Ending Homelessness Today
The official blog of the National Alliance to End Homelessness
The 2015 Point-in-Time Count is Finally Here.
January 22, 2015
In the next two weeks, volunteers across the country will set out to conduct a count of all homeless persons in their communities. Though it may be too late sign up to volunteer in your community’s 2015 Point-in-Time Count (here in D.C., volunteer registration is already closed), you can still help us out at the Alliance.
Every year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to conduct sheltered counts of people living in emergency shelter or transitional housing. Every other year, HUD requires communities to conduct unsheltered counts of people living in a place unfit for human habitation (such as in an abandoned building or in a park). This year is one of the years that both counts are required, so every community will be conducting both a sheltered and an unsheltered count.
Here at the Alliance, we track this data as it is released. Different communities release their count data at different times, and we want to know which communities are reporting an increase in homelessness and which ones are reporting a decrease. Of course, there are a lot of communities across the nation, so we can’t do this without your help.
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Homeless Youth Count (And Should Be Counted!)
January 21, 2015
Next week, volunteers and homeless service providers around the country will venture into wooded areas, under bridges, city parks, and subway lines in order to look for people living outdoors. This nationwide effort is designed to get the best possible “point-in-time” count of people experiencing homelessness – those living in shelters, transitional housing programs, or in places unintended for human habitation – on one given night.
We have seen too often that they will miss a very important segment of the homeless population: homeless youth.
There are many reasons homeless youth are missed in Point-in-Time Counts. Some are complicated and difficult to overcome. Youth may be spending the night with a stranger and are not on the street during the point-in-time count. Many will go to great lengths to avoid appearing homeless and may be reluctant to share their housing status with a stranger. Some youth under the age of 18 may fear child welfare involvement and so they may avoid interacting with people who might alert social service agencies to their lack of housing.
Young people who are out on the streets at night can't always be found in the same locations where homeless adults are found. Often they are not using the same social service programs, and many of those programs do not report data to the community’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS). To conductive a youth-inclusive count, communities will have to modify their traditional counting strategies. But in the meantime, here some easy steps for communities to implement for next week’s count:
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New Orleans Ends Veteran Homelessness, Sets an Example for the Nation
January 14, 2015
The city of New Orleans has come a long way in the nine or so years since the surging waters of Hurricane Katrina devastated large swaths of the city and displaced more than 400,000 of its residents. Before Katrina, a little more than 2,000 people experienced homelessness on a given night. By 2007, that number swelled to more than 11,500.
After Hurricane Katrina, homelessness skyrocketed in New Orleans as a result of the destruction of much of the housing stock and the disappearance of jobs. But in the intervening years, through incredible work by leaders in that community and others around the country, the number of people living on the streets, in shelters, and in abandoned buildings has declined significantly.
As of January 2014, the number people in Jefferson and Orleans parishes who experience homelessness on a given night had declined to 1,981 people. The homeless service system in New Orleans has become a national model for street outreach, landlord outreach, targeting of permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, and other strategies for fighting homelessness.
Last week the city reached a new and historic milestone when Mayor Landrieu announced that New Orleans had ended homelessness among veterans. Ending veteran homelessness is, of course, a major goal of “Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.” Under Opening Doors, the benchmark date set for ending veteran homelessness is the end of 2015.
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How We Conduct Research on Homelessness Matters as Much as Our Findings
January 13, 2015
Here at the Alliance, we love solid research on homelessness. Strong studies of homeless populations give our policy team and our advocates the ammunition they need to make compelling arguments to lawmakers about the necessity of support for homeless persons.
But homeless populations arguably are one of the most difficult populations to study, because they are often transient, lack consistent contact information, and may not want to identify themselves as homeless. For this reason, one of the most valuable types of research on homelessness is actually research about research.
Confused? Allow me to explain. The value of research is dependent on the way researchers go about conducting it (i.e. its methodology). The better the methodology of the research, the more useful the researcher’s findings will be, both for policymakers and other researchers. So it’s really important that researchers develop strong methodologies.
With this goal in mind, many researchers are actually studying methodologies themselves, instead of studying particular populations. In other words: rather than studying homeless youth themselves, researchers might examine the best methods to study homeless youth. That way, they and other researchers will have solid methodologies on which to base future studies of homeless youth.
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5 Perspectives from the Transatlantic Exchange Program
January 12, 2015
With today’s guest blog post, we would like to introduce you to five homeless assistance professionals who spent several weeks learning about homeless assistance practices in England. They traveled there as participants in the Transatlantic Practice Exchange program, which was coordinated jointly by the Alliance and Homeless Link and generously funded by the Oak Foundation. This post provides just a quick look at what they learned. For more detail, please check out their reports on the Alliance website.
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Here’s what Homeless Advocates Accomplished in 2014 (Against the Odds)
January 09, 2015
The second session of the 113th Congress started out unusually, under a continuing resolution, or stopgap funding measure, to avert a government shutdown. This foreshadowed the rest of the year, during which congressional activity could be described as dysfunctional, unproductive, partisan, and chocked-full of manufactured crises.
In this context, 2014 was a challenging year in which advocates for homeless assistance programs fought an uphill battle. However, this did not keep homeless advocates across the country from drawing attention to the need for increased federal funding for vital homeless assistance programs in their communities. In light of the considerable challenges they faced, homeless advocates achieved some impressive gains in 2014.
In early March, the FY 2015 federal funding process commenced on an optimistic note with the release of President Obama’s Budget Proposal, which included various provisions favorable to people experiencing homelessness, among them a proposed $301 million increase for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. While some lawmakers expressed hope that appropriations bills would pass in a timely manner, partisan divides prevailed and gridlock soon set in.
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Mayor Landrieu Announces New Orleans has Ended Veteran Homelessness
January 07, 2015
New Orleans Mayor Mitche Landrieu announced today that his city has effectively ended homelessness among veterans by housing 227 veterans in 2014 and ensuring that all veterans who become homeless will be housed within an average of 30 days. This is a big deal. More than anything, it shows that it can be done: communities really can end veteran homelessness.
So you’re probably asking, "How did they do it?" The Alliance released a Community Snapshot today detailing some of the initiatives New Orleans undertook to address the issue. New Orleans' strategy includes aggressive outreach tactics on the street and in shelters, assigning housing navigators to each veteran, and bringing together key partners to ensure that each one had a stake in bringing an end to veteran homelessness.
New Orleans was already making serious progress in reducing homelessness. From 2007 to 2014, the city achieve an 83 percent reduction. And the city's housing providers, led by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, already had a lot of housing knowhow. But it wasn’t until Mayor Landrieu threw his support behind the initiative in July that the pieces really fell into place. As part of the First Lady’s Mayors Challenge, Mayor Landrieu committed his city to ending veteran homelessness - not by the end of 2015, the federal goal, but by the end of 2014.
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Recruiting and Training PIT Count Volunteers: What the Experts Say
January 06, 2015
January is upon us, and that means the 2015 Point-in-Time (PIT) Count is right around the corner. This year, in addition to their annual sheltered count, communities are required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to conduct an unsheltered count of people sleeping in places unfit for human habitation, such as on the street or in a park.
As part of their preparation, communities around the country are training volunteers to conduct unsheltered counts. Unsheltered counts are generally conducted on a single night in January, which means that communities must rely on volunteers to find and count as many unsheltered homeless people as possible. Volunteers are critical to the unsheltered count process, as many communities wouldn’t be able to conduct unsheltered counts without them.
Counting unsheltered homeless people is a daunting task. Not only are many unsheltered homeless people hard to find, but members of some homeless subpopulations, like homeless youth and LGBTQ individuals, congregate in different areas than larger populations and may try to avoid being identified as homelessness. Locating them requires different strategies.
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The Year Ahead in Veteran Homelessness
January 05, 2015
Fast forward to December 31, 2015, to a the White House Press Room where President Obama is holding a press conference announcing that we have effectively ended homelessness among veterans in our country. This may seem improbable – it is in fact only 360 days away – but we learned in 2014 that it is completely possible.
2015 will be a “nose to the grindstone” year for ending veteran homelessness. There is so much money and so much know-how out in the field right now; we know what works to get veterans permanently housed, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided (and will continue to provide) ample funds to make it happen. There are communities that have already accomplished the goal of ending homelessness among chronic veterans – Houston and Phoenix to name a couple – and as communities across the country fan out for their annual Point-in-Time Counts, I have no doubt that we will be hearing from many, many more.
But we’ll also begin hearing from communities that have effectively ended veteran homelessness. Binghamton, NY has already made the announcement, and New Orleans is queued up to announce it this week (much more on that later in a few days).
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Top 3 of 2014: 3 Things Everyone Should Know About Homelessness Now
December 30, 2014
As we head into the New Year, we're highlighting some of our most popular blog content by rerunning three of our most read blog posts. This post was originally published on Oct. 20, 2014. It's our most read post of 2014. It should be noted that as of Tuesday, Dec. 16, when President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spanding bill for Fiscal Year 2015, the third bullet of this post it out of date. For the most recent update on funding for homeless assistance, see this post: What Does the $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill Mean for Homeless Assistance in 2015?
Here at the Alliance, we’re frequently contacted by people working on creative projects designed to raise awareness of homelessness. On an almost daily basis, we receive emails from people who have written songs, recorded videos, made movies, even designed videogames.
While the final product will vary wildly from one project to another in terms of quality and message, the artist’s intentions, invariably, are good. They feel strongly that we should do something about homelessness. We do too.
While we occasionally partner with filmmakers for the promotion of a film (e.g. we’re screening the youth homelessness documentary "The Homestretch" at our next conference; check out the trailer above), the number of inquiries we receive is too large for us to respond to all of them.
Recently we were contacted by a filmmaker who had made a film about homelessness. She was preparing to promote her film and wanted to know if we could provide her with three simple talking points that she could use during interviews with journalists.
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Top 3 of 2014: 3 Criticisms of Rapid Re-housing that Sound Valid, but Aren’t
December 29, 2014
As we head into the New Year, we're highlighting some of our most popular blog content by rerunning three of our most read blog posts. This post was originally published on May 6, 2014. It's our second most read post of 2014.
As rapid re-housing increases in popularity as a strategy to address homelessness, not surprisingly, it is coming under closer scrutiny. Rapid re-housing is designed to help families experiencing homelessness by providing them with the financial assistance and services they need in order to return to permanent housing. It has been proven to be incredibly successful at doing that, but like any new idea, it has its detractors. Naturally, some people who have worked in the homeless assistance field for years, relying on strategies they are more familiar with, might be skeptical. With today’s blog post, I’d like to take a look at three of the most common criticisms of rapid re-housing that I’ve heard, and discuss why these criticisms aren’t valid.</
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Top 3 of 2014: Homelessness Doesn’t Discriminate
December 23, 2014
As we head into the New Year, we're highlighting some of our most popular blog content by rerunning three of our most read blog posts. This post was originally published on August 21, 2014. It's the third most read post of 2014.
Have you seen this video yet? I wouldn’t be surprised if you have. It went viral not long ago. As of this writing it has almost three million views. So lots of people have seen it, shared it, and, I would venture, watched it multiple times. I know I have.
The video, a promotional tool for the “Rethink Homelessness” campaign, depicts actual homeless people holding cardboard signs bearing startling facts about their lives. And while it’s tempting to criticize the video because it perpetuates a stereotype, the video also forces its viewers to acknowledge the humanity of the people many choose to regard merely as a disquieting fixture of urban life.
About 580,000 people experience homelessness on a given day in this country, and no, most of them are not standing on sidewalks holding cardboard signs, panhandling. Many are in shelters; many are living in their cars; many are depleting the savings they amassed while not homeless; and many more are subsisting on homeless services while working hard to lift themselves out of homelessness.
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5 Things Communities Must Do to End Chronic Homelessness
December 22, 2014
Since the Bush administration first announced the goal of ending chronic homelessness in 2005, we have seen incredible focus on the problem at the national and local levels. We have made significant progress as a result. The number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness on a given night has declined by 21 percent.
But we aren’t there yet (in January, volunteers conducting the homeless census counted more than 84,000 chronically homeless people), and we have just 24 months to go before we hit the 2016 deadline that the administration set. Fortunately, we already know how to do it: permanent supportive housing (PSH). The net public cost of providing PSH is less than the cost of allowing chronically homeless people to remain homeless.
Can we end chronic homelessness in two years? The federal government has already moved the finish line back a year from 2015. And just last week, President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill for Fiscal Year 2015 that provides $271 million less for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants than his administration had requested and that organizations like ours had been advocating for. Additional McKinney funding would have helped us secure 37,000 rent subsidies.
Without the funding increase, the prospect of meeting the 2016 deadline is far less certain. But regardless of the exact date of the goal, what matters most is that we stick to it. The real question is not whether we can end chronic homelessness by the end of 2016, but whether we can end chronic homelessness at all. The answer to that question is an emphatic yes. We already have the experience, the tools, and the knowledge. Now we just need the resources.
If we are to end chronic homelessness by 2016, here are five steps communities will need to take.
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This Sunday We Remember the Lives Lost to Homelessness
December 18, 2014
This might not have occurred to you this morning when you walked by that person with a cardboard sign on your way to work, but that person you just walked past is in mortal danger.
Nobody wants to be homeless, especially in the winter. It’s not just unpleasant, boring, and scary, homeless people face constant exposure to the elements, vulnerability to harassment, sleep deprivation, dehydration, and starvation. For an able-bodied man or woman these conditions are hazardous; for someone with poor health, they can be deadly.
Unfortunately, that’s the position many chronically homeless people find themselves in. For many, it is their own disabilities that have led them to become homeless, rendering them unfit to maintain employment and housing stability. For others, it is their struggle with crippling addictions that has led to life on the streets, a precarious existence that itself often produces its own debilitating physical ailments.
This Sunday, Dec. 21, people in communities around the country will gather at public events for National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day to remember and honor their homeless neighbors who have succumbed to life on the street, or their own poor health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, which are found at high rates among the homeless.
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5 Reasons Why Housing Providers Should Be Using Medicaid for Supportive Services
December 17, 2014
The clock is ticking. With the federal goal to end chronic homelessness by 2016 fast approaching, communities need to pull together funding for housing and supportive services quickly and with sustainability in mind. That’s why many communities are exploring how they can take advantage of Medicaid to cover the cost of supportive services in permanent supportive housing.
Health care reform has provided an opportunity for states to re-evaluate their Medicaid programs and determine whether they want to expand Medicaid and include coverage for additional services. Additional coverage and re-evaluation of Medicaid programs means states can explore adding services to their Medicaid State Plans to help with efforts to end chronic homelessness.
There are several benefits to using Medicaid pay for supportive services.
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What Does the $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill Mean for Homeless Assistance in 2015?
December 16, 2014
It has been an interesting few weeks here in DC, as negotiations over another spending bill dragged on just ahead of yet another government shutdown. In the midst of negotiations, Democrats and Republicans alike expressed their approval over some parts of the bill and dismay over others. But just last week, both houses of Congress passed the $1.1 trillion spending bill for federal programs for fiscal year 2015. President Obama is expected to sign it into law soon.
The good news is that we won’t have another government shutdown, and that important Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs held on to the increases in funding they got last year. To do that, the spending bill provides $2.135 billion for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. The bad news is that’s $271 million less than President Obama requested and that organizations like ours had been advocating for. Funding McKinney at the higher level would have helped us secure 37,000 rent subsidies necessary to meet the goal of ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.
That didn’t happen. In this post, I want to focus on the impact that I believe we can expect the passage of this spending bill will have on funding for programs that serve people experiencing homelessness, specifically those under HUD’s Continuum of Care (CoC) and Emergency Solution Grants (ESG) programs, as well as for the Section 8 voucher program.
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The Year in Review: Youth Homelessness
December 15, 2014
If you know anything about youth homelessness, you know that we’re still a long way from ending it. But looking back on 2014, you can also see that we have advanced, slowly but surely, in the right direction. While communities around the country still struggle with mounting a youth-inclusive Point-in-Time Count, we’ve seen more commitment at the federal level, from both legislators and agencies. Though the slow pace can be frustrating, momentum is building, and we’ve got many reasons to be hopeful for the future.
One of the persistent obstacles to developing solutions to youth homelessness is the difficulty in obtaining an accurate count of homeless youth. In 2013, communities finally included unaccompanied youth in their Point-in-Time (PIT) counts, which meant we were finally able to include homeless youth in our 2014 State of Homelessness report. The 2014 PIT Count was not perfect, but some communities did a fantastic job. The Alliance recently hosted several webinars that highlighted communities in Nevada and California that are setting the standard for a youth-inclusive count.
This year also marked the 40th anniversary of the 1974 Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), the only piece of federal legislation devoted exclusively to youth homelessness. The Act expired in September 2013, but this year ens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote legislation that would not just reauthorize it, but improve upon it. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill, but reauthorization is unlikely to happen this congressional session. You can be sure that in the New Year, the Alliance will join forces with our fellow advocates and our grassroots network to support it.
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Preparing for the 2015 Point-in-Time Count—Time’s Almost Up!
December 11, 2014
As 2014 winds down and we begin to look toward the New Year, communities across the country also will be looking toward the upcoming point-in-time (PIT) counts. These counts are mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and they are conducted yearly on a single night in January, in accordance with HUD’s Methodology Guide.
Every community is required to do an annual survey of the number of homeless people in shelter, and a bi-annual survey of the number of homeless people who are unsheltered (i.e., are living in a place unfit for human habitation, such as in a park or in an abandoned building). It may be helpful for communities to review HUD’s survey tools, which can be employed for sheltered counts and either observation-based or interview-based unsheltered counts.
Unsheltered counts are difficult for many communities, as it may be hard to know where to look to find members of the homeless population. To help communities think about new and different strategies for conducting these counts, the Alliance has conducted webinars this fall on unsheltered counts.
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The Alliance Kicks Rapid Re-Housing Up a Notch
December 10, 2014
There is a lot going on at the Alliance these days as we work to raise the visibility and understanding of rapid re-housing, which is an essential component of every community’s overall strategy to end homelessness.
We have a couple developments this week that I’m excited to share with you. First, we are announcing a new, monthly newsletter that will start in January 2015. This newsletter will be your go-to source for any new reports, briefs, and studies on rapid re-housing, as well as details on upcoming or recent webinars and a heads-up on Alliance activities and events. If you are signed up for the Alliance’s regular newsletter, you probably received an announcement today on how to sign up for this one.
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The Year in Review: Family Homelessness
December 09, 2014
It’s almost 2015, and here at the Alliance we are reflecting back on what we as a nation have accomplished in 2014 in the fight to end homelessness. We will have a lot to be grateful for in the New Year, but we will also have a lot of work still ahead of us, particularly when it comes to ending family homelessness.
Here are some startling statistics: On a single night in January 2014, more than 200,000 people in families were either staying in a homeless service program or in a place not intended for human habitation, according to the most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. That number represents a 3 percent decline (or 6,000 people) since 2013, a significantly smaller decline than the one we saw among veterans (11 percent).
In recent years, policymakers and homeless service providers have made a sustained effort to improve our response to family homelessness. They developed new tools and resources, and they increased investment in rapid re-housing, an intervention that provides temporary financial assistance to homeless families to help them return to permanent housing. (Between 2013 and 2014 rapid re-housing capacity nearly doubled.)
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