February 2013 Archive
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.
25/02/2013 - 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?
25/02/2013 - 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.
22/02/2013 - 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.
21/02/2013 - 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.
During the last ten days of January, Point-in-Time (PIT) Counts were conducted across the United States in order to count the number of people experiencing homelessness and connect them with support services. As described in the USICH December newsletter, the results of the PIT count offer the only national data on the total number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the country, including those that do not use homeless assistance programs. The PIT count informs resource planning and policymaking at the federal, state, and local level and is also the primary means of measuring progress against the goals of Opening Doors.
At USICH, we tracked the media coverage of the 2013 PIT Counts. We compiled this coverage for you and organized the articles according to states covered by each USICH regional coordinator. We are taking this opportunity to highlight the important work of our local leaders and partners in the effort to gain an accurate count of people experiencing homelessness in this country. And by covering PIT Counts that took place in urban, suburban and rural areas, we hope to call attention to the different strategies required to count people experiencing homeless in these different types of locations.
13/02/2013 - 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.
11/02/2013 - 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.”
Check out yesterday’s USICH Newsletter
USICH released its newsletter yesterday, and it covers the 2013 PIT Count, Executive Director Barbara Poppe’s reflection on the work of Mayors to end homelessness, USICH hiring announcements and more. Read our newsletter here
Do you have a reflection to share on your community's collaborative efforts in the PIT count? Share it with us - we may feature your community on our blog. Contact Sarah Weakley to submit your blog idea today.
Mayors are on the front line of homelessness in America. It is their city departments, budgets, hospitals, and residents who experience the effects of homelessness in the most tangible way, whether it is their own lives or whether it affects their livelihood. As I said to the Council in December, we can’t solve homelessness nationally unless we solve it locally. We at USICH put an enormous premium on understanding the work being done at the community level and the perspective of Mayors.
It was my honor, then, to be able to address the US Conference of Mayors’ Hunger and Homelessness Task Force, chaired by Mayor Bellamy of Asheville, NC, at the 81st Annual Winter Meeting January 17-19. This group of Mayors plays a particularly important role by informing USCM policies toward homelessness, and provides leadership and urgency to the issues. Their Annual Hunger and Homelessness Survey provides the nation with a clear picture of homelessness in the cities represented on this task force, and adds to the information we all need in order to see and solve the problem.
I was also particularly honored to share with the Mayors the importance of their leadership in ending homelessness, because for fourteen years I worked with community leaders and service providers in Columbus, OH as the Director of the Community Shelter Board. This public-private collaborative to end homelessness was made even stronger because it is aligned with Mayor Michael Coleman’s vision to create livable neighborhoods, a vibrant downtown, and a strong local economy. Ending homelessness is and was integral to his goals for the city, and his leadership on this issue made our organization even stronger and better able to serve those in Columbus struggling with homelessness.
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.
PIT Counts accelerate across the country
With PIT Counts taking place across the U.S. this week, people experiencing homelessness are being counted and receiving the support services they need. In Texas, a Homeless Connect event coincided with the PIT Count and drew a line of people three hours before the event’s doors opened. Among the services offered to people attending the event were health screenings, pet care, bicycle repair, haircuts, food and clothing; dental services were among the highest in demand. In Bergen County, NJ, an array of services were offered to people experiencing homelessness during the PIT Count through a Homeless Connect event. As a result of combined efforts, these events help to address homelessness in two ways, 1) take a census of people experiencing homelessness in order to receive federal funds to provide the services needed throughout the year, and 2) provide services to meet the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness, like a haircut, dental work, food, and clothing.