Posts Tagged ‘Recession’
Newsflash: the working poor are having an especially tough time in this recession.
Shocked yet? Probably not.
But the picture is more textured and nuanced than you might imagine.
For the second installment of our “Economy Bytes” series, the Alliance’s Homelessness Research Institute focused on a population that is struggling to weather the “Great Recession” – the working poor.
In short, we found that the working poor population is more likely to experience risk factors for homelessness than the general working population. And a lot of that is because they’ve been disproportionately affected by elements of this recession.
What do we mean? Okay, so we looked at three elements: severe housing cost burden, doubled up housing situations, and income.
And we found that – although people from different income brackets experience severe housing cost burden, doubled up housing situation, and reduced income – the working poor are more likely to experience these factors and experience them more acutely.
- Severe housing cost burden: In 2008, 37.6 percent of the working poor population spent more than 50 percent of their monthly income on rent compared to just 3.8 percent of the general working population.
- Doubled up: In 2008, an estimated 7.8 percent of the working poor population was doubled up with family or friends as compared to less than 6.5 percent of the general working population.
- Income/workforce: On average, the working poor population works 46.2 weeks per year compared to the general working population’s 49.1 weeks per year. Moreover, the working poor population are also employed in more volatile industries and earn less per hour – industry average of $12.78 per hour compared with average private sector earnings of $21.62 per hour – than the average working person.
Each of these factors – and the culmination of them, certainly – are all risk factors for homelessness and, as the data show, common experiences among working poor people.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the Fifth Quarterly Pulse report – a snapshot of homelessness in eight communities across the country. This latest report covers the time between January to March 2010.
The moral of the story, as conveyed by the current report, is that homelessness is mostly down.
- There was a one percent decrease in the overall shelter count between the fourth and fifth quarters. (All but NYC reported decreases in their local counts.)
- There was a four percent decrease in the number of sheltered persons in families between the fourth and fifth quarters (All but the Richmond, VA community reported decreases in their local family counts.)
- There was a three percent increase in sheltered homeless individuals between the fourth and fifth quarters. (Despite notable decreases in some areas – VA, CT, and KY – increases in other communities, including OH and NYC, contributed to a rise in this number.)
We also noted a couple of economic indicators:
- When comparing January – March 2009 to January – March 2010, seven of the eight sites showed increased joblessness. (LA showed a 0.1 percent improvement in joblessness.)
- Five communities experienced increased joblessness between the fourth and fifth quarters.
- Half of the sites had increased rates of foreclosure activity.
Another point of concern (that’s often reported in news outlets) is the number of newly homeless. In this quarter’s Pulse report, we see that:
- In the eight communities surveyed, the number of newly homeless served decreased by 12 percent as compared to the previous quarter.
- Six sites showed – all but AZ and LA – showed decreases in the number of newly homeless served with OH and NYC leading the pack with 57 percent fewer new clients and 10 percent fewer new clients, respectively.
- About half of new clients were in families, as was the case in the past four quarters. But in a few communities, the proportion largely tilts towards individuals, including DC (80 percent of new clients are individuals), LA (80 percent individuals), and VA (76 percent individuals).
Also of note with this new group: 91 percent of new clients entered an emergency shelter and 31 percent of new clients were children (1 percent of them were unaccompanied youth).
The Pulse report includes the following communities:
Phoenix/Mesa/Maricopa County, AZ
District of Columbia
Frankford, Elizabethtown, KY
New York City
Cleveland/Cuyahoga County, OH
Richmod/Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover Counties, VA
In the following months, HUD aims to include more communities in the Pulse report and continue to pursue a represent all different types of jurisdictions and geographies. For more information about the Pulse report – and to access the latest report – please visit the HUD Homelessness Research Exchange website.
Imagine you’re a 7 year old and your family becomes homeless. Every night, you fall asleep in a shelter, in a car, on the street. Imagine moving in and out of the assistance system, shuffled back and forth from shelters to programs to relatives. Suddenly, school, teachers, classmates, and even homework become the constants in your life – anchors of normalcy when everything else seems to be falling apart.
Last Thursday, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty hosted the annual McKinney-Vento Awards, the organization’s yearly tribute to leaders in the field. This year’s awardees included best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich, the law firm Dechert LLP, and the Elzer family of Pittsburgh, PA.
As a novice to the organization and the issue, I felt lucky to tag along and learn. Even on a national level the homeless assistance community is a small one. That is why these events like this one are great opportunities to meet other people in the field, recognize the innovators, and connect with like-minded people and organizations.
As I sat taking in the night, one issue resonated with me most: the plight of homeless children.
The McKinney-Vento Act allows children in homeless families to stay in their original public school regardless of where their family is temporarily staying. Still, as I learned Thursday evening, there are homeless children who face discrimination when trying to exercise that right.
The Elzer family faced just this situation. When Bill Elzer lost his job, his family found itself homeless and their children were forced out of their school.
But the Elzers weren’t having it. With the assistance of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, the Elzers sued to have their children re-enrolled. The family won their battle and the children were able to return to their school this past spring. Because of this lawsuit and others like it, Pennsylvania now has guidelines to prevent other homeless children from having to experience the same injustices.
As the nation continues to recover from the grinding effects of this lasting recession, we can and must do more to extend even the smallest courtesies to each other – especially when the other is a young child. In a time of economic uncertainty and fear, we must work together in order to overcome our national challenges.
This was the message that the night most obvious on Thursday night, surrounded by people who have long been working to end homelessness in America. If we are to end homelessness in the nation, we must be willing to work together to create the best possible outcomes for the vulnerable people we serve.
A great little article from up in Oneida, NY notes the importance of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. In Madison County, the Community Action Partnership (CAP) took their HPRP stimulus money and used it to extend short-term, temporary housing assistance for nearly a hundred families in the community.
According to the executive director of CAP, this temporary assistance can be a “soft gap” for people waiting to qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers or for those who need a little extra time before achieving self-sufficiency. The program has been “phenomenal,” not only aiding vulnerable families and providing budgeting counseling but also preventing hundreds of instances of homelessness in the neighborhood.
Things are less phenomenal in Las Vegas, NV where public schools are witnessing an influx of homeless students – an increase of 15 percent according to this morning’s article on the issue. Officials in Nevada note the affect – particularly hard in that state – of three year’s of recession the state resulting in persistent unemployment and, sometimes, job loss (a lagging indicator, as we’ve noted.) The story notes a specific increase in the number of “couch surfers” and doubled up families. Homeless youth are even more vulnerable than their adult counterparts, at higher risk to violence, abuse, and crime.
New York caused a bit of a buzz earlier this week when it announced the city’s Department of Homeless Services decided to run a study to determine if prevention services proved effective at helping people avoid homelessness (CNN ran a decent article about this). This meant that of 400 families randomly selected for the program, half would receive services and the other half wouldn’t. Needless to say, the move has sparked uproar in the community despite the fact that, “The DHS is stressing the fact that all group members were aware they might be chosen to participate in the study and have signed informed consent forms agreeing to the terms.“
And, if you really want to read an article about the Homeless World Cup, this is a pretty good one. While soccer is no solution to homelessness, writer Michael Fox does a good job of explaining the tournament and placing in the context of a larger, national effort.
Note: we’re taking Monday off (federal holiday – controversial or not), but will be back on Tuesday. Happy three-day weekend!
How many people are homeless due to the recession? We’re not sure yet. Homelessness is what we call a “lagging indicator” of a poor economy, so we still have yet to see the full impact of the economic recession on homelessness.
But that doesn’t mean the recession hasn’t had – or won’t have – an impact on homelessness. Today, the Homeless Research Institute’s launches our Economy Bytes series, in which we investigate economic indicators that are associated with homelessness. The first in this series investigates doubled-up situations.
Our research shows that 5 percent more people lived in doubled up situations in 2008 than in 2005; in particular, we’ve seen a growing share of doubled up families.
Wait, so what’s doubled up? Doubling up means that an individual or family lives with extended family, friends, and other non-relatives due to economic hardship. In this case, we define economic hardship as earning no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level.
Not all doubled up people or families will become homeless but for many, it’s a precursor. Of those people who weren’t homeless before staying at a shelter, 46 percent spent the previous night at the home of a friend or family member, according to the 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR).
But why do people double up? In short, people double up because they can’t afford housing. They have had to choose between basic necessities like food, health care, clothing and housing, and people who are doubled up have had to sacrifice their own housing.
The following chart shows the relationship between poverty and people in doubled up situations.
What about services for doubled up people and families?
The growing number of people in doubled up situations likely means there is a growing demand for services.
In 2009, the Homeless Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act expanded the definition of homelessness to include some doubled up families, making them eligible for homeless assistance services, but in order to effectively serve this population, we need more information about doubled up people and families.
Want to know more? The full brief is available here.
Maybe you read in USA Today that the number of calls to the National Runaway Switchboard doubled in 2009. Maybe you’ve heard that running away from home puts young people at risk of violence, crime, prostitution, drugs and health problems. Maybe you’re an outreach worker who hears these stories every day.
If, for these or any other reasons, you’re concerned about youth homelessness, you should know about the Runaway Homeless Youth Act (RHYA). Along with the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) Act, RHYA is one of two federal programs aimed at helping homeless youth.
There are 3 main RHYA programs:
- The Basic Center Program, which helps meet immediate needs of runaway and homeless youth and their families including providing emergency shelter, reunification when possible, food, clothing, counseling, and access to health care;
- The Transitional Living Program, which provides funding long-term residential services to homeless youth ages 16 to 21 for up to 18 months;
- The Street Outreach Program, which funds outreach efforts designed to move youth off the streets.
Particularly in these tough economic times, these programs are crucial. Not only do they prevent victimization on the streets, but they are more cost-effective than foster care or a correctional facility. And still, current programs do not meet the need: in 2009, RHYA programs served less than 41,000 with shelter services and less than 4,000 received transitional housing. Over 7,500 youth were turned away and denied shelter and housing.
We at the Alliance are now looking to Congress to appropriate $165 million to these vital programs. With our youth in crisis, the $116 million in the president’s suggested FY2011 budget is simply not enough. The increase would assist about 18,000 additional homeless youth with shelter and housing services and provide for over 300,000 additional street outreach contacts and crisis intervention.
For more on ending youth homelessness, check out the Alliance’s Federal Youth Policy Agenda.
If you were walking down the streets of NYC this week, you might have run into a digital “homeless person” along with a message asking you to donate to Pathways to Housing’s programs. It’s a pretty innovative use of technology, but will it work? Not only for raising money, but inspiring compassion? Check out the video and let us know what you think…
Here at the Alliance, we released the fourth part in our Geography of Homelessness Series this week. You can check out the major findings and download the whole report here.
We’re also gearing up for our 2010 Annual Awards Ceremony. Register here! Recipients include Unity of Greater New Orleans, and if you’ve been following our blog, you know we’re big fans of Signs of Life, where their outreach team reflects on their daily work.
Following last week’s announcement that the federal government is revising the poverty measure, Change.org and Politico posted analyses of the move. There’s consensus on one point: it was a long time coming, and a welcome sign that this administration wants to work on solving poverty.
Finally, there’s a fantastic piece on the Street Roots blog by Heather Lyons this week: it weaves together personal anecdotes and policy goals. She writes:
I wonder when people who lead, politically and bureaucratically, will make the connections and do the right thing and not the expedient thing. When will people start making systemic changes to give chronically poor, un- and underemployed, and unhealthy families opportunities…? If that doesn’t happen, no matter the greater economic issues of our time, we will never prevent future generations of homelessness and chronic homelessness.
The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program is making good news throughout the U.S. We’re keeping track of the media coverage on this interactive map, and we’re also highlighting some of the common themes we’ve seen in the implementation of the program. (Hat tip to fellow intern Grace Stubee for her help with this post!)
Many groups have used funding from HPRP to create a one-stop shop, or centralized point of access, for services to people experiencing homelessness. One example comes from Cowlitz County, WA, where the center is the office of Lower Columbia Community Action Program. Making services easily accessible is particularly important because many people seeking assistance through HPRP don’t know how to navigate the social services system, because they have never needed government assistance before.
Elsewhere, the one-stop shop isn’t a physical space, but folks can connect with numerous services through an HPRP hotline, which Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh worked together to start up.
In Columbus, OH, it’s not just about having a central location, but also a common way of doing things: “For the community and for the homeless population, there will be one point of contact, with a common language, common process and a hot line,” said Dave Davis, director of programs and planning at the shelter board.
In Las Vegas, the federal money has encouraged more than 35 social service agencies to coordinate. The county designed a three-tier network of assistance, but as the program’s name – “No Wrong Door” – indicates, staff at any of the organizations in the network will attempt to connect clients with all the programs they are eligible for.
Essentially, the aim is to “prevent participants from having to run between agencies and potentially fall through the cracks,” said Eileen Leir, regional services director for Volunteers of America, Dakotas.
In Durango, CO, one single dad reaped the benefits of coordination and centralization by his city’s agencies. Through one case manager, he was able to access not only an apartment, but Medicaid and food stamps, programs he didn’t even know existed. He’s also enrolled his son in childcare, which will allow him to return to work as a mechanic.
His is a great example of how centralized, streamlined services move people from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
Speaking of media coverage, have you read Time.com’s feature on HPRP? Alliance President Nan Roman is featured: “People need the stability of a home.” she says.
So I guess the homelessness news of the week is that the U.S. Conference of Mayors came out with the Annual Hunger and Homelessness Report, suggesting that family homelessness is on the rise and that hunger has reached record rates.
Specifically, the Mayors Report says:
In the area of homelessness, nineteen cities (76 percent), reported an increase in family homelessness, while homelessness among individuals decreased or stayed the same for 16 of the 25 cities (64 percent). Most of the cities that experienced drops in individual homelessness attribute the decline to a policy strategy by federal, state and local governments of instituting 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness among single adults. Not surprisingly, the recession and a lack of affordable housing were cited as the top causes of family homelessness in the surveyed cities.
While there’s no doubt in my mind that the recession has impacted homelessness on all fronts, I hadn’t been made aware that family homelessness was definitively up. In fact, I think I stumbled across just this quandary earlier this year when the Department of Housing and Urban Development released their Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) in July of this year.
But while we may not have any definitive data, Alliance staff are hearing reports from our friends in the field that need is undoubtedly up. From programs and shelters and advocates across the country, we hear stories of both individuals and families who are nearly that precarious edge of stable housing. With unemployment and poverty rates at the highest they’ve seen in decades, we know that those people who are most at risk of homelessness – those people on the economic fringes of society – are face more and more dire circumstances and making harder and harder choices.
There is a note of hope on the horizon, in the form of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP): the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded initiative that is helping communities prevent further increases in homelessness as a result of the recession.
The Mayor’s report asked representatives in communities how HPRP money was being utilized, and whether or not it was achieving its intended ends. Cities reported that they’re not only using this money, but utilizing it to transform their approaches to homelessness, focusing on prevention and rapid re-housing instead of shelter and disjointed services. We’re delighted by this news! We know that if utilized strategically and effectively, HPRP can change the way we approach homelessness nationally – shifting our focus from a shelter-driven system that only manages the problem to a housing-focused strategy that works to prevent and actually end homelessness.
This was easily our favorite highlight in the Mayor’s report!
And while we’re on the subject, we are trying to collect information about how HPRP funds are being used to prevent and end homelessness – especially for families. We’re collecting stories and posting them online (we haven’t started posting yet – no worries, be patient!). If you’re interested in contributing, please take a look at the Alliance Story Bank!
Yesterday, the Alliance hosted a convening of the Research Council – a handful of leaders in the homelessness research field – to discuss the direction of homelessness research. After a few moments sharing new and innovative projects that each member was working on, the group went forth to discuss three major points:
- What has been achieved from the last agenda?
- What is the future of homelessness research?
- What are the policy implications of our research?
In the last Research Agenda, the council attempted to answer some of the bigger questions facing the field:
- What programs and policies are effective in preventing chronic homelessness?
- What mix of housing assistance and services prevents and ends homelessness?
- What characteristics distinguish those poor, at-risk families who become homeless from those who don’t?
As the voices of these research heavyweights whirled around the room, I furiously took notes on the questions that seemed to resonate loudest. It became clearer and clearer that as much as we have learned about homelessness, there is even more that we don’t know. Now that the foundation has been laid on the issue of homelessness, the charge – it seems – is to dig deeper and deeper until homelessness is no longer the social problem we know today.
But in this economic climate and at this particular point in time, there are a few questions that rose as the obvious questions we need to answer soonest:
1. What is the impact of the recession on homelessness? How do the housing markets and unemployment factor in?
2. Will President Obama’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program manage to make a difference? Who will this program help? How much of a difference will be made?
3. What do we know about homeless youth?
4. What do families need? Are there more homeless families now, and how can we help them?
They’re certainly questions that have been coming across my desk – from colleagues and reporter and the like; undoubtedly, I am not the only one struggling to find answers to these questions.
The Council conducts important research to help bring us closer to an answer and to demystify this population that – as we are learning now – are not so different than us.