Ending Homelessness Today — Families
Hunger and Homelessness Survey, courtesy of the Conference of Mayors
December 10, 2009
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! ... Read More »
Friday News Roundup: Family Homelessness
December 04, 2009
So today, the Alliance had a Congressional Briefing on Family Homelessness. I've never been to one of these myself (at least, not one hosted by the Alliance) so I wasn't sure what to expect - but things clarified about ten minutes into the briefing.It was a reasonably packed room - no place to sit for the whole staff, and we invited speakers from all over the country to discuss state, community, and local solutions to end homelessness among families.So here's where we start: family homelessness is a problem.That's been clear for a while now. News reports have (as of late) fixated on student homelessness - and while youth homelessness is nothing less than a critical problem - there's usually an entire family there that deserves our attention. Authors of the latest Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will argue that family homelessness is up 4 percent from 2007 - 2008 (that's the latest data we have).The numbers are fuzzy, but between unemployment and poverty rates, enrollment in social services, use of food stamps, and other indicators - it's pretty clear that need is up.At our briefing, I had the privilege to listen to three representatives from three states:Bob Pulster, of the MA Department of Housing and Community Development;Kay Moshier McDivitt of the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness in PA;Kathy Wahto, of the Serenity House of... Read More »
"One Paycheck Away" at Thanksgiving
November 25, 2009
The time has rolled around again for us to give thanks for all our blessings, and the Alliance thought it might be helpful to take a sharp look at those who are less fortunate. Thanks for reading our wandering thoughts - and have a happy Thanksgiving!It’s that time of year again. Pumpkins retreat as the mercury plunges, and we’re seized with the charitable desire to be kind to those less fortunate. Suddenly, those on the economic brink of society – those just “one paycheck away” from homelessness – have taken center stage in our national conscience.It’s a shift as sure as the season – and this year, it’s one that resonates all the louder. While homelessness has long been the exclusive plight of Americans living in poverty, its reach is climbing up the socioeconomic ladder. Increasingly, middle-class Americans are seeing the distance from one paycheck to the next get shorter and shorter while their incomes – and savings – dwindle. Combined with cash-strapped states cutting back social services and a continued rise in unemployment, the reality of homelessness comes sharply into focus.This holiday season, there will be far more families living just “one paycheck away.”The good news: this is not news. The ravaging effects of the economy and it’s impact on those living in poverty has not been wholly overlooked. An important federal stimulus initiative known as the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) is one of the few Congress-fun... Read More »
Friday News Roundup: 38 percent drop in homelessness in Los Angeles, California
October 30, 2009
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 ... Read More »
Research Council Notes - What's Next in the Field of Homelessness Research?
October 28, 2009
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 o... Read More »
HIV/AIDS in DC and housing
October 21, 2009
Recently, the Washington Post launched a series about HIV/AIDS funding in the District of Columbia. The series shed light on waste, mismanagement, and neglect – hallmarks, it seems from the story, of a program intended to serve those desperately in need of services. DC, as the story confirms, has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country; higher than some West African countries.
As I was reading this well-researched expose, I was struck at the intersection of HIV/AIDS and housing.
I was particular taken with the profiles of two people: a homeless man afflicted with HIV named Alexander Harrington and a [housed] single mother of two named J’Mia Edwards.
Harrington was an ex-offender who, upon his release, sought out assistance from an AIDS service center that promised counseling, a lead on permanent housing, and job training. Shortly after his stay there, he was pushed out with nothing to show for his time.
J’Mia Edwards is an outreach worker, attempting to ensure that her friends and neighbors are educated about HIV/AIDS, all the while caring for her two young children.
Resonant throughout the stories of these two was their deep desire for stable housing.
J’Mia Edwards go so far as to remark,”…if I don’t have adequate housing, I’m not gonna worry about taking my medication…a part of my prevention is my housing.”
And these deliberations by people who are presently experiencing this need only soli... Read More »
New Rules for Homeless Assistance Programs
September 22, 2009
We're heard though the grapevine that some people are a little confused - and a little worried - by the new Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, a.k.a. the HEARTH Act. There seem to be some question about what, exactly, this legislation will do and how it will affect local direct service providers.
Below, our senior policy analyst Norm Suchar has some answers. Take it away, Norm!
One of the major homelessness policy debates over the past 2 decades has been about updating the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) homeless assistance programs. After years of debates and several false starts, Congress passed a bill called the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, a.k.a. the HEARTH Act. It was signed by President Obama on May 20, 2009.
The HEARTH Act makes mostly evolutionary changes to homeless assistance, although some of the changes are more substantial. The changes go into effect in about two years. Here are some of the highlights.
1. The HEARTH Act focuses much more on preventing homelessness. Currently federal homeless assistance programs don't fund many prevention programs. Because of the HEARTH Act, there will be a lot more homelessness prevention, particularly for helping people when they get behind on the rent or when they have a dispute with a landlord.
2. There is a greater focus on helping families with children move into their own housing. Families are typically homeless for... Read More »
Troubles in Colorado
September 18, 2009
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 t... Read More »
Foster Children: Youth Homelessness and Housing
September 10, 2009
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... Read More »
Secretary Donovan video - Annual Conference remarks
September 08, 2009
At long last, the video of Secretary Donovan at the Alliance's Annual Conference on Ending Homelessness. Below, please find the text of the remarks below.
More videos from the conference are forthcoming!
Thank you, Nan - for that introduction, for your remarkable leadership with the Alliance, and, above all, for the bedrock commitment to end homelessness you have impressed upon five different HUD Secretaries. I look forward to continuing our work together.
I want to also thank your board, particularly Co-Chairs Susan Baker and Mike Lowry. And I want to note the HUD team here helping us address homelessness - Mark Johnston, our Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, and Ann Oliva, who heads up our Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs.
And of course, many of you know Fred Karnas - Fred is a senior adviser and has been critical in our Recovery Act efforts, including working with Mark and Ann quickly distributing the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing funds that so many of you made possible.
Will all of you stand up?
I want to also acknowledge the work of the Pete Dougherty, the interim executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, and the USICH staff, many of whom are here today.
But most of all, I want to thank everyone in this room who labor day in and day out to help the millions of men, women, and children in our nation who experience homelessness.
In... Read More »
Guest Blog: On the Ground Notes, Community Lodgings (Alexandria, VA)
September 03, 2009
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 ... Read More »
Guest Blog: Homelessness and Health Care
August 17, 2009
Happy Monday, everyone!
We have a GREAT treat today! Maria Foscarinis, of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), sent us a piece on her organization's stance on the health care debate and the homelessness.
No doubt you've heard a thing or two about the raging controversy over health care. All the national papers, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today are a-buzz with recent criticisms, potential changes, and the likelihood that the administration will concede to the hysteria of the general public.
In our little corner of the world, we wonder what the health care debate will mean for the homeless population. We wonder if reform - should reform pass - will make a tangible difference in their lives: will the chronically homeless get the medical attention they need? Will improved coverage curb the number of costly emergency-room visits? Will the poor and very poor be assured health care coverage under federal programs like Medicaid? And since the Post brought it up, what about the families?
Here at the Alliance, we know what we'd like to see. Check out senior policy analyst Peggy Bailey outline the Alliance's goals for improving health care.
And a slightly different perspective from our friends at the NLCHP. Many thanks to Maria Foscarinis and Ashley Shuler at NLCHP for their invaluable help in getting this piece posted today.
Tale of two health crises
By: Maria Foscarinis
Twenty two... Read More »
Why Housing First?
July 23, 2009
Early last week, the staff at the Alliance had a messaging meeting where a staff member shared with us the frustrations of people he’s been meeting on the field. With the recession in high gear and people in dire need of help, why – advocates and providers asked – why were we not endorsing the rapid construction of temporary shelters?
And then I saw this article on my good friend Shannon’s change.org blog.
So I thought the timing was right to ask: Why Housing First?
But first: What is Housing First?
Housing First is a concept that was pioneered by Dr. Sam Tsemberis of the NYU School of Medicine and an organization in New York called Pathways to Housing.
The premise of the Housing First campaign is the housing is a basic human right and should not be denied to anyone, regardless of their habits or circumstances. Housing First prescribes providing the homeless permanent supportive housing – which includes supportive services coupled with permanent housing (not shelter). The supportive services address addiction, mental health, case management and the like, and provides stability for homeless individuals. These services increase the ability of homeless individuals to maintain permanent housing and achieve self-sufficiency.
It’s important to note that this approach is a significant departure from the traditional way the country approached homelessness before. In the old system, homelessness management was emphasized through shelter, mental health services, medical services, and the like before permanent h... Read More »
Data + Research: Foreclosure to Homelessness
July 21, 2009
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 tha... Read More »
Data + Research: the Annual Homeless Assessment Report
July 09, 2009
Today, we’ve got some big news. It’s really big. It’s huge. It is [cue music] - the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)!!
...It’s really much more exciting than it sounds.
Basically, the AHAR is a comprehensive review of homelessness counts and trends in 2008. But before we delve into the magical world of data and statistics, there’s something you should know about this year’s report [cue suspense music]:
This year, there were TWO kinds of data collected: point-in-time counts and year-long data. Point-in-time counts are pretty much raw numbers. They tell us how many homeless people and what kind. Year-long data give us a little more detail about the demographics of these counts. Year-long data is also a bit newer than the point-in-time counts. This is the second year in a row that HUD collected year-long data, and we’re really pretty excited about the increase in data availability and analysis. (Yes, because we’re nerds.)
So without further ado…
This year’s AHAR shows that, overall, homelessness is flat compared to last year. Numbers vary slightly between the point-in-time count and the year-long data, but the Alliance concludes that the changes, if any, are marginal.
What’s much more interesting than the total number of homeless people is the information about specific types of homelessness – most significantly, chronic homelessness and family homelessness.
AHAR shows that chronic homelessness is... Read More »
the view from: Hayword City, Sawyer County, Wisconsin, USA
July 08, 2009
I noticed an article in the news today from Sawyer County, Wisconsin. Admittedly, I noticed it because they use a statistic from our research (“744,313 people experienced homelessness in one night in January 2005”), but the article was an intimate look into homelessness in a quiet, suburban, all-American town: Hayward, Wisconsin.Hayward, WI is a city in Sawyer County, Wisconsin. The population of Hayward city as of the 2000 census was 2129 people, including 960 households and 529 families. Hayward is a popular vacation and fishing population due to the many lakes in the area.But in last week's Sawyer County Record, the local newspaper, reporter Kathy Hanson examines homelessness in the picturesque city, noting that there is more than meets the eye. Hanson’s article about Hayward touches on several themes that are being felt around the country: an increased request for social services and housing assistance (including Section 8 housing vouchers, shelter beds, and financial support), an increase in homeless families and the number of homeless students, and more and more people relying on family and friends to get by. Hanson also talks with the growing number of direct service providers and local programs who are overwhelmed by the rise in need. While the city of Hayward is a unique and notably small example (there are more homeless people in the state of Wisconsin – 5658 as of January 2007 – than there are residents of Hayward), the homelessness challenges that it faces are consistent with those being felt in big ci... Read More »
the basics: Why are people homeless?
July 06, 2009
It’s a question that’s surprisingly overlooked – maybe overshadowed by the challenges of homelessness in and of itself.At the Alliance, we focus on different kinds of homelessness, including:Veteran HomelessnessFamily HomelessnessYouth HomelessnessChronic HomelessnessEach group comes to homelessness in different ways – and the solutions to that type of homelessness varies as well.Veteran HomelessnessVeterans often become homeless as a result of some post-war challenges. Emotional or mental distress (including PTSD, emotional trauma, etc.) can manifest in damaging behaviors, like substance abuse and addiction. These behaviors can then lead to the inability to maintain permanent housing.Recently, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Tammy Duckworth appeared on CNN to discuss the state and health of veterans returning from conflicts abroad. The Secretary expounded upon the increase of suicides, mental illness, and homelessness among veterans from our current conflicts, as well as the VA’s continued efforts to address these ongoing issues.Family HomelessnessFamily homelessness is typically caused by some unforeseen costly event: a raise in rent, medical emergency, or the like. The inability to manage this financial hurdle can push a family into homelessness – an occurrence that’s been felt more dramatically in the current recession.Despite sensationalized news reports, families that experience this kind of homelessness aren’t typically picturesque, middle-class families. They’re typically families that were already living on the economic fringes of society – often paycheck-to-paycheck – who are pushed off by the big event.The good news – if th... Read More »