As the federal budget tightens and the growth of programs targeted for the homeless slows, it is more important than ever for homeless advocates and service providers to engage in a more meaningful way with Public Housing Agencies (PHAs). After all, these agencies administer billions of dollars nationally in rental and other housing assistance and, in many communities, are on the front lines of preventing and ending homelessness.
Over the past two years, we at the Corporation for Supportive Housing(CSH) have focused more of our resources and advocacy efforts on programs integral to the success of PHAs, such as Section 8 rental assistance, Section 8 administrative fees and Public Housing operating funds. We’ve also looked closely at the work of PHAs to identify issues preventing PHAs from doing more to end homelessness. It has become clear to us that non-profit organizations like CSH and the Alliance, as well as government agencies such as HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, need to do more work to build capacity and know-how among PHAs, to debunk myths about restrictions on who can be housed in federally-assisted housing, and to help share best practices from successful communities.
We also have seen that PHAs and homeless service providers can have a complementary relationship, with PHAs and providers helping each other achieve their respective goals. PHAs want to improve relationships with landlords; they want to score well on federal funding competitions that often give points for targeting assistance to the most vulnerable people in the community; and they want to accomplish their mission of providing housing to low-income people. Homeless service providers can help PHAs accomplish many of these goals by providing the support services that increase the chances for success.
Conversely, providers are looking for rental assistance, reduced barriers to housing, and for PHAs to provide priorities and preferences for people who are homeless. PHAs can provide that rental assistance, clarify their intake procedures, allow for more flexibility and become a part of community- planning efforts to end homelessness.
On September 10, we launched one of the outcomes of our recent focus on PHAs. Our new PHA Toolkit is an interactive resource for the PHAs and partners interested in pursuing supportive housing as way to fight homelessness. We included in the Toolkit specific strategies and concrete examples of the roles PHAs can play to create supportive housing. Also included in the toolkit:
- Profiles of how PHAs have worked to reduce homelessness
- Sample documents and agreements
- A glossary of service terms
- Models for partnering with other systems in the community
We are grateful for the collaboration and feedback provided by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, HUD and others in making this toolkit a reality. The toolkit is online now at csh.org/phatoolkit.
By working together and using some of the tools in CSH’s Toolkit, PHAs and community partners can achieve our shared goal of ending homelessness for good.
As the Alliance’s Director of Meetings and Events I am excited to be in the midst of planning the 2013 National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness. I’m thrilled that we are returning to Seattle, WA for this event.
The Alliance’s first Seattle conference took place in 2007, and it had the largest turnout of any of our west coast conferences. We hope to surpass that turnout in 2013, and we look forward to meeting more passionate folks who are working diligently year-round to ensure that there will one day be an end to homelessness in America.
For those of you who attend the conference, it’s a two-day affair (not counting your roundtrip travel). For Alliance staff though, conference planning begins more than a year before the event. Here’s a look at our planning process:
We like to finalize a location more than a year prior to the conference. For example, for our upcoming conference we secured a location in November of 2011. We choose the geographic location based upon what cities are doing to end homelessness in that area.
Choosing the location is just the beginning, though. Once that’s done, we have to research hotels in the area to determine which are large enough and have the proper layout for our conference, then we send requests for proposals to the prospective hotels. Once we receive proposals, we go through the details of each. We also give careful consideration to the kinds of concessions offered by each hotel. The Alliance is very budget-conscious, so we tend to favor the proposals that include concessions that lower the Alliance’s bottom line.
For example, a hotel may offer one complimentary room for a certain number of rooms sold within our sleeping room block. So if one hotel offers one complimentary room per 40 rooms sold, and another offers one per 50, we’ll be more interested in the first hotel, because we would receive more complimentary rooms for 40 rooms purchased, than we would for 50.
The entire hotel contract negotiation process takes about a month to finalize. Our goal is to have the signed, in-hand hotel contract more than a year prior to the February conference.
The reason we plan so far in advance is to ensure that we have as many options to go with as possible. When we have a large number of hotels to choose from, we have plenty of room to negotiate great deals. Once the hotel contract is signed, though, we’re able to put the planning to rest – for a while anyway.
Promotional materials and conference content
The next piece in the planning process comes eight months prior to the event. This is the time when we finalize the event timeline and send requests for proposals to the event graphic designer and audio-visual suppliers, and the Alliance staff begins finalizing workshop content and speakers.
We put together the event timeline by working backwards from the date of the event, flagging important deadlines. This allows us to keep the planning on track and remind the Alliance network when important deadlines like registration cutoff dates and hotel reservation cutoff dates are approaching.
(This timeline is a very important piece of the puzzle. It’s something I refer to every day in the planning process.)
We handle the requests for proposals to the graphic designer and the AV suppliers in much the same way as we do the requests for proposals to hotels. We find a few vendors we’re interested in working with and let them know what we need. Once we receive the proposals from the vendors, we ask for clarification on certain items and negotiate prices. We usually sign a contract with our chosen vendors within a week of receiving the proposals.
A couple weeks later, we begin working with our chosen graphic designer on the promotional materials for our conference. The designer bases the design on the conference themes chosen beforehand by the entire Alliance staff, including our President, Nan Roman, and our Vice President for Programs and Policy, Steve Berg.
Our conference themes typically come from current and future issues in the homeless assistance field, the economy, and the conference’s location – to name just a few sources of inspiration.
While the designer is hard at work pulling together possible conference graphic designs, the Alliance staff engage in hours of brainstorming sessions over the course of several weeks to come up with timely, relevant, and vital content for the conference. These meetings are time-consuming but essential, as we wouldn’t have quality conference content without them.
Where we are today
This is where we currently are in our planning for the upcoming National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness, in the midst of putting together the content for our conference. Planning our conferences is a long, involved, arduous process, but we at the Alliance feel fortunate to be able to host such important annual events. Our conferences reach 2,000 people nationwide (with a few who travel internationally to join us) – and that number is in attendance alone. Thousands more follow the conferences on social media and our blog, and many follow up with us afterwards to obtain conference materials.
We have also seen attendees come to our conferences year after year to learn more, and to report back about what amazing work they were able to implement in their communities from the information they gathered at the previous conferences. I hope to see you all in Seattle this February!
This January communities will feverishly conduct Point-in-Time counts of people experiencing homelessness. And guess what – for the first time youth ages 18-24 will be included as a specific population that will be counted and reported to HUD. This means that Continuum of Cares (CoCs) will need to develop key partnerships with youth providers and youth stakeholders to ensure a successful count. This also means that communities will need to know what methodologies have been proven to work. So, to help communities with the planning process, the Alliance is co-hosting a webinar titled, “It’s a Data Driven World: Making the Most of the 2013 Youth Inclusive PIT Count.”
The webinar will highlight three communities (San Jose, So. Nevada, and D.C.) that have successfully performed targeted youth counts. The webinar will discuss:
- How to partner with Continuum of Care (CoC) bodies to ensure a successful count;
- Concrete strategies for Coc’s regarding promising practices, methodologies, and lessons learned;
- How to incorporate these strategies into the youth inclusive Point in Time count in 2013;
- Guidance on how to incorporate school data into point-in-time counts; and
- Effective strategies for counting youth in rural communities.
Please join us on Thursday, October 4, at 1:30 P.M. EST by registering for this important webinar.
For some time now, we have been telling you about big federal budgetary issues, and how these issues could affect efforts to end homelessness. A recent report to Congress by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), requested by Congress in the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, is a reminder of the impact these issues can have.
We’ve already told you about “sequestration,” the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect in three and a half months under the Budget Control Act that Congress passed and the President signed into law in early 2011.
Now, a recent report to Congress by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has spelled out, for the first time, which programs in the federal budget will be exempt from sequestration, and how much funding each nonexempt program will lose in January.
According to the report, sequestration would cut the HUD Homeless Assistance line by $156 million, with HUD deciding how much of this cut would come from the Emergency Solutions Grants, and how much from the Continuum of Care. Either way, existing programs would need to be scaled back or shut down.
Our funding analysis shows that these programs need approximately $2.1 billion in FY 2013 appropriations to remain funded at their current level. If homeless assistance is funded at the Continuing Resolution amount, which is already insufficient, and then cut by $156 million under sequestration, we would end up with funding at $1.757 billion, a shortfall of 16 percent.
The local impacts of that shortfall are not hard to calculate. Just take the amount necessary to renew your existing Continuum of Care project or ESG grant, and subtract 16 percent. The effect such a dramatic cut in spending would have on our efforts to address homelessness would be grim and profound.
Sequestration was never meant to be good policy; it was designed to be so bad that Congress and the Administration would have no choice but to work together to find a better way to reduce the deficit. So far that hasn’t happened.
If Congress is going to address the deficit now, it should use a balanced approach that takes account of the severe cuts in spending that have already taken place in the “domestic discretionary” category. HUD programs and other programs like Health Care for the Homeless, SAMHSA programs that help homeless people with disabilities (and many others) have already been cut too much.
Congress created the sequestration rule, so it has the power to reverse it and replace it with something else. If it decides that the economy is too fragile for a big deficit reduction effort now, it doesn’t have to replace it with anything at all.
Members of congress already face a lot of pressure from critics of the policy, so odds are decent that congress may put some other plan in its place. The question is whether Congress will replace it with a policy that is better or worse for the most impoverished Americans.
What is needed is a realistic policy that properly funds the federal role in protecting the most vulnerable Americans, housing people who can’t afford even the most minimally decent housing, and helping people without jobs get employment.
The HEARTH Act has kept our homeless assistance community abuzz for some time now – over three years, in fact! With the release of the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) regulations, and, more recently, the interim Continuum of Care (CoC) ones, all of the concepts in the HEARTH Act are getting a lot of attention. Coordinated assessment is one of these concepts, so we’re doing all we can to keep up the interest level by talking to communities, studying different models, and pushing out materials.
Last week, we produced a webinar to help people put coordinated assessment into the context of all these regulations and changes. We talked about what coordinated assessment is and its six key aspects (access, assessment, data, referral, intake, and system change); what the regulations say about coordinated assessment (the key things being that it’s mandatory, should include ESG and CoC providers, and should be designed locally), recommendations for implementing it well (work together!), and basic next steps each community can take to get the process started. We also had a lot of great audience questions that allowed us to tackle issues like funding and getting buy-in from non-HUD providers.
We hope the recorded version of the webinar will help everyone, no matter where they are with coordinated assessment, and we hope it will help everyone move forward with confidence that they can implement it well, and, by doing so, reduce and shorten episodes of homelessness in their community.
Last month the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued the announcement for letters of intent for the next round of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant funding with a focus of expanding the SSVF program to all communities.
The day following that announcement, I had the privilege of giving a presentation with Vince Kane and John Kuhn of the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, sponsored by the Lebanon PA VA Medical Center. As I listened to both Vince and John speak to the attendees about VA and the SSVF program, I was struck by the common thread in our presentations: to end homelessness, we need to rapidly re-house families that become homeless and target our prevention resources to those most at risk of homelessness.
VA is looking for SSVF applicants that can show that they have the experience and capacity to deliver targeted prevention and rapid re-housing for veteran families. Vince and John emphasized that in this competitive world, applicants need to do their research and adopt best practices/strategies in implementing the SSVF program.
At the Alliance, we have been working with communities to strengthen and expand rapid re-housing programs. This opportunity, provided by SSVF funding, is a great way that communities can expand rapid re-housing for veteran families experiencing homelessness.
We have learned a lot about what works in communities that have had successes in rapid re-housing with Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) funding. As a result, the Alliance has developed a number of resources on rapid re-housing to help organizations and communities implement or expand their RRH programs. Most recent are three short modules that cover key components of rapid rehousing. These resources can help current SSVF programs build capacity in their program, and help new applicants strategically develop a strong proposal.
Rapid re-housing is key to helping end family homelessness, and now the opportunity is available to expand this strategy to veteran families. As Vince Kane said during his presentation, we need to do things “faster, smarter, better, together.”
Photo “Veterans Stand Down and Homeless Services Day Prince Georges County” courtesy of Maryland GovPics.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recently released an amendment to Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. The amendment, which USICH officials developed with its federal partners, addresses the education needs of children experiencing homelessness and provides strategies to solve the problem of homelessness amongst youth.
The amendment, which calls for data, more research, more resources, systems-level thinking, and true collaborations across systems and disciplines, adds depth and context to the administration’s current thinking on what’s needed to address these issues.
This new perspective comes from two models included in the amendment, one that outlines a new strategy for obtaining more accurate data on youth, and another, which shows the administration’s framework for ending youth homelessness, which was released in conjunction with USICH’s June 2012 council meeting.
The new amendment:
- Adds robust language on obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of the scope of youth homelessness;
- Outlines new strategies for increasing access to education for unaccompanied youth and improving their educational outcomes;
- Adds a new emphasis on increasing access for unaccompanied youth to early childhood education programs;
- Adds a new focus on awareness among practitioners of the importance of child and youth development;
- Outlines new strategies to support healthy child and youth development within housing programs;and
- Adds a new focus on advancing the health and housing stability for youth experiencing homelessness and youth exiting the foster care and juvenile justice systems.
We still have a lot of work to do if we are to end youth homelessness by 2020. However, this amendment speaks to the administration’s overall commitment to children and youth experiencing homelessness.
Now it’s time for us to determine what housing models and support services are the most effective for youth who are unable to return home or be reconnected with their families through family intervention.
We need to improve the crisis response mechanism for getting youth off of the street and connected to services. And lastly, we need to size these resources and bring them to scale for universal implementation – before 2020.
It’s that time of year again, the Combined Federal Campaign starts soon and we just wanted to remind you that The National Alliance to End Homelessness will be participating again this year! All federal employees have the opportunity to participate in the world’s largest giving program.
Last year federal workers pledged $69,314.52 toward our goal of ending homelessness. To those of you who helped us reach this incredible number, thank you! This year we need your help again. Remember to look for us under “Homelessness, National Alliance to End,” #10022 in your CFC pledge book and on your local campaign website. You may also see some of us at your upcoming CFC Fair.
If you’re not a federal employee you can still give! Many companies have their own matching campaigns that allow you to double your own person contribution. You can also remind friends and family who are federal employees to remember us when filling out their card.
Yesterday the U.S. Census released data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in 2011. By now you’ve seen the headlines: the poverty rate has leveled off at 15 percent after three years of increasing and remains at the highest level since 1993, while median income has declined by 1.5 percent, which means that the middle class continues to feel the strain of the bad economy. More people are covered by health insurance (1.4 million more than in 2010), which is certainly welcome news, since the number of people with health insurance has been going down for the last 10 years. But while poverty has leveled off, it remains at historically high levels, and children continue to be disproportionately impacted. We could be doing a lot more.
- 16.1 million children in the U.S. lived in poverty in 2011—that’s more than one in five children.
- Young children in families headed by a single mother were hardest hit: 57.6 percent of children under the age of 6 in families headed by a single mother live in poverty.
- Over 7 million children live in deep poverty, subsisting on less than $1,000 a month for a family of four ($11,511 annually) – that’s 9.8 percent of all children in the U.S.
- And deep poverty is much more prevalent among very young children, with 11.8 percent of all children under the age of 6 living in families with incomes below half the poverty level.
We know social benefits can help lift people out of poverty. One example is Social Security benefits. Social Security benefits have lifted 14.5 million adults age 65 and older out of poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduced poverty for 3 million children, even though they’re still included in the 16 million children living in poverty reported in the Census poverty data since it excludes income from the EITC. That’s a start (a good one).
The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program could do more. The program provides states with resources to support low-income families so children can be cared for in their own homes and helps parents connect to employment. How well is it working? Not as well as it could be. States choose how they use TANF resources and sets benefit levels, which are currently insufficient to lift most families without other sources of income out of deep poverty, never mind out of poverty altogether.
States could do more. States could increase TANF benefit levels and allow families on TANF who are employed to keep more of their earnings. Many families living in poverty are not accessing TANF benefits at all, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. States could reduce the number of families without income from work or TANF benefits by helping families enroll quickly on TANF and meet program requirements.
States could also do more to help people on TANF connect to employment. States predominately rely on a narrow set of tools to help people on TANF prepare for, and enter, the workforce. For too many families, particularly in an economy with high unemployment, these tools simply aren’t enough.
But there’s been some progress on this front. In July, the Administration released an Information Memorandum inviting states to submit applications for waivers. Under these waivers, states can test new strategies to increase the number of families on TANF who transition to employment. This is an opportunity for states to improve how they use welfare resources to help reduce the number of children living in deep poverty.
And that’s a big step in the right direction, because perhaps the most effective strategy to lift children out of poverty is to help their parents find employment.
As the Alliance’s Policy Outreach Coordinator, I spend a lot of time working with many of you to help you build and strengthen relationships with your Members of Congress in order to ensure preventing and ending homelessness is a federal priority. But there’s another aspect to this that goes beyond Capitol Hill – working with the Administration.
Of course, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) holds authority over many homeless assistance and housing programs. Now you have an opportunity to tell them what you think! In July, HUD released the interim rule for the Continuum of Care (CoC) program within the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. The interim rule went into effect on August 30, but the public has until Monday, October 1 to comment on the rule. HUD will process the comments and eventually release a final rule. Basically, although your comments won’t immediately affect the program, they’ll have a significant impact in the way the program is ultimately designed over the long run.
If your community has any concerns, or if you particularly like something and want to make sure it stays in the final rule – now is your chance to let HUD know!
To help get you started, we’ve released a draft of our own comments. You are welcome to use our comments to help craft your own, but we’re also releasing them to solicit your feedback! We want to hear from you what you think about our comments and the rule itself – concerns? Dislikes? Likes? Let us know!
The rule will have a significant long-term impact on the tools communities have at their disposal to prevent and end homelessness Please let me know what you think! We hope you’ll take the time to submit comments to HUD, and I look forward to hearing from you!