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.
10/30/2014 - Partnerships for Opening Doors – Ending Homelessness through Meaningful and Sustainable Employment
“One of the best ways to eliminate homelessness is to get people jobs,” said Labor Secretary and Chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) Thomas Perez at the Partnerships for Opening Doors summit, which took place at the Labor Department's headquarters in Washington, DC, on October 16, 2014.
Co-hosted by the Departments of Labor (DOL) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), USICH and the Butler Family Fund, the day-long national summit focused on integrating employment and housing strategies to prevent and end homelessness. Leaders from 11 communities representing Workforce Investment Boards, Continuums of Care, state Workforce Development Councils, advocacy and community-based and national nonprofit organizations engaged in intensive discussions to identify key actions for Federal partners to take to improve access to meaningful and sustainable employment, skills training, and supportive training for people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.
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 Eric Tars
Earlier this year, Jerome Murdough, a homeless Veteran, died tragically of dehydration and heat exhaustion in an overheated prison cell after being arrested for “trespassing” because he sought warmth and shelter in an enclosed stairwell of a Harlem public housing building during a week of sub-freezing temperatures. Every day, people who experience homelessness are subjected to local laws and ordinances that challenge their human rights and create real and lasting barriers. Jerome Murdough should have never been in that jail cell in the first place. If Jerome Murdough was served by a system that approached housing as a human right—and homelessness as something to solve rather than something to criminalize—he might still be alive today.
By Robert Pulster
USICH had the privilege of attending the first True Colors Fund Forty to None Summit held September 30, 2014, in New York City. The Summit was a powerful gathering that highlighted the voices of young people in a day-long national convening on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth homelessness. In his opening remarks, TCF Director Gregory Lewis emphasized the day would focus on collaboration and innovation. Dr. Jama Shelton, the Forty to None Project Director, exclaimed that "today we are building a plan, we're building a movement, and together we are going to end LGBT homelessness."
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.
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.
By Liz Osborn
Homelessness has many faces. People experiencing homelessness can be old or young, male or female, and can come from any ethnic background. But when one thinks of a person experiencing homelessness in this country, few people picture the face of a child. The fact is, nearly one-quarter of all people experiencing homelessness at a point in time are children, and most of them are very young. In one 2013 Abt Associates study on family homelessness, almost a third of the participating children were two years old or younger, and more than half were under the age of five.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
Sparky Harlan, CEO of Bill Wilson Center, talks about the impact of the Center's Family Advocacy Services on preventing homelessness among students while assisting both students and their families.
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.
Learn about the Homeless Youth Handbook and how it can help prevent and end youth homelessness.
Youth homelessness is often difficult to see, but Darla Bardine of the National Network for Youth highlights how you can get involved in solving youth homelessness.
11/07/2013 - Life Can be Bitter; Everyone Could Use a Little Sugar… One Man’s Journey from Homelessness to Filmmaker
Twenty years ago, after being released from the Navy to take care of my mother who was fighting cancer, I found myself homeless in Orlando, Florida. Those nine months I spent on the street affected me more than any other nine months in my life. Now, I'm a filmmaker and director. This is my story.
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.
A Message to CoCs and Ten-Year Plan Leaders
From USICH Executive Director, Barbara Poppe
Recently, I wrote about the urgency to increase our efforts to end chronic and family 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 youth homelessness. To reach our goal of ending youth homelessness by the year 2020, we must realign our programs and systems now.
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.
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.
11/20/2012 - Keeping the Momentum for Ending Youth Homelessness: Reflections from Indianapolis and Beyond
Last week, the Family Youth Services Bureau of HHS’s Administration on Children, Youth, and Families hosted two days of training and workshops on addressing youth homelessness at the National Runaway and Homeless Youth Grantee Conference. More than 550 participants from around the country met in Indianapolis to share knowledge and learn from others as we work together to end youth homelessness by 2020.
The Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) provider community has thoroughly embraced the Opening Doors goal to end youth homelessness by 2020. The goal was mentioned throughout conference workshops, it was written in conference materials, and in the hallways of the hotel I heard this goal in discussions among providers, administrators, and policy professionals. It is inspiring to see the resounding commitment and enthusiasm for this ambitious goal has spread outside of Washington, DC and into communities throughout the country.
Given the momentum we have gained from Opening Doors and the USICH Framework to End Youth Homelessness, the RHY conference was ripe with opportunity to build more commitment and enthusiasm for the work ahead. The USICH Framework to End Youth Homelessness held a prominent spot on the conference agenda at a luncheon keynote session. Jennifer Ho provided an energetic keynote address about ending youth homelessness. She discussed two complementary strategies—getting better data on youth and building service capacity—included in the Youth Framework and explained why these strategies are important to our goal of ending youth homelessness.
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.
Unaccompanied Youth and the 2013 Point in Time Count
Communities are now beginning to think about their January 2013 Point in Time Count, especially as it relates to unaccompanied youth. For the first time as part of the new Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act guidelines, unaccompanied youth will be counted in the Point-in- Time count in every community across the country. To kick off this process, The National Alliance to End Homelessness will host a webinar on including Youth in the “Point-In-Time” (P.I.T.) Count on Thursday, October 4 from 1:30-3:00PM (EST).
Also discussing both the full Point in Time count as well as the upcoming Housing Inventory Count, HUD is putting on a webinar on Tuesday, October 2 from 3:30-4:30 EDT. This will cover all the new requirements for communities conducting these counts, which includes information on ensuring more youth are counted in January 2013.
On July 12, the White House, along with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, honored 13 leaders who have made a significant difference in the way their communities address homelessness among children and youth at Champions of Change in the Fight Against Youth Homelessness event.
The Champions of Change event provided an opportunity for community leaders, agency representatives and various White House officials to share and discuss effective ways to make change to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children and youth.
07/13/2012 - Listening to the NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholars: The Needs of Youth Experiencing Homelessness
On June 18, one day before participating in a Congressional briefing on youth homelessness, the 2010 recipients of the NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholarship, all currently and formerly homeless youth, came to the USICH office in Washington, D.C. to share their experiences and offer their first-hand accounts of the obstacles faced with exiting youth homelessness.
Established in 1998, the NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholarship funds are available to students who are homeless or who have been homeless during their school attendance and who have demonstrated higher than average achievement. To date, 222 youth representing 38 states have been selected as NAEHCY/LeTendre Scholars. USICH had the great opportunity to visit with thirteen of them.
On this second anniversary of the release of Opening Doors, it is important to look back and ahead. When we were developing the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, we knew that for the first time we were setting a goal to end youth homelessness and set our sights on 2020. The Cabinet Secretaries who lead the Council knew that this was a vulnerable population that we needed to help, and in the Plan we outlined what generally would be needed:
- Individual goal-based service planning
- On-going support services connected to mainstream resources
- Independent living skills training
- Connections to supportive and trustworthy adults and support networks
- Employment and education
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.