Posts Tagged ‘TANF’
We’re welcoming two new staff members at the Alliance this week: Kim Walker is our new Capacity Building Associate and Kate Seif is our new Assistant to the President. We’re excited to have their experience and enthusiasm in our office!
We had a visit this week from Sarah, John and James, three intrepid college students from North Carolina who are biking across the country to research Housing First initiatives and raise money for housing in their own community. We’ll be following them on their blog – and you should too.
We’re still waiting on the Federal Plan to End Homelessness, but in the meantime, check out the Homeless Law blog’s post “Five Reasons I’m Looking Forward to the Federal Plan.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities sets the record straight about the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund, in response to claims on the YouCut website. (Pssst: The Emergency Contingency Fund is part of HR 4123, which is being discussed in the House today. if you haven’t called your Members of Congress about HR4123, do it now!)
We’ve mentioned Street Roots’ photo project, where they asked their vendors what matters most and this week, they posted this cool word cloud. What jumps out at you?
Love this editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune about how to end homelessness. They’re speaking our language:
How do you eliminate chronic homelessness? The problem seems so complex that the obvious solution is often overlooked. If you want to take people off the streets and put them on the road to a better life, you start by putting a permanent roof over their heads.
And then’s there our social media survey, part of our ongoing discussion about how to work together online to end homelessness. We want to hear from you!
It’s been another seriously busy week at the Alliance. Not only did we recognize the formation of the new Congressional Caucus on Homelessness and launch a brand-new website, we also put out the latest Community Snapshot, which highlights the progress in Alameda County, CA. They’ve reduced homelessness by 15% since 2003. Find out how they did it here.
This week on the Change.org End Homelessness blog, blogger Jessica Rowshandel also discussed news about the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness briefing. Plus, they featured a post by our very own Catherine An!
On Off the Charts, the Center on Budget names yet another reason for Congress to extend the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Contingency Fund: it’s helping create jobs for more than 180,000 people across the U.S. That’s in addition to preventing families from ending up homeless by providing income and short-term rent assistance. (Read our latest on the Emergency Contingency Fund here. The Center for American Progress was also talking TANF this week – check out what they have to say about changing TANF asset tests.
And let’s end on some good news: Memphis, a city where 1600 people experience homelessness each night, just announced that they’ve created a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Hats off to Memphis! Plus, Cape Cod’s Point in Time Count showed a 10% decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness.
Today, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting addressing housing and homelessness issues for foster children and youth. Hosted by the National Foster Care Coalition (NFCC), this meeting brought together advocates, policymakers, government officials, and other interested parties in addressing the issue of foster children.
According to the NFCC, there are nearly half a million children and youth in foster care – and of those, over 26,000 age out of the foster care program without ever having joined a permanent family. Studies have demonstrated that these youth – who never experience the benefits of permanent housing and support – often are more likely to experience negative outcomes, including poverty, homelessness, incarceration, as well as mental and physical illness. They often never learn the life and educational skills necessary to live successful, independent lives.
Luckily, there are actions that we can take to help these foster care children, and increase the odds that they will become productive, active members of society. The NFCC presented a housing policy platform for foster care children, which include the following (these are just a selection among a longer list):
- Increase the legal and financial incentive to providing foster placement prevention services, including housing.
- Require federally-mandated child welfare planning/plans to integrate housing goals.
- Provide federal incentives for states to extend foster care [services] until 21, if needed.
- Change TANF to support minor parents in their efforts to find housing for themselves and their children.
As an outsider on the issue, it was interesting to hear the perspectives of seasoned veterans who have long been protecting the interest of the most vulnerable. I learned today that it’s tough to find willing foster parents nowadays, and even tougher to find foster parents for older children. It had never occurred to me that in these rough times, that sector would be affected as well.
Experts also discussed the challenges in serving youth who were already parents, and the added services and responsibility that are required in such a delicate situation, and in finding solutions for homeless students pursuing secondary education. What can we – as a interdependent community – do to support those students who are actively trying to better their lives but struggling without the skills and/or resources to acquire housing?
And then, there was the entire issue of foster care itself. I was – as it turns out – uninformed about the specifics of the concept. Foster care is intended to be a temporary solution, but on average, children remain in foster care for more than two years. During that time, children average three different placements – moves that are often disruptive to the child’s development.
Find out more about youth homelessness on our website, and please visit the National Foster Care Coalition’s website for more information about their national housing policy platform and the coalition.
In the fight against homelessness, there are a number of solutions and ideas. So far, we as a country have embraced homelessness management – and constructed a series of shelters and assistance programs that do benefit the lives of the homeless but does little else to lift them out of homelessness in a more effective and permanent way.
The Alliance supports a different approach – one based on permanent housing as a solution to homelessness.
In between the two is the concept of transitional housing – a temporary situation that can aid individuals and family who are suffering a short-term crisis. Here’s a story from Bonnie Baxley, Executive Director at Community Lodgings. Inc., a transitional housing program in Alexandria, Virginia.
All families who enter Community Lodgings’ Transitional Housing Program are homeless and most are referred to us by local temporary shelters. Each of our families has their own unique story usually revolving around themes that are all too familiar: addiction, domestic violence and a lack of education.
Recently, we welcomed a new family to our program. J.D., a single mother, and her 5-month old son exemplify the constant struggle that characterizes homelessness. Still, they continue to overcome seemingly incomprehensible problems through support from our caseworkers and their own enduring hope and perseverance.
A 31-year old single mother, J.D., was referred to Community Lodgings from a local homeless shelter. She entered our two-year program with a history of incarceration and substance abuse as well as a hearing disability.
But since her worst days, J.D. has paid her debt to society, maintained sobriety for over two years, and now seeks a new life for her family. She has two children – a 5-month old son that lives with her and a 14-year old daughter living with an aunt in another city.
The family continues to make progress one step at a time. J.D. is currently employed through a temporary staffing agency, working a minimum of 16-20 hours per week while she seeks full-time employment. With the help of Community Lodgings, J.D. enrolled in culinary courses to broaden and strengthen her skill set. She focuses on maintaining sobriety, completing her education and obtaining a GED, and securing full-time employment to provide basic necessities for her children. She is also being treated for bipolar disorder at a local health clinic.
J.D. is determined to make a success of her life.
As JD progresses, her caseworker reviews and offers guidance on how to reorganize her financial situation – her budget is based on total monthly income and projected spending. The goal, for both J.D. and for Community Lodgings, is for J.D. to reach independence.
J.D.’s family is one of 13 families currently enrolled in Community Lodgings’ Transitional Housing Program. It is through our program that she and other families strive to meet the ultimate goals of independence and self-sufficiency.
The two-year transitional program helps our families “open doors to independence” by providing an apartment and a support system cultivated by caseworkers, program directors, and community programs. Families sign a two-year commitment contract with Community Lodgings and promise to: stay drug and alcohol free; attend all workshops, meetings and activities as prescribed by our caseworker; and pay a monthly fee based on 30% of her income. Caseworkers provide guidance and opportunities to improve education, employment, finances, health, housing maintenance and emergency services. They also work closely with our Family Learning Center staff to organize parenting, anti-gang, family violence, financial literacy and substance abuse workshops and computer literacy and English classes for adults.
For more information about Community Lodgings, please visit their website.
Okay, I’m a little excited! Yesterday, our friends at The Nation published an editorial we wrote for the “Ten Things” series. You can access the article, “Ten Things You Need to Know to End Homelessness,” on the Nation website but – if you’re feeling lazy – you can just read it below!
In July 2009, The Nation published a “Ten Things” piece titled “Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets.” The provocative and thoughtful piece elicited quite a response. We, however, respectfully disagree with the premise of the piece. Before submitting to the idea that there are things you need to know to live on the streets, we suggest that you consider whether living on the streets is necessary at all.
We’re no strangers to the issue of homelessness–rather, we’re quite well-versed in the subject. Homelessness, as we know it, began in the 1980s and has persisted through the decades. Some see it as an inevitable byproduct of a diminishing affordable housing supply, a lack of well-paying jobs, tumult in the economic sector, and both globalization and urbanization. Many see it as an unavoidable social nuisance. Some don’t see it at all. But here, at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, we see it as a problem with a solution.
The causes of homelessness are many and complex–but the solution to homelessness heads toward one straight goal: housing.
- Plan. It’s simple: our problem is homelessness, and this complex, multifaceted problem requires a thoughtful, carefully concerted plan of attack. The most successful plans are built with the input and support of community leaders, elected officials, lawmakers, business leaders, service providers and residents.
- Collect and examine the data. You can’t know what you’re doing until you know what you’re dealing with. Most communities already have a way to count the number of homeless people in the area; some communities also collect information on how people become homeless, how long they stay homeless, how homeless people interact with agencies of care (it’s called HMIS). Examine these data and learn the characteristics specific to their homeless populations–good data will inform which strategies are enacted, how much those strategies will cost, and how the plans can be implemented and carried out.
- Strengthen emergency prevention. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most communities have in place an emergency homelessness-prevention program–usually including rent, mortgage, and utility assistance; case management; landlord or lender intervention; and other programs that pull people back from the brink of homelessness. By expanding, strengthening and improving access to these emergency prevention services, communities can curtail homelessness when people come precariously close to the edge.
- Systems prevention. Similarly, we also have a set of systems that help the low- and extremely low-income households. Most people and families who fall into homelessness were already engaged in programs that provide low-income people care and assistance (as most families and people who fall into homelessness are low-income to begin with). Others who fall into homelessness are “graduates” of various state institutions: foster care, incarceration, mental health facilities. If we can strengthen the existing assistance programs and create effective transition programs for those exiting state institutions, we can ensure that those most at risk of experiencing homelessness are kept from it.
- No-strings outreach. A key component of ending homelessness is reaching out to people who live on the street and encouraging them to embrace housing. But it’s often no easy task. Those who live on the street often suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Persuading this population to accept housing requires an availability of “low-demand” housing–that is, housing that doesn’t mandate participation in treatment programs. While this “no-strings” approach may seem controversial, housing minimizes the ill-effects of street living (including both mental and physical distress), and stable housing creates a sense of safety and security that encourages participation in recovery treatments. While this step may seem distasteful to many, low-demand housing does encourage those needing help to seek it out.
- Shorten homelessness. Shelter living is not the answer to homelessness, but it is an existing tool that can assist people temporarily. One of our goals is to shorten shelter stays as much as possible and move people quickly into housing. Strategies to shorten homelessness include incentivizing quick placement in permanent housing and holding shelters and similar service providers accountable for their past and present clients.
- Rapid re-housing. One of the hardest parts of a housing-focused strategy is finding affordable housing that low-income or very low-income families can access. As affordable housing becomes a rarer and rarer commodity, fewer and fewer landlords see cause to rent to people with lower incomes, little savings, credit problems or spotty rental history. But there have been success stories–even in the most difficult areas (like LA and NY). What success requires is an investment from community leaders and a talented group of dedicated personnel to forge relationships with stakeholders, meet with prospective landholders and lay out the case for housing everyone.
- Services. Once households are successfully re-housed, families and individuals should have rapid access to services: therapy, medical support, family assistance and other, similar services. These services can help families stabilize, promote individual and family well-being, and encourage self-sufficiency. Luckily, these services already exist through mainstream government programs–including TANF, SSI, Medicaid – and many others. The key is to link housing services with these existing social services.
- Permanent Housing. Permanent housing comes in two forms: affordable housing and supportive housing. Most people–especially families–need only the former. Some homeless people–especially the chronically homeless – require supportive services along with permanent housing. While housing challenges will persist for those with low and extremely low-income until the supply of affordable housing increases substantially, local communities and neighborhoods are making concerted efforts to spur the development of affordable housing and to encourage state and local participation in securing affordable housing for the homeless.
- Income. The last step to achieving self-sufficiency. As with services, there are government programs that can assist the formerly homeless, especially those with disabilities. Many formerly homeless people can benefit from longer-term, career-based employment services as well as cash-assistance programs. The faster that people can access those kinds of programs, the shorter their route to permanent stability.
As always, we want to know what you think! Anything you think we left out?