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Homelessness can happen to anyone. Millions of families are just one accident, illness or layoff away – a lesson my family found out the hard way. We had always been self-sufficient, acquiring and operating an airport shuttle business 3 months, but lost our business in 2001 once air travel sharply declined due to the attacks of 9/11. Without our business, we were unable to keep our home and wound up living with my mother.
Whoever says living doubled-up is not a form of homelessness has clearly not lived it first-hand. Our family of four was in a small, single room with our two sons sleeping on the floor. Our possessions were in storage. It was my mother’s home – it did not feel like our home. We were homeless.
What kept us going was the hope that we would quickly receive a Section 8 voucher because of my husband’s disability status. That’s what we were told. But after waiting and hoping for months, we found out the Section 8 Program had frozen its waitlist. We could not afford a place on our own, and after six months with my mother, we had to move on.
The Impact of Sequestration on Low-Income Communities
In light of last Friday’s news that automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, will go into effect, National Alliance to End Homelessness President and CEO Nan Roman detailed the devastating impact of the sequester on the poor and vulnerable. She was featured on the Huffington Post blog, and you can read her piece here. In addition, The New York Times further explained how the poor would be hit particularly hard by the budget cuts, as all of HUD’s programs are subject to the sequester, which is an effective 9 percent cut to budgets for the rest of this fiscal year (until September 30). In the words of Secretary Donovan, “Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument…a self-inflicted wound that would have devastating impacts on our economy and on people across the nation.” For Americans experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, funding cuts as a result of the sequester further fray the social safety net for the most vulnerable.
Fortunately, Department of Veterans Affairs programs will be spared by sequestration, but advocates are monitoring other Veteran programs that may be cut from other U.S. departments. Learn more here.
When it comes to providing services to the homeless young people, it is often said that “youth are not just mini-adults.” Youth require developmentally appropriate interventions tailored to their needs and circumstances. However, this need is often not reflected in existing plans to end homelessness, treating individuals who experience homelessness as a single group and not adequately addressing the unique needs of children, youth and young adults. As a result, many youth who turn to adult services experience threats, theft, or harassment, or are turned away because they don’t necessarily fit within the constraints of the environment.
In order to directly address the unique needs of young people experiencing homelessness, in January the California Homeless Youth Project (HYP) released the first-ever state action plan focused on ending homelessness for youth and young adults. More Than a Roof: How California Can End Youth Homelessness aims to align state and local policymakers, service providers, and government agencies towards ending youth homelessness by 2020, as set out by USICH’s federal strategic plan Opening Doors.
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.
At the beginning of this week we released a newsletter focusing on what’s needed moving forward to end Veteran homelessness and some important and innovative work going on across the country to make significant progress. Working from a detailed analysis by Dr. Dennis Culhane of the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, we released to the public Ending Veteran Homelessness: A Report by USICH, which details progress and opportunities for greater collaboration to achieve the 2015 goal. We also highlighted the work five communities on track to end Veteran homelessness undertake to make such progress, and more local innovations.
This week the New York Times also delved deeper into the challenges of female Veterans when they return to civilian life, particularly the challenges following military sexual trauma. Its impact on the ability of female Veterans to regain stability can exacerbate challenges that lead to homelessness. The growing number of female Veterans experiencing homelessness is shown through the personal stories of a few Veterans, and solutions like HUD-VASH are highlighted.
I have visited Washington, D.C. many times, but to live there opened up a brand new adventure. The presidential campaign was in full swing, Congress was gridlocked, deficit spending cuts were being called for, and more were splashed in the daily papers and on TV. I wondered what it would be like to live in the center of it all. Over the years I had heard that “those bureaucrats” in Washington, D.C. don’t understand what the real issues are, or think they know better than those living and working in the states. I pondered these thoughts and feelings as I had just accepted a six month opportunity to work at USICH. I would now become “one of those Federal government bureaucrats.” What would I experience and learn over the next six months?
For me, the best way to take full advantage of this opportunity was to relocate to D.C. Within a week after arriving on September 4 from Utah, I rented a place six blocks east of the Capitol and my new adventure began. My primary focus during my time here was to work with the Department of Justice and explore how USICH might assist in improving policies and methods for successful reentry into communities for those released from incarceration. Preventing homelessness following incarceration is a component of the objective of Opening Doors that focuses onadvancing the health and housing stability for people with frequent contact with hospitals and criminal justice. Successful reentry into a community reduces both homelessness and recidivism. With a roughly 60% national recidivism rate, creating successful reentry solutions is a wise investment for Federal, State, and local leaders. Attorney General Eric Holder created the Federal Interagency Reentry Council to help push forward this work, which includes several sub-committees working to improve coordination among the Federal departments with programs designed to assist those released from incarceration. I was able to quickly become part of the discussion and planning process on many of these sub-committees, including the development of housing and service priorities actions for the Reentry Council for the coming four years.
02/25/2013 - Making Stronger Connections for Veterans: Questions to Ask of Your Community to Accelerate Progress
I was recently asked to meet with the Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans, so I prepared a presentation on the efforts USICH had underway with our Federal, State, and local partners related to preventing and ending homelessness among Veterans. During my presentation and discussion with this key group of leaders within VA, I also wanted to engage in a dialogue about what they were seeing in their communities: both the ways VA programs were working together and how community organizations can connect with VA to accelerate progress.
I posed these questions:
- How could VA outreach to Veterans who aren’t connecting to Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs)? How could community organizations help VAMCs make these connections?
- How could VAMCs use the 2013 street count process to connect VA to every unsheltered Veteran? How could community organizations help?
- How could VAMCs improve targeting of programs to ensure that Veterans are receiving the right intervention for their needs? How could community organizations help?
- How could VAMCs accelerate adoption of Housing First practices? How could community organizations help?
- How does VA increase effectiveness of VA’s Grant and per Diem-funded programs to increase successful discharges to permanent housing, make stronger program connections to unsheltered Veterans, and to reduce the length of stay for Veterans in their transitional housing programs? What lessons have been learned by other transitional housing providers that might be helpful?
- How could VAMCs better integrate with mainstream and community resources? How could community organizations help VAMCs make these connections?
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.
02/22/2013 - The Youth Point-in-Time Count: Philanthropy Partnering with Government to End Youth Homelessness
Funders Together to End Homelessness is the only national network of funders working to end homelessness. We promote a catalytic approach to philanthropy that goes beyond grantmaking to active civic engagement in solving homelessness.
Early last year, Funders Together to End Homelessness started to hear from our philanthropic members around the country. They wanted to know what they could do to help those youth who were living on the streets, without a safe or stable home. There was suddenly a buzz – a groundswell of interest in the issue of youth homelessness. Funders wanted to know how they could support efforts in their community to focus on both ending and preventing youth homelessness. The issue was at the forefront and the will was there; the problem was that funders were unsure of how best to approach the issue and what to do that would make a difference, not only in the short term, but in creating long-term, sustainable solutions. They lacked basic data to even know where to start. There was a need to know how many youth were affected in their communities, to learn who these youth were, and to understand how they came to be in this situation. Most importantly, they needed to know what kinds of initiatives they could support that would help prevent or end this tragedy of youth homelessness.
Around the same time as we were hearing from our members, Funders Together was holding meetings in Washington, D.C. with senior government officials from the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness (USICH) and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH). During these meetings we discussed this burning issue and how we could work together to gather data to assist in developing best practices around preventing and ending youth homelessness.
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.