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Last week, I was in Orlando for the US Conference of Mayors 80th Annual Meeting. One purpose of the visit was promoting the new USICH report, Searching Out Solutions: Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness. The Conference endorsed a resolution (p. 49) that called on communities to:”adopt the recommendations in the report (to) meet the needs of the larger community as a whole while also enhancing progress on efforts to end homelessness.”
Memphis, TN Mayor A.C. Wharton and Newton, MA Mayor Setti Warren were the primary sponsors; co-sponsoring were Boston, MA Mayor Thomas Menino, North Miami, FL Mayor Andre Pierre, and Asheville, NC Mayor Terry Bellamy.
At the end of May, USICH, HUD, and the Corporation for Supportive Housing hosted representatives from 45 communities in Washington, DC for a day-long convening on the important topic of Public Housing Agency (PHA) engagement in local efforts to prevent and end homelessness. Over 110 PHA and Continuum of Care (CoC) representatives joined with Federal staff and other partners to learn more about innovative work already underway in communities, as well as to discuss common policy, regulatory, and political challenges that sometimes inhibit PHAs’ ability to better serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Earlier this year, we hosted a similar convening on the West Coast.
As clearly articulated in Opening Doors, ending homelessness in this country will require communities to leverage mainstream resources—like public housing and housing choice vouchers—in unprecedented ways. Consider the following facts...
On this second anniversary of the release of Opening Doors, it is important to look back and ahead. When we were developing the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, we knew that for the first time we were setting a goal to end youth homelessness and set our sights on 2020. The Cabinet Secretaries who lead the Council knew that this was a vulnerable population that we needed to help, and in the Plan we outlined what generally would be needed:
- Individual goal-based service planning
- On-going support services connected to mainstream resources
- Independent living skills training
- Connections to supportive and trustworthy adults and support networks
- Employment and education
The June 12, 2012 USICH Council meeting was a historic one – not only did it mark the second anniversary of Opening Doors, it also marked the unveiling of a framework for ending youth homelessness by 2020 and was the first time that a Council meeting was broadcast live.
Presented to the Council by the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at HHS, Bryan Samuels, this framework is the first time that the Council has endorsed a strategic set of priorities established to help us to reach the goal by 2020.Three thought leaders on the issue were in attendance as expert panelists: CEO of Lighthouse Youth Services Bob Mecum, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness Nan Roman, and State Coordinator for the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth program at the Colorado Department of Education Dana Scott. All agreed that urgency on these strategic actions is vital to success.
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.
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?
For as long as we’ve been counting, Los Angeles County has been the homeless capital of the nation, with more people living on our streets than any other region of the country. It’s also home to 10 million people who believe we can do better – that we can create a Los Angeles community that is stronger and more vibrant than it is today.
In December 2010, we celebrated the beginning of this new Los Angeles. We launched Home For Good, a five-year plan to end chronic and Veteran homelessness, inspired by the leadership of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and informed by Opening Doors. The action plan is led by the Business Leaders Task Force, a joint initiative of United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. Most importantly, the plan belongs to all of us.
A year and a half into the plan, we’re on track to reach our goals, with over 3,000 chronically homeless individuals and over 1,200 veterans in permanent housing to date. Five strategies have been central to our success and learning thus far.
It has been nearly two years since Opening Doors was launched with the goal to prevent and end Veteran homelessness by 2015. Together, we have made great strides. From 2010 to 2011, there was a 12 percent decrease in homelessness nationally among Veterans, and in some places, that reduction was as high as 20 percent. Now more than ever, we need a stronger sense of urgency with over 67,000 of the nation’s men and women who served in our armed forces experiencing homelessness in addition to our Veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to continue to break down silos not just in the federal government but in state and local governments as well. The most recent USICH newsletter is focused on providing communities the knowledge of how to unlock available resources in their communities beyond the HUD-VASH program. For this issue, we spoke with the Department of Veterans Affairs about their portfolio of programs to serve Veterans at-risk of or experiencing homelessness, we profiled three Veterans explaining how resources can be coordinated to meet needs in a Veteran-centric way, and we interviewed two leaders in Massachusetts about successful local programs.
As coordinator of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, Community Solutions is proud to be partnering with USICH, VA and HUD to lead the national housing pillar of the ambitious new Got Your 6 Campaign. Last week, in a show of support for veterans and military families, representatives from nearly every major Hollywood production studio, broadcast and cable network, talent agency, and guild in the entertainment industry announced the launch of the Got Your 6™, a new effort to support veterans and foster opportunities for them to contribute their unique skills and abilities in communities across the country. Got Your Six aims to support and empower veterans around six pillars of reintegration, each led by a different group of top-tier non-profits and government agencies.