Attention Alliance partners, friends and neighbors (and anyone else who might be wondering why Alliance staff haven’t been returning emails or phone calls). The Alliance is currently experiencing technical difficulties.
Unfortunately, sometime Wednesday evening some very important lines in the building where are DC offices are located were severed by a construction crew. This left everyone in the building without phone service or access to the internet. Yesterday afternoon, our phone service was restored, but we still do not have access to the internet (that’s why I’m writing this in a crowded Starbucks on K Street), and we still cannot receive external emails.
We expect internet service to be restored by Wednesday, Nov. 21. In the the meantime, however, we can be reached by phone at 202-638-1526. We appreciate your patience as we work to resolve this matter.
Today we’re excited to introduce the first in a new series of vlogs that concentrates on answering five questions on some of the most important and relevant topics in homeless assistance. Today’s blog is on coordinated assessment, where we cover topics ranging from serving domestic violence survivors to developing assessment tools. Each of these videos will feature Capacity Building staff talking about common questions that we at the Center have been asked recently. If there’s a topic you’d like us to cover next, let us know by emailing email@example.com.
For more resources on coordinated assessment, please see the Alliance’s toolkit.
Today’s federal post-election update was written by Kate Seif, the Alliance’s Policy Outreach Coordinator. The state post-election update was written by Lisa Stand, Senior Policy Analyst with the Alliance.
Eye on the Federal
President Obama won the election; the Republican Party maintained its majority in the House of Representatives; and the Democrats kept their majority in the Senate. It may look as though little has changed, but looks can be deceiving. Elections always mean change.
In Congress, both the House and Senate have a host of new members, while some long-term incumbents (and some new ones) have retired, resigned, or otherwise moved positions, paving the way for congressional committee reassignments and possible leadership changes. Many districts have been redrawn thanks to the decennial redistricting resulting from the Census, and that has left many constituents with new Representatives.
While the resident of the White House isn’t going anywhere, the 15 Executive Cabinet Members can (and often do) go elsewhere between terms. The same is true for a host of lower-level positions. No announcements on that front, so far, though.
The question we in the Alliance are asking is how will these changes impact homelessness? The short answer is that right now, just days after the election, we don’t know. During the run-up to the election there was a lot of talk about the need for bipartisanship, and about crossing the aisle and working together. If that kind of talk translates into action, we could see progress.
Federal movement around preventing and ending homelessness has a long history of bipartisan support, with members of both parties working together to make an impact. We hope to see more of that in the weeks and months to come.
Post-election, there is a lot more certainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – and some clear direction for people working to end chronic homelessness in their communities. The health care reform law passed narrowly in 2010, with key provisions not intended to take effect in 2014. The lengthy lead time gave ACA opponents – among them candidate Mitt Romney – the opportunity to campaign to repeal it. With the ACA’s chief proponent Barack Obama now re-elected to a second term, the American public can expect the federal government to carry on with implementation.
Eye on the States
However, because of a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, debates about health care reform will continue in many states, and pick up pace as the 2014 implementation approaches. That is because the Supreme Court said that the decision to expand Medicaid as the ACA envisions is a state decision, not a matter of federal mandate. Though a number of states have fully embraced the ACA, not every state will immediately opt to expand its Medicaid program, even though the ACA offers generous subsidies to states to do so.
As homeless advocates well understand, the ACA on paper could extend Medicaid to virtually all chronically homeless people who do not already qualify for Medicaid disability. In fact, many people who are chronically homeless lack any health care coverage or a regular source of care for serious physical and behavioral health conditions. Local safety net programs are often burdened as a result – in the health care system as well as homeless assistance system. Clearly, by embracing the ACA and expanding Medicaid, states can boost the overall funding for those health care services in permanent supportive housing – the best approach to ending chronic homelessness.
At the same time that states consider their options for 2014, other ACA provisions are taking effect, as the law intended. One example is creation of person-centered health homes, which are already being implemented in some states. The health home benefit is a possible funding source for care coordination activities that help people stabilize in supportive housing. The Alliance recently published a policy brief about health homes, explaining how individual state decisions on this provision can best help drive solutions to chronic homelessness.
People working to end homelessness in their communities understand the importance of these and other relevant ACA provisions that fund services for vulnerable people and help safety net systems function more effectively. Now that so much of the ACA conversation is moving to states, it is critical, from a homeless services perspective, to engage and inform mainstream efforts to change Medicaid in states.
With state elected leadership now settled, policymakers are looking at 2013 state budget strategies, as well as actions needed to take advantage of health care reform. As states respond to ACA opportunities, community-based strategies to address chronic homelessness should be highlighted. Messages should convey the opportunities for supportive housing to help stretch the public dollars spent on vulnerable populations.
One first step is to educate new leaders and remind incumbents about the connections between homelessness and the high costs of providing health care to vulnerable people, and to suggest specifically what communities need from innovation in Medicaid and other state health care programs.
As Congress reconvenes to deal with the Fiscal Cliff and Washington gets back to work, the changes and issues that lie ahead will further emerge. The Alliance will, of course, continue to keep our readers posted on these issues and how they might impact the great work and progress being made on the ground.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1919, the guns stopped firing and the Great War ended. On that day, the First Armistice Day, the Allies and the Germans signed the armistice that ended “the war to end all wars.”
It wasn’t until the second global war that we started assigning numbers to them, and “the war to end all wars” became “World War I,” the first of two.
Today we call that first Armistice Day “Veterans Day” (in other parts of the world, it’s “Remembrance Day”). The purpose of this day is not to celebrate war; it’s to honor all those who have served bravely in our armed forces.
And part of honoring them is ensuring that they have a place in our society when their service is done. In acknowledgement of their sacrifice for our country, our veterans deserve, at the very least, a place to call home, gainful employment, and treatment for the wounds of war.
That may not seem like much to ask for our nation’s heroes, but it hasn’t always been there for them.
At the Alliance, we are grateful for all that has been done for our veterans, but we know that there are still many out there who still need our help, men and women who have found themselves living on the very streets they were sworn to defend.
Veteran homelessness is not a simple problem. Its causes and complications are myriad and varied. But, as complex as a problem is, we are making progress.
Fortunately, today’s administration and congress have worked together to the nation’s obligations to our veterans. There have been employment programs and policies, veteran health care reform, home ownership incentives, and more.
There have been new programs funded, old programs re-tooled, data collected and analyzed. Indeed the goal of ending veteran homelessness is in sight.
As many of us enjoy a three day weekend, I urge you to thank a veteran in your life for their service and contribute to one of the many worthy causes that continue to make veteran homelessness a thing of the past.
Youth Point-In-Time Counts Q&A
The Alliance estimates that each year 1.7 million children have a runaway or homeless episode, with 400,000 remaining homeless longer than a week. This coming January, communities across the country are making a concerted effort to include youth in the biennial Point-In-Time Counts.
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, I asked the Alliance’s Director for Families and Youth, Sharon McDonald, and our Policy and Program Analyst on youth and child welfare, André C. Wade, some basic questions about youth homelessness and what we hope to accomplish with this January’s Point-In-Time Count.
How does homelessness affect youth, compared to how it affects adults? Are there some long-term effects for homeless youth?
We’re still learning most things, from a research standpoint. There’s the idea that the more often youth run away from home, the more susceptible they are to commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking. During these core developmental years, the amount of trauma a youth experiences can impact their long-term well-being. So if we don’t get them out of homelessness and into safety soon, those experiences could have lasting implications. Moreover, this is a time when many young people are finishing school, so it could negatively impact their education, which could have lasting negative consequences for their skills, employability and income.
What about their mental health and the trauma of living on the street?
Well, trauma is trauma, no matter who’s being affected by it. But in your formative years, it impacts brain development, your emotional stability, your ability to connect and form relationships. It’s imperative that we decrease the episode of homelessness to decrease the impact of trauma on these young people.
We estimate that 1.7 million children have a runaway or homeless episode each year, with 400,000 remaining homeless longer than a week. But how accurate is that estimate?
Those statistics reflects the best information we have. The Department of Justice (DOJ) conducts the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrown-away Children (NISMART) and this is where the data comes from. It is a bit dated and the DOJ is currently conducting a new NISMART survey, but it will be a few years before a report is released. However, NISMART doesn’t collect information about youth who have been away from home for longer than a year, and it only looks at youth under the age of 18, even though young adults age 18 and older are also vulnerable.
One of the benefits of a Point-In-Time Count is that it tells us how many youth are homeless in a given community. While it’s important to know that across the country 1.7 million youth under the age of 18 experience homeless, it’s just as important for community leaders to know how many young people are homeless in their town and whether these young people are in shelters or are in unsafe, inappropriate locations. It’s also important for building the political will to end youth homelessness.
What should people know about the upcoming Point-In-Time Counts?
The administration has always required communities to count youth experiencing homelessness as part of the Point-In-Time Counts. This year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is requiring in its guidance that communities report separately on youth, ages 18 to 24, in addition to unaccompanied youth under age 18. In the past, youth in this age 18 to 24 age group have been lumped in with adults, ages 18 to 30. So now we’re going to be able to reach an estimate of how many youth in this age group are experiencing homelessness. So far, we haven’t been able to do that.
Advances in the child and youth development field have shown that youth undergo significant developmental changes during this period of their lives. So just because you’re 18 and you’re an adult by law, that doesn’t mean that developmentally you’re an adult. Youth between the ages of 18 to 24 are transitioning into adulthood, and may have their own special needs. That’s why HUD is trying to make sure that communities count and report on homeless youth ages 18 to 24. You can’t solve a problem without knowing the scope of the problem. So that’s going to improve our data, which is what we use to determine the scale of the community’s need with regard to this population. We’ll be able to size and scale interventions and housing for youth homelessness with greater accuracy. That’s why HUD is asking communities to make a special effort to find unaccompanied youth on the night of the Point-In-Time Counts.
How do we count youth experiencing homelessness?
There are two basic ways we count homeless populations. We collect data from homeless service providers, places where people access services on the day or night of the count. The second, and more challenging way is a street count. It’s more challenging because you have to actually go where unsheltered, homeless people are. While sometimes they’re very visible, on park benches, subway stations and the like, often they’re invisible, either by intention or by accident. They may sleep in alleys, abandoned buildings, woods, garages, or cars. To do a good street count, you have to know where to look.
What sorts of characteristics of homeless youth make it hard for communities to count them?
Youth homeless assistance providers report that youth on the streets aren’t easily identified through typical counts of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness. That’s largely because these youth congregate in different areas at different times. When it comes to homeless youth, they don’t want to hang out at the same place as people who are in an older age range. Also, they may be less willing to disclose that they’re experiencing homelessness or they may not even identify as homeless. They may also work harder to try to blend in with peers who aren’t homeless, so it may be hard to distinguish them from other youth who aren’t homeless.
What are we doing differently this time around to make sure youth are more accurately represented in the counts?
Communities are partnering with youth homeless assistance providers and other individuals who are knowledgeable about homeless youth. This might include police, teachers, and other young adults who are experiencing homelessness or have in the past. These individuals can help identify “hot spots,” which are places where youth congregate, and identify times when youth can be found there. This kind of partnership is innovative and has been rare, but it’s crucial because, typically, adult homeless assistance providers are unaware of these hot spots. Youth providers know about street outreach and are aware of these hot spots, but haven’t necessarily been participating in their communities’ Point-In-Time Counts.
It’s all about figuring out the best time of day and the location of these hot spots and encouraging youth involvement in the counts. There are communities who have been doing youth counts, historically, that we can learn from, and we have a pretty good sense of what techniques work. As an example, instead of counting youth at night, when they tend to be harder to find, some communities may want to count them between 3 and 7 p.m. Also, youth involvement is really important. Youth volunteers should be involved in peer recruitment to create a snowball effect; one volunteer talks to his friend, who talks to his friend, who talks to her friend, and so on. You need that snowball sampling component in order to reach them.
How often are homeless youth prepared and willing to help with the PIT Counts?
It may be challenging. They certainly have more pressing concerns, including meeting their basic needs and finding a safe place to stay. In addition, many homeless youth have suffered abuse and have run away from home and so aren’t always trusting of authority or adults. But we do know that communities are already successfully recruiting youth to help them plan for the PIT Counts. We can learn from them.
Historically, have youth homeless assistance providers worked with communities on Point-In-Time Counts?
Not necessarily. The involvement of youth providers has varied from community to community. Youth providers typically don’t work with the larger homeless service system. They often have different funding streams and serve different subpopulations of the overall homeless population. While HUD has always required that homeless youth be counted, communities haven’t always focused their attention on finding homeless youth being served outside of the adult system; and youth service providers weren’t always at the table during the planning for the counts.
This is the first time that youth homeless assistance providers are working with communities. Why is that happening?
We all recognize that homeless youth are undercounted in PIT Counts, and this has undermined communities’ ability to respond to youths’ needs, in addition it leads to an insufficient response by the federal government. This is all about improving our data, so we can improve our ability to end youth homelessness.
Are the PIT Counts changing in any way that will give us the scope of the problem of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness?
So, when you do the count, it’s usually just a headcount. You don’t really ask them their sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re encouraging communities to ask about sexual orientation or gender identity if they’re doing a survey, just to get better numbers, but that’s not exactly the best way to get the data. A homeless youth might not want to answer and could easily choose not to answer. But still, it might give us a sense of things.
Will getting a more accurate count result in more federal funding for youth services?
It might compel local communities and congress to invest more resources to assist homeless youth once we know the scale of the need. It might also compel communities to target more of their resources to interventions that meet the needs of specific subsets, such as the 18 to 24 age range. HUD has always provided funding that providers have used to serve homeless youth. However, these services may not have been provided by practitioners with an expertise in youth development. Right now many of these youth are primarily being served by adult programs that don’t meet their full range of needs or take into account where they are developmentally. A better sense of the scale of homeless youth may result in increased investment in youth-specific interventions.
What’s the Alliance doing right now?
We’re encouraging every community to commit to doing the best possible count of homeless youth. So, we’re educating the field about the importance of counting youth and the best methodologies to use. We are stressing the importance of certain steps communities can in planning take such as n developing key partnerships to make sure they’re on board, and how to use the data. We’re also making sure communities have the resources to do accurate counts.
Today we’ve released the fourth in a five-part training series on rapid re-housing. This short video training focuses on providing supportive services as a part of a rapid re-housing model, and is conducted by Kay Moshier McDivitt. (Before watching this module, I recommend watching the three previous modules on Housing Barriers Assessment, Housing Search and Location/Developing Relationships with Landlords, and Designing Subsidies.)
The rapid re-housing approach includes a different method of providing services than you may be familiar with. Before a person is housed through rapid re-housing, services focus on any barriers they may have to obtaining housing. Once they move in, services focus on addressing the barriers that may prevent someone from maintaining housing. Additionally, services in rapid re-housing are voluntary.
Each year, the Alliance provides our partners and supporters with a snapshot of our activities, progress and financial position in our annual report. Annual reports may not always be the most exciting things to read, but we at the Alliance are proud and enthusiastic about our accomplishments.
The Alliance did a lot in 2011. We hosted national conferences that drew nearly 2,000 practitioners, advocates and other leaders in the homeless assistance field. We worked with Virginia and the Freddie Mac Foundation to launch a statewide homelessness assistance project. We organized 270 visits by advocates and practitioners to their congressional offices.
The Alliance was also honored to recognize at our awards ceremony the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness, The Road Home, and the Los Angeles Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness for their achievements in fighting homelessness.
We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about the Alliance’s board, staff and donors and the Alliance’s ongoing effort to end homelessness to download and read our 2011 Annual Report.
We also encourage you to share the report with your networks and others you think may be interested in learning more about ending homelessness. And don’t forget to let us know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great holiday season!
As we notified our networks last week, there is an amazing opportunity going on right now. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has put out a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA).
This NOFA is for $300 million for the 2013 Supportive Service for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant, over half of which will go to organizations that have not had this grant before.
The name of the grant program is a little confusing: a more accurate name might be the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) for veterans, because that’s basically what it’s for: rapid re-housing and prevention for veterans.
There are some misconceptions about this program. The name has led some people to think that it’s for families and services only. However, you can serve single individuals with this grant as well as families, as the grant defines “family” as a veteran or a veteran and their family.
And the “supportive services” can be short-term rental subsidies, assistance with other household bills, case management, and in this iteration, funding for emergency housing and a wide range of items under the “General Housing Stability Assistance” category.
Grant applications must be received no later than February 1, 2013. I recommend getting your application in early.
Stay tuned folks! We plan to cover this grant and hold a Q&A with VA officials in a webinar next month that will help you in your application process.
Alliance and CEO Nan Roman delivered the following remarks at the Common Ground Alliance/Council of Homeless Persons Pre-conference Convening on in Melbourne, Australia on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. (For our American readers, in Australia permanent supportive housing is referred to as “common ground housing.”)
Ending Long Term Homelessness: Taking Permanent Supportive Housing to Scale
Thank you to the Common Ground Alliance and Felicity Reynolds and the Council of Homeless Persons and Jenny Smith for holding this forum and for inviting me to join you today. When I first came to Australia in 2007, permanent supportive housing and Common Ground housing were quite a new idea, at least by those names. Certainly there were people like Bryan Lippman at Wintringham here in Melbourne who were already doing it – combining housing and services. But it wasn’t the norm; it was not a well-established intervention. Now, as heard this morning, there are quite a few models. That is good, as a variety of models are needed.
But the next step, as the title of this session indicates, is going to scale – moving from the occasional permanent supportive housing program to an adequate supply of permanent supportive housing to meet the need and end homelessness among people with chronic disabilities.
We have not gone to scale on permanent supportive housing in the U.S., but we have certainly ramped up. There are currently nearly 200,000 units of permanent supportive housing in operation. So we have some experiences to share – some good and some bad – that may be relevant here in Australia. Let me start with a few definitions and a little history of permanent supportive housing and why it became such a big thing in the U.S.
In the U.S. you know that we define homeless as people living on the streets, etc. or in programs – not people doubled up or in poor accommodation. When homelessness first emerged in the 1980s, for a long time we thought that everyone who was homeless was a single adult male with a mental health or substance abuse disorder. This seemed an overwhelming problem with no clear solution.
Eventually we discovered, through data and research, that actually most people – 80 percent – who became homeless were homeless briefly and only once. There was a minority (the remaining 20 percent) who had the more serious problems of the stereotype – mental health and substance abuse – and who stayed homeless for long periods of time. This latter became known as the chronically homeless population. When Dr. Dennis Culhane did this typology in the mid-1990s, the size of the chronically homeless population was estimated to be about 250,000. So this new research changed the dynamic and the problem seemed more manageable.
In the earlier part of the twentieth century in the U.S., there was an abundance of what we call single room occupancy housing or hotels (SROs): over 2 million units by the 1960s. These units – though not the optimum as they were very small with shared facilities – nevertheless housed a tremendous number of very poor, often disabled single men, allowing them to pay by the night or week and providing a roof over their heads. Much of this SRO housing was lost between the 1960s and the 1980s, and it’s almost all gone today; which some think can, in and of itself, explain much of the growth of homelessness among single men. But by the 1980s some urban pioneers in New York, Oregon, and elsewhere began to rehabilitate these decrepit SROs into much more decent housing and enrich them with services for the often disabled tenants living in the neighborhoods where they remained. This was the precursor to permanent supportive housing.
Fairly quickly a few national leaders, like the Alliance, the fledgling Corporation for Supportive Housing, and a high ranking housing official in the Bush Republican Administration, saw the potential in this. Clearly it made more sense to provide these vulnerable people with housing than with shelter. A long story follows, but the bottom line is that over time, research showed that this PSH ended homelessness for even the most disabled people.
Thus, by the mid-1990s we had a problem of solvable size AND we had a solution.
I am going to get to the scaling up in a minute, but first I want to reflect just a moment on the different models of permanent supportive housing we have. We heard here today about a number of really great models, and we have many models in the States.
There is the conventional single site, dedicated model in which all the units in a building are devoted to permanent supportive housing. Such buildings tend to have modest studio apartments, often with a kitchenette and/or bathroom (although sometimes in the older buildings the facilities are shared). Some have a fair amount of common area, but others – especially new construction – have very little because of cost. Sometimes fairly intensive services are on-site, but other times the services are really just case management, which links tenants to other services in the community.
There is what you call the Common Ground model in which some of the units are for permanent supportive housing and others are market rate or affordable for other members of the community. Again, the units tend to be small and simple, and the services vary.
Increasingly there is a scattered site model in which people rent units in apartment buildings and the services are mobile or provided off-site. There has been discussion today of the Pathways model. This employs the Assertive Community Treatment or ACT team method of providing services. There are other models that primarily use the intensive case management design to link consumers to other service providers, while ensuring that they get the services they need to reside in the community.
These models are all largely for people with serious mental illness, substance abuse disorders, physical disabilities, age-related issues, or a mixture of these. The story of permanent supportive housing is hugely positive and it is solving vexing problems and generating enormous bipartisan political will nationally and in virtually every city in America. This is a huge success story that is influencing how other social problems are handled.
How did we go from a program model with a scattered set of practitioners to nearly 200,000 units that have significantly reduced chronic homelessness and are targeting the hardest to serve people in literally every community in the country? I think that the recipe for scaling up, for us, is not that complicated, and it is one that we have replicated for other homelessness problems.
The first step was being able to size the problem, and having a problem that is of solvable scale. We had been speaking in the U.S. about a homeless population of millions, which felt too big to solve. But research revealed a problem of a solvable scale – 250,000 people who were chronically homeless, very ill, and clearly should not be on the street or in shelter.
The second step was having a solution to the problem. A fair amount of research had been done on permanent supportive housing, and much more has been done now. It is clear that it works. Generally speaking a minimum of 80 percent of people with disabilities can be successfully housed in permanent supportive housing, and frequently that percentage is much higher.
The third part of the equation was having a solution that is affordable. Cost studies had shown that it costs the public sector at least as much to leave someone with serious mental illness on the street as it costs to house them with services. Subsequent cost studies on people with HIV/AIDS and chronic street inebriates have found significant cost savings from housing high cost people. By shifting money that was being spent on not solving the problem to solving the problem, we could get there. Of course, that is more easily said than done as a practical matter.
These three things together – a problem of solvable scale, for which we had a solution that was effective and cost effective – provided us with a framework for solving the problem. If there are 200,000 chronically homeless people whose homelessness can be ended with permanent supportive housing that costs less than what we do now, by providing 20,000 more units per year for the next ten years, we can solve the problem in ten years. So this was less about program models and more about the overall framework of solving the problem.
This framework allowed policy makers and practitioners to see a way forward. By going to scale, they could solve a problem, not just endlessly address it. And they could do it cost-effectively.
I want to point out that these three factors all involve something very important, and that is data and research. Without data and research: we would not have known the number of chronically homeless people; we would not have been able to verify the effectiveness of the solution; and we would not have been able to make the cost argument.
One other essential ingredient in getting this going was advocacy. I can promise you that this research, once it emerged, did not just automatically cause policymakers to say, “Let’s create 200,000 units of permanent supportive housing and end chronic homelessness!” It was a few key national organizations with strong credentials and good capacity that moved the agenda forward through advocacy.
Once the scaled problem and a cost-effective solution were in place, what were the steps in scaling this up? There was no single thing that happened, but a series of things.
On the political will side, there were commitments made by the Administration and by Congress to end chronic homelessness. In both cases, these commitments were expressed in budget terms, so there were some dollars behind it. That was the beginning. Over time, at the federal level:
- Congress targeted 30 percent of the nation’s largest homeless assistance grant program to permanent supportive housing. This essentially required that every community in the nation begin to provide permanent supportive housing, and created a steady stream of funding over time.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) started funding thousands of units of permanent supportive housing for homeless military veterans; a large group in the U.S. The federal housing department provides rent vouchers for scattered site housing and VA provides the services.
- The goal setting continued, with the current Administration vowing to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2015.
In this way, federal leadership and a pipeline of resources were established.
States and localities also began to take up the challenge:
- Some State housing finance agencies – public entities that fund affordable housing – began to require that a percentage of multi-family housing units they financed be permanent supportive housing, or to target a percentage of funds to permanent supportive housing each year.
- New York State and New York City created the New York/New York agreements to provide thousands of units of permanent supportive housing.
- Plans to end homelessness, which exist in nearly every major city in the nation, almost all contain commitments to end chronic homelessness.
And the private sector has gotten on board:
- There is a consortium of foundations dedicated to getting their peers to fund permanent supportive housing.
- The new Social Impact Bond movement in the U.S. is focused on ending chronic homelessness through permanent supportive housing because of the cost savings.
We also had to increase our capacity to provide permanent supportive housing. Many homeless organizations were initially disinclined to engage in the strategy: they had no will or expertise to develop housing or provide sophisticated services. Some felt that their mission lay in helping people who were homeless – not in ending people’s homelessness. But the federal leadership, expressed through money, pushed the development of will and capacity among nonprofit providers. National intermediary NGOs emerged to help with financing, technical assistance, and training. Eventually the capacity developed.
All of these elements are geared to increasing the scale of the intervention. Certainly individual organizations still have to have the mission and the gumption to do the deals and put up the housing, and in the U.S. as here that is a gargantuan effort. But increasingly the systems are being created that will provide and sustain enough of this housing to meet all the needs.
All of this is not without challenges, some of which I have identified. You might ask, for example, if we had 200,000 chronically homeless people and we created 200,000 units of permanent supportive housing, shouldn’t the problem be solved? And yet there are 107,000 chronically homeless people remaining. Why?
The main challenge has been that the permanent supportive housing units do not all go to chronically homeless people. Some of this is policy, in that the agencies do not require that every unit go to chronically homeless people. Some of it is the providers, who may not take the high-need tenants, either because they just don’t feel they have the service supports for the most needy people; because they really don’t want to take them; or because performance benchmarks disincentivize that.
Some of these targeting issues are being handled by changes in policy, and also by things such as the vulnerability index, and the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which I know have been here in Australia. These campaigns – sort of like the Ten Year Plan campaign of early 2000s – get people geared up to identify and house the hardest to serve.
There are other issues as well. There are mismatches between where the units are and where the people who need them are. Funds are given out by formula and go to every community. But the majority of the chronically homeless population is in the big cities like New York and Los Angeles. So we don’t have the units where we need them.
And a significant lesson we’re learning is the importance of different models. Not every one of us wants to live in the same type of housing with the same type of people. I have noticed that where there is a proliferation of one type – say single site – there is more failure because if that model doesn’t work for someone, there is no option. Let a thousand flowers bloom and don’t get too caught up in the purity of any model. Different models means there is more choice for consumers and if you want to end homelessness, you will need someplace that works for every single person.
At the end of the day, we have not ended chronic homelessness in the U.S. nor solved all of the problems related to providing permanent supportive housing. But we have cut chronic homelessness significantly. And some communities have essentially ended it.
Since we started a little earlier than you, there might be some things to learn from us. I would summarize them as follows.
- Data is critical to building the case and then measuring progress and adjusting as you go along.
- Having a framework for how you’re going to end the problem works.
- Setting numerical goals is important.
- You need strong, talented advocacy.
- You need technical assistance and capacity building.
- You need sustained funding.
- Targeting is critical – otherwise you won’t reduce your numbers.
- Use a lot of models, but stay focused on the population you want to address.
- Try to get the money moving in this direction – if every project is a one-off it will never scale up. You need a pipeline.
I appreciate and admire the terrific work that is going on here in Australia. I commend the efforts of the Common Ground Alliance to bring you all together. And I very much I look forward to the discussion about how you could scale up in Australia. Thank you.
Today’s guest blog post was contributed by Erin Bock, assistant director of the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless of Omaha, Neb.
At my most recent visit to Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns’ Office on Capitol Hill Day, I was gearing up to make a request. Over the last couple of years, I hadn’t had much luck. So you can imagine my surprise when he said “yes” to my request that he come and see the great work being done at a homeless service provider within the Continuum of Care (CoC) in Omaha, Neb.
From there, it was easy. Senator Johanns had signed into law significant behavioral health reforms while he was governor in 2004. Our CoC, also known as Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless, or MACCH, had many success stories that linked with those reforms, especially our local 100,000 Homes Campaign.
The Senator and his staff arrived at Omaha’s Community Alliance on a Tuesday afternoon in August. We met in roundtable fashion, the discussion being led by the leadership from MACCH’s interagency housing team. Not only did local homeless service providers showcase MACCH’s collective success in serving the community’s most vulnerable, but we were able to show how federal funding streams make this kind of work possible.
We also gained greater insight into the political world that senators inhabit. I can’t imagine being informed about the myriad of constituent groups, legislative priorities, and funding streams that senators have to keep track of. I left our meeting with tremendous appreciation for the work our elected officials undertake every day.
Since that meeting one month ago, Senator Johanns’ office has participated in our local homeless symposium, sought information about acting to further our collective work and acted with us on specific efforts aligned with our mission. We believe this synergy was a direct result of our active engagement of public leadership. It re-enforces the value that can come from both hill and site visits.
My boss and I call our work with the Continuum of Care in Omaha an extreme sport. We’re figuring this out as we go. The lessons learned from Senator Johanns’ visit are thus:
- Even tiny organizations can have an impact. We’re a two-person entity but have the partnership with our CoC providers, funders and advocates aligned toward the goal of preventing and ending homelessness in our community;
- Consistency of effort pays off, even if it’s effort at a modest scale;
- Elected officials need help to stay on top of the federal legislation that is so important to helping us achieve our goal; and
- The National Alliance for Ending Homelessness is a valuable resource in assisting organizations with their local advocacy work.
Photo: Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns and staff from the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless of Omaha, Neb, August 7, 2012.