Homeless Crisis Response Archive
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.
By Laura Green Zeilinger, USICH Executive Director
Whether as a result of a health or economic crisis or fleeing domestic violence, the experience of homelessness is extremely traumatizing for families generally, and can be especially traumatizing for children. We know that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every family experiencing a housing crisis. Connecting families to housing interventions and services that are appropriate to their specific needs is an essential part of the actions we identified as critical to meeting the goal of ending homelessness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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:
06/02/2014 - Houston Drives Down Homelessness 37% through Community Collaboration and Housing First Approach
Houston has reduced homelessness by 37 percent since 2011, city and community leaders just announced, attributing the extraordinary achievement to an unprecedented level of collaboration and synergy among public and private organizations to realize the objectives of the Federal strategic plan to end homelessness.
“We are on the right path! Our Housing First strategy of creating permanent accommodations with robust supportive services is working,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said of the strategy undergirding the approach to ending homelessness in the city. “Moreover, the coordinated team-effort of over 60 different organizations aligning their resources and efforts is working!”
With university, city health and human services and county support, Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless conducted a federally mandated point-in-time (PIT) estimate of the number of people without a safe and stable home on Jan. 30, 2014, and found that there were 3,187 fewer people experiencing homelessness than in previous counts. In 2011, the PIT count determined 8,538 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. In 2012, 7,356. In 2013, 6,359 and in the most recent count, 5,351.
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.
05/07/2014 - 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 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.
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.
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.
Public Housing Authorities have forged strong partnerships, innovative policies, and invested in best practices to make a significant impact in ending homelessness, explains the Executive Director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities Sunia Zaterman.
Discover how the Wichita Police Department has made an impact in ending homelessness.
Find out what Houston is doing to help end homelessness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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).
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.
Lessons from Rapid Results Bootcamp Success
The work of the Rapid Results Bootcamps continues to create a buzz among communities involved in the bootcamps as well as national leaders in innovative solutions to complex problems. The Harvard Business Review posted a blog this week about the underlying principles of how the bootcamps work, their success, and what other corporate and social organizations can learn from this effort. The authors highlight the concepts of mobilizing an ecosystem, having a common goal, and harnessing the power of peer pressure and support as lessons to be drawn from this work.
Last week another bootcamp was held in Denver, this time with participation from six communities. Look for a blog post from one of the USICH National Programs team on this event soon!
Photo courtesy of 100,000 Homes
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.
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.
Imagine the possibilities if every local United Way across the country was engaged in solutions to end homelessness. What would progress look like if the business leaders and volunteers that support United Ways were pushing for real systems change and investing to create community impact to prevent homelessness?
I imagine there would be more high profile champions working with elected officials, providers and advocates to develop and implement local strategic plans to end homelessness that are aligned with Opening Doors. These champions would elevate the community engagement to increase resources directed toward solving homelessness.
I imagine that there'd be fewer projects stopped by NIMBY as business leaders would be joining forces with permanent supportive housing developers. They would help make the case to elected officials that supportive housing is a cost-effective solution to street homelessness and encourage land use approvals despite neighborhood objections.
I imagine that shelters would be better coordinated and able to be organized around a central access point: a result of United Way investment and volunteer support to create the most efficient approach by applying business technology and practices. The result would be shorter lengths of stay and more exits to housing.
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.