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.
09/10/2014 - How Our Shelter Began Focusing on Permanent Housing, And Started Ending Homelessness for Our Clients.
When I joined the staff of Northern Virginia Family Service (NVSF) as the program manager of the SERVE Shelter in February 2010, I had many things to learn about the 60-bed facility for singles and families located in Manassas, Va., approximately 35 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Though the beds were filled, it was evident that clients were staying for long periods of time, many up to six months or longer.
In 2012, things started to change. Our shelter went through an expansion to 92 beds, and we had the opportunity to become a Housing First Model. (It seemed fitting that a shelter should focus on housing and that its goal should be to reduce the amount of time that an individual or family experienced homelessness. However, some fairly large barriers stood in our way to implementing this model.
08/25/2014 - Hear from Two Community Partners about How They Are Ending Family Homelessness through Our Sept. 10 Webinar
Ending homelessness among families and children is a priority for the nation and for every community. Millions of extremely low-income households do not have access to affordable housing, putting them at-risk of housing instability and the types of crises that can result in homelessness. The challenge is clear: Our most recent data show that 222,197 people in families—an estimated 70,960 households—were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2013. In the first three years of implementation of Opening Doors, we have reduced homelessness among families by eight percent.
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.
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.
Yesterday, more than 600 providers and stakeholders from across the country joined us for a great discussion about what ending homelessness among families means and what achieving it will require. We were joined by Laura Zeilinger, USICH Executive Director; Ann Oliva, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs and Director of the Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD CPD/SNAPS); Ali Sutton, Policy Advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (HHS ACF); and Debra Rog, Associate Director at Westat.
At the end of our discussion, we received a lot of really great questions, many of which we didn’t have time to answer. In this post, we provide responses to two of these questions and will be responding to more of these questions over the next few weeks.
05/05/2014 - The Chance to Grow Up to Be Whatever You Want: Expanding Access to Services for Children and Families
By Brock Grosso, HHS, Administration for Children and Families
Recently, I got to experience the intersection of policy and field work first hand when I took a trip to Baltimore with ACF staff members to see the great work being done in Baltimore by Health Care for the Homeless (HCH), an HHS funded health care grantee. HCH is doing everything it can to make sure that every young child who experiences homelessness has the chance to grow up to be whatever they want.
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?
By Lindsay Knotts, USICH Management and Program Analyst
Our partners at the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education just launched Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! – a coordinated, Federal effort to encourage healthy child development, universal developmental and behavioral screening for children, and support for the families and providers who care for them.
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.
02/06/2014 - Fireman Foundation Finds that Rapid Re-Housing, Economic Opportunity are Key to Ending Family Homelessness
Susanne Beaton, Director of the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Charitable Foundation, shares how a "new vision of stabilization for families" led to the creation of the Secure Jobs initiative, a collaboration between State and community partners that brought promising results.
02/05/2014 - A Paradigm Shift: How Fairfax County Made Significant Gains in Ending Family Homelessness
Dean Klein, director of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness in Virginia, relates how a shift from managing to ending homelessness led to innovative practices, strong collaborations, and truly incredible results.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan discusses the formative time he spent volunteering in a homeless shelter, and how that spurred his dedication to ending 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.
Randle Loeb, a Denver-based advocate for people experiencing homelessness writes about the importance of navigators and peer mentors.
Last week it was my pleasure to moderate a panel at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference on Emerging Research on Rapid Re-housing at a city, state, and national level. With rapid re-housing being such a new practice, many people have wondered if the initial success rates would last. Would participating households retain their housing or would they lose it and return to homelessness? Many feared that rapid re-housing was setting people up for failure. All three studies we heard about at the NAEH conference had this as their central question, and their findings were remarkably similar.
07/16/2013 - Ending Family Homelessness: A Message to Continuum of Care & Ten-Year Plan Leaders from Barbara Poppe
Recently, I wrote about the urgency to increase our efforts to end chronic 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 family homelessness. People in families make up nearly 40 percent of the homeless population nationwide. To reach our goal of ending family and child homelessness by the year 2020, we must realign our programs and systems now. As a mother, this quote from Marian Wright Edelman tugs at me: “The future which we hold in trust for our own children will be shaped by our fairness to other people's children.” Shaping better community responses to family homelessness is about shaping our collective future. Thank you for stepping up to the challenge..
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.
04/09/2013 - Using Resources Effectively and Efficiently to Permanently End Homelessness for All Families
Let’s think back to 1992. Windows 3.1 was released, My Cousin Vinny won an Academy Award, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” topped the music charts, a first class stamp cost $.29, and the HUD McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act was reauthorized for the first time. Much has changed since then.
Seventeen years later, the McKinney Vento Act was again reauthorized as HEARTH, calling for significant changes to the service delivery system to address the dynamic needs of homeless populations across the country. As service providers, funders, and community leaders, we have been given a choice. We can maintain the status quo, or we can rise to the challenge of implementing better ideas and improving our practice. Today we have new analyses, a wealth of information on what works (and what does not), and many new interventions to help individuals and families experiencing homelessness. We have both the capacity and the obligation to build stronger, more effective programs for the vulnerable people who are relying on us to do so.
Our agency, UMOM New Day Centers, chose to fully embrace the paradigm shifts introduced by HUD and USICH. We did so because we were inspired to think differently, act more strategically, and work smarter. With children living on the streets, we could not justify continuing with “business as usual.” We embraced the combination of HEARTH, significant community needs, and the economic crisis as an opportunity to redesign and realign our service delivery system. Three key questions helped us remain intentional and focused.
Opening Doors sets a national goal of ending family homelessness by 2020. In one way, this goal is audacious and bold, and in another, it’s too far off—we need to end family homelessness as soon as possible. Each day we do not, children’s lives are torn off-course and their futures are threatened. Homelessness is life-disrupting and potentially traumatizing for anyone, but it is particularly so for children; instability and lack of security can negatively impact children's health, development, and academic achievement.
Unfortunately, in the last Point-In-Time count report, family homelessness was up slightly, 1.4 percent, from the previous year. Find articles covering PIT here. Given that the 2012 PIT followed the deepest point of the recession this slight uptick wasn’t surprising. In fact, family homelessness would almost certainly have been much worse had it not been for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing program, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which assisted more than 1.3 million individuals and families with prevention and rapid rehousing assistance.
03/19/2013 - The National Conference to End Family and Youth Homelessness and the Work of USICH’s Regional Coordinators
During the last full week of February national leaders, practitioners, advocates, educators, and people who have experienced homelessness converged in Seattle, Washington to participate in the National Conference on Family and Youth homelessness sponsored by our partner, the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The goals of the week were to learn about a new vision for ending youth homelessness, share new initiatives from the federal government to end youth and family homelessness, and understand how to build on the work from the best work in leading communities. During morning coffee, throughout sessions, over lunch, in the course of community visits, and over evening gatherings participants connected. We asked questions, shared successes, and pondered challenges we’ve come across. Collectively, the emerging conversations linked research with promising practices to create a shared vision for applying effective system-wide strategies in an environment that demands efficient and targeted use of resources.
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.
Today, NLIHC (National Low Income Housing Coalition) released the report Renters in Foreclosure: A Fresh Look at an Ongoing Problem. The report builds on its 2009 report Renters in Foreclosure: Defining the Problem, Identifying Solutions,which found that renters comprised 40 percent of the families facing foreclosures of their homes. This number remains the same in 2012, representing a three-fold increase in the number of American renters who are affected by foreclosure. Specifically, the report also takes a historical look at the ways the early stages of the foreclosure crisis disproportionately affected high-poverty areas. African-American neighborhoods still experience a disproportionate number of foreclosures, especially in the multi-family sector.
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.
Family Homelessness, Children and Educational Challenges
For many children across the United States this week marked the first week back to school. For children experiencing homelessness, the first week back to school could be filled with hope for a new beginning and certainly many challenges. This week the People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia was highlighted in their local media, one of the many organizations across the country serving children headed back to school who do not have a stable home.
08/06/2012 - The Siemer Institute on Family Stability: Maintaining Housing Stability to Ensure Academic Success
One of the most detrimental trends affecting a student’s ability to succeed in the classroom happens outside of school walls. When parents or guardians are struggling to make ends meet financially or shifting housing locations due to work, the children involved are often forced to move from one school to another and then another and so on. This constant mobility is disruptive, making it difficult for a child to feel connected to a school, to make connections with new friends, to be accepted socially, but most importantly, to stay on target academically. The Siemer Institute for Family Stability (SIFS) headquartered at the United Way of Central Ohio is responding to the challenge.
For those who ask me to describe the face of family homelessness, I often recommend they start by looking into a mirror.
Whether from an act of nature or recession-era unemployment and mortgage foreclosures – even the more fortunate among us could find ourselves homeless tomorrow. Although a host of different factors can catapult a family into crisis, we know some families are more at risk than others. More than 80% of homeless families are headed by single parents, and more than 80% of these parents are women. Most have young children. Families of color are at disproportional risk. These characteristics suggest poverty is, of course, at the root of family homelessness – single mothers, particularly those with limited educations and skills – find themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder, often not able to keep their families housed with the income generated by one wage earner working minimum wage.
However, poverty and the lack of sufficient financial capital is only one of the roots of homelessness.
According to America’s Youngest Outcasts 2010, a report by The National Center on Family Homelessness, more than 1.6 million, or one in 45 children in America, experience homelessness each year. Family homelessness is increasing in all parts of the country and families represent an ever growing sub-set of the overall homeless population.
Most homeless families have experienced extreme poverty and violence, have been unstably housed, and have limited education and work histories. Service providers can better serve homeless families and help mitigate the devastating impact of homelessness by implementing ten basic principles of care. Does your organization implement these principles when serving homeless children and families?