Posts Tagged ‘Unemployment’
Without question, the news of the day is the reported 38 percent drop in Los Angeles, CA.
In a year when everything seemed to present endless challenges for the homeless and homeless advocacy community – rising unemployment, stifled state budgets, increasing homeless counts, reduction of public services, and the rest – it seemed incredible that the city with the largest homeless population in the country saw such a pronounced decrease in their numbers. The Los Angeles Continuum of Care (CoC) is a solid ten percent of the entire homeless population in the country – so any significant movement in their number would represent a notable change in the nation’s homeless population.
All to say – we definitely noticed.
And the inevitable question that rises from such a report is this: how?
Alliance staff has ruminated about the data for the last couple days. Together, we discussed the drop in the sheltered count (down by 19 percent), rental unit vacancy rates for the last five years (up by 3 percent), the unemployment rate (up by 5 percent), the Consumer Price Index (down by 4 percent), and – of course – methodology. We compared Los Angeles to New York and the nation, comparing numbers and rates and population, noting the general difficulties in counting homelessness people – especially the unsheltered (67 percent of the homeless population in LA is unsheltered.)
Of course, all these variables could play a role in determining how and why the count went down as significantly as it did. The rate of rental unit vacancies, the rate of turnover in a homeless shelter, the way the CoC decided to define and count the homeless population all affect the number.
As I’m considering this reality, I’m also reminded that this number – although telling and significant and interesting – is only one piece of information. It’s one number derived from one count on one night in one continuum of care and, by itself, certainly not enough to paint a picture of the depth and breadth of the homeless problem, even just in Los Angeles.
Because homelessness is a complex issue, one that must be contextualized with all those other elements in order to full understand and – hopefully – solve.
That being said, our heartiest congratulations and thanks to Los Angeles for their report and their leadership in this field. Many new programs in the area are being funded by the City and County of Los Angeles, and the County launched a $100 million Homeless Prevention Initiative. The CoC hosts a Permanent Supportive Housing Program, expanded Section 8 voucher programs, and has long worked to ensuring that homeless families and individuals are not only housed but also equipped with the skills and tools to pursue permanent independence. Contextualized or not, we know that ending homelessness in Los Angeles is no easy task, and commend the CoC and their partner organizations hard at work developing innovative solutions and new ideas.
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.
So Colorado is counting their homeless population, and the outlook doesn’t really look so great for the state.
According to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, there are about 11,061 homeless people in the metro Denver region. That number is about 4 percent higher than the last official count in 2007, but homeless advocates think that the survey results are already out of date since their January 2009 count. John Parvensky, director of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, suggests that the real number could be up to 20 percent higher than the 2007 count.
The Alliance had long anticipated that the number of people experiencing homelessness would rise in these economic times, especially if there were no national or other concerted actions to try to remedy the effects of the recession on the very poor and the homeless (who, as we know, are often the hardest hit by economy tumult). Luckily since then, the President has since then created the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program (HPRP) as a part of the stimulus and we are, in fact, seeing evidence of rising homelessness and more people in need of basic services.
Here are a couple of highlights about the news from Colorado.
The Denver Post reports that almost approximately 45 percent of those recently counted were newly homeless.
34.7 percent of those counted attribute their homelessness primarily to job loss; 31.2 percent counted attribute their homelessness to the inability to pay for housing.
The Denver count also suggest that while white and Latino populations were appropriately represented in the homeless populations, African Americans and Native Americans were overrepresented in the homeless population.
This growth in homelessness in particularly troubling considering the state’s significant economic difficulties. Denver’s one health clinic serving homeless people lost about a third of it’s funding, resulting in a first-ever waiting list for homeless people seeking health care, according to the Associated Press.
(This has caused a bit of an skirmish in the homeless advocate community. Ted Pascoe, executive director of Senior Support Services – a nonprofit serving homeless seniors – announced that he would sleep on the streets to protest his organizations funding cut by the Denver Regional Council of Governments.)
Unfortunately, the story we’re seeing unfld in Denver is not an anomaly. As direct service providers, consumers, local officials, and community leaders can all attest, state budget cuts, the effects of the recession, unemployment, and a host of other hardships are falling upon states and people equally. There’s little doubt that many other states are feeling the same pressures as Denver, Colo.
For more information, please see:
Homeless in Denver, by choice, Denver Post.
Homeless in Colorado metro area up to 11,061, Denver Post.
Advocates: Slow economy fueling Colo. homelessness, Associated Press.
It’s an interesting time to be working on ending homelessness.
The economy is terrible and creating havoc for a lot of people. Rising unemployment tends to lead to more homelessness – and this recession has had a lot of unemployment.
At the same time, there are some opportunities to make progress. Congress passed an almost $800 billion economic stimulus bill in the spring: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It includes $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).
This summer, HUD gave HPRP grants to all 50 states and about 500 cities, counties, and territories. The three-year grants ranged from about $500,000 for smaller cities to $74 million for New York City. These local governments will pass on most of their funds to nonprofit organizations to provide several types of financial assistance and services with the goal of preventing homelessness or helping somebody who has become homeless move into an apartment. Here are some examples of what HPRP will be funding:
- Up to 18 months of rental assistance, including up to six months of overdue rent;
- Up to 18 months of utility assistance;
- Moving costs; and
- Rental or utility deposits;
- Housing search assistance including help finding apartments and negotiating with landlords;
- Case management;
- Help applying for and coordinating other services such as employment, child care, etc.
- Legal services; and
- Credit repair services.
There is strong evidence that when done smartly, these kinds of programs can reduce homelessness. You can see some examples in this nice little video about the HomeBase program in New York City and this short summary about Rapid Exit in Hennepin County, MN.
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?
Today, the Director of the Homelessness Research Institute – M William Sermons – attended the National Governor’s Association’s Center for Best Practices’ “Expert’s Roundtable: Helping Families Recover from Foreclosure through Economic Opportunities and Family Supports.”
He was invited to present findings from a report he co-authored earlier this year about the relationship between foreclosure and homelessness. The report – Foreclosure to Homelessness: The Forgotten Victims of the Subprime Crisis – examines how much foreclosure has contributed to rising homelessness rates, and specifically, the rise in numbers of homeless families.
The study went like this: surveys were distributed to direct service providers. These included emergency shelter providers, transitional shelter providers, food assistance programs, and the like. These surveys asked providers to determine how many people they were experiencing homelessness as a result of foreclosure. (A copy of the survey administered is available in the appendix of the full report.)
The results were mixed.
Certainly, a majority of people said that at least some of their clients were homeless as a result of foreclosure – about 80 percent.
But the median percentage of clients that were affected was far smaller. Housing providers (including emergency, transitional, and permanent housing providers) estimated that five percent of their clients experience homelessness due to foreclosure; all respondents (including those who don’t provide housing assistance) estimated that ten percent of their clients experienced homelessness as a result of foreclosure.
But perhaps the most telling finding in the report is that in the narrative of foreclosure to homelessness, it’s mostly renters that are affected. In his presentation, Bill noted that the ratio of homeowners to renters facing homelessness was about 4:1.
This reinforces the idea that while foreclosure may play a role in the rise in homelessness, the leading factors that contribute to homelessness among families stay consistent even in this economic turmoil: unemployment, lack of affordable housing, job loss – these are all the staple causes of homelessness and continue to persist as primary causes.
This theme was not lost on the small group of experts that came to discuss our role in assisting families through the economic downturn. Representatives from the National Governor’s Association, the Center for American Progress, the Urban Institute and the Pew Charitable Trust were among the organizations represented at the table to discuss the issue at hand. The day-long meeting, which included presentations focused on available data and best practices, concluded with a discussion about “key components of a state strategy to help families recover from foreclosure” and a discussion examining what it will take for “states to put this strategy into action”.
The full report, Foreclosure to Homelessness: The Forgotten Victims of the Subprime Crisis, is available on our website.
Okay, so every Friday, I’m going to try to have a news roundup of stories that were particularly interesting, or funny, or insightful, or really really awful (I’m kind of looking forward to writing about the last ones!).
Luckily for you, National Public Radio (NPR) and the Associated Press came to your rescue today.
Yesterday, the Department of Labor announced that unemployment had reached 9.5 percent – a 26-year high. The Associated Press and NPR reported that industry sectors across the board were hit fairly hard, with the bright spots being in education and medical fields.
There’s been a flurry of discussion about the recession and it’s impacts on homelessness: news about foreclosures and middle-class families and rising rates of homelessness across the country (check out the Daily Clips section of our website for a listing of related stories). But more troubling than those sensationalized stories are reports like this one about unemployment. While the recession may come and (hopefully) go, the root causes of homelessness – including a dearth of affordable housing, mental illness, and (yup) unemployment – are steadfast in the face of economic sways.
Also in the news today is a story about schizophrenia.
Recent genetic studies, according to reporting by NPR have shed some light on the development of schizophrenia.
Researchers, long stymied by puzzling disease, tried to find difference in the genes of thousands of people – some had schizophrenia; some didn’t.
The researchers found a few interesting leads, one of them linking schizophrenia to the immune system. Some are speculating that the “tendency to develop schizophrenia may have something to do with infections of mothers during pregnancy.”
While this article isn’t directly related to homelessness, there is a sizable percentage of the homeless population that we refer to as “chronic” – meaning that those people experiencing homelessness have a disability of some kind (anyone remember The Soloist? Jamie Foxx?) Moreover, the role of deinstitutionalization has been a part of the history of modern homelessness.
Let me know what you think of the stories, and don’t hesitate to shoot a shout out if you see anything that you might want to share!