georgetown, where the Jesuit curriculum emphasizes values such as, “men and women for others,” I’m surrounded by brilliant individuals who care about the well-being of other people and strive to achieve social justice.
It was the example of these incredible people of Georgetown that inspired me to search for a summer internship that would do just that. That was how I found the California Homeless Youth Project (CHYP), a statewide policy initiative of the California Research Bureau that addresses the social problem that has defined my life: youth homelessness. Its mission is to educate policymakers on issues that relate to the plight of youth experiencing homelessness.
As an intern, I was responsible for staying up to date on legislation related to youth homelessness, as well as maintaining the organization’s social media presence and writing blog posts. Every day I encountered statistics that frustrated me. The number of youth in this country experiencing homelessness is completely unacceptable.
Occasionally, I would come across inspirational stories about the impressive achievements of a homeless youth. One young man I read about was forced out of his home because of his sexual orientation, but, with the help and care of a community of individuals who connected him with resources, he went on to become valedictorian of his high school.
The reason that students like he and I were able to succeed and achieve stability in our lives is simple, and fundamental. Someone who cared found us and gave us the help we needed.
When it comes to the issue of youth homelessness, there is a lack of education and awareness among policymakers and the public, who know little about the sorts of issues that this vulnerable segment of the population struggles with.
Prior to this internship, my view of the future was pessimistic. I worried that we might never see an end to youth homelessness. This internship has shown me how complex the problem is, but it has also shown me that among the advocates, practitioners and policymakers there is a growing awareness and a sense of urgency.
With Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, the inclusion of homeless youth in the Point-In-Time Counts this January, and the tireless work of countless homeless youth assistance providers across the country, we are taking steps in the right direction.
The CAHYP has given me hope and an opportunity to bring the voice of homeless youth to the policy table. I continue to consult with the CAHYP, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to contribute to California’s first-ever statewide plan to End Youth Homelessn.
As we move forward, remember: only by working together can we end youth homelessness.