Collaboration, Capacity and Planning Archive
A message from Matthew Doherty, USICH Executive Director
On behalf of the entire team at USICH, the teams at our Federal member agencies, and our many dedicated state and local partners working tirelessly to prevent and end homelessness, I am thrilled to share with you this updated version of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015.
This document is the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by countless individuals who contributed ideas and information through online forums, in meetings, and by analyzing their agencies’ programs and policies, helping to identify best practices and lessons learned from their years of experience. That collective wisdom has shaped and strengthened this amendment and its focus on objectives and strategies informed by data, research, and results.
The release of this amendment could not be more timely. We have made great strides toward the goals established in Opening Doors, but there remains a large amount of work to be done. Today, on the anniversary of the original publication, we reaffirm our commitment to achieving an end to homelessness in America, with even greater confidence in our collective ability to solve this problem.
Together, we are proving that homelessness does not have to appear in the pages of American history as a permanent fixture, but as a problem the American people overcame. It is my hope that the release of this amendment to Opening Doors will help move us closer to the lasting solutions that we can and must implement.
06/04/2015 - The Connecticut Head Start-Family Shelter Partnership: Working Together to Meet the Needs of Families and Children
By Grace Whitney, Jamie Peterson, and Susan Compton Agamy
Surprisingly, we are more likely to find ourselves in a homeless shelter at age one that at any other age in our lives. [2012 AHAR (HUD, 2012) and Census Data] This remains true through age five. Half of all children in family shelters are age five or younger. In order to address this, Head Start and family shelters in Connecticut have come together to combine resources so that they can better meet the particular needs of pregnant women, infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families.
Through a partnership that has included the Head Start State Collaboration Office (HSSCO), the state’s HUD agency, which was formerly the Department of Social Services and is now the Department of Housing, and the state’s networks of local Head Start and shelter agencies, ongoing discussions are taking place to identify opportunities to align policies and practices that can overcome the shared challenge of serving this population of families.
The goals of the effort have been simple:
- increase enrollment in Head Start,
- make family shelters more child-friendly, and
- penetrate one another’s local networks and councils to bring the children’s voice to the housing community and the housing voice to the early childhood community.
By Rudy Trinidad
Sonia Niznik (pictured right, with her Case Manager, Rudy Trinidad) was taking shelter from Arizona’s dry summer heat at a “cooling center” provided by a local church when a team of outreach workers began conducting screenings using the Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization and Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT). At the time, Sonia had been without a home for about three years.
Sonia’s interview was part of the first wave of VI-SPDAT assessments conducted for Tucson’s Coordinated Entry pilot. The Coordinated Entry system is designed to prioritize and assist Veterans and chronically homeless individuals based on their level of vulnerability and embraces a “housing first” philosophy, operating with harm reduction principles within the safe environment of a home.
Sonia was the first individual matched with housing under the new system. To date, more than 80 Veterans and chronically homeless individuals have been matched with housing and about 15 clients have been able to move into permanent housing through this system.
I, Rudy Trinidad, a Housing Navigator and Case Manager for the Pasadera Behavioral Network, met Sonia a week and a half after she filled out the VI-SPDAT. When I met her, she had a big smile on her face. She was amazed that she was contacted about permanent supportive housing (PSH) so quickly after completing the survey. I helped her prepare the documentation she needed to qualify for the Pasadera PSH program, which is funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continuum of Care. She chose a place in a recovery based living community to help her address her substance use issues, which contributed to the job loss that led to her homelessness. A few weeks later, she had her own fully furnished studio apartment.
04/23/2015 - Federal Partners Move Forward on HMIS Alignment & Integration, Announce MOU on Roles & Responsibilities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Community Planning and Development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ Veteran Health Administration have recently announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that sets forth shared understanding of each agency’s respective roles and responsibilities regarding the use of Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS).
We know that using data to make smart decisions drives improvement in results. The more effectively we can collect, analyze, share, and coordinate around a common set of data, the more effectively we can inform action to end homelessness. For most communities, Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) are the primary data systems to capture information about families, youth, and individuals experiencing homelessness as well as information about the provision of housing and services to homeless individuals and families and persons at risk of homelessness.
HMIS helps us not only understand the impact our programs are having, it helps us better understand who our programs are engaging and how effective that engagement is. Action is underway now at the Federal level to integrate and align HMIS across Federal programs, which will help break down silos between services and programs and improve the effectiveness of our services and programs.
04/02/2015 - Building Blocks to Success: Community-Wide Partnerships and Commitments Drive Success in Central Florida
By Amy Sawyer
In Central Florida, the most important building blocks to success are its people. People from all walks of life including landlords, judges, outreach workers, and faith leaders have partnered with the VA Medical Center to make a difference in the lives of Veterans experiencing homelessness and the data is showing that these strong partnerships are paying off, as the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness is decreasing in Central Florida. This past month, Federal partners from HUD, USICH, and VA joined Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to celebrate the great strides the community has taken and, even more importantly, rally the community to finish the job of ending Veteran homelessness.
Standing side by side, the Mayors addressed the crowd of a few hundred stakeholders from the community and reiterated their commitment to ensure that no Veteran should experience homelessness. They challenged the community to align resources and use what is being learned through the successes of the Mayors Challenge to inform the larger system response to all types of homelessness. The VA Medical Center Director, Timothy W. Liezert, and his staff were on hand to share the lessons learned and demonstrate the real partnerships that have emerged across the different programs and systems in the community.
Over the next several months, as the community drives toward the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, there are key strategies and approaches they’ll be leveraging to find success.
By Martha J. Kegel
Three months ago, after a campaign led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans became the first major city to effectively end Veteran homelessness. During an intense six-month campaign, community partners connected every Veteran living on the street or in emergency shelter who would accept housing with an apartment of his or her own, with supportive services scaled to the Veteran’s needs. Now we actively work every day to maintain a “functional zero” in Veteran homelessness by housing any newly homeless Veteran within an average of 30 days.
I firmly believe that every community can and should end Veteran homelessness.
Yes, New Orleans had some advantages. For one thing, the local VA and its partners had already achieved a significant reduction in Veteran homelessness before we started the final drive in June 2014. At that point, we had already driven down the number of Veterans suffering in homelessness from 660 in the January 2011 Point-in-Time (PIT) count to 193 in the March 2014 count. For another, we have a very strong visionary leader in Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who set the bold goal of ending Veteran homelessness a full year before the federal deadline, convened the key players, and recruited active duty military and Veteran groups to help with outreach.
But in other important ways we were at a distinct disadvantage: As of the 2014 PIT count, New Orleans still had one of the highest per capita rates of Veteran homelessness in the nation as compared to our general population of only 379,000 residents. We were also at a disadvantage in resources: Compared to many other cities, we have precious few ways to pay for housing and services other than federal funds. And when pushing ourselves to get to zero, we were confronting the challenge of housing those whom we had always failed to connect to housing before – those Veterans who tended to have the most complex challenges and who for the most part were not eligible for HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
By Stacey Violante Cote
If you have wondered why the goal to end youth homelessness is set for 2022 while our goals to end Veteran and chronic homelessness are set for 2015 and 2016 respectively, you’re in good company. Youth homelessness is an urgent problem with lots of costly outcomes. Addressing this is also a preventative measure to stem the tide of chronic homelessness. So why set the goal so far down the road? It’s because this population has been invisible for a long time. As a result, we haven’t had enough data and research to determine the way out. It wasn’t until 2012 that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) amended the federal plan, Opening Doors, to create a framework for ending youth homelessness. And now, Connecticut has its own statewide plan – Opening Doors-CT.
03/23/2015 - Mayor Rothschild Shares His Experience of Participating in the 2015 PIT Count with Labor Secretary Thomas Perez
By Jonathan Rothschild, Mayor of Tucson
I was happy to welcome U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to Tucson earlier this year for our annual Point In Time Count, also known as the Street Count. The Street Count helps communities determine service needs by interviewing their homeless population. That information is then forwarded to our federal partners, who use it to allocate resources. At the Street Count, volunteers and staff from government and social service agencies canvass – in Tucson’s case, the surrounding desert – as well as underpasses, culverts, shelters, soup kitchens, and other areas where folks experiencing homelessness are known to gather.
Not every mayor meets a member of the President’s cabinet wearing blue jeans and hiking boots, but then, homeless camps in the desert are a far cry from Capitol Hill. Secretary Perez arrived at our meeting place ready to work. After talking with some of the other canvassers, we headed out to a camp about 20 minutes away, on the southeast side of Tucson.
By Katy Miller
In cities across the country there was great energy and collaboration around strengthening the count of youth experiencing homelessness as part of the 2015 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point-in-Time (PIT) count. From Miami to Seattle, providers created new partnerships and shared innovative methods to get to a better count. This was driven by a deep desire to generate more accurate demographic data of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and ultimately to target resources towards interventions that are the most effective for the population.
Recognizing that youth are undercounted in the homeless street count that typically happens in the middle of the night, youth providers partnered with their local Continuum of Care (CoC) leads to expand the hours for when young people can be counted. Since most youth have hunkered down and are hidden away to stay safe by the time the street count starts, concerted efforts to conduct outreach to the youth and young adults prior to the count was key. Many communities also expanded survey questions to help get to a better understanding of where young people are staying, how long they have been experiencing homelessness, and what their unique needs and characteristics are.
While only those youth that are sleeping outside on the night of the unsheltered count are reported to HUD, expanding outreach to young people that may be staying night to night with friends and family helps providers and planners get a better picture of the youth that are in and out of shelters and frequent drop-in centers and meal programs during the day.
By Robert Pulster
I was proud to stand with Connecticut Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman to support the March 9 launch of Connecticut’s 100-day effort across four communities to accelerate efforts to end homelessness. This exciting 100-day effort was brought together by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and Journey Home of Hartford. The Connecticut-based Rapid Results Institute, which developed the “100-Day” rapid results approach and has led similar efforts across the nation to successful outcomes, will facilitate. It is clear that Connecticut is successfully building its organizing efforts across the state that will feed momentum toward ending Veteran homelessness by 2015 and chronic homelessness by 2016.
Connecticut has mobilized advocates, activists, and service providers, together with support from state and federal officials, to forge new ways to coordinate and use existing resources more effectively to end homelessness in their communities. The HUD Field Office, led by Suzanne Piacentini, has been a key partner along with Dr. Laurie Harkness of the VA’s Errera Community Care Center. The Connecticut effort is a stand-out model, the first statewide implementation of the Rapid Results approach, with nearly the entire state participating. Participating communities include Greater Hartford, Fairfield County, and eastern Connecticut. Last year, a similar effort in New Haven led to the housing of 160 people who had long been experiencing homelessness in that community. In less than six months, this effort decreased that city’s chronically homeless population by more than 75 percent.
By: The 25 Cities Downtown San Diego Design Team
Before he unlocked the door to his studio apartment in September 2014, Ben Jaramillo had been homeless in the downtown area of San Diego for four years. “I was working as a carpenter, and ended up in my van when work fell flat, and then just kind of stayed there out of convenience and convenience turned into necessity and necessity turned into stuck, because of finances,” he said.
Jaramillo described the challenges he experienced while living in his van. “If [my van] breaks down I can’t use it for transportation, and if it gets towed, I’m really jammed up. Then I have to find someplace else to live, which means turning to my friends or a shelter or, push comes to shove, on the street.”
In June, Jaramillo participated in a Vulnerability Index and Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT) survey during a 25 Cities Street Outreach week. VI-SPDAT is one tool the San Diego community is using as part of its Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement (CAHP) System. The following week he was assigned a Housing Navigator, who helped him understand the resources available to him and collect necessary documents for permanent housing. Soon after, he was matched to a Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) rapid rehousing program through Veterans Community Services, a division of Community Catalysts of California and a partner in the San Diego 25 Cities Effort. The Veterans Community Services SSVF program assisted Ben in finding and staying in permanent housing and provided him with financial assistance to help him pay his rent.
This blog was originally published on the Administration for Children & Families website.
By Marsha Basloe, Senior Advisor for Early Childhood Development
When my son was little, he had a favorite stuffed animal called “elephant.” Elephant went everywhere Benjy went! One of my favorite memories is standing in his bedroom doorway and watching him sleep in his “new big bed” with his arm wrapped around elephant under the covers. This memory was important to me last week as I attended the National Alliance to End Homelessness Family and Youth Conference to present on the Administration for Children and Families’ early childhood efforts to support young children experiencing homelessness.
There were multiple workshops sharing the amazing efforts of programs and communities across the country. Secretary Julian Castro spoke to a large audience about the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s work and HUD’s linking with partners including the Veterans Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. He said that people need more than just housing; families don’t live in silos and it’s why the collaboration and coordination between HUD, VA and HHS is so important – from the federal level to the local level.
By Matthew Doherty and Beth Sandor
In our shared mission to end homelessness, we know that data drives results. It drives the strategies and implementation of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, a framework for action for partners at every level of government and the private and nonprofit sectors. It drives tools and practices of the Zero: 2016 effort to help 71 communities do whatever it takes to end Veteran homelessness this year and chronic homelessness by the end of 2016. And it drives the day-to-day efforts of people across the country working tirelessly to assist each and every person experiencing homelessness in their communities to achieve their goals of permanent housing. Data is at the very core of creating a housing system built for zero and achieving an end to homelessness.
Today, Zero: 2016 communities are confirming and committing to one of the most integral pieces of data in their efforts to end homelessness - their Veteran and chronic homelessness Take Down Targets. These Take Down Targets represent the total number of Veterans experiencing homelessness who will need to be connected to permanent housing in order to end Veteran homelessness by the end of this year, and the total number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness who need to be connected to permanent housing in order to end chronic homelessness in these communities by the end of 2016.
02/25/2015 - Positive Outcomes for Victims of Domestic Violence and Families through Housing First Pilot Program
By Kiley Gosselin
The link between domestic violence and homelessness is well-documented. Regardless of whether survivors seek help through homelessness services, housing assistance, or domestic violence programs, research shows a strong correlation between domestic violence and homelessness. A Department of Justice study found that at least one in four women were homeless as a result of domestic violence and a Massachusetts study found that a staggering 92% of homeless women experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives. Often, it is not only the victim, but the children of domestic violence victims that suffer as a result of abuse. Domestic violence is a leading cause of family homelessness in the United States.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made ending family homelessness in Washington a focus of their state efforts starting with the launch of the Sound Families Initiative in 2000. The Foundation has helped fund thousands of new housing units for families experiencing homelessness and is investing in approaches that are aligned with the strategies identified by USICH’s Family Connection resource, including coordinated entry and rapid housing.
In 2009, with the financial backing of the Gates Foundation, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) launched a five year pilot program testing the success of a survivor-centered, Housing First approach to preventing homelessness for survivors of domestic violence and their families. The pilot worked with 13 existing programs in 13 urban, rural and tribal areas across the state and the findings demonstrate positive outcomes across all sites.
By Diane Kean
The National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness is underway. We've captured some of the coversations, key moments, and insights. Here are some of the highlights!
By Diane Kean
Tomorrow, the National Alliance to End Homelessness kicks off the National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in San Diego, California. The conference provides a forum of learning and sharing for hundreds of policymakers, practitioners, and federal, local and private partners, all working to end family and youth homelessness. Workshops will focus around three learning tracks on Rapid Re-Housing, Youth, and Systems, and cover topics including family intervention, crisis response systems and coordinated entry process. Keynote speakers include Nan Roman, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Toni Atkins, Speaker of the Assembly, California State Assembly, and Secretary Julián Castro, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
USICH is looking forward to attending and participating in the conference. Below is a list of the workshops where USICH staff will be presenting or moderating sessions during the conference.
By Jasmine Hayes
In September 2014, William H. Bentley, Associate Commissioner of the Family & Youth Services Bureau and former USICH Executive Director Laura Zeilinger, highlighted the impact of Runaway and Homeless Youth Act-funded programs for youth experiencing homelessness. These services – street outreach, basic center and transitional living (including maternity group homes) programs – are critical to meet the immediate needs of some of our most vulnerable young people.
We know there are different ways that information is captured across Federal programs about the extent and scope of youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness. We also know that youth can experience homelessness in many ways including being unsheltered or living on the street, doubled-up or couch surfing, and this is impacted by complicated issues including poverty, abuse, violence, trauma, and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. As communities increase their capacity to capture information on youth, our understanding of the prevalence and characteristics of youth homelessness is improving and helping to shape strategies that respond to the diverse needs of young people.
By Jill Fox, Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness & Matt Leslie, Department of Veterans Services
Most great stories have a beginning, middle, and end. When it comes to the story of Virginia’s efforts to end Veteran homelessness, we started with the end in mind – a vision of a Virginia where Veteran homelessness, when it does occur, is rare, brief, and non-recurring.
The Beginning – Defining the Challenge, Getting Organized!
In the summer of 2013, the Virginia Department of Veteran Services and Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness partnered with the VA VISN Network Coordinator, Jeff Doyle, and local leaders in communities to hold a statewide Veteran homeless summit. This event marked the beginning of increased collaborations among federal, state and community partners. We believed that ending Veteran homelessness in Virginia was not an impossible task.
The goal of our effort was supported by the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness, which includes representatives across state agencies that play a role in addressing homelessness as well as local providers, nonprofits, and other community leaders. Our focus was to unify mainstream and Veteran specific housing and services while continuing to shift to housing first statewide. The success of this endeavor relied on leveraging existing partnerships with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing And Urban Development (HUD) that the Virginia Department of Veteran Services (DVS) had nurtured. Along with federal agencies, DVS built on partnerships with VA Medical Centers (VAMCs), SSVF providers, and the VASH programs. Also paramount were the relationships that the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness (VCEH) has with local Continuums of Care (CoCs), including nonprofit housing and homeless providers, local jurisdictions, and other mainstream providers involved with local homelessness planning.
By Mary Owens
On January 23, the White House hosted over 240 mayors during the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) Winter Meeting. During the event, mayors took part in a breakout session with Administration officials including Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, Assistant to the President & Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementation Kristie Canegallo, Special Assistant to the President Luke Tate, and USICH Interim Executive Director Matthew Doherty, to discuss ensuring access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans and ending Veteran homelessness. The breakout session also provided an opportunity for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to discuss best practices on how mayors can accomplish the goal of ending Veteran homelessness. Through the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, local leaders across the country are ending Veteran homelessness in their communities. Mayor Landrieu was one of the first Mayors to sign on to the Mayors Challenge and on January 7, 2015, New Orleans became the first major U.S. city to achieve the goal.
By Peter Nicewicz
We often say at USICH that to end homelessness nationally, we must end homelessness locally. To help communities optimize their current resources to accelerate progress towards ending Veteran homelessness, we have identified ten essential strategies for communities to increase leadership, collaboration and coordination among programs serving Veterans experiencing homelessness, and promote rapid access to permanent housing for all Veterans. Each strategy is accompanied by resources to help community leaders and stakeholders understand how to implement these strategies more effectively.
Meanwhile, we have been working on the Federal level to assist communities as they work to reduce the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness and build the systems to prevent its recurrence. Below is a highlight of some of the Federal efforts aimed at helping communities develop and optimize their systems of connecting Veterans experiencing homelessness to permanent housing and the appropriate services and resources Veterans need to have a safe and stable place to call home.
A message from USICH Interim Executive Director Matthew Doherty
This week, President Obama put forward a 2016 Budget that again demonstrates his Administration’s deep commitment to ending homelessness. As Interim Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, I am pleased to share that this Budget calls for the investments needed to end chronic homelessness in 2017, make significant progress toward ending homelessness among families, children and youth in 2020, and sustain efforts to end Veteran homelessness in 2015. In his Budget, the President calls for nearly $5.5 billion in targeted homelessness assistance. In addition to targeted homelessness assistance, the Budget also includes key investments to mainstream programs needed to end homelessness, such as 67,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers to support low-income households, including families experiencing homelessness; survivors of domestic and dating violence; families with children in foster care; youth aging out of foster care; and Veterans experiencing homelessness, regardless of their discharge status.
By Robert Pulster
Massachusetts has a lot to cheer about this week, from the Patriots big win on Sunday to recent efforts to end chronic homelessness through a statewide initiative. The Super Bowl victory was all about teamwork and leadership and the new initiative will require these same virtues.
The Pay for Success initiative is based on the demonstrated success of Home & Healthy for Good (HHG), a statewide permanent supportive housing program administered by the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA). MHSA has served as the state’s leading advocate for supportive housing and has advanced Housing First approaches to end homelessness. HHG has demonstrated that providing low-threshold housing and supportive services to chronically homeless individuals is less costly and more effective than managing their homelessness on the street or in shelter. As of January 2015, HHG has placed 813 chronically homeless individuals into permanent supportive housing.
By Robert Pulster
Today, there is a celebration happening in New Orleans, but it doesn’t involve Mardi Gras.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, joined by USICH Executive Director Laura Zeilinger, announced that the City of New Orleans has effectively ended Veteran homelessness, answering the call of First Lady Michelle Obama who last June called on local leaders to join the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness before the end of 2015.
By Marley Duchovnay
I was eight or nine when the idea of working with people experiencing homelessness first crossed my mind. It had been a long day and some relatives and I were walking to dinner. The city was crowded and as we passed under a building’s scaffolding, through the fast-walking legs of adults, I saw a man crouched by the edge of the sidewalk. What struck me was that everyone ignored him. It seemed to me that I was the only one who could see him. Once we reached the restaurant I broke into tears. When I got home I explained what happened to my mom. “Maybe you can work with the homeless when you’re older” she said.
By Peter Nicewicz
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has announced a new program called Operation AmeriCorps, aimed at using national service as the transformative catalyst to address a community’s most pressing local problem. Through Operation AmeriCorps, tribal and local leaders will identify a high priority local challenge which AmeriCorps members can holistically address in a relatively short period of time (no more than two years). The competition is open exclusively to tribal and local governments, including counties, cities, towns, and school districts; and state service commissions. The proposed solution may be a new initiative, or it may use national service to scale up an existing successful effort. In either case AmeriCorps must be the additive ingredient to achieve holistic change at the local level.
By Richard Cho
As the year draws to a close, I am struck by how far we have come in our effort to end homelessness. 2014 has indeed been a historic year. We have an Administration and White House that is fully committed to ending homelessness among populations, starting with Veterans in 2015, and where this commitment is not just a set of words, but a set of actions and a clear plan with clear measures. Mayors, governors, and county executives are themselves stepping up with commitments, followed by actions. Communities across the country are working hard to achieve their own local goals, bringing partners to the table, setting 100-day targets, creatively leveraging all resources possible, and helping hundreds of people every day to unlock doors to their own homes and to new lives.
By Matthew Doherty, Kelly King Horne and Libby Boyce
All across the country, communities are developing coordinated entry systems to streamline and facilitate access to appropriate housing and services for families and individuals experiencing homelessness. In the Greater Richmond area of Virginia and in Los Angeles County, California—like in other places—efforts to bring these systems online are in full swing.
Let’s hear from Richmond and Los Angeles County, who presented at the December 2014 full Council meeting regarding their local efforts to implement coordinated assessment, their successes, their lessons learned, and the challenges that they continue to tackle.
12/16/2014 - The Private Sector Steps Up To End Homelessness in Massachusetts: Multi-family owners launch “New Lease”
By Mary Corthell
In 2012, the number of families experiencing homelessness living in the shelter system in Massachusetts had increased significantly. As a shelter entitlement State, Massachusetts law provides immediate access to shelter to families that are determined eligible. Realizing that the homelessness crisis required immediate action from multiple partners, affordable housing owners came together, in concert with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, to assist in the effort by offering an additional housing solution. As a result of that meeting in 2012, the owners agreed to donate seed money to a non-profit pilot which would be known as New Lease, which aims to prioritize people experiencing homelessness for HUD’s multifamily properties’ affordable rental units. At the outset this group of affordable housing owners agreed to rent 10 – 15 percent of vacant, Project Based Section 8 family apartments to New Lease. As of December, 2014, 80 families have been housed through New Lease.
By Matthew Doherty
Many readers have likely heard about the great progress being made toward ending homelessness in Salt Lake and Utah. Earlier this fall, I had the privilege of joining more than 475 people for the 11th Annual Utah Homeless Summit organized by Utah Department of Workforce Services’ Housing and Community Development Division. The Summit also coincided with the release of Utah’s 2014 Comprehensive Report on Homelessness prepared by the State Community Services Office. The report describes the remarkable progress Utah has made under its ten-year plan to end both chronic and Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, documenting that “Chronic homelessness has declined 72 percent since 2005 and chronic homelessness among Veterans has reached an effective zero.” Such progress should help convince skeptics that making progress on homelessness can be a reality in communities all across the country. Summit participants spent the day both celebrating Utah’s progress and engaging in dialogue to ensure that progress is sustained.
By Bentley Burdick
I think things are beginning to change in this country, both in small, grass roots movements and on a national front sweeping through the country. It’s easier now than ever for people to tell their stories, and I sense that people are beginning to want to hear voices of those less heard, voices like mine. My story may not make headlines but I realize now it is important none-the-less.
11/20/2014 - National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Prompts Us to Look Ahead and Take Action
by Laura Green Zeilinger
This week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a time when many Americans are engaged to help our neighbors who live without food security and without a safe and stable place to call home. For those of us who work to end hunger and homelessness year-round, this week provides a fresh opportunity to gain new ground, to meet and recruit new partners, to share meals with neighbors, and to extend a helping hand. It’s an opportunity to look forward and take action, a time to focus intently on the steps we need to take together to end hunger and homelessness once and for all.
by Colette (Coco) Auerswald, Jess Lin, Jessica Reed and Shahera Hyatt
The 2015 PIT count is an opportunity not only to better count youth, but also to obtain an improved and more nuanced picture nationally and locally of youth homelessness. As we work with our communities in California to prepare for the best count of homeless youth to date, we offer these suggestions to communities getting ready for the count nationwide.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and this year is the 30th anniversary of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. Over the past several months, there have been a number of high profile cases involving domestic violence that have garnered significant media attention. The spotlight on these specific experiences has helped to bring a larger discussion to the public arena about domestic violence, including perceptions about perpetrators and survivors, as well as the supports that are an essential part of the network of emergency shelters and supportive services in responding to domestic violence.
By Jay Melder
Reallocations will help communities make the system changes needed to end homelessness, and in this year’s Continuum of Care NOFA, there is once again a strong emphasis on reallocations. As in FY 2013, HUD is allowing reallocations of funds to new permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness and rapid re-housing for families with children. HUD and USICH encourage CoCs to take full advantage of reallocations, shifting funds away from underperforming or less cost-effective programs and toward evidence-informed models.
by William H. Bentley and Laura Green Zeilinger
Forty years ago, the U.S. government took the bold step of making the landmark Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, or RHYA, the law of the land. RHYA is the only Federal law that highlights the need for and funds critical services for youth experiencing homelessness. In July 2014, Congress introduced the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S.2646), new legislation that, if enacted, would reauthorize and strengthen RHYA. With continued funding for street outreach, basic center and transitional living programs, RYHA provides critical services and support to runaway and homeless youth and plays an important role in the effort end youth homelessness by 2020, a goal set in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
by Mark Putnam
People experiencing homelessness need homes. This is the simple solution to ending homelessness, right? The complexity comes in finding, and funding, the homes. Read on to find out how stakeholders in King County, Washington, are succeeding at both.
09/23/2014 - Stand Up and Be Counted: Better Data Collection on Youth Experiencing Homelessness through the Point-in-Time Count
By Peter Nicewicz, USICH Management and Program Analyst
HUD’s annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count serves as the most consistent year-to-year measure of the number of people experiencing homelessness in America. For this reason, USICH uses the PIT count as our primary measure of our progress in achieving the goals of preventing and ending homelessness set in Opening Doors. The PIT count also provides a reliable estimate of the prevalence of homelessness among three population groups: people experiencing chronic homelessness, Veterans, and families. However, the PIT count has been limited in providing a national estimate for one important Opening Doors population: youth unaccompanied by adults.
By Laura Green Zeilinger, USICH Executive Director
Whether as a result of a health or economic crisis or fleeing domestic violence, the experience of homelessness is extremely traumatizing for families generally, and can be especially traumatizing for children. We know that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every family experiencing a housing crisis. Connecting families to housing interventions and services that are appropriate to their specific needs is an essential part of the actions we identified as critical to meeting the goal of ending homelessness.
09/17/2014 - Building Systems to End to Homelessness: HUD’s FY 2014 Continuum of Care Program Competition
The Notice of Funding Availability for the Fiscal Year 2014 Funds in the FY 2013 - FY 2014 Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Competition asks CoCs to continue investing in what works and to target interventions appropriately to needs. It calls on CoCs to make the final push to reach our goal of ending chronic homelessness, make greater progress on family homelessness, and build the partnerships needed to reach and engage Veterans and youth experiencing homelessness in services. Although the policy priorities and many aspects of this NOFA remain the same as in FY 2013, there are also some changes and new elements.
On Friday, September 19, USICH is hosting a webinar to help CoCs understand the FY 2014 NOFA and suggestions on how to make it successful. Meanwhile, here are some key highlights that CoCs should know.
The 25 Cities Effort is designed to help communities intensify and integrate their local efforts to end Veteran and chronic homelessness. Fresno launched its local 25 Cities Effort in May 2014, setting a goal to house 60 high-priority individuals. Local stakeholders, however, were in for a surprise when one activity at an introductory meeting challenged everything they thought they knew about working together to connect individuals in need with housing. Here's what they learned.
09/03/2014 - Two Tennessee Partnerships Create Effective Solutions for Youth Experiencing Homelessness
Early in 2012, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) contacted advocates and educators in northeast Tennessee to discuss recent increases in youth homelessness in the region. Area school districts were showing stark increases in student homelessness, including jumps of nearly 50 percent in Kingsport City Schools and 36 percent in Johnson City Schools. In addition, the National Runaway Safeline registered calls originating from east Tennessee at nearly twice the rate of calls from urban areas like San Francisco and Seattle.
That was the beginning of two partnerships that are making a difference in ending youth homelessness in the region. Read more.
Next week, the National Alliance to End Homelessness will host its annual conference in Washington, DC, convening policymakers and practitioners who are working across the country to prevent and end homelessness. The three day event will offer more than 100 workshops and sessions and will feature plenary remarks from First Lady Michelle Obama, in-coming HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Senator Cory Booker, and USICH Executive Director Laura Zeilinger. USICH and federal partners are looking forward to participating in conversations with stakeholders in preconference and workshop sessions throughout the week. We hope that this guide to our participation will help our partners connect with the USICH team at the conference. We’re looking forward to seeing you.
by Danielle Ferrier and Beatriz McConnie Zapater
There are nearly 6,000 unaccompanied youth in Massachusetts. Experiencing homelessness often prevents motivated, hard-working youth from graduating high school and achieving success. A Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders article shows that without intervention, only about 27 percent of them will graduate high school. Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, sets a goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020 by ensuring communities can connect youth with stable housing, permanent connections, education, and employment all while improving youths’ social and emotional well-being.
by Jamie Keene, USICH Communications Intern
Once the city with the highest rate of homelessness in the country, today New Orleans has reduced homelessness to levels that are lower than before the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. By overcoming incredible challenges, New Orleans has shown that ending chronic and Veteran homelessness is possible in every American city.
Like most partnerships, one of the most critical ingredients is empathy. We have to be able to understand one another's incentives and find the common ground that aligns our work together. We shouldn’t just invite our partners to our meetings. (Who has time to attend someone else’s meetings?) We need to make “my” meetings “our” meetings. To do so, we have to work to understand what is important to our partners and create a space for honest dialogue and mutual understanding about where our efforts should support one another. We have to show that this is not only a good use of their time, but that we are focused on helping our partners succeed at their mission. And that, of course, is how together we succeed at our mission.
by Eric Grumdahl, USICH Policy Director
Ending youth homelessness means putting a system in place to do so in every community. Here, having a common purpose is a key ingredient. Luckily, at the interface of the child welfare system and the homeless response system, we should agree on a common purpose. The child welfare system wants to see successful transitions to adulthood, which includes all of the outcomes of the framework to end youth homelessness, including stable housing. The homeless response system is certainly eager to close what has been called a pipeline from child welfare to shelter, and to see youth in stable housing instead of outside a shelter door. We should not have to debate our shared purpose.
Where it seems to me that our efforts get stuck is...
“In Baltimore,” Adrienne Breidenstine explains, “We have a core group of youth service providers, funders, and government agencies that are committed to The Journey Home, Baltimore’s plan to end homelessness, and the vision that homelessness in Baltimore is rare and brief for children and youth experiencing homelessness. Now is the time for us to harness our community’s energy and commitment to the cause and translate it into action.”
By Amy Sawyer, USICH Regional Coordinator
Through the 25 Cities initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, communities have been invited to convene local leaders eager to build on their successes, identify new strategies, act decisively to strengthen their coordinated response systems and, in the process, end Veteran homelessness. To get started, teams of dedicated individuals are meeting for two-day-long intensive work sessions that drive a sophisticated planning process, resulting in specific action steps that will be carried out in months – not years.
by Laura Green Zeilinger, USICH Executive Director
Yesterday marked the fourth Anniversary of the launch of Opening Doors, the first-ever Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. In four years, we have changed the trajectory of homelessness in America. In just the first three years of implementation, Opening Doors led to significant reductions in homelessness, including an eight percent reduction in homelessness among families, a 16 percent reduction in chronic homelessness, and a 24 percent reduction in homelessness among Veterans. And we are hopeful that we will be able announce even greater reductions when the 2014 Point-In-Time Count data are available later this year.
The progress we are making across the nation has proven that Opening Doors is the right plan with the right set of strategies. Opening Doors also provides a foundation and scaffolding upon which we can continue to innovate and refine the solutions that will end homelessness in this country.
This year, we’re considering amending the plan again to include more of what we’ve learned from our progress.
By Matthew Doherty, USICH Director of National Initiatives
I recently partnered with the San Diego Regional Continuum of Care Council (RCCC) to host a first-of-its kind discussion locally, billed as Housing First: A Community Conversation for San Diego. I was joined by 25 RCCC members and other stakeholders ready to engage in the dialogue – especially meaningful to me given I live and work in San Diego.
Recognizing that not everyone had the same understanding or support for Housing First approaches, our discussion was structured as a dialogue in which people could express any concerns, questions or disagreements. We wanted to make sure that we could get issues out on the table in a safe environment so that future conversations and trainings could be structured to address the issues raised and help more people, programs, and agencies move toward Housing First approaches in practice. To achieve that purpose, we established rules for the conversation, asked ourselves a few key questions, and identified several topics to discuss when we met again.
By Jay Melder, USICH Director of Communications and External Affairs
Today, Community Solutions’s 100,000 Homes Campaign announced it has achieved its goal to connect 100,000 people experiencing chronic homelessness to safe, stable housing—101,628 people, to be exact.
At an event on Capitol Hill, former Army Private First Class Alvin Hill, a Veteran from Washington, DC, shared his story of returning home to civilian-life, losing his job and his apartment, and falling into years of homelessness. Mr. Hill remarked that it was “a tragedy that anyone who would put his life on the line for America could return home to sleep on the streets.” In April, Alvin Hill became the 100,000th person to achieve permanent housing through the 100,000 Homes Campaign.
We congratulate Mr. Hill and we congratulate Community Solutions and all of the local and federal partners who have teamed-up to get the job done. This is an incredible milestone.
Here are three things everyone should know about what reaching milestones like this one really means:
06/02/2014 - Houston Drives Down Homelessness 37% through Community Collaboration and Housing First Approach
Houston has reduced homelessness by 37 percent since 2011, city and community leaders just announced, attributing the extraordinary achievement to an unprecedented level of collaboration and synergy among public and private organizations to realize the objectives of the Federal strategic plan to end homelessness.
“We are on the right path! Our Housing First strategy of creating permanent accommodations with robust supportive services is working,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said of the strategy undergirding the approach to ending homelessness in the city. “Moreover, the coordinated team-effort of over 60 different organizations aligning their resources and efforts is working!”
With university, city health and human services and county support, Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless conducted a federally mandated point-in-time (PIT) estimate of the number of people without a safe and stable home on Jan. 30, 2014, and found that there were 3,187 fewer people experiencing homelessness than in previous counts. In 2011, the PIT count determined 8,538 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. In 2012, 7,356. In 2013, 6,359 and in the most recent count, 5,351.
05/07/2014 - In One Year, New Orleans Reduced Veteran Homelessness by 43%, Chronic Homelessness by 30%
By Robert Pulster, USICH Regional Coordinator
Over the course of just one year, New Orleans has reduced homelessness among Veterans by 43 percent and chronic homelessness by 30 percent. In one year, New Orleans reduced unsheltered homelessness by 21 percent, 85 percent since 2011.
Since 2007, New Orleans has reduced overall homelessness by 83 percent, showing steady annual decreases since 2009. The number or people experiencing homelessness in New Orleans is now three percent below the number of people counted before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This is a stunning achievement.
By Eric Grumdahl, USICH Policy Director
Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released the 2014 HMIS Data Dictionary and HMIS Data Manual, with an effective date of October 1, 2014. This joint release demonstrates the significant collaboration between the three agencies to support data collection on homelessness across their programs and systems.
Jim Ryczek (pictured right), Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, recounts the journey he and his friend and fellow advocate John Joyce (pictured left) embarked upon in order to create a bill of rights on behalf of people experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island.
Setting up a coordinated assessment system is complex and doesn’t happen magically. But don’t let that stop you. Putting coordinated assessment in place doesn’t start with the challenges. It starts when communities decide that the challenges are worth facing.
02/05/2014 - A Paradigm Shift: How Fairfax County Made Significant Gains in Ending Family Homelessness
Dean Klein, director of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness in Virginia, relates how a shift from managing to ending homelessness led to innovative practices, strong collaborations, and truly incredible results.
Beginning from Secretary Shinseki's promise to give all Veterans "a hope, a home, and a future, Mayor of Salt Lake City, Ralph Becker, chronicles the amazing journey of committing and then successfully ending chronic Veteran Homelessness in his city.
Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix shares that through implementing coordinated partnerships and a "housing first" strategy, his city was able to successfully end chronic Veteran homelessness.
Public Housing Authorities have forged strong partnerships, innovative policies, and invested in best practices to make a significant impact in ending homelessness, explains the Executive Director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities Sunia Zaterman.
Discover how the Wichita Police Department has made an impact in ending homelessness.
More than 20 organizations joined together to create the Skid Row Coordinated Entry System, in alignment with the Home For Good campaign in Los Angeles. The goal was to make systematic changes that would foster collaboration. For the first time, a system permanent supportive housing services for chronically homeless individuals were being examined, re-imagined, and improved.
Randle Loeb, a Denver-based advocate for people experiencing homelessness writes about the importance of navigators and peer mentors.
Atlanta’s work shows how an engaged team can leverage the 100-day challenge from a Rapid Results Boot Camp to bring in meaningful partners. It can energize an entire community while building momentum so the work goes past the 100-days and becomes a cultural shift for everyone working in the system.
Two years ago, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce joined forces to create the Home for Good campaign to end chronic and Veteran homelessness in Los Angeles County. Earlier this month, Home For Good held a stakeholder Convening in recognition of the mid-point of its 5-year action plan, with many federal partners participating, including VA Assistant Secretary Dr. Tommy Sowers, HUD Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Johnston, and USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe.
Last week it was my pleasure to moderate a panel at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference on Emerging Research on Rapid Re-housing at a city, state, and national level. With rapid re-housing being such a new practice, many people have wondered if the initial success rates would last. Would participating households retain their housing or would they lose it and return to homelessness? Many feared that rapid re-housing was setting people up for failure. All three studies we heard about at the NAEH conference had this as their central question, and their findings were remarkably similar.
A growing body of research suggests that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth make up to 40 percent of the homeless youth population in the United States, yet only up to five percent of the general youth population. While reasons for their homelessness vary, the most frequently cited cause is family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. The True Colors Fund Forty to None Project is committed to taking that number from 40 percent to none.
During an NAEH pre-conference session, federal policymakers, youth service providers, and youth advocates discussed Federal approaches to ending youth homelessness.
One possible tool communities could use along with the PIT to get better numbers is the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
07/16/2013 - Ending Family Homelessness: A Message to Continuum of Care & Ten-Year Plan Leaders from Barbara Poppe
Recently, I wrote about the urgency to increase our efforts to end chronic homelessness, suggesting key questions Continuums of Care and Ten Year Plan leaders should ask. Today I want to pose similar questions related to how we address family homelessness. People in families make up nearly 40 percent of the homeless population nationwide. To reach our goal of ending family and child homelessness by the year 2020, we must realign our programs and systems now. As a mother, this quote from Marian Wright Edelman tugs at me: “The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people's children.” Shaping better community responses to family homelessness is about shaping our collective future. Thank you for stepping up to the challenge..
USICH Launches the Solutions Database
The big news of the week around USICH is the launch of our Solutions Database - an online resource hub of evidence-based practices, promising practices, and model programs from around the country that work in ending homelessness. We profile model programs from around the country successful at implementing practices like coordinated entry, targeting of permanent supportive housing, and outreach. Check out the 50+ profiles now! Explore the Solutions Database
Coverage of Potential Local Impacts of Sequestration
With budgets at all levels of government impacted by sequestration, local media has started to cover stories of organizations that will experience a drastic change in their work. As mentioned by HUD Secretary Donovan and echoed by federal leaders working with low-income populations, sequestration has severe impacts on our work to prevent and end homelessness in America.
In Indiana, they anticipate that sequestration will create big gaps in funding that will place Public Housing Authorities and housing vouchers at stake.
“We are expecting this will mean that public housing authorities will end up reducing the number of households they serve because there won’t be sufficient funding for all the vouchers currently in use…”
The New Orleans Point-in-Time count was delayed due to the Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl, events that literally take over the city. On Monday February 25th with the thousands of tourists back at home, the City was ready to count those without a home. The New Orleans Count is coordinated by UNITY of Greater New Orleans. UNITY serves as the lead agency for the New Orleans/Jefferson Parish Continuum of Care.
There was a full moon and the weather was warm and clear following heavy showers earlier in the day. I attended the training at the UNITY offices beginning at 8pm. Kathleen North, UNITY’s Director of the Permanent Supportive Housing Registry, spoke to the 60 volunteers on what to expect during the evening. James Tardie of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System offered some good advice about safety. Finally, Martha Kegel, UNITY’s Executive Director, thanked the volunteers and told them how valuable their service is to the ongoing work to prevent and end homelessness in New Orleans. Volunteers received bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with “2013 Homeless Survey” so it was clear to everyone our purpose that evening.
Three individuals, each from a different community partnerwho took part in Omaha, Nebraska’s Point-in-Time count, shared their experiences in this blog.
Introduction on the Omaha Point in Time Count by Erin Porterfield, Director of MACCH
The Metropolitan Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) held the Point-in-Time count on January 30, 2013 between 8:00 PM and midnight. For the unsheltered count, more than 40 volunteers were separated into teams with a trained outreach worker as team leader. These outreach workers conduct outreach weekly and administer the Vulnerability Index for the count as they would during a typical outreach. As part of the annual count, we invite community leaders to join us to boost understanding of our process and more importantly, to meet the people we find experiencing homelessness.
Our community selects the evening time period hoping the people we find will accept a ride to shelter instead of braving the biting temperature of 15 degrees that night. The region covered by the count includes Douglas and Sarpy Counties in Nebraska and Pottawattomie County in Iowa. The region comprises a metro area population of 634,233 with more than 1 percent (at least 7,333 people) of whom experience homelessness annually. During this year’s count we found 19 people living outside ( a decrease of two people from 2011), two of whom asked to be transported to shelter.
Philadelphia was my second PIT count this year (I was in Boston in December). To me, this is much more than a data gathering exercise—it’s a stark reminder that we've not yet been successful in our cause. While I am heartened to see the evidence of progress—fewer people living on the street, new supportive housing launched, better coordination and engagement among outreach—I’m disheartened to see our fellow human beings living in such difficult conditions. The night was a very warm (65 degrees), rainy, and windy. I was assigned to a team responsible for counting and surveying in the Concourse.
Public information describes the Concourse as a series of underground concourses allowing pedestrians to reach their jobs from the major transportation hubs without having to be exposed to the weather. Most of the Center City area around City Hall and along Market and Broad Streets is connected to the major government buildings and office towers by the Concourse. All of the regional system's Regional Rail Lines stop (and occasionally terminate) here, and access is provided to the Market-Frankford Elevated and Subway Line, the Broad Street Subway Line, and all Subway-Surface Trolley Routes. Additionally, several city buses and company shuttle buses service the exterior of the property. The concourse, dubbed "MetroMarket", provides commuters and the public alike with restroom facilities, customer service, a post office, and a number of eateries and shops.
02/25/2013 - Sustaining 100 Day Results: Does Your Community Have the Grit to Solve Homelessness Among Veterans?
Ending homelessness among Veterans cannot be the responsibility of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) alone. Communities are the key ingredient and are essential partners in ending homelessness among our Veterans. Collective leadership, collaboration, civic engagement, and persistence are necessary to get the job done and end Veteran homelessness by 2015. This is never more palpable than when working with the participants of Community Solutions’ Rapid Results Housing Boot Camp.
As part of a Sustainability Review, I recently joined federal, state, and local leaders from Colorado, Phoenix, and Utah who gathered to share the progress of their 100 day goals in ending homelessness among Veterans as part of a Community Solutions’ Rapid Results Housing Boot Camp (Boot Camp). In all of these communities, multi-disciplinary teams work to target HUD’s Housing Choice vouchers and case management and clinical services provided by VA (HUD-VASH) to Veterans most in need. Boot Camps equip teams with the tools and commitments needed to set – and meet – 100 day goals that make immediate impacts and drive solutions and strategies that will help the community end Veteran homelessness. Boot Camps have been an important element for participating communities across the country to achieve the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by 2015.
New York City has an estimated population of 8.2 million people. Planning a count of individuals and families that are homeless in the nation’s most populous city is a major undertaking, and this year’s Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) marks the ninth annual citywide count. I was honored to join volunteers from across the city in being a part of HOPE 2013.
The morning of January 28th started off with snow showers that by midday had turned to sleet and finally rain. When volunteers assembled to embark on the nation’s largest count of homeless individuals, it was 35 degrees; no snow or rain, but raw and chilly. I arrived at the P.S. 116, Mary Lindley Murray Elementary on East 33rd, just after 10 pm. Within an hour the cafeteria/gymnasium had filled up with over 150 volunteers. P.S. 116 was one of 28 sites around the city that would train and manage the over 3,000 volunteers who would cover 1,550 areas that had been designated by city planners.
02/21/2013 - HOPE: A Word on New York City’s PIT Count from Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond
HOPE, our annual unsheltered street survey, is a huge effort every year involving thousands of volunteers throughout New York City. We usually plan months ahead of time but with Hurricane Sandy requiring our full attention for most of the end of 2012, we had to cram four months work into four weeks. It is serious business and we take great care to set up the system with precision, mapping the areas with the city’s experts, arranging for over 400 police officers to be involved and working with a community college to hire and train over 200 decoys- persons who act as homeless individuals as a quality control measure. Based on the number of decoys discovered during the survey, we can ensure the accuracy of the final street estimate number. But it also should be fun and so we make sure to include in the planning thousands of gallons of coffee and water, pretzels and energy bars and thousands of t-shirts available to every volunteer who completes the survey.
(Pictured: Bob Pulster, USICH Regional Coordinator and Seth Diamond, NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner)
The nights of the estimate have varied from year to year—some balmy, some so cold you could barely take your hands out of your pocket, and this year, relatively cold. No matter what though, the street survey moves forward. My night always begins at St. John’s University early in the evening in Queens. They are a wonderful partner and send hundreds of students to us throughout the city to participate in the survey. I visit them on campus to thank them personally, but also, seeing the young people ready and willing to go is energizing for me and my staff. This year their mascot, Johnny Thunderbird, joined us for an extra special send off. I’m not sure what area he ended up surveying.
02/13/2013 - The People Behind the Count: A PIT Count Reflection from HUD’s New Hampshire Field Office Director Greg Carson
It’s been more than 30 years since I headed outdoors in sub-zero weather at 2 in the morning; on the other side of the world along the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Tonight, like those nights so many years ago, I am surrounded by a group of young people all determined to accomplish an important mission and all motivated by a sense of duty.
As the HUD Field Office Director in New Hampshire, each year for the last several years I received a copy of the results of the national Point-in-Time count and while I have been diligent in sharing that information with decision makers, I have not had a personal sense of the people behind the numbers.
Tonight we gather at the basement floor level offices of local transitional housing provider Families in Transition (FIT). It’s early, it’s cold, and the room is filled with volunteers from various non-profits and state agency service providers. By far, most of the teams who will soon be walking the streets on Manchester are between 22 and 30 years old. Yes, there are a few of us more seasoned professionals, but we are the exception to the rule.
02/11/2013 - Homelessness in Washington, DC: Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Fellows participate in DC’s Point-In-Time Count
On the evening of Thursday, January 31, I participated in DC’s Point-In-Time (PIT) count with two of my colleagues from this year’s 2012-2013 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute fellowship cohort, Daniel Lind and Pam Diaz.
(Pictured from left to right: Aurelia De La Rosa Aceves, Health Graduate Fellow; Daniel Lind, STEM Graduate Fellow; and, Pam Diaz, Public Policy Fellow.)
Though the PIT count takes place every year, this was the first time Daniel, Pam, and I participated in the event. We prepared for the night by attending a training session earlier in the month led by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, DC’s Continuum of Care PIT count organizer. However, nothing can quite prepare you for the moment when you walk in to the designated PIT count volunteer meeting area and observe the overwhelming amount of people from the community who have come to help count the homeless on their Thursday night. It is both humbling and heartwarming to be a part of such an important and community-building event.
Once all the volunteers had met their teammates and team leaders for the night, we had the pleasure to hear U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki speak about the Obama Administration’s commitment to end homelessness in this country. They explained the essential role of the PIT count: in addition to informing resource planning, both Secretaries spoke of this work as our means to identify a problem, address it, and document our progress addressing it. Secretary Shinseki said it well: “We can’t solve a problem we cannot see.”
The commitment to connecting with people in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, North Carolina was evident during their Point-in-Time (PIT) count, starting in the evening on January 30th and ending late the next day. While temperatures reached an unseasonably warm 71 degrees earlier in the day, by the time the volunteers gathered at Bethesda Center for coffee, snacks, and training, the temperature had dipped to 54 degrees, with driving rains and threats of tornados and flooding giving an even deeper sense of urgency to the work the volunteers were embarking on.
“This is a search and rescue operation!” stated Teri Hairston, Program Assistant for the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness at the United Way of Forsyth County, during the training. “We see this as a chance to connect with every person who is homeless, and even if we’re just planting a seed for later, we use what we learn tonight to help everyone get into housing”
Community partners, led by the Homeless Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, worked for months to plan for the count, bringing in a diverse range of people and agencies to ensure that every detail was covered. This year, the community was also one of the nine communities involved in the Youth Count! initiative, which involved a distinctly different strategy than the outdoor count. Together, these two initiatives helped to create a comprehensive picture of homelessness in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.
I was honored to be able to join the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition in their Homeless Census on January 24 and 25. I left especially impressed by the efforts to make sure that people whose homelessness may be invisible in our communities were recognized and counted. I spent those two days with a variety of teams with distinct and specific purposes: together these four experiences give a good snapshot of the many facets of a PIT count that help us to collect comprehensive and accurate data on this population. I was honored to be a part of this work.
Covering Every Street and Alley
Deployed from Catholic Charities Plaza along Las Vegas' Corridor of Hope at about 1:30 am, my teammates, Lawrence Rivers and Willie Lee Reed, and I spent the next several hours walking every block of a neighborhood adjacent to Las Vegas' downtown core: a mix of office, multifamily housing, and single-family homes that is also markedly affected by foreclosure and abandoned buildings. Lawrence and Willie Lee, both of whom have experienced homelessness in Las Vegas, were invaluable guides through these darkened streets and alleys. Their expertise helped us to identify secluded locations where it was likely people might be sleeping. They also helped us connect with other people also walking through the quiet neighborhood who, rather than counting, were looking for a safe, peaceful spot where they might be able to find some rest. Lawrence and Willie Lee also deepened my understanding of the array of housing and services options available in Las Vegas, using their knowledge to help a scared-looking young man we came upon at about 4:30 am as we finished walking our assigned area. This young man had been struggling since the previous morning to remain clean from a meth addiction. With no family or friends in the area to turn to for support, he was trying to make it through a long night alone. Lawrence and Willie Lee were able to suggest a services intake location he could try at 10:00 am, but then we had to leave him, six hours and a couple of miles away from the possibility of help and a potential path toward housing.
When visiting communities across the country, I am always reminded of the strength, coping and survival skills of persons experiencing homelessness. I woke up in the morning with raw, burnt-feeling skin on my face after participating in Chicago’s Point in Time Count on the night of January 22, 2013. The City of Chicago Department of Family Support Services led the efforts in partnership with the Chicago Alliance, numerous service providers, police, hospitals and volunteers across Chicago. During sub-zero temperatures, over 200 volunteers explored the 234 square miles of Chicago to count persons experiencing homelessness on the streets, on CTA trains, and in parks and abandoned buildings.
The team I participated with was led by the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFFS) Deputy Commissioner, Joel Mitchell, and included DFFS Communications Director Matthew Smith, Editor of Streetwise Suzanne Hanney, and Jennifer Cossyleon, a PhD student at Loyola University. Several media outlets followed us to our first location under the Dan Ryan Freeway, where we spotted movement around a metal barrel, deep under the overpass with flames providing some heat. As our team attempted to find an opening through the fence, we came upon a shopping cart; next to it were layers and layers of blankets. As the team walked closer to the cart, a man peered at Joel from under the covers. Joel extended a warm and friendly “hello” and shared that we were on the streets tonight to talk to persons experiencing homelessness to help the city improve services and get much needed resources to aid those efforts. Names were exchanged. Joel asked if he would mind answering a few questions and the man kindly obliged, sharing information freely from under his layers of blankets. He shared that he had not talked to anyone else tonight, but had been approached by other staff while living on the street, and had not been able to get housing.
More than 350 volunteers left Boston City Hall on the crisp, cold early winter night to fan out across the city streets and conduct the annual homeless census—a 33-year tradition. USICH Regional Coordinator Bob Pulster and I were part of the team lead by Boston Emergency Shelter Commission Director Jim Greene. Under the directive of Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Jim had emphasized that the volunteers participating in the count had a primary goal to assist and help those who were unsheltered. We were charged to help them connect to immediate resources like shelter, health care, food, blankets, and clothing. Counting alone would not be sufficient -- we also were to engage and outreach. If someone needed help, we were to wait with that person until one of the outreach vans arrived and a good connection was made. Our job was to make sure the linkage actually happened.
I observed Jim and another volunteer interact with two women, one in her 50s, the other in her early 20s and pregnant. Among the volunteers on Mayor Menino’s team was Dr. Paula Johnson, a noted primary care physician, the head of the Connors Center for Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and board chair of the Boston Public Health Commission. Jim beckoned Dr. Johnson over, and she spoke softly, and more privately, with the young woman about her pregnancy, homelessness and related risks. The rest of the group stood back to give them some space and a level of privacy. When Dr. Johnson urged the young woman to consider accepting a ride to shelter, she wavered, asking for time to think it over. Greene assured her that an outreach van would be back to check in with her during the night.
The HEARTH Act enacted by Congress in 2009 is, in many ways, a game changer. It gave the federal government the charge to create the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, setting forth the vision that no one in this country should be without a safe and stable place to call home. Perhaps most importantly, HEARTH moves governments and local stakeholders from a focus on individual program outcomes to a focus on how all programs work as a system to achieve results for an entire community. This strong statement made by the federal government foregrounds the work of implementing the HEARTH Act in communities across the country.
The HEARTH Act and the ways it seeks to improve a community’s response to homelessness has come into an even sharper focus in the recent weeks, as the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for FY 2012 Continuum of Care (CoC) program was released and communities are working on their CoC program applications. In an effort to assist these communities,our most recent newsletter released in November focused on the HEARTH Act; specifically, what the HEARTH Act means for communities, important things to know about the Continuum of Care (CoC) Program NOFA and federal resources to help communities navigate new elements of the HEARTH Act.
11/15/2012 - New Department of Labor “Innovation Fund” To Test Employment and Housing Services Collaborations
One of the challenges in providing employment services to homeless families is a lack of coordination across systems and across funding streams. Three projects recently funded through the Labor Department’s Workforce Innovation Fund (“the Innovation Fund”) are directly addressing this coordination challenge.
At the September meeting of the U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness, Michael Mirra, executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) discussed his agency’s Housing and Employment Navigator, a specialized case management program that offers individualized and flexible supports to link homeless families served by THA and other housing programs to mainstream employment and job training services.
Tacoma’s Navigator is one of the new Innovation Fund grantees and is being implemented under the leadership of WorkForce Central. The program will serve a total of 400 families in the Puget Sound region. Under the program, homeless families are assigned a personal case manager— called a “navigator”—with specific expertise in housing, social service, and workforce systems. The navigator works with the family to develop housing and employment self-sufficiency plans; register for and enroll in employment and job training programs and interventions; and offer assistance in addressing barriers to successful completion of programs and entry into employment. Meanwhile, housing and workforce agencies at the system level are participating in integrated service planning, interagency communication, cross training of staff, and streamlining and sharing outcomes around stable housing, full employment, and reduced reliance on public benefits.
Valley of the Sun United Way has come a long way in four years. Together, with partners in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, we have set ambitious yet achievable goals and have made progress towards the one big goal: ending homelessness in the Maricopa County region. By taking a look at our milestones and key actions throughout the past four years, we identified strategies that have worked for us, and we believe can work for other United Ways or community-wide partnerships across the country.
Take a look.
“I’m ashamed because the other kids say I smell bad.”
“Get those dirty bums out of our town.”
How many times have you heard sentiments similar to these, either from those experiencing homelessness, or from those encountering them on the streets? As advocates for the rights and dignity of homeless persons, we know these statements reflecting the stigmatization of homelessness are wrong, but few of us have thought more deeply about the causes and consequences of stigma.
At the end of September, over 400 people from the Southeast and throughout the country joined together in Clearwater, Florida for the 2012 Southeast Institute on Homelessness. The Institute, supported by the Florida departments of Children & Families and Education, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and Wells Fargo, is an example of the type of government, nonprofit and public sector partnerships that breed success in ending homelessness.
The focus of the institute was Building Successful Communities. Sessions, presentations, and dialogue groups asked participants to think about what is new, what is working, and what’s next in their community’s efforts to end homelessness. Keynote speakers, including USICH, invited participants into a dialogue about collaborative partnerships, creative planning, thinking “outside the box”, right-sizing and targeting resources, measuring success, and connecting with mainstream resources. No matter what stage of development communities were in when they got to the Southeast Institute on Homelessness, this event helped create a pathway for moving forward with people, groups, and partners looking to make changes in their programs for the better.
The biggest event of this week was our quarterly Council meeting, which was held on Wednesday at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The focus of this meeting was on the ways states and communities can best use mainstream resources, like school programs, public housing resources, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), woven with targeted homelessness resources to make progress. USICH Chair and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was joined by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Director of the Corporation for National and Community Service Wendy Spencer, Luke Tate from the Domestic Policy Council, and key representatives from 18 member agencies.
Several pilot programs in the United States have recently begun using social impact bonds, or Pay-For-Success bonds, to finance initiatives aimed at solving entrenched social problems like homelessness. First implemented in the United Kingdom, social impact bonds are an innovative way that some American cities can work with established private and non-profit partners to create real change. So what are social impact bonds and what are the new projects in the United States that use this model of financing?
Social impact bonds (SIBs), or pay-for-success bonds, are a new financial instrument that utilizes the typical structure of a municipal bond, where bonds are used to procure funds from private sector investors who are then paid back with interest if the project can achieve required outcome targets. As distinct from municipal bonds, SIBs invest in social innovation programs that range in focus from the justice system to homelessness and can therefore be used to incentivize change in both public and nonprofit systems working on these issues.
On August 23, Mayor Emanuel, along with representatives from the City, the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, New Moms Inc., Catholic Charities, and other keystakeholders,unveiled Chicago’s new Plan 2.0: A Home for Everyone. Plan 2.0 is based on the vision that ending homelessness is possible and in Chicago, everyone should have a home.
Building on the progress made under Chicago’s original Plan to End Homelessness, Getting Housed, Staying Housed, Plan 2.0 focuses on seven strategic priorities: the crisis response system, access to stable and affordable housing, youth homelessness, employment, advocacy and civic engagement, cross-systems integration, and capacity building.
I left Los Angeles on August 16 with both a new “I Am Home For Good” lapel pin and a new lesson in the power of collaboration.
USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe and I were privileged to attend the Home For Good Funders Collaborative event in Los Angeles (previously described here) at which the funding partners announced awards to 30 nonprofit organizations. That funding totaled $105 million of public and private investments and will result in more than 1,000 people becoming stably housed in the coming year with support to remain in that housing in the years ahead. Each event attendee received an “I Am Home For Good” lapel pin honoring their support and contributions; such pins will also be provided to every person housed through the funding awards announced. The Funders Collaborative’s accomplishments are truly remarkable and one important indicator of broader change in Los Angeles.
Envision your community having all of the right partners and leaders around the table to implement an actionable plan with goals and strategies to end homelessness. It takes commitment, dedication, passion, and political will to create opportunities for partnerships and solutions to ending homelessness. These qualities are abundant in Lafayette, and Tippecanoe County, Indiana.
Last week in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, I had the privilege to participate in a charrette planning process “Solutions Beyond Shelter” facilitated by the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH). The charrette is a unique and efficient process for communities to articulate goals and strategies to end homelessness relevant to their community needs. The process provides opportunities to explore new systemic and programmatic solutions to end homelessness between national and local leaders, with the community providing reaction and input on particular issue areas. CSH has facilitated numerous charrettes with communities across the country to develop new plans and breathe life into existing plans to end homelessness through a thoughtful and strategic process known as the “fishbowl.”
The June 12, 2012 USICH Council meeting was a historic one – not only did it mark the second anniversary of Opening Doors, it also marked the unveiling of a framework for ending youth homelessness by 2020 and was the first time that a Council meeting was broadcast live.
Presented to the Council by the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at HHS, Bryan Samuels, this framework is the first time that the Council has endorsed a strategic set of priorities established to help us to reach the goal by 2020.Three thought leaders on the issue were in attendance as expert panelists: CEO of Lighthouse Youth Services Bob Mecum, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness Nan Roman, and State Coordinator for the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth program at the Colorado Department of Education Dana Scott. All agreed that urgency on these strategic actions is vital to success.
Working collaboratively to remove barriers and find workable solutions to Veterans homelessness with real results was the theme of the May 14-15 Boot Camp in Orlando, hosted by the 100,000 Homes Campaign and Rapid Results Team. I was able to take part in this Boot Camp in Orlando with my fellow Regional Coordinators, who also took part in Boot Camps in Houston and San Diego. The 100,000 Homes Campaign works with communities throughout the country in order to rapidly accelerate the rate of housing placement for the most long-term and vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness in our nation—a complex and challenging mission. The Boot Camp gathered teams of community experts together to take a hard look at how to apply strategies that will make a direct impact on the speed and efficiency at which Veterans experiencing homelessness can access housing.
Through Opening Doors, federal agencies are establishing interagency partnerships, paving the way for communities to make a dramatic impact on homelessness. One example of the federal partnerships making a difference is the HUD-VASH program. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) work together to offer a program that pairs HUD Housing Choice vouchers and VA supportive services to bring affordable, supportive housing to Veterans experiencing chronic homelessness. As local communities respond to this opportunity, they have been able to aid Veterans in need of housing, but have been challenged by issues such as housing availability, outreach and awareness, collaboration with other homeless programs, and how to best leverage resources and ensure sustainability.
For those who ask me to describe the face of family homelessness, I often recommend they start by looking into a mirror.
Whether from an act of nature or recession-era unemployment and mortgage foreclosures – even the more fortunate among us could find ourselves homeless tomorrow. Although a host of different factors can catapult a family into crisis, we know some families are more at risk than others. More than 80% of homeless families are headed by single parents, and more than 80% of these parents are women. Most have young children. Families of color are at disproportional risk. These characteristics suggest poverty is, of course, at the root of family homelessness – single mothers, particularly those with limited educations and skills – find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder, often not able to keep their families housed with the income generated by one wage earner working minimum wage.
However, poverty and the lack of sufficient financial capital is only one of the roots of homelessness.
For as long as we’ve been counting, Los Angeles County has been the homeless capital of the nation, with more people living on our streets than any other region of the country. It’s also home to 10 million people who believe we can do better – that we can create a Los Angeles community that is stronger and more vibrant than it is today.
In December 2010, we celebrated the beginning of this new Los Angeles. We launched Home For Good, a five-year plan to end chronic and Veteran homelessness, inspired by the leadership of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and informed by Opening Doors. The action plan is led by the Business Leaders Task Force, a joint initiative of United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. Most importantly, the plan belongs to all of us.
A year and a half into the plan, we’re on track to reach our goals, with over 3,000 chronically homeless individuals and over 1,200 veterans in permanent housing to date. Five strategies have been central to our success and learning thus far.
As coordinator of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, Community Solutions is proud to be partnering with USICH, VA and HUD to lead the national housing pillar of the ambitious new Got Your 6 Campaign. Last week, in a show of support for veterans and military families, representatives from nearly every major Hollywood production studio, broadcast and cable network, talent agency, and guild in the entertainment industry announced the launch of the Got Your 6™, a new effort to support veterans and foster opportunities for them to contribute their unique skills and abilities in communities across the country. Got Your Six aims to support and empower veterans around six pillars of reintegration, each led by a different group of top-tier non-profits and government agencies.
The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness recently held its first statewide conference in Albuquerque on ending homelessness in their state. I had the honor of delivering a keynote to stakeholders from across the state at the conference and was joined by leaders such as Linda Couch from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (on the right in this photo). The energy, enthusiasm, and true passion for the cause of ending homelessness among service providers, advocates, and government officials was inspirational.
The challenge for this group now is figuring out how to harness that energy and deploy it in a careful and coordinated way to move from planning to action. This challenge is not unique to New Mexico nor is the major elements of their strategy to end homelessness very different from other states. However, the specific activities to support the strategy will need to be tailored to the population of individuals and families experiencing homelessness specifically in New Mexico. Using Opening Doors as a guide, New Mexico can create a framework for state- level efforts that can be replicated and adapted by the diverse communities throughout the state.
Imagine the possibilities if every local United Way across the country was engaged in solutions to end homelessness. What would progress look like if the business leaders and volunteers that support United Ways were pushing for real systems change and investing to create community impact to prevent homelessness?
I imagine there would be more high profile champions working with elected officials, providers and advocates to develop and implement local strategic plans to end homelessness that are aligned with Opening Doors. These champions would elevate the community engagement to increase resources directed toward solving homelessness.
I imagine that there'd be fewer projects stopped by NIMBY as business leaders would be joining forces with permanent supportive housing developers. They would help make the case to elected officials that supportive housing is a cost-effective solution to street homelessness and encourage land use approvals despite neighborhood objections.
I imagine that shelters would be better coordinated and able to be organized around a central access point: a result of United Way investment and volunteer support to create the most efficient approach by applying business technology and practices. The result would be shorter lengths of stay and more exits to housing.