Posts Tagged ‘Guest Blog’
Today’s guest post comes to us from Whitney Gent, Development & Communications Director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
Recent polling indicates that 3/4 of Americans believe that adequate housing is a human right, and 2/3 believe that government programs need to be expanded to ensure this right.
The U.S. helped shape the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights – both of which recognize that housing is not a privilege, but a right. But despite our declarations and our international treaty ratifications, it’s obvious our ideals do not match our reality.
But now, we’re seeing big progress. This March, for the first time, the federal government officially acknowledged that reducing homelessness implicates its human rights obligations. Government is now catching up with advocates who have been working for this recognition for years.
This is thanks to advocates across the country who have demanded that our government be held accountable to its international commitments and to make the human right to housing a reality here at home.
Using a rights-based framework for homelessness advocacy gives us a different set of tools to create change, to end homelessness. A rights-based framework can help us fight budget cuts that would send more people to the streets. It will help us turn the Federal Plan to End Homelessness into federal action.
This June 7-8, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty will host advocates from across the country in Washington D.C. at the annual National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, where we will offer trainings on how to use the tools we have gained to make progress in the movement to realize the human right to housing. We’ll also strategize to determine how to best build on the foundation we’re laying.
The forum will feature speakers from government, the media, the advocacy community, and the funding community For more information about the forum, or to register, please visit our website.
Some scholarships are available. Contact Christine Hwang to apply.
Whitney Gent is the Development & Communications Director for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP).
Today’s post was written by Suzannah Young, Communications Officer at FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless). Suzannah thanks the Alliance for inviting her to write.
FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless, is an umbrella of NGOs which contribute to the fight against homelessness in Europe. It is the only major European network that focuses exclusively on homelessness in the European Union (EU).
I’m grateful for this opportunity to tell you about FEANTSA and hope it will be interesting for you too. Actually, our Director recently took part in a meeting on homelessness involving Australia, Canada, Europe and the USA and enjoyed the opportunity to share best practices. So, as part of a big sharing exercise, this post should clarify how FEANTSA tries to tackle homelessness in Europe, working with NGOs and other stakeholders in the fight against homelessness: local authorities; national governments; legal and health professionals; the EU institutions; the housing sector (public and private); transport companies; human rights organizations; academics, etc.
The NGOs we work with are largely our members – more than 100 national or regional umbrellas of homeless service providers, operating in areas including housing, health, employment and social protection, in 30 countries. We have close contact with the EU institutions (mainly the European Parliament and the European Commission,) and have consultative status at the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
One of FEANTSA’s main roles is to promote the exchange of expertise on homelessness. Another, which has developed over time as it has become the authority on homelessness in the EU, is to advise the EU on how best to tackle homelessness, by recommending the examples of best practice it has gathered through 20-plus years of pooling expertise.
One way in which expertise is gathered is through working groups, which focus on thematic priorities. Members appointed to the working groups analyse issues like housing, housing rights, employment, health and social protection, data collection and participation. Other ways are transnational exchange initiatives – side projects which focus on specific dimensions of homelessness – for example Housing Rights Watch, a network of legal professionals committed to promoting and protecting the right to housing for all, and the European Network of Homeless Health Workers. FEANTSA also has a Research Observatory, uniting academics researching homelessness in most European countries. We include the research findings in our lobbying.
FEANTSA also organises events, which permit homelessness sector professionals to work together. We have an annual theme and our discussions lead to policy statements, reports and a conference; this year, FEANTSA is focusing on Quality in Social Services from the perspective of services working with homeless people. Other events include European seminars on local homelessness issues. The seminars were an initial response to requests for information on how to tackle homelessness coming from local authorities. Plus, in 2009, FEANTSA helped launch HABITACT, a European exchange forum on local homeless strategies.
FEANTSA believes homelessness can be ended. For us, one of the key roles of EU Member States (countries) should be to aim towards this by creating national homelessness strategies. We also support the development of an EU Homelessness Strategy. In order to encourage policy makers to embrace this goal, FEANTSA launched a campaign in 2010, and created a Handbook with examples of effective approaches to ending homelessness from across Europe. Moreover, we recently supported a Written Declaration promoting an EU Homelessness Strategy, which was adopted by the European Parliament.
Our future goals include developing expertise on migration and homelessness and youth homelessness in Europe, two emerging issues. We will also be monitoring progress towards the development of an EU Homelessness Strategy, the parameters of which were recommended in the conclusions of the European Consensus Conference on Homelessness, co-organised by FEANTSA and held last December.
You can also contact me if you have any questions.
 To see the kinds of things we do: http://feantsa.horus.be/code/EN/pg.asp?Page=1160
 In particular relating to situations where countries breach the revised European Social Charter on the right to housing, to the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection and to non-discrimination.
Today’s guest blog post comes from Abe Oudshoorn, RN, PhD(c), Year 4 Coordinator, School of Nursing, The University of Western Ontario.
I am a registered nurse by trade, and my clinical background is working with people who are experiencing homelessness in a community-based clinic. Based on my observations of the importance of healthy client-provider relationships, I set out to study these relationships, and particularly how power comes into play in health care relationships.
I had a lot to work with going into the study: I knew that people who are experiencing homelessness face the worst morbidity rates in Canada, I knew that homeless persons face multiple barriers to accessing health care, and I knew that negative attitudes of health professionals have consistently been identified as the primary barrier to care for homeless people.
So I did my study, and – sure enough – I heard and saw much conflict in client-provider relationships. But when I set about to write, my committee members asked about how policy impacts on my findings.
And this is what I almost missed: Indeed, health providers do use and abuse control with homeless clients, but much of the workplace context is beyond their control.
For example, in the clinic I was studying, there were very limited resources (socks, bus tickets, food and clothing) and providers were expected to police these resources. And the limited resources weren’t just a local policy issue; they reflected broader budgeting practices and what is valued in terms of demonstrating cost-effective health outcomes.
Therefore, rather than concluding that health professionals just need to be nicer in working with people who are experiencing homelessness, I believe we all need to reflect more on the health and social policies that frame our work. The policy context will always define what we can do and how we can do it, so we need to make sure that this policy context is optimally suited to doing the type of work that we know is best with our clients. Therefore, I believe that all health professionals need to be engaged in social and political action, creating or refining policies to shape the practice context we want to see.
For more information and reflections, Abe blogs regularly at www.abeoudshoorn.com/blog, or you can follow Abe on twitter @abeoudshoorn.
Today’s post comes to us from John McGah, Executive Director of Give US Your Poor.
This Saturday, October 30, is the deadline for homeless, formerly homeless, and at-risk high school students to apply for a Horatio Alger Association college scholarship.
Nearly 1,000 scholarships are available this year. The Horatio Alger Association helps students who have overcome hardship attend college. This year, through a partnership with Give US Your Poor: The Campaign to End Homelessness (part of UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies), they are targeting students who have experienced homelessness.
The relationship between the Horatio Alger Association and Give US Your Poor began in 2007, at the Give US Your Poor Concert for to benefit people experiencing homelessness in Boston, MA.
During his performance, Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis welcomed 13-year-old Kyla Middleton on stage. Kyla is a top-notch student, articulate public speaker, sings beautifully, and was homeless with her family for a year. Mario and Kyla sang a duet of John Lennon’s, “Imagine,” to the Dorchester audience. Tears, applause, and a standing ovation followed.
Then, to Kyla’s surprise, Mario announced that she was being awarded a $20,000 college scholarship from The Horatio Alger Association.
That was a cool moment. So cool, that it inspired UMass Boston Chancellor, Dr. Keith Motley, to create a 4-year scholarship, given annually, to attend UMass Boston for a Mass. student that has experienced homelessness.
Which leads us to the scholarships offered this year: almost 1,000 total.
Please encourage eligible high school students to apply for this scholarship! There are over 100 national scholarships worth $20,000 each as well as state-specific scholarships of $2,500-$10,000 depending on the state.
The deadline is Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010 and some paperwork is required (so make sure you get on it ASAP!). Please visit the website for more details and an online application.
What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
One issue with large potential impact is that more communities are using data to redesign their response to homelessness. Communities with the most information on who is homeless are in the best position to help people out of homelessness. Better data means being able to use mainstream programs more effectively— for instance, if we know who exactly is a veteran, or who qualifies for senior housing, our options for housing those people expand significantly. Along with many partners, we recently launched the 100,000 Homes Campaign to help communities across the country identify, house and support their most vulnerable homeless residents. Participating means having help in gathering person-specific data on who is homeless and in the most fragile health; creating a successful housing placement system; and being part of and learning from a network of others working collectively to house 100,000 vulnerable people by July 2013.
What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
I think many of us were inspired after Hurricane Katrina when over 80,000 people took to craigslist to offer housing to those made homeless by the storm. It jolted me into realizing that people naturally take care of each other in moments of crisis. The homeless never forget that homelessness is an urgent problem, but I think the rest of us often do.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign recaptures this sense of urgency by bringing individuals face to face with the homeless in their communities. It gives people a chance to respond directly and immediately to the task of moving people out of homelessness and into stable homes. The Campaign helps communities to make the best use of all their resources, including drawing on community members to play an expanded role in providing housing and support for vulnerable people. Government resources are critical, but there is a great deal of untapped capacity among community residents and institutions that can be put to use getting more people housed.
How did you start working about the field of homelessness (or housing)?
My first job out of college was as a full time volunteer at a shelter for homeless and runaway kids. There was a great staff, and the organization had the best of intentions, but over and over, the same kids came in for a few weeks, were discharged to the street, and returned a few weeks later to start the cycle again. It was clear that we weren’t having much of an impact. In talking to the young people I worked with, while they needed every type of service, it was obvious that nothing else would stick if they didn’t have stable homes. That’s what convinced me to focus on affordable housing and to go to work for a not for profit developer.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
Growing up, my parents took us to church in downtown Hartford, CT. It was an unusual congregation: just us, a few other families and several elderly residents of Hartford’s downtown SRO hotels. My parents befriended them, and they became part of our extended family. They came to our house in the suburbs every holiday, and we’d visit them if they were sick or to deliver food. We saw how important SROs and rooming houses were as housing for poor people without families.
My parent’s example of taking personal responsibility for people who had very little and seeing that they never lost their housing reminds me of our tendency to overcomplicate homelessness. We assume that it’s the job of not for profits or government agencies to handle the issue, and we forget that it’s actually the most natural thing in the world to help the people around us if we know what they need. We tend not to take into account the capacity and willingness of citizens to help end homelessness in their communities. This is why the Campaign has potential for shifting our mindsets; it draws on the energy and concern of ordinary people to become vital resources for ending homelessness in their communities.
Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
When “homelessness” is not abstract, when it has a name and a face, it is less overwhelming and more solvable. We observe that as the Campaign helps more and more communities learn who the homeless are and discover the other dimensions of their lives— that they are elderly, or veterans, or grew up in foster care, or have cancer— they view their resources differently and realize they can draw on mainstream programs for solutions. There’s something about focusing on individual people that restores a sense of urgency to homelessness and gets us focused on solutions.
To see this profile – plus other profiles of leaders in the homeless assistance field, please visit our website and check out past Take Five! Expert Q & As.
Today’s guest post comes from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Our good friends at NLCHP are hosting their annual McKinney-Vento Awards tomorrow – Thursday, October 14 – at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel.
Each year, at our annual McKinney-Vento Awards, NLCHP pays tribute to the voices of homeless persons and those fighting to make them heard. This year, on Thursday, October 14, at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C., NLCHP is proud to welcome U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan as keynote speaker at an evening honoring individuals and organizations who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the fight to end homelessness in America.
The NLCHP is pleased honor New York Times best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich, whose work has demonstrated a deep commitment to raising awareness of and promoting understanding about poverty and homelessness in the U.S. We are also excited to honor Dechert LLP, a firm with an exemplary record of pro bono legal work. Lastly, we will honor the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, which will receive the Bruce F. Vento Award.
We are also honored to recognize the Elzer family with the Personal Achievement Award.
Last spring, in the span of a month, the Elzers lost everything. The father, William, lost his job, the family’s vehicle was repossessed, and they were forced out of their house and into shelter. But as the children began to adjust to their new situation, they were faced with another bleak prospect. The kids’ school district claimed they were no longer eligible to attend school because several of the churches they took shelter in were outside the district.
With the help of the Education Law Center and NLCHP, the Elzers fought the ruling and in March, they won the battle. The district agreed to comply with the law and re-enroll the children, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education issued new guidelines to prevent this from happening to the state’s 43,000 other homeless children.
Please join NLCHP at this year’s awards ceremony. Please check the website for further information about this year’s Annual McKinney-Vento Awards. To sponsor the event or to purchase tickets, please contact Whitney Gent.
Our guest post today comes from Nathan Hand of School on Wheels in Indianapolis, IN.
Seventeen years ago, Agnes Stevens saw something severely wrong with the world. Millions of children were homeless and not able to focus on their education among the distractions and hardships that come with their situation. She started School on Wheels Inc. – a volunteer-based tutoring effort to support these vulnerable children. She rallied volunteer support and started gathering supplies.
It literally all began by handing out backpacks, pencils, crayons and glue sticks to kids on the street. Today, there are nearly 1,500 tutors spread across Southern California helping homeless youth focus on their education and get the one-on-one help they often need.
Nine years ago, Sally Bindley from Indianapolis, Indiana saw a similar problem. She learned of Agnes’ efforts, flew to L.A. and shadowed her. For two weeks she talked to kids, parents, tutors, staff, shelters and anyone involved in the effort. Taking copious notes she brought back the pieces of the program that she thought would best suit the issue in Indianapolis and got to work. She gathered a couple friends, started collecting supplies, engaged tutors, and built funding relationships. And sure enough, School on Wheels Corp. was born. Today there are over 500 volunteer tutors serving every child in a family homeless shelter in Indianapolis. In addition, all students receive a new backpack packed full of school supplies, a new book, and a new set of uniforms to start each year.
Six years ago, Cheryl Opper from Brockton, Massachusetts recognized some of the same issues that Agnes and Sally had seen. Cheryl came to Indianapolis to learn from Sally and her team about what was working best and what challenges the organization faced. Agnes also visited Cheryl to help lay the groundwork. They identified the concepts of the program that would fit the need in Brockton. In 2004, Cheryl founded School on Wheels Massachusetts. Today, Cheryl and her team have helped over 900 children and families in 10 locations.
This is the start of a movement
This is people recognizing a need and having the courage to address it. Homeless children are possibly the most vulnerable population in our country and, according to Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), there are 3,000+ homeless children in Indianapolis public schools. If we don’t give homeless kids access to education, they’ll be right where their parents are in a few short years – maybe with kids of their own.
Of the investments that can be made to end homelessness, we’re the long-term piece of the portfolio.
Three different women, three different cities, three similar models. That last piece is important – the models are similar, not identical. Newark Mayor Cory Booker noted on Twitter that the same thing is not going to work for every child in every city. He’s right – identical replications are not the solution. What we need is to identify the programs that work and adjust them to fit the specific needs of specific communities.
Moving the movement forward
Successful and effective efforts start with inward questions.
What are you working on? Who is successfully addressing homelessness and education in other places and how? What part of their model will work for your city or town?
Only by examining your goals, the issues around you, and your abilities will we be able to make the appropriate decisions for our respective communities.
What’s right for yours?
The Run Home photo was part of a 2007 Bay Area Foundation Advisory Group to End Homelessness. It was a group effort to create the right image for the cover of the publication entitled, “Repairing Lives, Preparing Futures: Philanthropy’s Role in Supportive Services to End Homelessness.”
During the development of the project, the team had a concept in mind for the execution and look of the image; however, we were not sure if it would translate into what we wanted without looking staged. When I met the family featured in the photograph I knew that they would materialize our message – they had just been approved for housing and they were ready to move in a couple of months.
It was a great experience for me as a photographer because I had the chance to capture a scene that had meaning. The family in the photograph was truly feeling what the image portrayed as in real life they had conquered and fulfilled their dream. I was there just to capture their success story.
To see all the great photos submitted to the contest, check out our Flickr page. To keep up with other Alliance activities, events, or just to learn more about homelessness, join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
Today we would like to introduce you to John and Rose Bottensek who have committed themselves to the effort to end homelessness by donating a dollar to the Alliance for every copy of their new book that they sell. John is the author of of the new novel; Rose, his wife, is the editor. Read below to hear from the authors how this great movement has inspired them.
As the ongoing economic crisis continues to affect so many Americans, one of the most pressing issues that takes center stage in our minds is the plague of homelessness – an issue that has long been ignored by our American community. In fact, as I write this, I notice my spell check doesn’t even recognize it as a word. That alone speaks volumes as to the lack of recognition this issue receives.
The number of homeless where I live– Madison, Wisconsin – has actually decreased by forty percent in the past five years. I cannot offer an opinion as to why because, like most people, I haven’t paid much attention to the problem until recently.
That is not to say we don’t notice the lines outside the shelters in the evenings, some reaching around the block at times. We live in one of the most beautiful, most prosperous cities in the country. If the problem of homelessness is identifiable here, it is shameful to imagine what it must look like at on a national scale.
For my wife, Rose, and me, ignorance is no longer an acceptable state of mind.
We became familiar with the National Alliance to End Homelessness earlier this year, when my first book, “VonJanic – Legend of Arláge”, was about to go to press.
In spite of the fact that we had closed our business in 2008 when the financial markets froze up, we realized how fortunate we had been to have food on the table and a roof over our heads. Unlike so many, we had the means to weather the storm of economic uncertainty and came upon the realization that we had an obligation to share our success with those in need.
In researching the nearly endless possibilities of not-for-profits and charities, the Alliance quickly rose to the top of our list. To begin, Rose and I identified three areas that concerned us on either a national or global front: food, water, and shelter.
We examined independent ratings, scrutinized financial statements, looked at programs, and studied the missions of countless organizations.
One of the most influential elements which guided our final decision was simply the people we encountered.
The Alliance employs a staff of energetic, devoted, and sincere individuals. We are proud to count them all as not only partners in achieving victory over a national problem, but as friends.
The Alliance shares our personal belief that giving a man a fish provides a meal; teaching him to fish sustains him for a lifetime. Members of the Alliance know that simply throwing money at a problem doesn’t always solve the problem. They work to identify the best practices to end homelessness and work with communities to bring about measurable, permanent change.
We’re doing just a small part in combating this stain on the fabric of America. A one dollar donation per book sale may not seem like very much, but hopefully, each dollar is one step closer to keeping ‘homelessness’ out of spell check.
Today’s guest blog comes from Martha Kegel of UNITY.
The Blessings of Katrina
The mood this weekend across New Orleans was somber. Rain poured and dark threatening clouds filled the sky, and I couldn’t seem to shake the gloom. The rebroadcasts of people stranded on their rooftops five years ago only served to remind me of all those who did not survive. All weekend I could feel a pain in my chest at the sight of all those empty houses everywhere I go, the thought of all those New Orleanians still displaced, homeowners still struggling to make their houses habitable, disabled people squatting in abandoned buildings because of drastically inflated rents. This was supposed to be over with by now.
But it’s not.
Yesterday, the fifth anniversary of Katrina, I awoke early in the darkness. By eight o’clock, I was on my way to the Lower Ninth Ward, the scene of the worst devastation in New Orleans, where a poorly designed levee broke with such force that a wall of water swept a neighborhood away, leaving not much but a huge barge behind. Much of the devastation remains. Spending the morning in the Lower Nine was a bad idea, I thought to myself all the way there.
But it wasn’t.
As soon as I fell in line with a crowd of neighborhood people behind a high school brass band sending forth those joyful and unmistakably New Orleans sounds, my heart surged. We are together. We have survived. We are blessed.
Yes, blessed. One of the most unusual blessings brought by this great tragedy is that we now as a community have the shared collective experience of all of us having been homeless. Because 80 percent of the city was badly flooded and the mandatory evacuation lasted over a month under a National Guard lockdown, everyone was displaced for weeks, months or years. We all – rich and poor — understand as never before how important it is for everyone to have a home. Without a home, you have no sense of safety and security, your health deteriorates, you have no normal family life, and you cannot move forward with your life goals.
And that is why our community has been able – with government partners and an outpouring of help from people around the country, and with local churches, synagogues, businesses and schoolchildren pitching in to donate furniture and household goods – to set a record in rapidly re-housing 452 Katrina survivors living in two squalid homeless camps in downtown New Orleans. That is why outreach workers are still combing abandoned buildings to rescue and re-house our most vulnerable residents. That is why, despite a near-doubling of homelessness in a city where only 80 percent of the general population has returned, none of us will give up until every one of us has a home.
Martha Kegel is the Executive Director of UNITY of Greater New Orleans. UNITY rescues and re-houses disabled and elderly people living in the 55,000 buildings left abandoned in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina five years ago. For a report about long-term homelessness caused by Katrina, see “Search and Rescue Five Years Later: Saving People Still Trapped in Katrina’s Ruins, at www.unitygno.org.