By Liz Osborn
For communities across the country, 2014 has been another year of continued progress in the effort to end homelessness. From the 2014 Point in Time (PIT) count data showing a 10 percent decline in overall homelessness since 2010, to 351 mayors, governors, and local officials joining the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, we have gained incredible momentum over the past year. Here are just a few of the events that helped to drive progress in 2014.
By Marley Duchovnay
I was eight or nine when the idea of working with people experiencing homelessness first crossed my mind. It had been a long day and some relatives and I were walking to dinner. The city was crowded and as we passed under a building’s scaffolding, through the fast-walking legs of adults, I saw a man crouched by the edge of the sidewalk. What struck me was that everyone ignored him. It seemed to me that I was the only one who could see him. Once we reached the restaurant I broke into tears. When I got home I explained what happened to my mom. “Maybe you can work with the homeless when you’re older” she said.
By Richard Cho
As the year draws to a close, I am struck by how far we have come in our effort to end homelessness. 2014 has indeed been a historic year. We have an Administration and White House that is fully committed to ending homelessness among populations, starting with Veterans in 2015, and where this commitment is not just a set of words, but a set of actions and a clear plan with clear measures. Mayors, governors, and county executives are themselves stepping up with commitments, followed by actions. Communities across the country are working hard to achieve their own local goals, bringing partners to the table, setting 100-day targets, creatively leveraging all resources possible, and helping hundreds of people every day to unlock doors to their own homes and to new lives.
By Matthew Doherty, Kelly King Horne and Libby Boyce
All across the country, communities are developing coordinated entry systems to streamline and facilitate access to appropriate housing and services for families and individuals experiencing homelessness. In the Greater Richmond area of Virginia and in Los Angeles County, California—like in other places—efforts to bring these systems online are in full swing.
Let’s hear from Richmond and Los Angeles County, who presented at the December 2014 full Council meeting regarding their local efforts to implement coordinated assessment, their successes, their lessons learned, and the challenges that they continue to tackle.
By Maria Foscarinis and Laura Green Zeilinger
Around the country, more communities are working in partnership with the Federal government to develop housing crisis response systems that effectively prevent and end homelessness. No longer can there be any question that ending homelessness is possible, if we dedicate resources and energy to this goal. This shift brings with it the opportunity for us to meet the basic human rights of everyone in our community—when we put people first and focus on the human need for housing and proven, cost-effective solutions, we can make a difference.
By Matthew Doherty
Many readers have likely heard about the great progress being made toward ending homelessness in Salt Lake and Utah. Earlier this fall, I had the privilege of joining more than 475 people for the 11th Annual Utah Homeless Summit organized by Utah Department of Workforce Services’ Housing and Community Development Division. The Summit also coincided with the release of Utah’s 2014 Comprehensive Report on Homelessness prepared by the State Community Services Office. The report describes the remarkable progress Utah has made under its ten-year plan to end both chronic and Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, documenting that “Chronic homelessness has declined 72 percent since 2005 and chronic homelessness among Veterans has reached an effective zero.” Such progress should help convince skeptics that making progress on homelessness can be a reality in communities all across the country. Summit participants spent the day both celebrating Utah’s progress and engaging in dialogue to ensure that progress is sustained.
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 Paul Gionfriddo
When we see people who are homeless on our streets and in our parks, and take some time to think about them, we might feel pity, sympathy, annoyance, fear, or a host of other emotions.
But we probably never think “that person could be me.”
We just assume that people who are homeless have always lived like that. They’re homeless, their parents were homeless, maybe even their grandparents were homeless. And we assume that they are homeless by choice.
They are not. They are homeless because we have made them so.
by Richard Cho
Two new documents released by HHS on October 10 make it clear, once and for all, that the services provided in permanent supportive housing can indeed be covered and financed by Medicaid. These documents include Primer on Using Medicaid for People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness and Tenants of Permanent Supportive Housing and Medicaid and Permanent Supportive Housing for Chronically Homeless Individuals: Emerging Practices from the Field. Specifically, Medicaid can cover things like case management, services goal setting and services coordination, health care navigation, rehabilitation, skill building around activities of daily living, and other supports that are critical to tenancy. The time is now to seize the opportunity, bring supportive housing to scale, end chronic homelessness, and bend the Medicaid cost curve.
10/31/2014 - Good News from New Orleans: Federal and Community Collaboration Helped Transform This Veteran’s Life
By DaVaughn Phillips
Mr. H. seems like a completely different person from the man I met just a few months ago. He is thriving in his own home, with a stable income to maintain his living expenses and support his family. More importantly, he has regained the strength, motivation, and courage he needed to become self-sufficient and to serve as a positive role model for his children. After three years of working in New Orleans to help people achieve permanent housing, it never ceases to amaze me how rewarding it feels to play a role in such a transformation.
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.
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 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 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.
09/17/2014 - 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.
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.
By Debbie Thiele and Katy Miller
This week CSH, in partnership with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, published Creating a Medicaid Supportive Housing Services Benefit. In the white paper CSH lays out an easy-to-follow framework for states that want to create a Medicaid benefit to pay for the services in supportive housing. The framework consists of five action steps: 1) Determine benefit eligibility criteria; 2) Define the package of services to be delivered; 3) Align the state Medicaid plan; 4) Establish a financing and reinvestment strategy; and 5) Operationalize the benefit.
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.
Seattle-based nonprofit housing provider DESC will create new units of permanent supportive housing in the Interbay neighborhood downtown. The units will serve 97 people who are experiencing homelessness and live with health issues.
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.
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 Richard Cho, USICH Policy Director
President Obama has requested an increase of $301 million in HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants. At a time of budgetary and fiscal challenges, $301 million sounds like a lot of money. In my view, it’s a small price to pay to achieve an end to chronic homelessness and save the lives of roughly 100,000 people. It’s especially small when compared to the cost of doing nothing, not only in terms of human lives, but also in real taxpayer dollars.
The cost of doing nothing is simply too high.
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?
Jim Ryczek (pictured right), Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, recounts the journey he and his friend and fellow advocate John Joyce (pictured left) embarked upon in order to create a bill of rights on behalf of people experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island.
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.
Discover how the Wichita Police Department has made an impact in ending homelessness.
Find out what Houston is doing to help end 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.
Many states are still opting out or remain undecided about whether to participate in Medicaid expansion. One factor these states might consider in evaluating or re-evaluating their decision to participate is the impact of Medicaid expansion on homelessness in their state. But the benefits don’t stop there. State budgets, hospitals, health care providers, and Americans in general also stand to gain from Medicaid expansion.
More than 20 organizations joined together to create the Skid Row Coordinated Entry System, in alignment with the Home For Good campaign in Los Angeles. The goal was to make systematic changes that would foster collaboration. For the first time, a system permanent supportive housing services for chronically homeless individuals were being examined, re-imagined, and improved.
Rapid re-housing is working. And it’s working in Washington, DC, which, in terms of housing unaffordability and poverty rates, is among the most challenging places in the country to live.
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.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs (SNAPs) launched an effort to clarify their priorities and outline the changes HUD would like Continuums of Care to propose in the forthcoming FY 2013 Notice of Funding Availability competition.
06/20/2013 - Ending Chronic Homelessness: A Message to Continuum of Care & Ten-Year Plan Leaders from Barbara Poppe
Not long ago, I sat in the same place that you are sitting, managing the Continuum of Care and leading our community's ten-year plan to end homelessness. You have challenging jobs to do and I know you are balancing many competing issues and priorities. I've been fortunate to visit communities that are making great progress, and to support and work with communities that still struggle. Now I would like to share some reflections on the lessons I've learned from you, my colleagues, in our mission to end homelessness. Thank you for listening and especially for acting.
Today I want to address chronic homelessness, which is the first goal in Opening Doors. We have fewer than 1,000 days to bring the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness to zero; every day and every minute counts. For people living with disabilities and disabling conditions, every day or minute spent on the streets is another day or minute spent struggling to survive. So this message is a call to action. I am reaching out to ask, are we doing everything we can do to end chronic homelessness by 2015? Here are the top-ten questions you and the leaders of your ten-year plan should consider (not likely to be picked up by David Letterman but hopefully useful nonetheless).
Last month, over 600 practitioners, policymakers, advocates, and consumers gathered together in New Orleans at an event called the ‘Housing First Partners Conference.’ The 2 ½ day event was the first national conference focused exclusively on the Housing First approach of providing people experiencing chronic homelessness with affordable rental housing linked to services immediately and without treatment preconditions. Let not the significance of this event be missed. It marks the moment of Housing First’s acceptance and establishment as the central approach for helping vulnerable men and women experiencing chronic homelessness permanently exit homelessness and regain health, hope, and dignity. As this movement goes mainstream, I leave the Housing First movement with three pieces of advice to retain the spirit of ingenuity that led to its birth.