Robert Pulster, Regional Coordinator, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
Earlier this month, I was pleased to be invited by the New Hampshire Coalition to End Homelessness to participate as a presenter for Granite Leaders, a six-month educational experience for people who have experienced homelessness. The program aims for graduates to become part of a local network of skilled leaders who raise their voices to advocate for solutions to homelessness and improve the quality of life in communities across New Hampshire.
On February 12th, I attended a session on myth busting, which focused on creating an understanding about the realities and perceptions of homelessness.
I provided an overview and update on Opening Doors, calling out the four goals and five themes embedded in the Federal strategy to end homelessness. I was proud to report on the reductions achieved among all the subpopulations reported in the 2013 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report.
The group was also eager to hear about Family Connection, the just-released USICH plan that frames the Federal vision for building systems to end family homelessness. Known for its first-in-the- nation presidential primary, it was fitting for New Hampshire to be one the first states to react to the Family Connection framework.
Cathy Kuhn, Director of the New Hampshire Coalition for the Homelessness was pleased to see Family Connection’s emphasis on ensuring that a range of resources and program models are available to meet the complex array of needs that exist among homeless families. She said, “there is no ’one-size-fits-all’ approach to preventing and ending homelessness among diverse families. “
Kuhn also noted that as indicated in the plan, coordinated assessment and targeted intervention are critical to ensuring that families are directed to the intervention that will best meet their unique needs and prevent additional episodes of homelessness. She cited that the lack of affordable housing in many locales remains a primary cause of homelessness among families. Thus, as is mentioned in Family Connection, she said that “finding ways to develop more affordable housing for low, very low, and extremely low income families will be central to this effort.”
Kuhn added that, “as a provider of trainings for homeless service providers across the state the NHCEH appreciates the plan’s focus on the provision of evidence based practices to ensure that parents and children are receiving only the highest quality care. Although the challenge of family homelessness can seem daunting, this plan outlines a number of fundamental elements that can guide communities as they move forward in their efforts to permanently end family homelessness. “
One participant stressed that families who are experiencing homelessness need more information and resources that can connect them to counseling and financial assistance. Another said that in rapid re-housing responses, ongoing support and case management is especially important to ensure ongoing stability to prevent a “mini-crisis from resulting in homelessness.”
I also heard from a woman who works in a local shelter. She was concerned about the a growing number of young parents (ages 18 - 24) seeking family shelter, and described how these young families need more intensive interventions that follow aJob Corps-type model. There was also discussion of how difficult it is to keep families together due to leasing restrictions on family members who have criminal offenses.
The trip to the Granite State was a timely opportunity to present the new Family Connection framework and receive some initial feedback. An end to family homeless will require action across all levels of government as well as among community partners. And, local efforts will be most effective if there is a voice for individuals who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness. The Granite Leaders Program is demonstrating that developing platforms for community involvement is an important contribution to each community’s effort to retool the local crisis response systems.