McKinney-Vento Advocates Speak Out: Q&A with Leah Bradley

written by naehblog
May 11, 2010

As we’ve talked about the McKinney-Vento Appropriations Campaign on this blog, we’ve often mentioned the impact that that federal funding has on homeless assistance in your community. Today’s blog post is from Leah Bradley, Director of Housing and Program Development at Community Health Link, and one of the winners of our 2010 Letter Writing Contest. She knows first-hand how crucial McKinney-Vento funding is for Worcester, and along with our advocacy team, she traveled to Washington DC to tell her members of Congress.

Why is it important for your community to fund McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance programs at $2.4 billion? Can you give an example of a program that might be affected?

The McKinney Vento- Homeless Assistance programs have been the primary programs in our community to reduce chronic homelessness. According to our 2010 Point In Time survey, chronic homelessness in the City of Worcester was reduced by 38% from 2009 to 2010. The majority of those were housed in McKinney-funded permanent supportive housing.

In addition, our community has used HPRP funds to transform our emergency shelter system to a rapid re-housing system. The components of this are a triage system where anyone seeking emergency shelter must see a triage worker first. No one is denied shelter; however, through this system we have been able to divert 67.4% (622 out of 923) of those seeking shelter from staying at the shelter.

In order to maintain this new system and house those individuals who become chronically homeless over the next year, we need to maintain the existing resources and increase the number of units available for chronically homeless individuals. Funding the HEARTH Act at $2.4 billion will assist us in continuing to decrease the number of chronically homeless individuals in Worcester. Without this funding level, we would most likely have to eliminate the new triage system that has shown to be very effective.

Diverting individuals from homelessness and housing chronically homeless individuals also saves money. A recent report from the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance shows that permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals saves about $9,000 per year per person in public resources – mostly Medicaid and corrections – after accounting for housing and case management costs. Our newest McKinney-funded Housing First Program – Home Again – had an evaluation that was a randomized control trial with a group who received housing and a group who did not. This evaluation showed that over 95% of chronically homeless individuals can maintain housingwith this model and the number of emergency room visits reported by individuals was less than those who remained homeless during this same time period.

How did you go about collecting letters to your Congressional Representatives? Describe the response in your community.

We sent emails to our Continuum of Care and our Advisory Council for our Home Again, made a presentation to our Health Care for the Homeless Consumer Advisory Board and made personal phone calls. We were able to collect 71 letters for the campaign. After the campaign, I was also informed of several other individuals who wrote letters and some of our program participants who sent emails. We had many participants who were willing to share their stories so that others can have the same housing opportunity they had through this additional funding.

What were your Congressional visits like? Do you think this year’s McKinney-Vento campaign will be successful? 

The Congressional visits were empowering and inspiring. Although we are in a tough budgetary environment, they all seemed to understand that homelessness should not exist.

They were all quite different. I met with Congressman McGovern personally who has been supportive of the Home Again program since its inception and spoke at our press event to release our evaluation results in November. I also met with Sarah Bontempo from Congressman Neal’s office who was also very supportive of our efforts to end homelessness and I met with Congressman Olver and Laura Hogshead. He seemed appreciative of knowing how the funding that is allocated works on the ground level and the impact it is making in his home state.

I spoke with Sen. Brown for just a minute and then met with his aide. I was disappointed he did not sign onto the letter that was circulating, but I was able to let him know about the cost benefit of housing first and the family homelessness crisis in the state.

It was just an amazing experience that really showed me the work that NAEH does every year to maintain/increase this funding and the importance of informing legislators of the impact homelessness has on their constituents and the communities they serve. We will be inviting our congressmen and senators to visit our programs as seeing how they work will be the most impactful. I appreciate the opportunity NAEH provided me. I also understand the work it takes to get on the schedules of our elected officials – but it is worth it in the end!