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06/23/2015 - A Closer Look: Opening Doors, As Amended in 2015 - Spotlight on Crisis Response Systems

To accompany the release of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015, we will be taking a closer look at each of the four key updates to the document this week. We’ll be sharing comments from partners, community members, and the USICH staff on how the updates are impacting their daily work, helping to prevent and end homelessness across America, as well as highlight the key changes around the updated topic.

Spotlight on Crisis Response Systems

“Over the last few years, we’ve learned a great deal about how to transform the way we respond to homelessness, moving from a set of uncoordinated programs towards systems that help families and individuals rapidly reconnect to permanent housing.  This updated version of Opening Doors captures those lessons and outlines the critical steps communities can take to retool homeless services into effective crisis response systems.”
– Nan Roman, Executive Director, National Alliance to End Homelessness

Since the launch of Opening Doors five years ago, communities across the country are transforming their responses to homelessness from what was once a set of uncoordinated programs and services to crisis response systems that help people rapidly resolve their homelessness through connections to stable housing. In order to further guide communities through this transition, the 2015 amendment to Opening Doors includes clearer guidance around how to retool homeless services into a coordinated crisis response system.

This crisis response system involves the re-orientation of programs and services to a Housing First approach that emphasizes rapid connection to permanent housing, while mitigating the negative and traumatic effects of homelessness. An effective crisis response system:

 

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06/22/2015 - Opening Doors, as amended in 2015

Opening Doors, as Amended in 2015

A message from Matthew Doherty, USICH Executive Director

On behalf of the entire team at USICH, the teams at our Federal member agencies, and our many dedicated state and local partners working tirelessly to prevent and end homelessness, I am thrilled to share with you this updated version of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015.  

This document is the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by countless individuals who contributed ideas and information through online forums, in meetings, and by analyzing their agencies’ programs and policies, helping to identify best practices and lessons learned from their years of experience. That collective wisdom has shaped and strengthened this amendment and its focus on objectives and strategies informed by data, research, and results.

The release of this amendment could not be more timely. We have made great strides toward the goals established in Opening Doors, but there remains a large amount of work to be done. Today, on the anniversary of the original publication, we reaffirm our commitment to achieving an end to homelessness in America, with even greater confidence in our collective ability to solve this problem. 

Together, we are proving that homelessness does not have to appear in the pages of American history as a permanent fixture, but as a problem the American people overcame. It is my hope that the release of this amendment to Opening Doors will help move us closer to the lasting solutions that we can and must implement.

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06/11/2015 - All In to End Veteran Homelessness City Swing: Tucson

By Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild

Pima County and the City of Tucson hosted three Cabinet Secretaries and the Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness last week at Pima County’s Sullivan Jackson Employment Center, showcasing our collaboration to end Veteran homelessness and help people experiencing homelessness reenter the workforce.

Local elected officials accompanied Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, and USICH Executive Director Matthew Doherty on a tour of Pima County’s Sullivan Jackson Employment Center – one of three stops they were making in western states during the All In City Swing. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about the Center’s impressive record of helping people experiencing homelessness, including military veterans, return to meaningful employment. The county-funded agency also receives Federal and City of Tucson funds for its ongoing operations.

The group met with several current and former Sullivan Jackson clients to hear how the Center has helped them with job training, housing assistance, and educational opportunities to get them back on track to success and stability. Such paths are often not smooth and the clients also discussed with the Secretaries and officials the problems they experienced navigating through various programs.

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06/09/2015 - Housing is Healthcare

This blog was originally published on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation blog, Impatient Optimists.

By David Wertheimer

Twenty-five years ago, in the earlier years of the AIDS epidemic, health care and housing providers figured out that without housing, the health of people living with AIDS deteriorated far more rapidly than for those who had stable homes.  AIDS Housing of Washington, now Building Changes, helped coin a critically important phrase that became a game changer in the fight against AIDS: “Housing is healthcare.”

A quarter century later the phrase still rings true, and has expanded meaning in the challenging work of ending homelessness for all people, including families, single adults, youth, and veterans.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently hosted more than 100 state and local leaders in ending family homelessness together with health care leaders responsible for implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion here in Washington State. As the health care system changes, the opportunities to integrate and improve the delivery of both housing and health services to families recovering from homelessness have the potential to be transformational.

What might this look like in practice? We can now envision and realize the possibilities, thanks to a 5-year, $65 million competitive federal grant for State Innovations in Medicaid secured by the Washington State Health Care Authority. In part, this grant offers the opportunity to think in new and innovative ways about “social determinants of health,” the broad set of conditions in which we live and work, at home and with our families, including the air we breathe and the water we drink, that play a more important role in promoting long-term health than medical interventions.

Health starts where we live, learn, work and play.

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06/09/2015 - All In to End Veteran Homelessness City Swing: Las Vegas

By Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Las Vegas

On June 2, I gathered with Councilman Ricki Barlow, the Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, local mayors, non-profit and faith leaders, and three Federal Cabinet Secretaries from the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Labor for the Mayors Challenge Forum at the World Market Center. It was an unprecedented showing of the power of the “we” that Las Vegas does so well. True grit, determination, and hard-held collaboration make the successes in Las Vegas something that, we hope, will change the coined phrase, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” As Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said in his speech, “we do not want what we have learned and what we have achieved in Las Vegas ‘to stay in Vegas.’ We want to share it with the nation.”

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06/05/2015 - All In On Ending Veteran Homelessness: We Stand Together

By USICH Executive Director Matthew Doherty, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, VA Secretary Robert McDonald, and HUD Secretary Julián Castro

Matthew Doherty, speaking in Tucson at employment center

Five years ago, the Obama Administration set an ambitious goal: to end homelessness among Veterans by the end of 2015. Many scoffed; many continue to scoff. In the face of such skepticism, we remain optimistic and focused, and know this is an historic opportunity we must seize. Veteran homelessness is not a reality we have to accept.

On Monday, the four of us took this message on the road in a three-city swing to connect with communities committed to ending Veteran homelessness. In Houston, we joined Mayor Annise Parker at a rally celebrating the creation of a system in her community which ensures that all Veterans who need assistance will be quickly linked to the supportive services and permanent housing. The progress made in places like Houston, New Orleans, and Salt Lake City inspires us and provides models and strategies – like “Housing First” – for every community in the nation.

What we have been able to achieve in partnership with each other— joining forces with state and local governments, the business community and non-profits—is nothing short of amazing. In fact, between the 2010 rollout of Opening Doors – the first-ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness – and the January 2014 point-in-time homeless count, homelessness among Veterans nationwide has been slashed by one-third. This progress is a testament to what our nation can do when we set the bar high, invest resources and effort, and refuse to scale back our vision. It’s unacceptable that men and women who wore the uniform are returning without a safe, stable place to call home.  

Now, it’s important to understand this doesn’t mean that no Veteran will ever face a housing crisis in the future. But it does mean that communities like Houston, New Orleans, and Salt Lake City are leading the way in building systems that will prevent and address homelessness whenever possible. 

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06/04/2015 - Fully Utilizing HUD-VASH to Achieve the National Goal of Ending Veteran Homelessness

By Peter Nicewicz

The HUD-VASH program has been a vital tool in our national efforts to end Veteran homelessness and since 2008, has assisted over 90,000 Veterans experiencing homelessness by providing rental assistance with case management and clinical services. In order to help communities achieve the goal of ending homelessness by the end of this year, HUD and VA have worked to ensure the timely deployment of HUD-VASH vouchers. In April, HUD and VA announced over 9,300 new tenant-based HUD-VASH vouchers, for a total of 79,000 HUD-VASH vouchers now allocated to VA Medical Centers and Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) across the country.

Now it is up to partners at the community level, with Federal support, to put them to full use. Doing so requires communities to identify all eligible Veterans with high service needs, especially those experiencing chronic homelessness, and refer them to the HUD-VASH program. It entails engaging Veterans and helping HUD-VASH applicants through the voucher application and approval process. It entails PHAs quickly processing and issuing vouchers. It entails community partners assisting Veterans to find apartments that can be rented with the HUD-VASH voucher. And, it entails case managers providing ongoing service support so that Veterans receiving assistance through HUD-VASH can remain stably housed.

HUD’s Office of Public & Indian Housing recently published a letter highlighting strategies that PHAs can pursue to improve HUD-VASH voucher utilization. Although aimed at PHAs, all partners engaged in the community efforts to end Veteran homelessness, including Continuums of Care, VA Medical Centers, and other community partners, should understand these strategies and collaborate with their PHAs to advance their efforts of ending Veteran homelessness.

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06/04/2015 - The Connecticut Head Start-Family Shelter Partnership: Working Together to Meet the Needs of Families and Children

By Grace Whitney, Jamie Peterson, and Susan Compton Agamy

Surprisingly, we are more likely to find ourselves in a homeless shelter at age one that at any other age in our lives.  [2012 AHAR (HUD, 2012) and Census Data] This remains true through age five. Half of all children in family shelters are age five or younger. In order to address this, Head Start and family shelters in Connecticut have come together to combine resources so that they can better meet the particular needs of pregnant women, infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families.

Through a partnership that has included the Head Start State Collaboration Office (HSSCO), the state’s HUD agency, which was formerly the Department of Social Services and is now the Department of Housing, and the state’s networks of local Head Start and shelter agencies, ongoing discussions are taking place to identify opportunities to align policies and practices that can overcome the shared challenge of serving this population of families. 

The goals of the effort have been simple:

  • increase enrollment in Head Start,
  • make family shelters more child-friendly, and
  • penetrate one another’s local networks and councils to bring the children’s voice to the housing community and the housing voice to the early childhood community.  

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05/29/2015 - Ending Chronic Homelessness in 2017

By Lindsay Knotts

On any given night, we know that nearly 85,000 Americans with disabling health conditions who have experienced homelessness for long periods of time—some for years or decades—can be found sleeping on our streets, in shelters, or other places not meant for human habitation. These men and women experiencing chronic homelessness commonly have a combination of mental health problems, substance use disorders, and medical conditions that worsen over time and too often lead to an early death.

Without connections to the right types of care, people who are experiencing chronic homelessness cycle in and out of hospital emergency departments and inpatient beds, detox programs, jails, prisons, and psychiatric institutions—all at high public expense. Some studies have found that leaving a person to remain chronically homeless costs taxpayers as much as $30,000 to $50,000 per year.

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05/21/2015 - Youth Counts COUNT!

By Coco Auerswald

On Wednesday, April 29, I had the honor of representing our We Count, California! team at two historic events in Washington, DC—a Senate hearing and a White House briefing—both focused on the Administration’s goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020. Across the board, I heard a clear message that youth counts matter.

This day of unprecedented attention to the need to end youth homelessness was inspiring but came with a sober recognition that we have a good way to go to meet our goal. The importance of better data regarding youth—upon which an adequate plan is to be built—was a recurring theme throughout the day. From Senator Dianne Feinstein's remarks to statements by Jennifer Ho of HUD and USICH Executive Director Matthew Doherty, there was a consistent recognition during both events that current counts underestimate the actual scope of youth homelessness.

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