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.
At an individual level, the turmoil that comes from not having a safe place that is home is a crisis. It is a crisis that without adequate resolution gets worse. Although there are programs that provide housing and services for people, we will never have an adequate response that is at the pace and scale needed as long as it depends on people in crisis being required to navigate multiple programs in an attempt to get their needs met. Responding in a person-centered way to homelessness requires that programs are operating as a system. Making this shift is not simple, but it is being done in more and more communities throughout the country, and a systems approach is essential to achieving an end to homelessness.
Without housing options, people often are forced to rely on culverts, public parks, streets, and abandoned buildings as places to sleep and carry out daily activities that most reserve for the privacy of their own home. As communities recognize and struggle with the fact that people without homes often live in public spaces, multiple strategies arise. Unfortunately, many of these strategies include policies that criminalize homelessness. In a new report, In the Public Eye, author Lucy Adams, of Australia’s Justice Connect and guest blogger at USICH elevates the conversation.
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 Eric Grumdahl, USICH Policy Director
For many people confronting homelessness, employment can mean the difference between housing and homelessness. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), signed into law by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, fosters local innovation and focus on providing employment supports for people experiencing homelessness, by clarifying that the central purpose of the workforce system is to support people with significant barriers to employment. In doing so, WIOA and the President’s job-skills agenda will accelerate progress on ending homelessness.
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.
07/09/2014 - Supportive Services for Veteran Families: A Powerful Tool to Keep Veterans and Their Families Home
by Peter Nicewicz, USICH Management and Policy Analyst
Based on previous analysis, we already knew that the VA's Supportive Services for Veteran Families program is not only effective, but it is cost-effective as well. It now costs only about $2,400 to serve each Veteran household through the program, a 12 percent decrease since its first year of operations.
So what makes SSVF such an effective program in ending and preventing homelessness for Veteran households? There are several key ingredients.
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 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 Richard Cho, USICH Senior Policy Director
I must make a confession. When I first came to Washington to work for USICH, I was a bit skeptical about how sold the Federal government was on Housing First. I knew that Housing First was mentioned in Opening Doors, but did the Federal government truly embrace it? After all, it was not so long ago that terms like "harm reduction" were considered four-letter words by the Federal government.
So imagine my happy surprise when I discovered that I was flat-out wrong. In the first, of what I learned would be many, interagency meetings on chronic homelessness, Housing First adoption was discussed as a primary strategy for accelerating progress. And one of the very first tasks I was given was to help provide a clear, operational definition of Housing First. The result of that work is USICH's Housing First Checklist, a tool that communities can use to adopt Housing First across their programs and overall community response. Not only does this Administration fully believe in Housing First, but it is working to make Housing First the underlying approach behind every community's response to homelessness.
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:
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 Jay Melder, USICH Director of Communications and External Affairs
USICH invited two community leaders to come to DC and discuss the impacts that Federal partnerships have had on local efforts to end homelessness. Mandy Chapman Semple from the City of Houston and Amy Schwabenlender from the Valley of the Sun United Way in Phoenix are working to end homelessness in their communities by taking strategic actions to maximize Federal, State, and local resources, increase evidence-based housing and services models like permanent supportive housing, and focus on outcomes. The results are clear: ending homelessness is possible and within our reach.
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.
By Laura Green Zeilinger, USICH Executive Director
The Obama Administration, in partnership with communities across the country, is changing the trajectory of homelessness through the implementation of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. USICH is proud to release our Annual Update to Congress on the progress of Opening Doors.
In March, I had the privilege of going on a ride-along in the HOT van with Sergeant Schnell and his partner, Officer John Liening. I’ve known Sergeant Schnell and Officer Liening for about 10 years or more. The HOT and SIP teams are profiled in USICH’s publication Searching Out Solutions, and they have provided training to police departments in many other parts of the country. But this was my first chance to witness, in person, their daily efforts to create meaningful alternatives to criminalization for the vulnerable men and women who are living unsheltered on the streets of my hometown, San Diego.
USICH Regional Coordinator Amy Sawyer explains why policies that criminalize homelessness are not only morally wrong but also ineffective solutions to ending homelessness in communities.
By Liz Osborn, USICH Management and Program Analyst
In this blog, Liz Osborn answers the question: What benefits and challenges do organizations face when addressing the issue of homelessness from a human rights perspective?
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.
Deputy Director Laura Zeilinger discusses the vital role mayors across the country play in ending homelessness, reminding us that to reach our national goals we must first act locally.
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.
10/21/2013 - Leveraging the Affordable Care Act to Solve Homelessness: A Message to CoCs and Ten-Year Plan Leaders
How can we make the best use of the Affordable Care Act to solve homelessness? USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe poses five questions for communities to consider.
The expansion of Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will mean that millions of currently uninsured adults will be eligible for coverage, including many formerly homeless individuals residing in supportive housing.
The first Veteran’s Supportive Housing project to be located on Native American tribal homelands had its grand opening last month on the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation.
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.
We applaud Mayor Michael A. Nutter for delivering a powerful message about ending homelessness in his final speech as President of the United States Council of Mayors.
01/23/2013 - Aligning Assets Towards the Goal: A Blog from VA’s Tom O’Toole on the Homeless Patient Aligned Care Teams (HPACT)
The adage, “It takes a village” has been applied to lot of different efforts over the years to the point of over-use. However, when it comes to ending homelessness among Veterans by 2015, there is probably no better descriptor for what is needed and what is being done. Last year, as part of this effort, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched an ambitious pilot project to develop Homeless Patient Aligned Care Teams (H-PACT) to provide comprehensive, wrap-around primary care coupled with homeless programming to help Veterans make the transition out of homelessness and to help keep them housed. This joint effort between the Office of Homeless Programs and Office of Primary Care Services funded 32 sites around the country located in a variety of settings, including Community Resource and Referral Centers (easy access community- based centers), VA outpatient clinics (community-based outpatient clinics) and within VA Medical Centers. These are sites where we see homeless Veterans struggling to subsist, where they often find themselves cycling through the system dealing with the consequences of their homelessness in emergency departments and hospital wards, and where we have the resources in place to make a difference.
Recently, I accompanied the VA Greater Los Angeles’ (VA GLA) new Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, to observe their work in Hollywood, California. I wanted to see the team in action, tackling issues on the ground level. Ending Veteran homelessness in Los Angeles cuts across three of my top priorities as Executive Director of USICH: ending Veteran homelessness, ending chronic homelessness, and reducing all homelessness in Los Angeles.
Pictured L-R: Veteran client, Janell Perez, Barbara Poppe
The ACT team is part of the VA’s Housing First demonstration project. The team provides case management support to Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky’s Project 60. Project 60 (a replication of Project 50) is an innovative partnership between VA GLA, community based non-profit organizations, and the Supervisor’s deputy, Flora Gil-Krisiloff. Project 60 uses HUD-VASH vouchers from the Housing Authority of the City Los Angeles (HACLA) in order to get chronically homeless and vulnerable Veterans into permanent supportive housing with access to comprehensive, wrap-around services. Supervisor Yaroslovsky provided county funding to support the efforts of the non-profit partners, including Ocean Park Community Center (Santa Monica), Step Up on Second (Hollywood), St. Joseph Center (Venice), and San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center (Van Nuys).The Hilton Foundation, working through the Corporation for Supportive Housing brought together financial assistance to help with move-in costs. Project 60 also collaborates with Hollywood’s Vulnerability Registry as part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign (an initiative of Community Solutions). HACLA has been a strong partner in this effort as well working to streamline the application and inspection processes and working closely with VA GLA to prioritize Veterans who are chronically homeless.
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.
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.
What We're Talking About is a weekly column from USICH Communications on the topics and issues in the news and on our minds. Topics range from international and national conferences, news from around the country, innovative work to highlight, and more. We look forward to catching you up news you may have missed and connect you to articles and resources.
USICH released a general newsletter this week which compiled news from federal agencies, national partners, and cities revamping their approach to homelessness. If you missed it, you can check it out here.
A Reminder of the Needs of Veterans Two Years After End of Combat Operations in Iraq
Today marks the two year anniversary of combat missions in Iraq, a milestone to be sure, but one that must remind the country of the needs of Veterans of that conflict as well as Veterans of previous wars. In Yuma, Arizona, the allocation of the city’s first HUD-VASH vouchers will enable Veterans in that community to have stable housing and access to coordinated supportive services for their recovery. The HUD-VASH program continues to expand to both more communities and to more Veterans because of its ability to stabilize vulnerable Veterans in the long-term.
Earlier this week President Obama signed the comprehensive bipartisan bill entitled “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012.” This legislation addresses issues for Veterans in areas of health (including extending rural health access), loan guarantees and benefits, protects the memorial services for Veterans, and compensates Marine families who were affected by contaminated well water at Camp LeJuene. Notably, this legislation fully renews existing funding for pivotal programs for Veterans experiencing homelessness, such as HUD-VASH, more.
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.
It has been nearly two years since Opening Doors was launched with the goal to prevent and end Veteran homelessness by 2015. Together, we have made great strides. From 2010 to 2011, there was a 12 percent decrease in homelessness nationally among Veterans, and in some places, that reduction was as high as 20 percent. Now more than ever, we need a stronger sense of urgency with over 67,000 of the nation’s men and women who served in our armed forces experiencing homelessness in addition to our Veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to continue to break down silos not just in the federal government but in state and local governments as well. The most recent USICH newsletter is focused on providing communities the knowledge of how to unlock available resources in their communities beyond the HUD-VASH program. For this issue, we spoke with the Department of Veterans Affairs about their portfolio of programs to serve Veterans at-risk of or experiencing homelessness, we profiled three Veterans explaining how resources can be coordinated to meet needs in a Veteran-centric way, and we interviewed two leaders in Massachusetts about successful local programs.
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.
On May 9th, I had the pleasure of attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Washington, DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s new Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) in Northeast DC. The CRRC offers a wide range of health care and social services to Veterans experiencing homelessness and those at-risk of homelessness. Services include a Primary Care Clinic, a complete kitchen, laundry and shower facilities, food pantry, a play room for children, and education and employment resources. The CRRC will be open 24/7 providing resources to Veterans from the District of Columbia, Southern Maryland, and Northern Virginia, though not all services will be available 24/7.
Dr. Clarence Cross, a chaplain at DC’s VAMC, captured the hope and intent for the CRRC best in the invocation when he said that it “will be greater than the sum of all its’ parts:” it is a place where Veterans and their families can access services whether they are in need of one service or many, and help them find or maintain safe and stable housing.
Transitional housing for people who are experiencing a housing crisis has taken many shapes in communities over the last 20+ years. In its traditional form, transitional housing is time limited housing (from
two weeks to two years) that includes various levels of assistance to help the individual or family transition into permanent housing. It is often delivered in single household units or in smaller congregate settings with intensive services that are generally mandatory for the tenant/client to stay in the housing. It is an expensive intervention but can represent a significant part of the crisis response portfolio, including those units targeted at Veterans, victims of domestic violence, and youth.
However, as communities look to resolve rather than manage homelessness, they are retooling their resources to include models that have housing stability as its focus. A model the VA and USICH are encouraging is a Transition in Place Model.
05/08/2012 - Ending Veteran Homelessness in Ohio: VISN 10 Summit on Homelessness and Employment Opportunities for Veterans
We’ve made notable progress towards the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by 2015. Last year, we saw a 12 percent decrease nationally in homelessness among Veterans. This progress has helped put us on the path toward ending homelessness among Veterans by 2015. Despite this progress, over 67,000 Veterans experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2011.
Now more than ever, we need a greater sense of urgency. However, communities are increasingly being asked to do more with less. To meet this challenge we must coordinate our efforts and act strategically in order to accelerate our progress and make our limited resources go farther.
Reviewing progress and maximizing efforts to end Veteran homelessness was the purpose of VA’s VISN 10 Veterans Homeless Summit that I participated in on May 1 in Columbus, Ohio. The Veterans Integrated Service Network 10 serves veterans in Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeastern Indiana. I presented at the Summit on Opening Doors and specific strategies for increasing economic security for Veterans.