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11/05/2012 - Words never hurt? Toward a More Productive Public Discourse on Homeless Children and Youth
The schoolyard chant “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” rings hollow when I hear trusted allies arguing about the “right” definition of homelessness.
To the general public this must seem silly…fighting over definitions of homelessness. Some allies have observed that all this in-fighting can actually diminish political will. It’s been blamed as the primary reason it took more than a decade to pass the HEARTH Act that re-authorized McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs. A seemingly innocuous (some might even say bureaucratic) response from one ally recently provoked a backlash from another ally. I am not pointing fingers at either as this discourse is sadly and repeatedly played out all across the country.
While I believe that I understand the good intentions behind all the various points of view, I also see the opening for us to come together and, perhaps,be more careful in our language so that we are creating more allies and inspiring greater political will to end homelessness – not having folks throw up their hands and walk away. I’m going to work through an example because it might point us toward the path forward.
The first two days of this week federal offices in Washington, DC were closed due to Hurricane Sandy. USICH sends our condolences to those who lost loved ones. Our thoughts are with those who are struggling to recover from this disaster and for those working tirelessly in recovery efforts. To donate for the recovery effort via The American Red Cross, you can do so directly from their homepage: http://www.redcross.org/
Mark Horvath of InvisiblePeople.tv wrote this piece in the Huffington Post today about the power of social media that was used to help homeless services as they struggled to keep individuals safe in shelters during Hurricane Sandy - a powerful timeline of how people from across the country assisted in those in shelter or supportive housing during this disaster.
New Study about students experiencing homelessness
The University of Minnesota released a new study about the challenges and resiliency of students experiencing homelessness in the journal Child Development. This study examined academic achievement data for over 26,000 students in the Minneapolis Public Schools from third through eighth grades, comparing students identified as homeless or highly mobile with other students in the federal free meal program, reduced price meals, or neither. Achievement gaps appeared stable or widened between homeless or highly mobile students and lower risk groups. Math and reading achievement were lower, and growth in math was slower in years of homeless or highly mobile identification, suggesting acute consequences of housing instability. However, there is surprising resiliency: around 45% of homeless or highly mobile students scored within or above the average range in both math and reading despite their living situation. Results underscore the need for research on risk and resilience processes among homeless or highly mobile students to address achievement disparities.
A StandDown is a one to three day outreach event targeting homeless and at-risk veterans in a particular community, bringing together a plethora of services designed to meet their needs. Such needs include respite, legal services, meals, clothing, hygiene, medical, dental and mental health services, benefits and employment assistance. This year alone, over 90 individual StandDown events have taken place across the country with communities reaching out to thousands of homeless Veterans. In fact, these events have been going on since 1988, when the Vietnam Veterans of San Diego (now called Veterans Village of San Diego) held the first one of its kind. In 2002, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) was asked to take on a nationwide leadership role toward expanding the model by providing guidance and technical assistance, which helped to build momentum for these events even further. The NCHV StandDown Page is updated regularly with all the StandDowns occurring across the country.
This week, in lieu of our usual Friday wrap-up we encourage you to take a look at our newsletter that was released this afternoon. This newsletter is packed with new information from USICH and from our partners in the federal government and nonprofit sector.
The big news from USICH is the release of the first ever National Research Agenda. The USICH National Research Agenda outlines priority areas where we believe Federal, local, and private investments should be made in additional research. A robust research base enables the furthering of best practices for all those working to end homelessness, and is a key element in changing the way our nation takes action. Setting forth a National Research Agenda, USICH hopes to catalyze researchers, policy professionals, and national, state, and local leaders to improve how we respond to the crisis of homelessness. We encourage you to take a look at the Agenda, and think of ways you can improve your research and evaluation efforts.
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.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Office of Mental Health released a new toolkit for community providers to access on its website. The online toolkit provides information on mental health issues from a Veteran-specific focus, a whole host of information about military cultural competency for mental health providers and case managers, and gives information on how providers can connect with VA. The Office of Mental Health will be developing and releasing more fact sheets and guides for specific types of mental health needs in the coming months, so we encourage community providers to check back frequently for updated resources.
Los Angeles County Makes a Smart Move for Ex-Offenders
As noted in the most recent USICH newsletter, the importance of connecting ex-offenders to safe, stable housing is a key element in successful reentry. In a few months, Los Angeles County Housing Authority, will allow ex-offenders on parole or probation who are also experiencing homelessness to be eligible for vouchers under the long-running homeless set-aside. This move will enable access to the nearly 22,000 vouchers for ex-offenders who are experiencing homelessness – a large group of individuals in Los Angeles County and individuals who face many barriers to housing stability.
Interested in reentry issues like this one? Take a look at our newsletter
Safe Havens have long been a refuge for people with severe and persistent mental illness and other disabilities who also experience episodes homelessness, often for long periods of time. Since 1992, Safe Havens have been part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Supportive Housing Program and will continue to be funded through the new Emergency Solutions Grant program. Designed to offer low-barrier services and supports to the most hard-to-reach people, Safe Havens can provide a sense of stability and security for people who would otherwise be exposed to the life-threatening environment on the streets. Here, people who were formerly disconnected from the community and supports are able to move inside and begin to focus on how they can transition from the streets to permanent, supportive housing. For fifteen years, Safe Place in Tampa, Florida has been offering safe haven to some of that community’s most vulnerable residents. The program is operated by Mental Health, Inc., an agency that works to advocate for and give hope to all people touched by behavioral health and developmental challenges. Recently they’ve begun a new phase in their work as a Safe Haven that partners with the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) to help connect Veterans to this valuable resource.
Lessons from Rapid Results Bootcamp Success
The work of the Rapid Results Bootcamps continues to create a buzz among communities involved in the bootcamps as well as national leaders in innovative solutions to complex problems. The Harvard Business Review posted a blog this week about the underlying principles of how the bootcamps work, their success, and what other corporate and social organizations can learn from this effort. The authors highlight the concepts of mobilizing an ecosystem, having a common goal, and harnessing the power of peer pressure and support as lessons to be drawn from this work.
Last week another bootcamp was held in Denver, this time with participation from six communities. Look for a blog post from one of the USICH National Programs team on this event soon!
Photo courtesy of 100,000 Homes
“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.