Collaboration, Capacity and Planning Archive
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.
I’ve participated in the annual Point-in-Time counts in a number of different cities over the past decade. The Point-in-Time count is one way we collectively can understand the scope and breadth of homelessness across the country and to measure our progress toward ending it. To kick off our new blog at USICH.gov, I thought I would reflect on a truly unique count that I did this January in New Orleans.
Refreshing local Plans to end homelessness can be re-invigorating because our communities, and we as service providers and practitioners, have changed over time. We have more collective experience under our belts—we know more about what works and what we’d like to try. This eagerness to make a deeper impact is the fuel that powers the Plans. I share what communities can do to ensure that their Plans are well-crafted and can create an impact.