Search results for "TANF"
Today, we pause to revisit the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Sharon McDonald, Director for Families and Youth at the Alliance, shares her thoughts about welfare.
Last month marked the 15th anniversary of welfare reform. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) is often heralded as a success. With the flexibility of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant, many states provided work supports that helped thousands of families transition off of financial assistance and enter the workforce.
The recent recession, however, highlighted some of the weaknesses of the program. The program did not adequately respond to the increased needs of families suddenly without work and whose unemployment insurance ran out, leaving them teetering on the edge and on their own. From its inception, the program has allowed too many families to fall through the cracks and into deeper poverty. Primary among them are families who experience homelessness.
Less than 20 percent of homeless families report receiving financial assistance from TANF agencies. Studies demonstrate that families who lose TANF assistance often include family members with a disability and other serious barriers to economic self-sufficiency. While some families may lose TANF financial assistance, other eligible families may never apply. With the hope of finding a new job quickly, parents experiencing a short-term economic crisis turn instead to extended families and friends. Many double up. When doubling up results in conflict, they turn to homeless programs.
TANF programs can be more effective in preventing homelessness. States can adopt policies that make it easier for families to apply for and receive financial assistance. They can work to reduce the number of families who are sanctioned off of cash assistance and who lack the means to care for themselves or their children, particularly families that include parents or children with disabilities. States can also increase benefit levels and provide emergency assistance so that families who do receive TANF can pay for housing.
TANF programs can also be more effective in ending homelessness. In communities across the country, local welfare agencies are partnering with programs serving homeless families to rapidly re-house families. In Salt Lake City, for example, the Department of Workforce Services works closely with The Road Home to help families move quickly out of shelter and back into housing of their own. The Road Home provides housing search assistance, landlord negotiation, and home-based case management to families. Workforce Services works with the Road Home to provide short-term benefits to help families pay for housing in the first few months and provide employment search assistance so families will be able to pay for housing on their own over the long-term. The evidence is clear that this approach is working. Family shelter stays are minimized and over 90 percent of the families served successfully retain their housing with the short-term, upfront help the program provides.
The 15th anniversary of welfare reform provides an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from PRWORA on how TANF programs can be improved. TANF programs can be a more effective buffer to prevent family homelessness and a critical partner in re-housing families who do become homeless. Ending family homelessness requires the investment of state and local TANF agencies. With sufficient political will, the 20th anniversary of welfare reform can provide an opportunity to reflect on the great advancements made by TANF agencies to end family homelessness.
This week, while some communities were still cleaning up after Hurricane Irene, we also paused to reflect on the six year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in Louisiana.
Those unaffected by Katrina may be surprised to learn that many people who lost their homes as a result of the hurricane are still living in makeshift homes and abandoned buildings. Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont, said this week that coming together to help after disasters “is what being a nation is about.” I couldn’t agree more that as a nation we need to make sure that those still recovering from Katrina, the tornados in Joplin, and other disasters receive the help they need, and that we are prepared for a disaster before it strikes.
The state of our veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were also heavily discussed in the news this week, due to a speech President Obama gave at the American Legion national convention on Tuesday. In this address, the president discussed the federal government’s commitment to better support veterans when they return home, noting “that includes making sure that federal agencies are working together so that every veteran who fought for America has a home in America.” He also pledged to protect programs that assist veterans from budget cuts.
“We cannot, will not, and we must not, balance the budget on the backs of our veterans,” Obama said.
Also of note: NPR launched a series on female veterans transitioning to civilian life this week. In the last couple years, there’s been some discussion of the rise in female veterans experiencing homelessness. In our previous veteran reports, we noted that females veterans can experience high risk of homelessness than their male counterparts as female veterans are more likely to earn less money than males upon returning to veteran life, be single parents with children, and experience severe housing cost burden.
Without question, there are more females serving in the armed forces than there have been in the past and we can – and will – work to meet their specific needs as they transition back into civilian life.
15 years ago, President Clinton signed the welfare reform act changing ADFC to TANF and creating new goals for the program. We blogged about it this week and the week before and there’s been no shortage of commentary from experts and pundits. Through the Alliance lens, TANF plays a critical role in preventing family homelessness. TANF, and other social programs like it, provide the support that the lowest-income families need to stay stably housed. Investing in social programs for the lowest-income Americans is an investment in preventing homelessness before it starts.
In other news:
Our friend Donna Kimura at Affordable Housing Finance wrote an astute piece about supportive housing in the United States, the Washington Post gave some well-deserved credit to northern Virginia’s efforts to end homelessness, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported on a rejected plan to house young people who age out of the foster care system (something we’ve been thinking about lately as well).
A couple more stories of note: In Washington state, Senator Patty Murray – longtime champion of our cause and supercommittee member continued her work responding to the voices of veterans seeking jobs and housing. And in Winston-Salem (NC), homeless people won the right to serve on a council addressing homeless issues. We’ll see how both these stories pan out moving forward.
Photo courtesy of dnhart.
Our Friday news Roundup is broken down today by some of the issue areas the Alliance works on:
- Still not convinced that permanent supportive housing is the solution to chronic homelessness? Check out this story from Cleveland, Ohio and this recently published study from Australia.
- The Reading Eagle out of Pennsylvania took an in-depth look at the rise in family homelessness, and the barriers some families face in finding affordable housing.
- Annie Lowrey suggests one way to help the long-term unemployed is to bring back the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF). The program expired last September, which this very blog called “a low down dirty shame.”
- This week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a report finding that the child poverty rate increased 18% between 2000 and 2009, returning to the level of the early 1990s.
- Monday will be back to school for many students across the country. The Tallahassee Democrat looks into what that means for students who don’t have a place to call home.
Did we miss any important news this week? Tell us in the comments!
Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of welfare reform. Fifteen years ago, on August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act which instituted Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). This cash assistance program was designed to encourage employment and self-sufficiency by requiring program participants to work, placing time limitations on benefits, encouraging marriage and discouraging out-of-wedlock births, and enforcing child support.
We at the Alliance know that TANF is an important program to prevent homelessness. Cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid – all the programs that keep poor families afloat are the same programs that keep families stably housed. Without that limited assistance, families could be at real risk for experiencing homelessness.
So how’s the program been working? Well, there’s been no shortage of commentary this week.
Experts at the Brookings Institution suggest that welfare reform has succeeded in reducing poverty despite the sting of the recent recession. Others at the Center for American Progress note how TANF has failed to keep up with rising need among lower-income and poor families. Noted scholar Barbara Ehrenreich and RNC Chairman Michael Steele debated the finer points of welfare reform earlier this week on National Public Radio.
For our part, we were particularly interested in the research of the Urban Institute. They released a publication earlier entitled “What Role is Welfare Playing in this Period of High Unemployment?” (We wrote about this report earlier on the blog, here. ) Similarly, experts at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities released information about how “TANF’s inadequate response to recession shows weakness of block grant structure.”
Both the Urban Institution and CBPP suggest that the marked reductions in the number of people receiving TANF benefits and TANF expenditures doesn’t mean the poor familiar are faring any better than they did 15 years ago. To the contrary, publications from both institutions show that, even amidst the persistent recession, TANF rolls have hardly kept up with the rates of unemployment, suggesting that many of the poorest families are suffering through the recession without any assistance. (Ezra Klein observed the same on his blog yesterday. )
While some may cringe at the idea of providing limited assistance to the very poorest people and families, the investment into poverty programs is an important one to make. If we can effectively and efficiently provide enough aid to prevent homelessness and encourage self-sufficiency, we can ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to build a strong, safe future for themselves and their families.
There were two interesting stories from National Public Radio (NPR) this week: the first one was about a study that came out of Urban Institute about the role that the Temporary Aid for Needy Families played during the recession (we wrote about it yesterday). We know that it’s mainstream welfare programs like TANF that keep very low-income families from sliding into homelessness – an important fact to think about when considering welfare policies.
The second is an article about housing for minorities.
Interestingly, a study found that African Americans and Latinos live in very different neighborhoods than white or Asian Americans with comparable incomes; in fact, African Americans and Latinos tend to live in poorer neighborhoods than their Asian American and white counterparts. The story goes on to explore the different reasons why and the role of Section 8 Housing Vouchers.
The Washington Post this week published an article about doubling up – noting that [unsurprisingly] the recession has caused an increase in the incidence of relatives to live with each other. Doubling up is an economic indicator of homelessness that we examined last year and revisited again when we published The State of Homelessness in America. Check our interactive map on doubled up for more information.
And finally, there were a couple of articles about veterans in the news. The Associated Press wrote about disability status among exiting troops and how a new exit system has caused some delays for veterans being discharged. While the new process is meant to expedite and streamline the process, it’s currently causing periods of time when a disabled veteran doesn’t know where he’ll end up, when he’ll be discharged, and how much he’ll receive in disability benefits. There was an article in TIME Magazine that discussed unemployment among veterans and how to help young veterans find work post-service.
These questions are important ones for veterans, especially as we know that veterans are at risk of experiencing homelessness when they return from conflict. With the VA’s commitment to end veteran homelessness in five years, we must take particular note of the transition process to ensure that veterans have a smooth and productive shift into civilian life.
The news is not so good.
According to researchers Sheila Zedlewski, Pamela Loprest, and Erika Huber, TANF did not play a significant role in keeping families economically stable during the recession. In fact, there were many states in which the number of people enrolled in the TANF program declined (this study specifically looks at years 2007 to 2010) while unemployment rose dramatically. Of particular note is the state of Arizona, where TANF rolls declined by 48 percent while unemployment in Arizona rose by 134 percent.
The finding is curious. TANF is meant to assist poor families with cash assistance and promote self-sufficiency and work. Why then, during a time of economic turmoil and high unemployment, would poor families not take advantage of TANF benefits?
Reduced TANF use has left a number of families in dire financial situations, what the writers of the brief call “disconnected.” “Disconnected” families have no earnings of cash government assistance of any kind. The writers found that in 1996, one in eight low-income single mothers was disconnected; that jumped to one in five disconnected single mothers from 2004 to 2008.
And this is the kind of economic vulnerability that leads to homelessness.
Mainstream welfare programs, like TANF, are often a bridge for many poor people and families between homelessness and housing. Most poor people – and people who become homeless are typically poor people – have scant resources. Depriving a family of even one of those resources can lead the family to tumble into homelessness.
At the end of the brief, the Urban Institute recommends policy measures that could improve the utility and effectiveness of the TANF program, especially during recessionary periods. Among the recommendations are:
- encouragement of subsidized job programs
- allowing training and job education to count towards work activity requirements during times of high unemployment
- permitting federal block grant funds to rise automitcally for states experiencing high unemployment
And finally, the brief concludes with a sentiment that is often felt in our offices. While the temptation to cut such social programs, especially in this fiscal environment, may loom large, we must not forget the role that these precious programs play in the lives of people who have few if any other resources.
In lieu of the usual Friday News Roundup, today we’re celebrating Alliance news of our own. Policy intern Sam Storey leaves his Alliance internship to return to Stanford. Today, he writes about what he learned during his time here.
Alas, after two exhilarating and truly unforgettable months at the Alliance, my internship has sadly come to an end.
As my parting gift, I give you a list of the 10 things I have learned at the Alliance during my short (yet fulfilling) time here:
- Numbers matter. Without knowing the extent of a problem, what demographic is most affected, and where the affected reside, it is nearly impossible to implement effective policy and provide adequate services. That’s why high quality data and research are keys in developing solutions.
- Families play an integral role in protecting children from homelessness, and we must better incorporate them into our efforts to get youth off the streets. Family reunification – in addition to rapid re-housing and other interventions for youth – is how we end youth homelessness for good.
- Youth policy analyst Andre Wade is the best dressed in the office…or at least he is now that I’m gone.
- During these tough economic times, we must work hard to protect our most vulnerable friends and neighbors. We must protect funding for homelessness assistance and prevention programs – especially those programs that have proven to reduce homelessness. Continued advocacy is essential to ensuring that the progress toward ending homelessness continues.
- Assistant to the President Kate Seif is really good at doing crossword puzzles. My crossword puzzles, to be exact.
- Planning a meeting – let alone a conference of almost 1,500 people – is an exhaustive affair that requires organization, innovation, and patience. The staff at the Alliance does this impressive work year after year to plan the National Conference on Ending Homelessness, which I was proud to be a part of this summer.
- The commercial sexual exploitation of youth inexorably intersects with youth homelessness. Service providers and policy advocates can protect victims of sexual exploitation by working to ensure access to the health and housing services they require.
- The solution to homelessness is housing. It’s so simple, it’s remarkable. While homelessness often involves a host of other pressing social issues – mental health, veterans affairs, welfare, poverty – the solution to homelessness couldn’t be simpler. The faster you can house a homeless person, the faster you can end their homelessness.
- Homelessness among LGBTQ youth in America is a serious and problem – and we’re working on learning more about it. So far, we know that one contributing factor is family rejection, which LGBTQ youth tend to face more often than their non-LGBTQ peers. If we ever hope to end LGBTQ youth homelessness, we need to focus on preserving families.
- The homeless assistance community is undoubtedly the most passionate, dedicated, and selfless I have ever met – and I am honored to have been a part of this community and this organization. This summer has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding of my young life.
Today’s guest post was written by Alliance Vice President for Programs and Policy Steve Berg.
People who follow what goes on in Washington, D.C. have been watching an ugly debate over federal spending, taxation, and borrowing. On the news, it’s been commonly referred to as the “debt ceiling” debate. For now, that debate is over, to be resumed at a later date.
There are plenty of people commenting on who got the better of whom; today I’ll try to cover what the “debt deal” could mean for homelessness.
First, a quick summary of the debt deal. It cuts federal spending in two ways:
- First, it sets maximum levels for discretionary spending (spending that is set each year through the appropriations process, including virtually all targeted spending for homelessness programs) for the next 10 years. The impact of the debt deal comes mostly in the later years. For the 2012 fiscal year that begins in October 2011, discretionary spending is set at $1.043 trillion, $7 billion less than FY 2011 funding levels and $98 billion less than the Obama Administration’s budget request for FY 2012.
- Second, the debt deal cuts spending through additional across-the-board reductions to most domestic and defense programs, this time including not only discretionary spending but also some entitlements like Medicare. These will begin in 2013, with the total cuts over ten years to be $1.2 trillion. Some programs for low-income people (Medicaid, for example) would be exempt from the automatic cuts, but others, like Section 8, would not be exempt, which could mean that thousands of families lose their housing. Instead of allowing these cuts, Congress can pass a bill proposed by a “super-committee,” reducing federal debt by at least $1.2 trillion through some combination of spending cuts and revenue increases. But the super-committee has to do that by the end of the 2011 calendar year.
So how will this affect homelessness? No decisions have been made on the details, but there are two ways this deal could have an impact.
First is the impact of the maximum levels set for discretionary funding. This could impact funding for targeted homelessness programs, especially the Emergency Solutions Grants and Continuum of Care run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In his original budget for 2012, tthe President proposed an increase of $471 million for HUD’s homeless assistance to implement the HEARTH Act, as well as 10,000 new HUD-VASH vouchers, and 7,500 targeted rent vouchers for the Housing and Services for Homeless Persons demonstration. In light of the high rate of joblessness and the struggling economy, all those new resources are desperately needed for homeless and at-risk people. But now we know that overall discretionary spending for FY 2012 will be nearly $100 billion less than what the President’s budget proposed which could jeopardize the creation of these new resources.
Secondly, the work of the “super-committee,” carried out under intense time pressure, creates many dangers in the long run. While entitlement programs for low-income people are exempt from the automatic cuts that take place if the super-committee does nothing, they are not exempt from a super-committee proposal. Roll-backs in Medicaid or TANF, for example, may be tempting for the members of the “super-committee” when they’re overwhelmed with the task of finding cuts to the federal budget. But we know that such cuts would be devastating for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and rely on federal programs.
In this context, protecting federal homelessness programs will require a lot of work. And the work will only get harder in succeeding years.
Fortunately, the effectiveness of these programs, the vulnerability of homeless people, and the bipartisan history of the work provide a strong case, but the case has to be made. Increased funding remains eminently doable, but only if people in Congress know that it is important back home.
That’s where you come in. The Alliance’s grassroots efforts have always proved effective. The Alliance works to connect passionate citizens with their Members of Congress so that lawmakers can hear, first-hand, the needs and concerns of their constituents. This is the most effective way that we, as everyday people, can best affect policy change.
Thank you so much for coming. We know that it takes a lot to get to the conference, and we really appreciate it. We especially appreciate it because we know how much you do and how hard everyone works, and that you are all here because you want to figure out how to do a better job of ending homelessness. That means a lot to us at the Alliance, so we have spent a lot of time really trying to get you the cutting-edge information about how to do that.
When you come to our conference, our philosophy is that we are going to look around the country for what is working best to end homelessness. And I want to take a moment here to thank the National Network for Youth, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, 100,000 Homes Campaign, and our many other national partners who have helped us identify these best practices.
For our conference, we try to look at the national trends and find communities, programs, or people that have the best responses in policy and practice. Where are they making changes and improvements? What innovations are working? Where are they forging creative new partnership to do something that changes the equation? And where are they taking proven interventions to scale; because after all, sometimes we already have the answer, we just need to do more of it.
But make no mistake; we at the Alliance are about change. Because in our view, things are not OK the way they are.
It is not OK that nearly 700,000 people are homeless every night.
It is not OK that youth, who should be being nurtured and educated and only then nudged out the door to independence, are instead being tossed onto the street with no one to love them or show them the way forward.
It is not OK that veterans – young men and women who have gone to war out of patriotism, or been willing to go to war – those who have perhaps the greatest claim to home, have none.
It is not OK that people with mental illness beg for food or that children cry themselves to sleep out of insecurity and desperation.
It is not OK that increasingly, elderly people live out the ends of their lives in shelter.
It is not OK for anyone to be homeless, especially when it is so much within our power to stop it.
To make things OK – to end homelessness – we are going, therefore, to have to make changes; the status quo is not getting it done.
There are lots of factors, of course, in the proliferation of homelessness in our nation. Some we can do something about and others are harder. But I will say this. It is not our job to only sit back and cope with what we are handed. It is not our job just to help people survive homelessness. It is our job to do something to end homelessness, using whatever tools we have in the most effective ways possible; and if we do not have the tools at hand, creating them.
That is what this conference is about, and that is what I want to talk to you about a little bit today. To frame the next three days so that you can leave here with some concrete ideas about how – in this very difficult time – you can do something to help make progress on ending homelessness. Because we at the National Alliance to End Homelessness are not giving up on that goal.
Nevertheless, I think it’s going to get really difficult.
You all know the grim story.
While the economy is re-bounding for some, it is not for poor and low-income people.
The Alliance issued a report this year – State of Homelessness – that looked at the connection between larger economic factors and homelessness. What did we find?
First, unemployment is terribly high among those least able to withstand it: the poor. And of course we learned last week that it has gone up overall. While unemployment among whites was at a still-high 8 percent in May, it was twice that – 16.2 percent – for African Americans. And in poor census tracts across the nation it was in the 20 to 40 percent range. State of Homelessness pointed out that the number of unemployed people in the US increased by 60 percent from 2008 to 2009. And among those who were working, the poor were still disadvantaged. Poor workers wages decreased twice as much as all US workers.
Employment is not the only problem; there is also housing. We all know that the price of housing during the housing boom in the early 2000s was totally out of reach, and so it was a relief that during the recession the rental housing market did soften somewhat. But that little silver lining period is over. Rents are going back up.
A tremendous number of poor people have housing challenges. We know from HUD that nearly three quarters of poor households pay more than half of their income for rent (remember that statistic; it is an important one for those who mistakenly believe that people cannot stay stable in housing if they pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent). We also know that worst-case housing needs are up and that there was a 12 percent increase in the number of households doubled up. So housing remains a problem.
Homeless people are poor people, we know that. And obviously poor people are having a hard time in the current economy.
These trends have been underway for several years, and yet the number of homeless people has not been going up that much nationally since the recession began. Why?
First let me stipulate that the number of homeless people staying flat is not a good thing, because of course we want the homeless numbers to go down. And they were going down prior to 2008 for the first time since homelessness began. But now the trajectory has changed, and it is inching its way up. Families are the hardest hit. But while not acceptable, it could have been worse.
The reason it did not go up more is two-fold. The first reason was what you have accomplished and HPRP. I have to congratulate people in this room for doing incredible work to ensure that the recession has not yet resulted in a huge increase in homelessness. A big part of that was the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program, of course. HPRP was $1.5 billion to prevent homelessness and re-house those who did become homeless. That is a pretty huge new program, and although not perfect, it must be said that you all geared up and began putting out this money in a very quickly and efficiently effective way. So you are to be congratulated for your sense of urgency and your skill. And it has obviously made a big difference, as we can tell by looking at those numbers.
The second factor was that homelessness is a lagging indicator. People do not become homeless the day they get foreclosed on, the day they lose their job, the day they get discharged from the military or emancipated from foster care. You know this because you know the stories. It takes awhile for them to use up their resources. And frankly, we probably should not have expected to really see the results of the terrible economy of 2008 and 2009 until right about now.
And that is really bad news, because things are not looking good for our ability to withstand any increase in homelessness.
For the fourth year in a row, states are cutting their budgets. The difference now is that the federal government is not filling the gap with stimulus funding. A recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the following.
- 42 states will have budgets shortfalls in 2012 totaling $103 billion. This means they will likely cut their budgets by that amount, because only a minority of these states is looking at raising revenues.
- The reason for the shortfalls is lack of revenue from taxes. The revenue losses from this recession were higher than those from the previous recent recessions, and they are not going back up as rapidly. That means the answer is not waiting in the wings: state budget shortfalls are expected to continue into 2013.
- At least 46 states plus the District of Columbia have cut public services, despite rising need, especially in the areas of health care, help for elderly and disabled people, and education.
- And speaking of need, just taking one indicator, Medicaid demand has gone up 7 percent to 8 percent each of the past two years. So there is more demand, but fewer resources to address it.
And of course as I said, the federal government is not back-filling here. Stimulus funds to states will go from $60 billion this year to $6 billion in 2012. And you all read the news and know that the federal budget discussion underway is not about how to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, but rather about who can cut more.
So, looking forward, all that can be said is that we will have to do more with less.
The question for us is, how should we approach that? HPRP is ending. Do we just stop doing rapid re-housing and prevention and revert to our array of shelter, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing programs; wait until there is more money to start HPRP-type activities back up again? If the demand goes up, do we need to increase shelter capacity to meet it? As mainstream programs like TANF and Medicaid are cut, should we just abandon efforts to access their resources and focus on what we know we can deliver through our homeless funding? Given the massiveness of the budget problems at every level of government, does it really make sense to invest a lot of time in advocacy when the tide is going so strongly in the other direction and our voices feel so small? What should be our next steps?
I want to propose three things that we could be doing next. And I will tell you that what I am proposing is not that we re-trench, not that we revert to our core activities, and not that we hunker down. What I am proposing is that we change.
The three things I want to propose are as follows.
First, based upon the success of re-housing, and our increased capacity to do it through HPRP, I suggest we shift more resources into rapid re-housing. If we get more money, fine. But if we do not we should look at our existing resources.
Second, I suggest that we work hard to get access to certain mainstream programs, in part by strategically increasing their targeting to the most vulnerable.
And third I suggest that we join with others in mounting a vigorous campaign to ensure that, no matter how deep our budget woes are as a nation, a key priority for any public spending must be to protect the most vulnerable.
Starting with more rapid re-housing, in a time of diminished resources, the moral thing to do is to be diligent about how we use what we have. We have to take a new look. Some homelessness interventions are considerably more expensive than others. That may well be justified if the needs of the consumer are greater, and/or if the outcomes are better.
But what we must be vigilant in examining is whether we are spending more for people with lesser needs, or whether we are spending more for the same or lesser outcomes. If we are not, then this is not an area that is fruitful for change. But evidence suggests that we are.
We know that the average rapid re-housing intervention is considerably less expensive than a transitional housing intervention, and often less expensive than a shelter intervention. Rapid re-housing is the cheapest. According to a report issued by HUD last year, Costs Associated with First Time Homelessness for Families and Individuals, transitional housing costs considerably more than either permanent housing or permanent supportive housing. Admittedly, this is without services, but the services are not the expensive part of transitional housing; the facilities and the operational expenses are. The report concludes that communities should avoid extensive use of high-cost programs like transitional housing for people who primarily need permanent housing and whose service needs can be met in the community. We know that that describes the vast majority of people who become homeless.
As our Capacity Building team has gone around the country helping communities prepare for HEARTH implementation by analyzing their data, we have seen a similar story (admittedly, not from a representative sample). With regard to housing outcomes for those exiting, we generally see that people leaving shelter are the least likely to exit to housing, followed by those leaving transitional housing. Those leaving rapid re-housing are the most likely to exit to housing.
If we look at costs combined with outcomes, we see that the lowest cost overall is for rapid re-housing, and the lowest rate of return to homelessness is for rapid re-housing. So, rapid re-housing is the cheapest and has the best outcome. In a time of increasingly scarce resources, we certainly have to consider whether we should be devoting more of our continuum money to rapid re-housing and less to other approaches at least for those people who are not chronically disabled and therefore in need of permanent supportive housing.
I think that the danger moving forward is that as HPRP ends communities will just stop doing rapid re-housing and prevention because the targeted funds are gone, and revert to the core shelter and transitional housing programs. I think this would be a huge mistake because it means we will leave a lot of people completely un-served. Already around 40 percent of homeless people are unsheltered.
Rapid re-housing lets us house more people faster and link them to services. Despite the fact that many providers feel that people getting rapid re-housing will not be able to make it without a Section 8-type housing subsidy, it seems that they do. Remember, people leaving shelter and transitional housing now typically leave with zero subsidy and not appreciably higher incomes. People with rapid re-housing have more rent subsidy than they would have if they left transitional housing or shelter.
How do we implement this?
First, we need to think about how to shift not just resources, but existing organizational capacity to these new strategies, because we certainly do not want to lose the committed and trained staff and boards of established organizations. This is not about abandoning organizations; it is about re-thinking how we do the work of ending homelessness.
Second, we certainly do not want to overly reduce shelter capacity; we need to right-size it, but certainly not eliminate it. We must have a place for people in crisis to go, and we must have a front door into the homelessness system. But if we strategically use more resources for rapid re-housing, and give shelter providers more tools to help people exit successfully, we could potentially increase the turnover rate of shelter beds, thus making more beds available: increasing capacity without having to increase supply.
Third, where there are dedicated buildings involved or where organizational missions remain focused on transitional experiences, we can target these better. For example, we could screen in rather than screen out the people with the highest needs for whom a transitional intervention is essential and proven. Residential recovery with children, reentry housing, and interim housing for families are examples. Another very important one is transitional housing for youth. I mentioned our partnership with the National Network for Youth. One thing we both feel strongly about is that transitional housing is the proper approach for that minority of youth who need a longer-term housing intervention.
In some communities there has been a big move to transform transitional programs into permanent housing programs and permanent supportive housing programs. This is a decision that has to be made locally, but it must be made strategically and based on data. Remember that we are trying to serve more people by shifting resources into a more cost efficient and effective strategy. Serving the same people with an intervention that is still too expensive and in which people stay even longer is obviously not the goal. We must increase the supply of permanent supportive housing but we must target it really well to the highest need people. It will be important that where these shifts are made, providers receive technical assistance, financing, and tools to help them make the appropriate changes. We call upon HUD to be flexible and supportive as communities consider how best to use their resources.
It will also be important to re-look at our overall local systems so that we target interventions properly and right-size the supply of each. This means using data to assess what works; creating coordinated intake; and doing assessment and triage of everyone who enters the system
The first action step, then, is to look at how to shift existing resources into more cost efficient and more effective strategies like rapid re-housing so that we can meet the increasing needs and still make progress on our goal of ending homelessness. We should build this new approach within the existing system, because that is where the commitment, the skill, the knowledge, and the resources are. This is a complicated change and there will be a lot of information about it in the conference workshops.
The next thing we should do is work on mainstream resources. It is definitely the case that mainstream resources are also going to be stretched thin. TANF is being affected, and workforce and employment programs will be as well. Medicaid and mainstream housing programs are being cut.
Mainstream resources will become increasingly scarce, and this is why it will be important to advance the principle that those resources that are available should go to those with the highest needs. The importance of mainstream resources for prevention and for serving homeless people was a key element of Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan. Barbara Poppe and her colleagues at the US Interagency Council on Homelessness are working hard on this and they are great allies and resources. They are here at the conference. We need to seize the opportunities the commitment of the plan provides.
I do have a few suggestions as to where there might be opportunities to expand mainstream involvement in ending homelessness.
The Affordable Care Act as it moves forward should enroll all homeless people in Medicaid. This has several implications. First, it will be important to work with health care advocacy groups and state health policy people to ensure that the covered services are adequate to meet the needs of the people you care about. Second, it will be important to work with the same partners to ensure that a delivery mechanism is available to the people you care about. Finally, if you provide permanent supportive housing you are going to want to build partnerships or capacity so that Medicaid can fund the services you deliver.
Another opportunity is TANF and child welfare. Through these programs, particularly TANF, there are numerous initiatives that can assist homeless families. One key is to work with your TANF and child welfare agencies to ensure that all eligible homeless families are receiving TANF – at present far too few are. It is also important to work with your TANF agency to ensure that they ask families specific questions about their housing status and that they have a policy to respond, because they have resources to prevent families from losing their housing. Finally, TANF has tremendous service programs like Home Visiting that can prevent homelessness or support rehoused families with services. You can make sure that these are being targeted to your families.
There are also opportunities around veterans. VA is increasingly partnering with nonprofit organizations to deliver assistance to homeless veterans. It can contract with nonprofits for services in HUD-VASH and can use its own teams to provide ACT-type services, although often these things do not happen. If you are providing permanent supportive housing for veterans, work with VA in your community to ensure that services are covered. You can also make sure that you know whether or not your consumers have served in the military. An astounding number of clients are never asked if they served. Consequently they do not receive benefits to which they are entitled.
We will have to leverage mainstream services if we are to avoid massive numbers of unserved homeless people in the future.
The third action step is advocacy. There is an epic debate going on about the nature and responsibility of government and what the priorities of government should be. Good people with differing philosophies can agree and disagree on elements of this debate. However, now is not the time that good people can sit back and passively accept whatever outcome prevails.
You are the people who care about homeless people. There are many organizations out there that are fighting the battles over the budget and the need to protect vulnerable people: the usual politically-oriented organizations, but also others like faith based, membership, civil rights, and disability organizations. It is critical that you engage in the overall discussions that are now setting the priorities for our nation, our states and our localities into the future. It is also crucial that your board members speak out, and that your consumers have the means to engage in this debate. It may be that your organization cannot get involved, but you certainly can do so as an individual. Because all of us who care about social justice really must stand up and be heard now – the stakes are huge.
So moving forward, times will likely be tough – very tough. We cannot do our jobs by making changes around the margins. We have to look at our programs and really figure out whether we are using our resources in the most efficient ways possible. These are three things we can do.
- First, use existing resources to do more rapid re-housing and retool the local system to target better.
- Second, go after mainstream resources.
- Third, get involved politically in the big picture work to define the future values of the country.
You are an incredible group of people. I do not know of another human services sector that is so committed to help the most vulnerable and so oriented to constant improvement and to outcomes. And lucky for us, this not only means that we are always doing better by homeless people, but it also means that we can show our outcomes and build political and public will to get resources. And that is not always true with respect to human needs, and that is due to you.
Thank you so much for all you do. Please let us know how we can help you.