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Latest items syndicated in from the National Alliance to End Homelessness (http://www.endhomelessness.org/blog/) related to homelessness.

Disruptions to the 2021 PiT Count: Working to Fill Data Gaps

May 25, 2021
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Homeless services systems will be sorting through the impacts of the pandemic for some time to come. Disruptions to the 2021 Point-in-Time (PiT) Count are a part of the story: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sanctioned cancellations or modifications of unsheltered counts. An outcome of this emergency decision is that communities have missing or limited information about their unsheltered populations. But many communities are doing the ongoing work of filling in these knowledge gaps.

The Status Quo

Typically, unsheltered counts involve gatherings and in-person contacts discouraged by the CDC and various state and local officials: volunteers are trained in large groups, and go out into the community to have one-on-one conversations with people living unsheltered. Unfortunately, these types of activities raised fears of the virus spreading among volunteers and people experiencing homelessness.  It is likely that communities felt that they had no other choice but to either cancel or significantly change their PIT counts. In fact, within a recent Alliance survey, nearly a third of Continuums of Care (CoCs) said they canceled their 2021 unsheltered PiT Counts. Of those who moved forward, 85 percent indicated that they changed their methodology in some way, opting for abbreviated questionnaires or visual counts.  Modified methods are likely less reliable and produce less information (for example, visual counts cannot account for race or ethnicity). Thus, this year’s count will be like no other in the history of such data collection.

A Helpful Known Factor

While the pandemic interrupted the PIT count, in some CoCs, the pandemic actually reduced the number of unsheltered people.  In response to the crisis, many communities procured motel and hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness, allowing them to shelter in place and maintain social distance from others. When people who previously outdoors came inside, they were included in the sheltered portion of the PiT Count.  It became much more manageable for systems to survey them, learning more about who they are and what they need.

Persistent Unknown Factors

Despite the benefits of some segment of the homeless population being easier to count, some factors muddle understandings of how unsheltered homelessness has accelerated in 2021. Greater than typical numbers of people may be flowing into unsheltered homelessness. COVID-19 is associated with an economic recession. Businesses temporarily and permanently shuttered. Unemployment numbers remain elevated. As of the end of last month, 15 percent of renters were behind on their rent, amounting to about 7 million adults. And, despite the CDC’s eviction moratorium, many individuals and families are still being evicted in communities across the country. Many of those affected are finding new housing, securing new units or moving in with family and friends. But some are becoming homeless. The nation and many individual communities do not have counts of how many. As a once in a lifetime event, the pandemic may shift the demographics of the unsheltered population in unknown ways. For instance, there may be more people with limited barriers to exiting homelessness. With little knowledge about their numbers and who they are, it is harder to help them. Finally, the federal CARES Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 invested significant new resources in multiple areas that could prevent and reduce unsheltered homelessness. However, given the limited data on the population, it isn’t easy to understand the impacts of these investments.

Alternate Sources of Data

Even without a full 2021 PiT Count, communities have other avenues for understanding a potentially evolving unsheltered homeless population. Many CoCs already had valuable tools in place before the COVID-19 crisis began – and they can (and are) implementing new solutions.   A recent Alliance survey of CoCs revealed the following examples:
  • HMIS. Existing databases (the Homeless Management Information System) can be used for year-round tracking of unsheltered people.
  • By-Name Lists. Similar to the HMIS options, some communities keep “by-name lists”, which are comprehensive and regularly updated lists of people experiencing homelessness.
  • Street Outreach Apps or Records. Street Outreach workers often track the people they serve via phone apps or other record-keeping systems.
  • Coordinated Entry Lists. CoCs can and are keeping records on people they assess for services, including those who are unsheltered.
  • Drop-In Center Data. Some localities can and are collecting data on people utilizing drop-in centers where people living outdoors connect to case management, social services, and other necessities like food, showers, or showers.
  • Encampment Mapping. Communities can and are identifying the locations of encampments and count or estimate how many people live in them.
  • “Mini PiT Counts”. Homeless services systems can (and are) conducting smaller scale PiT Counts that are not a part of the nation-wide effort that occurs in January of each year.
  • Vehicle Counts. Some communities are finding it helpful to count how many people live in cars, RVs, and other vehicles.

Implications for the Future

The pandemic has forced CoCs to enhance supplementary ways of counting unsheltered people, and create new ones. Such approaches will be helpful once normal processes for the annual Point-in-Time Count resume.  The PiT will remain a valuable source of information, but other data collection methods help fill in a picture of unsheltered homelessness that should guide the delivery of services and solutions. As we prepare for a post-pandemic world, this is an important time to take inventory of all the innovations of the past 15 months, and embrace the opportunity to incorporate them into our work moving forward. The post Disruptions to the 2021 PiT Count: Working to Fill Data Gaps appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

How the Proposed 2021 California Budget Can Help People Experiencing Homelessness

January 14, 2021
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After the chaos and violence that ascended upon our nation’s capital last week, it may have been lost in the headlines that the leader of the 5th largest economy in the world unveiled a 2021-2022 budget proposal on Friday. While the announcement may have been overshadowed, the California state budget is more relevant than ever. This is the hopeful year of COVID-19 recovery and rebuilding, and it is critical to know what Governor Gavin Newsom’s priorities are for the Golden State – especially concerning homelessness and housing. Big questions loom: how will the state support schools re-opening, distribute vaccines quickly, prevent renters from being evicted, and get emergency assistance into the hands of hungry families?  And possibly the most important question for those of us focused on the crisis that predates the pandemic: what are the proposed resources for housing and homelessness?

Where Does the Money in California’s Budget Typically Go? 

It is with some relief alongside some extreme caution, that California leaders have a better-than-anticipated budget picture for 2021. A surplus this year is welcomed, but a multi-year deficit, possibly reaching $17 billion, is not too far behind.  Education, health and human services, transportation and corrections/rehabilitation are some of the broad categories that the state allocates most of its general fund dollars to maintain current programs.
Chart from: http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2021-22/pdf/BudgetSummary/SummaryCharts.pdf

Immediate Action 

Perhaps the most eye-catching part of Newsom’s proposed budget is the $14 billion dollar investments he would like to make into California’s equitable recovery from COVID-19, with immediate action being requested from the legislature in the following areas:
Table from: http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2021-22/pdf/BudgetSummary/SummaryCharts.pdf

Housing and Homelessness in the Budget 

While the most timely priorities are jumpstarting an economic recovery and safely reinstating in-person education here are a few highlights from the Governor’s budget summary that aim to support those households experiencing homelessness and very low-income Californians: Project Homekey: Last year, the state used a mix of federal, philanthropic, and state dollars to stand up an aggressive motel/hotel acquisition program that is projected to create 6000 new units of permanent and interim housing for COVID-vulnerable homeless Californians. The Governor is proposing $750 million additional dollars to continue the unprecedented success of Project Homekey this year. Housing for Very Vulnerable Populations: The budget proposal includes a one-time allocation of $1 billion for the acquisition and building of housing specifically for people who need behavioral health treatment settings and for low income vulnerable seniors. These could be short-term crisis care settings and long-term care environments often referred to as board and cares or adult residential facilities.  The disappearance of housing specifically for people with complex medical and mental health needs who can no longer live independently has been viewed as a growing crisis statewide. Protecting tenants at risk of eviction: To keep renters who were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis safely housed, the state passed AB 3088, which had provisions that prevented certain types of evictions until January 31, 2021. Due to the ongoing severity of the pandemic, both the governor and key state legislators are immediately calling for an extension of AB 3088. The state and its larger local governments are set to receive a total $2.6 billion of the $25 billion rental relief program administered by the Treasury Department, which could further stabilize at-risk renters. Affordable Housing Programs: Governor Newsom proposes new investments of $500 million in the state’s Infill Infrastructure Grant Program and an additional third round of $500 million in low-income housing tax credits to spur the development of affordable housing and reduce the massive gap in units available for qualifying low-income households. State leaders are also proposing streamlining measures that would make the application and environmental review process faster for these projects.

The Takeaway 

It is no easy task to balance the competing budget priorities of 2021 in a state faced with many urgent issues. The state of California has a lot to juggle, and while housing and homelessness funds are not topping the list of “immediate action” priorities, Governor Newsom has asked the legislature to take early action on Project Homekey. This urgency, combined with the above investments, shows promising steps for the future. One thing is certain – the cure for our housing and homelessness crisis needs to be viewed as a long game: creating reliable, ongoing funding streams, and long-term plans that can be nimble, but still lay out a solution blueprint for the future. Governor Newsom’s 2021 budget proposal embraces the importance of building out physical homes for people to live that can become long-term features of homeless re-housing systems across California. It also confronts the long-neglected issues of licensed care settings that serve highly vulnerable groups who may have been homeless or could easily fall back onto the streets without these intensive interventions. However, the proposed budget continues to default to one-time grants instead of sustained funding that is more comprehensive.  It also includes households loosely defined as “at-risk of homelessness” without targeting the response to people most at risk: those who are already homeless. The Alliance is hopeful that a bridge can be built between the current short-term plans to movements like the Bring California Home Campaign and Roadmap HOME 2030, which together, lay out a bold longer-term plan that would transform the state’s response to housing and homelessness. The time is now. If not now, when? The post How the Proposed 2021 California Budget Can Help People Experiencing Homelessness appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

Homelessness in 2021: Five Factors to Watch

December 29, 2020
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As the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness will continue to be a national crisis. Although the number of people experiencing homelessness is still lower than it was in 2007, homelessness has been increasing since 2016. It is likely that the consequences of the pandemic, a national recession, and deep economic disparities will drive further increases. Despite these obstacles, there will be important opportunities in the year ahead for the mission to end homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness offers the following assessment of the key factors that will affect this work.
  1. What Will We Learn from the COVID-19 Pandemic? COVID-19 forced communities to confront new limitations and innovate through them to keep people safe. Those innovations were all driven by an obvious truth that housing is the basis for health. The question moving forward is whether federal and local leaders will translate that connection into resources and policies to end homelessness. Moreover, as we consider the enormous challenges to shelter systems during the pandemic, it is unclear whether elected officials and systems leaders will re-think their historic reliance on congregate shelter, which was proven to be unsafe and unscalable during the pandemic.
  2. Will the Federal Government Prioritize Homelessness? The Biden Administration and Congress will have immediate opportunities to prioritize homelessness and housing in 2021. This includes appointing key Cabinet officials who are dedicated to evidence-based and equity-based approaches to ending homelessness, including Housing First. It includes advancing a FY 2021 Federal budget that dramatically scales up investments in the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. This will be crucial as states and localities deal with lost revenue and diminished budgets following the pandemic. And it includes the Biden Administration’s campaign goal to expand the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8) so that more people can afford housing.
  3. How Will the Housing Market Respond? The pandemic has made it obvious that many Americans simply cannot afford the cost of rent. If the rental market continues to soften – especially in higher-cost communities – more people will have access to the units they need, and the flow of people falling into homelessness can more easily be reduced. This will also enhance homelessness system efforts to place people into housing. However, if rents revert to pre-COVID levels in the midst of widespread unemployment and recession, homelessness will not decline. Additionally, the future of commercial real estate represents a major area of uncertainty. If vacant offices, retail spaces, and hotels and motels, can be converted into affordable housing, communities will have a dramatically renewed capacity to end people’s homelessness.
  4. Will the Nation Address Inequity? Awareness of racial and economic inequity made it to the forefront of the American consciousness in 2020. It remains to be seen whether the nation will extend this awareness to housing and homelessness. This would require leaders to address historic injustices and reverse discriminatory housing policies. Meanwhile, systems leaders and providers must continue to identify and address inequitable policies and outcomes in their own work. Although racial disparities have been at the center of this discussion to date, it will be essential that these efforts extend to disparities among other populations at increased risk of homelessness. This includes gender minorities, people with disabilities, and returning citizens.
  5. Can We Target Emerging “Age Waves”? Demographic data shows that homelessness is on the rise among two distinct age groups: people who are very old, and people who are relatively young. Efforts to serve these groups will depend upon the ability to define and fund targeted strategies for each. Older individuals experiencing homelessness not only face dramatically higher health vulnerabilities, but also will amass especially high health care costs associated with their homelessness. Meanwhile, younger people experiencing homelessness must be connected to housing and employment now, despite the economic recession. Without these connections, their likelihood of prolonged detachment from the workforce will directly impact their risk of homelessness over the long term.
The post Homelessness in 2021: Five Factors to Watch appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

Statement on the Revocation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule

July 30, 2020
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The National Alliance to End Homelessness stands opposed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) decision to revoke the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH rule).   The AFFH rule is a critically important tool for addressing the housing discrimination caused by historical and systemic racism in our cities, towns and communities.  It laid out a critical next step in ensuring that localities take meaningful action to address those disparities.   People experiencing homelessness — including people of color and those with disabilities – routinely encounter discrimination when seeking housing. Not only do they face a critical, nationwide shortage of housing they can afford (including housing that is accessible) but they are discriminated against when they seek to access the housing that is available. Their right to access housing is guaranteed under the Fair Housing Act and must be protected and advanced – not eroded – by our nation’s leaders.  Thrights guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act cannot be achieved passively or through wishful thinking.  They require action; action that was laid out in the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule,” said Nan Roman, President & CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. At this time, when the nation faces a historic reckoning over racism and discrimination, it is deeply disturbing that instead of seizing the moment to move forward, this decision will push us backward in the journey to a fair and equitable societyThe Alliance encourages communities to remain aligned with the principles of the AFFH rule in the name of fairness, justice, and racial equity.”   The post Statement on the Revocation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

Permanent Housing Increases Show Commitment to Ending Homelessness 

June 11, 2020
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Communities across the country are working to permanently end homelessness: analysis from the State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition highlights growing investments in permanent housing. Not only does this policy direction reduce housing instability, but it promotes health and justice.  

Increasing Investments in Permanent Housing 

The emphasis of homeless systems has progressed from a temporary approach to one that focuses on permanent housing. Since HUD data collection on homelessness began in 2007, the number of permanent housing beds in the system increased by 177 percent. In 2007, permanent housing comprised 31 percent of the national inventory. The most recent data, from 2019, shows that permanent housing now makes up 57 percent.  All but one state grew their permanent housing stock since 2007. Some states stand out for their increased investments. Mississippi shows the largest addition of permanent housing to their inventory with 621 percent more beds than their prior twelve years. Other places with notable increases in permanent housing include Hawaii, Oklahoma, and Guam—each showing a more than 400 percent jump in their inventories.  Arkansas has lost 3 percent of its permanent housing inventory since 2007. 

Permanent Housing Ends Homelessness 

Studies over the last twenty years have repeatedly shown that housing, provided with a Housing First approach, ends homelessness, and that the overwhelming majority of people who receive this intervention stay housed.  In fact, more than 50 researchers outlined the evidence in support of Housing First in a letter to the current administration.   Many permanent housing beds in the nation’s homeless services inventory are targeted to specific subpopulations. Forty-four percent are dedicated to people in families, 22 percent are for veterans, and 35 percent are for those who are chronically homelessness (there is some overlap among these populations)These groups have all seen reductions in the number of people experiencing homelessness, supporting the notion that investments in permanent housing reduce homelessness  Unfortunately, the largest portion of the homeless populationindividual, non-disabled adults are not realizing these same reductions. There have not been as many resources available to them, and we are seeing their numbers increase. Communities should periodically review their bed inventory with such concerns in mind. 

Permanent Housing is Healthcare 

Now, more than ever, permanent housing is critical because it will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness and the larger community.  Social distancing in congregate shelter is extraordinarily difficult.  Access to running water for those who living outdoors is even more of a challenge.  Permanently housing people now will not only help quell the risks for the virus spreading, but it will also lower the chance of people dying from it.  In a recent Alliance survey of Continuums of Care, 56 percent indicated that permanent housing is a more of a future spending priority than options like additional shelter or motel space.   Housing has always been part of adequate healthcare. Multiple studies demonstrate the impact housing has on improving the health of someone experiencing homelessness.  Not only do people self-report being in better health after being housed, their healthcare costs to the system decrease as well.  Moreover, it is important to recognize that homelessness itself can create enormous physical and mental health challenges.  According to a report by the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, “Homeless people suffer all illnesses at three to six times the rates experienced by others, have higher death rates, and have dramatically lower life expectancy.” 

Permanent Housing is Justice 

Housing First approaches get people into housing quickly, without preconditions such as sobriety or employment, and wraps supports around them to provide as much or as little case management services as necessary to help their housing stability. Everyone deserves housing, including people experiencing homelessness. Full stop. No one should have to prove their worthiness in order to have a place to sleep at night, eat, and wash. Housing First is housing justice. 

Conclusion 

Permanent housing solves homelessness. While the system still struggles to meet housing needs of every person experiencing homelessness, the ongoing commitment to permanent housing is a promising sign. The investments made to help specific groups (families, veterans, and chronically homeless people) demonstrate that with adequate resources, reducing, and even ending homelessness is possible.     Download the permanent housing infographic. The post Permanent Housing Increases Show Commitment to Ending Homelessness  appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

The Intersection of Human Trafficking and Homelessness

January 15, 2020
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This post is authored by Karen Romero, Freedom Network Training Institute Director at Freedom Network USA.  January is the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness month, an annual effort to increase awareness about what human trafficking really is, and what it looks like, in the United States. The relatively new awareness of this crime has provided much needed protections for survivors, but has also introduced misconceptions.

What is Human Trafficking?

At its essence, human trafficking exploits a person through force, fraud, or coercion for forced labor or commercial sex. Traffickers prey on the vulnerabilities of individuals in poverty, experiencing homelessness, or who are part of marginalized populations. Communities that are poor, disenfranchised, and underserved are often the most vulnerable. Trafficking victims are generally left financially destitute, which in turn makes them susceptible to re-exploitation. Individuals who lack safe housing are more likely to engage in dangerous employment to meet their needs, making them vulnerable to trafficking. A 2016 study by Loyola University and Covenant House found that nearly 1 in 5 youth who received shelter services from Covenant House had experienced some form of human trafficking.[1]
In the US, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) has defined trafficking as ●     sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or ●     the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.[2] A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within these definitions.

Human Trafficking in the US

Trafficking happens in every state and can occur in any industry such as education, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, restaurants, among others. We also know that labor trafficking is the most common type of trafficking worldwide.[3] Because human trafficking is underreported and under-identified, there is no clear figure as to how many people are trafficked in the US. Not all victims of trafficking have been able to access services or have reported their experience, therefore statistics can be unreliable. One way to get a sense of the magnitude of human trafficking in the US is through the number of survivors receiving federally funded services. Grantees of the Department of Justice reported serving 8,913 clients between July 2017 and June 2018. [4]

Survivors Need Access to Housing

Safe and stable housing is a critical resource for survivors of human trafficking as they exit their trafficking situation and continue their journey towards healing. Anti-trafficking service providers often rely on emergency housing resources such as homeless or domestic violence shelters to meet the immediate needs of survivors. However, these short-term options can leave survivors homeless once their stay has ended.

Safe Housing options allow individuals to concentrate on their psychological needs, including any effects of complex trauma that they experience. When a survivor’s basic needs (including safe and affordable housing) are not met they must concentrate on basic survival. This creates an environment that makes them more vulnerable to new exploitative situations.  – International Institute of St. Louis, Missouri[5]

Providers in the housing and homelessness field are likely already serving survivors of trafficking without knowing it. Not all survivors will disclose their trafficking experience and some may not be aware that their exploitation is considered trafficking. Housing programs have the opportunity to ensure that their services are trauma-informed and person-centered. By creating systems that focus on providing the individual choice and voice in their housing, we can ensure that all clients, including those who have experienced violence and exploitation, can access housing options that feel safe for them. As providers, we have an opportunity to expand current referral systems and build connections between housing and homeless services and the anti-trafficking field. If you want to learn more, please visit Freedom Network USA’s Housing Project and the Resource Library, which contain materials including fact sheets, videos, and templates for providers to access practical tools and respond to the individual needs of survivors in a person-centered, trauma-informed manner. To learn more about this project, visit freedomnetworkusa.com/housing. For inquiries, contact Karen Romero at [email protected]. Notes [1] Covenant House https://www.covenanthouse.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/Loyola%20Multi-City%20Executive%20Summary%20FINAL.pdf [2] US State Department https://www.state.gov/j/tip/laws/61124.htm [3] International Labour Organization, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575540.pdf [4] US Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2019, page 486 [5] Freedom Network USA 2018 Member Report  https://freedomnetworkusa.org/app/uploads/2018/04/FRN-Member-Report-Digital-FINAL.pdf The post The Intersection of Human Trafficking and Homelessness appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

New Homelessness Numbers Reflect Uneven Progress, Increased Urgency

January 9, 2020
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Despite Significant Decreases Among Families, Youth, and Veterans, Overall Homelessness Increases 2.7 Percent The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress reveals that an estimated 567,715 people were identified homeless on a single night in 2019. This represents a 2.7 percent increase over 2018. The increases during this period were particularly striking among the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. This population rose by 8.7%, including increases of 15% among unsheltered women, and 43% among people who identify as transgender. Other populations that increased included the total number of people experiencing chronic homelessness (+9%), and those who experience homelessness as individual adults (+6.3%). The report reflects deep and persistent racial inequities among the people who experience homelessness: African Americans accounted for 40% of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019, despite being 13% of the U.S. population. Despite the increases, three noteworthy populations experienced year-on-year declines during this period, including people in families (-5%), youth under 18 (-4%), and veterans (-2.1%). The report shows that homelessness overall declined in more states (29 and the District of Columbia) than it increased in (21 states).  “This year’s report is as an urgent call to action to federal, state, and local leaders,” said Nan Roman, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “We know how to end homelessness. Family homelessness has declined every year since 2012. And veteran homelessness went down seven of the past eight years. Now is not the time to abandon the practices that drove those results. Now is the time to get serious about funding them to scale.”   Roman attributes that success to alignment from the federal government, the homeless services sector, and philanthropy around evidence-based best practices for ending homelessness, and specifically to the adoption of Housing First principles. These approaches prioritize getting people into stable housing as quickly as possible, and connecting them to needed services to address health, substance use, child care, employment or other needs. This contrasts with stairstep, services first, and punitive programs which are far less effective and more expensive.    “Homelessness did not go up in 2019 because we don’t know how to solve it: we do. People who are housed are not homeless. It is from the safety and security of a home that services will work best for those who need them, and that people can connect with jobs, schools, churches, family and other community supports that will help them get back on their feet. So, we must do much more to get people back into housing faster,” Roman said. “The reason for the increase is that more and more people are falling into homelessness. They don’t make enough to pay for the housing that’s available. This year’s numbers must motivate our federal leaders to ramp up the resources for the evidence-based, housing-focused solutions to homelessness that are proven to work.”

A Renewed Focus

The report was released at a time when homelessness and affordable housing are increasingly in the public consciousness, and tensions run high about the causes and solutions. For the first time ever, most candidates in the 2020 presidential campaign have elevated the nation’s affordable housing shortage as a priority domestic issue. At the same time, several of the West Coast’s largest technology companies have made major monetary commitments to address an affordable housing shortage for which they are often blamed. Meanwhile, numerous communities attempted to pass harmful ordinances that would criminalize people for not being housed. These efforts were set back in December, when the Supreme Court declined to hear Martin v. Boise, a 9th Circuit Court case that had ruled that a city could not make it illegal for people to sleep outside if it had not made a sufficient number of shelter beds available. “Any increase in homelessness is bad news. But we must be clear about the causes and solutions,” Roman said. “This isn’t the fault of the homelessness sector, and it is not the fault of people experiencing homelessness. It is the fault of systems that have failed our most vulnerable populations, and leaders who have failed to protect them. Our charge for 2020 is to remain committed to the best practices in ending homelessness, and to remain resolved to addressing the systems that cause people to become homeless.” The post New Homelessness Numbers Reflect Uneven Progress, Increased Urgency appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

Establishing a Federal Fund for Homelessness Prevention

January 6, 2020
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It’s well known that an acute financial emergency is often the breaking point that makes someone become homeless. Perhaps it’s a matter of missed rental payments or utility bills. Sometimes it comes in the form of a medical bill or inexpensive car repairs. Sometimes someone just can’t gather the funds to put down a security deposit. These are the kinds of expenses that can destabilize a person’s housing and push them into shelter – or the streets. Many providers use a combination of charitable, local, state, and federal dollars to administer or carry out programs to prevent homelessness and housing insecurity. By providing nominal sums of money on a limited or one-time basis (along with housing stability-related services) these programs have saved many low-income individuals and families from falling into homelessness.

Potential Federal Resources

The Eviction Crisis Act (S. 3030), which was introduced in December, would establish an emergency assistance fund at the federal level to provide short-term financial assistance and housing services to renters in danger of eviction. The bill is bipartisan, introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and has attracted three cosponsors, including Senators Todd Young (R-IN) as well as Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who is the ranking member on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee.  Efforts are underway to identify sponsors for comparable legislation in the House.  Under Section 8 of S. 3030, the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would award grants to state, local, and Tribal governments to establish “crisis assistance programs” to help extremely low-income households avoid housing instability and homelessness; and those governments may in turn designate entities to carry out the programs. An eligible household may not receive assistance for more than one 90-day period during each calendar year. No less than 75% of the amount received by a grantee may be used on financial assistance, and no more than 25% of that amount could be used on housing stability-related services, as the bill is written.  Section 8 also includes a list of factors for the Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture to consider in the establishment of criteria for awarding grants.  Geographic diversity must be considered in awarding grants. Given the finite resources and the immense scope of the housing crisis, the legislation includes a comprehensive evaluation process to help policymakers identify the best methods for ensuring that assistance goes to those extremely low-income households who need help the most and have no other recourse. It would be up to the appropriators, pursuant to the annual Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations Bill, to determine levels of funding for the federal emergency assistance programs that would be established under S. 3030.  Obviously, it is imperative that money not be diverted from the Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) programs to pay for the emergency assistance programs. (Of note, ESG funds can already be used for homelessness prevention, but are more commonly allocated to shelter and re-housing efforts.)

Building Support

In order to induce the Senate Banking Committee’s consideration on this legislation, it will be necessary to build support for S. 3030, ideally through cosponsorships of the legislation by committee Republicans.  Most Congressional offices are unaware of the homelessness prevention efforts helping their constituents back home, and would greatly benefit hearing from providers in their districts: the most qualified people to make this case. S. 3030 also includes valuable provisions that would strengthen tenant protections. These include language to:
  • fund efforts by state and local governments to use landlord-tenant courts, particularly if tenants are actually represented, and
  • establish a database to track evictions in order to develop more informed housing policies.

A Shared Priority

The establishment of emergency assistance grant programs is a key objective of the Opportunity Starts at Home (OSAH) coalition, a long-term, multi-sector campaign to meet the rental housing needs of low-income Americans.  Providing housing assistance doesn’t just end homelessness, but bolsters quality of life in other areas – such as civil rights, health care and education. – and is supported by many members of Opportunity Starts at Home. The collective commitment to this objective is a strong endorsement that prevention resources must be a priority in the federal government’s response to homelessness. The post Establishing a Federal Fund for Homelessness Prevention appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

Housing Chronically Homeless People: Opportunities through the 811 Mainstream Vouchers

December 16, 2019
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There’s no doubt about it: we need more resources to end homelessness in this nation. In fact, we need many more resources. But we also need to make sure that we use every single resource that exists. And for communities seeking to address chronic homelessness, there are important resources available right now.

811 Mainstream Vouchers: What They Are, and How to Use Them

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently awarded more than $130 million in housing vouchers for public housing authorities (PHAs) to expand housing capacity for the most vulnerable in their communities. This is great news for more than 300 awardee PHAs. HUD’s Mainstream Housing Choice Voucher program (also referred to as “811 Mainstream Vouchers”) provides critical funding to ensure that non-elderly people with disabilities experiencing homelessness can access housing.

Now the Work Begins

Many PHAs and Continuums of Care (CoCs) worked hard together to forge the partnerships needed for a successful application. But that’s just the first step.  Now, the hard work really begins: getting people experiencing homelessness into units. CoCs and PHAs have to extend their partnerships all the way through lease-up. As CoCs begin the housing process, they should emphasize their vantage points as partners:
  1. CoCs have relationships with the target population
  2. CoCs have experience implementing tenant based rental assistance programs
  3. CoCs have coordinated entry to identify applicants
Similar to the first round of funding in 2018, HUD provided points for applications that included partnerships between public housing agencies (the applicants) and community agencies, especially those that assist people with disabilities who are transitioning out of institutional or other segregated settings, at risk of institutionalization, homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The latest award also included people who previously experienced homelessness and are currently in a permanent supportive housing or rapid re-housing project, e.g., a moving on program.

Continuing the Partnership

Working across systems can be challenging, but CoCs have the expertise required to assist PHAs house chronically homeless people.  Just as CoCs and PHAs worked together to complete the application for the 811 Mainstream Housing Vouchers, we now have to effectively partner up to reach the ultimate goal: to get people with disabilities into affordable units.  The post Housing Chronically Homeless People: Opportunities through the 811 Mainstream Vouchers appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading

When Sleeping Outside is Breaking the Law

November 5, 2019
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Can a city make it a criminal offense to sleep outside, if there are no shelters or other places for homeless people to sleep inside? That’s the issue in City of Boise v. Martin, a case that the Supreme Court is considering taking. If it takes the case, it will decide whether a city can criminalize people for sleeping outside, even if there is no practical way for them to sleep inside. The issue of criminalization is widespread among areas with high rates of homelessness, and includes laws such as forbidding loitering, or making it illegal to sit on a sidewalk. But when a person is unsheltered, where else are they supposed to go? Frustrated community members end up calling the police, resulting in tensions between people experiencing homelessness and the rest of the community.

A Community Approach

Developing positive partnerships, not punitive ones, will be essential in ending homelessness; the entire community working together is a key ingredient to success. Criminalization, however, creates more conflict between local officials, the police, and homeless people. At worst, criminalization gives local politicians a way to try to dodge responsibility for homelessness by turning it over to the police. The police, who don’t have tools to solve the problem, often end up shuffling homeless people from place to place: at great expense to local taxpayers, while causing even more trauma to people experiencing homelessness. Criminalization is not a homelessness strategy; it is a consequence of not having a strategy. It is a last-resort effort when local governments don’t know what else to do when it comes to homelessness response.

What the Supreme Court Decision Means

If the Supreme Court decides to take this case, it will have implications on how people experiencing homelessness are treated by law enforcement, government officials, and communities nationwide. The issue was already taken up in in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which ruled that sleeping outside should not be a criminal offense if people have no other options. The brief for the respondents (a group of homeless and formerly homeless people in Boise), asking the Supreme Court to decline the case, was filed on Friday, October 25. The respondents pointed out that the lower court’s decision was narrowly limited to a specific set of facts, unlikely to create terrible impacts if all cities have to follow it. It is consistent with good policy and with other court decisions, so there is no good reason to take up the case. Given that there is no deadline for the Supreme Court to take up the case, it may be a while before we see a preliminary decision on whether or not the case will be taken – which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. If the Supreme Court declines, the ruling of the 9th Circuit will stand: sleeping outside when there is no place inside to sleep should not be a criminal offense. If it takes the case, there will be further briefs filed, arguments by lawyers, and finally a decision that will probably be announced early in 2021. In the meantime, communities can work with homeless people to brainstorm solutions that work for everyone. There has obviously been a lot of concern expressed in communities with more people sleeping outside. People who are just now seeing the magnitude of the problem are calling for elected officials to “do something, anything.” The thing that actually works, though, is getting housing for people, which is no easy goal. Rising concern about unsheltered homelessness is a good thing; people should be concerned, outraged, and intolerant of excuses. The response should be to solve the problem – not to criminalize it. To learn more about this case and the decisions that led up to it, click here for previous analysis.  The post When Sleeping Outside is Breaking the Law appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. Continue Reading