Collaboration, Capacity and Planning Archive
USICH Launches the Solutions Database
The big news of the week around USICH is the launch of our Solutions Database - an online resource hub of evidence-based practices, promising practices, and model programs from around the country that work in ending homelessness. We profile model programs from around the country successful at implementing practices like coordinated entry, targeting of permanent supportive housing, and outreach. Check out the 50+ profiles now! Explore the Solutions Database
Coverage of Potential Local Impacts of Sequestration
With budgets at all levels of government impacted by sequestration, local media has started to cover stories of organizations that will experience a drastic change in their work. As mentioned by HUD Secretary Donovan and echoed by federal leaders working with low-income populations, sequestration has severe impacts on our work to prevent and end homelessness in America.
In Indiana, they anticipate that sequestration will create big gaps in funding that will place Public Housing Authorities and housing vouchers at stake.
“We are expecting this will mean that public housing authorities will end up reducing the number of households they serve because there won’t be sufficient funding for all the vouchers currently in use…”
The New Orleans Point-in-Time count was delayed due to the Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl, events that literally take over the city. On Monday February 25th with the thousands of tourists back at home, the City was ready to count those without a home. The New Orleans Count is coordinated by UNITY of Greater New Orleans. UNITY serves as the lead agency for the New Orleans/Jefferson Parish Continuum of Care.
There was a full moon and the weather was warm and clear following heavy showers earlier in the day. I attended the training at the UNITY offices beginning at 8pm. Kathleen North, UNITY’s Director of the Permanent Supportive Housing Registry, spoke to the 60 volunteers on what to expect during the evening. James Tardie of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System offered some good advice about safety. Finally, Martha Kegel, UNITY’s Executive Director, thanked the volunteers and told them how valuable their service is to the ongoing work to prevent and end homelessness in New Orleans. Volunteers received bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with “2013 Homeless Survey” so it was clear to everyone our purpose that evening.
Three individuals, each from a different community partnerwho took part in Omaha, Nebraska’s Point-in-Time count, shared their experiences in this blog.
Introduction on the Omaha Point in Time Count by Erin Porterfield, Director of MACCH
The Metropolitan Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) held the Point-in-Time count on January 30, 2013 between 8:00 PM and midnight. For the unsheltered count, more than 40 volunteers were separated into teams with a trained outreach worker as team leader. These outreach workers conduct outreach weekly and administer the Vulnerability Index for the count as they would during a typical outreach. As part of the annual count, we invite community leaders to join us to boost understanding of our process and more importantly, to meet the people we find experiencing homelessness.
Our community selects the evening time period hoping the people we find will accept a ride to shelter instead of braving the biting temperature of 15 degrees that night. The region covered by the count includes Douglas and Sarpy Counties in Nebraska and Pottawattomie County in Iowa. The region comprises a metro area population of 634,233 with more than 1 percent (at least 7,333 people) of whom experience homelessness annually. During this year’s count we found 19 people living outside ( a decrease of two people from 2011), two of whom asked to be transported to shelter.
Philadelphia was my second PIT count this year (I was in Boston in December). To me, this is much more than a data gathering exercise—it’s a stark reminder that we've not yet been successful in our cause. While I am heartened to see the evidence of progress—fewer people living on the street, new supportive housing launched, better coordination and engagement among outreach—I’m disheartened to see our fellow human beings living in such difficult conditions. The night was a very warm (65 degrees), rainy, and windy. I was assigned to a team responsible for counting and surveying in the Concourse.
Public information describes the Concourse as a series of underground concourses allowing pedestrians to reach their jobs from the major transportation hubs without having to be exposed to the weather. Most of the Center City area around City Hall and along Market and Broad Streets is connected to the major government buildings and office towers by the Concourse. All of the regional system's Regional Rail Lines stop (and occasionally terminate) here, and access is provided to the Market-Frankford Elevated and Subway Line, the Broad Street Subway Line, and all Subway-Surface Trolley Routes. Additionally, several city buses and company shuttle buses service the exterior of the property. The concourse, dubbed "MetroMarket", provides commuters and the public alike with restroom facilities, customer service, a post office, and a number of eateries and shops.
02/25/2013 - Sustaining 100 Day Results: Does Your Community Have the Grit to Solve Homelessness Among Veterans?
Ending homelessness among Veterans cannot be the responsibility of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) alone. Communities are the key ingredient and are essential partners in ending homelessness among our Veterans. Collective leadership, collaboration, civic engagement, and persistence are necessary to get the job done and end Veteran homelessness by 2015. This is never more palpable than when working with the participants of Community Solutions’ Rapid Results Housing Boot Camp.
As part of a Sustainability Review, I recently joined federal, state, and local leaders from Colorado, Phoenix, and Utah who gathered to share the progress of their 100 day goals in ending homelessness among Veterans as part of a Community Solutions’ Rapid Results Housing Boot Camp (Boot Camp). In all of these communities, multi-disciplinary teams work to target HUD’s Housing Choice vouchers and case management and clinical services provided by VA (HUD-VASH) to Veterans most in need. Boot Camps equip teams with the tools and commitments needed to set – and meet – 100 day goals that make immediate impacts and drive solutions and strategies that will help the community end Veteran homelessness. Boot Camps have been an important element for participating communities across the country to achieve the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by 2015.
New York City has an estimated population of 8.2 million people. Planning a count of individuals and families that are homeless in the nation’s most populous city is a major undertaking, and this year’s Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) marks the ninth annual citywide count. I was honored to join volunteers from across the city in being a part of HOPE 2013.
The morning of January 28th started off with snow showers that by midday had turned to sleet and finally rain. When volunteers assembled to embark on the nation’s largest count of homeless individuals, it was 35 degrees; no snow or rain, but raw and chilly. I arrived at the P.S. 116, Mary Lindley Murray Elementary on East 33rd, just after 10 pm. Within an hour the cafeteria/gymnasium had filled up with over 150 volunteers. P.S. 116 was one of 28 sites around the city that would train and manage the over 3,000 volunteers who would cover 1,550 areas that had been designated by city planners.
02/21/2013 - HOPE: A Word on New York City’s PIT Count from Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond
HOPE, our annual unsheltered street survey, is a huge effort every year involving thousands of volunteers throughout New York City. We usually plan months ahead of time but with Hurricane Sandy requiring our full attention for most of the end of 2012, we had to cram four months work into four weeks. It is serious business and we take great care to set up the system with precision, mapping the areas with the city’s experts, arranging for over 400 police officers to be involved and working with a community college to hire and train over 200 decoys- persons who act as homeless individuals as a quality control measure. Based on the number of decoys discovered during the survey, we can ensure the accuracy of the final street estimate number. But it also should be fun and so we make sure to include in the planning thousands of gallons of coffee and water, pretzels and energy bars and thousands of t-shirts available to every volunteer who completes the survey.
(Pictured: Bob Pulster, USICH Regional Coordinator and Seth Diamond, NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner)
The nights of the estimate have varied from year to year—some balmy, some so cold you could barely take your hands out of your pocket, and this year, relatively cold. No matter what though, the street survey moves forward. My night always begins at St. John’s University early in the evening in Queens. They are a wonderful partner and send hundreds of students to us throughout the city to participate in the survey. I visit them on campus to thank them personally, but also, seeing the young people ready and willing to go is energizing for me and my staff. This year their mascot, Johnny Thunderbird, joined us for an extra special send off. I’m not sure what area he ended up surveying.
02/13/2013 - The People Behind the Count: A PIT Count Reflection from HUD’s New Hampshire Field Office Director Greg Carson
It’s been more than 30 years since I headed outdoors in sub-zero weather at 2 in the morning; on the other side of the world along the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Tonight, like those nights so many years ago, I am surrounded by a group of young people all determined to accomplish an important mission and all motivated by a sense of duty.
As the HUD Field Office Director in New Hampshire, each year for the last several years I received a copy of the results of the national Point-in-Time count and while I have been diligent in sharing that information with decision makers, I have not had a personal sense of the people behind the numbers.
Tonight we gather at the basement floor level offices of local transitional housing provider Families in Transition (FIT). It’s early, it’s cold, and the room is filled with volunteers from various non-profits and state agency service providers. By far, most of the teams who will soon be walking the streets on Manchester are between 22 and 30 years old. Yes, there are a few of us more seasoned professionals, but we are the exception to the rule.
02/11/2013 - Homelessness in Washington, DC: Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Fellows participate in DC’s Point-In-Time Count
On the evening of Thursday, January 31, I participated in DC’s Point-In-Time (PIT) count with two of my colleagues from this year’s 2012-2013 Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute fellowship cohort, Daniel Lind and Pam Diaz.
(Pictured from left to right: Aurelia De La Rosa Aceves, Health Graduate Fellow; Daniel Lind, STEM Graduate Fellow; and, Pam Diaz, Public Policy Fellow.)
Though the PIT count takes place every year, this was the first time Daniel, Pam, and I participated in the event. We prepared for the night by attending a training session earlier in the month led by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, DC’s Continuum of Care PIT count organizer. However, nothing can quite prepare you for the moment when you walk in to the designated PIT count volunteer meeting area and observe the overwhelming amount of people from the community who have come to help count the homeless on their Thursday night. It is both humbling and heartwarming to be a part of such an important and community-building event.
Once all the volunteers had met their teammates and team leaders for the night, we had the pleasure to hear U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki speak about the Obama Administration’s commitment to end homelessness in this country. They explained the essential role of the PIT count: in addition to informing resource planning, both Secretaries spoke of this work as our means to identify a problem, address it, and document our progress addressing it. Secretary Shinseki said it well: “We can’t solve a problem we cannot see.”
The commitment to connecting with people in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, North Carolina was evident during their Point-in-Time (PIT) count, starting in the evening on January 30th and ending late the next day. While temperatures reached an unseasonably warm 71 degrees earlier in the day, by the time the volunteers gathered at Bethesda Center for coffee, snacks, and training, the temperature had dipped to 54 degrees, with driving rains and threats of tornados and flooding giving an even deeper sense of urgency to the work the volunteers were embarking on.
“This is a search and rescue operation!” stated Teri Hairston, Program Assistant for the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness at the United Way of Forsyth County, during the training. “We see this as a chance to connect with every person who is homeless, and even if we’re just planting a seed for later, we use what we learn tonight to help everyone get into housing”
Community partners, led by the Homeless Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, worked for months to plan for the count, bringing in a diverse range of people and agencies to ensure that every detail was covered. This year, the community was also one of the nine communities involved in the Youth Count! initiative, which involved a distinctly different strategy than the outdoor count. Together, these two initiatives helped to create a comprehensive picture of homelessness in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.
I was honored to be able to join the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition in their Homeless Census on January 24 and 25. I left especially impressed by the efforts to make sure that people whose homelessness may be invisible in our communities were recognized and counted. I spent those two days with a variety of teams with distinct and specific purposes: together these four experiences give a good snapshot of the many facets of a PIT count that help us to collect comprehensive and accurate data on this population. I was honored to be a part of this work.
Covering Every Street and Alley
Deployed from Catholic Charities Plaza along Las Vegas' Corridor of Hope at about 1:30 am, my teammates, Lawrence Rivers and Willie Lee Reed, and I spent the next several hours walking every block of a neighborhood adjacent to Las Vegas' downtown core: a mix of office, multifamily housing, and single-family homes that is also markedly affected by foreclosure and abandoned buildings. Lawrence and Willie Lee, both of whom have experienced homelessness in Las Vegas, were invaluable guides through these darkened streets and alleys. Their expertise helped us to identify secluded locations where it was likely people might be sleeping. They also helped us connect with other people also walking through the quiet neighborhood who, rather than counting, were looking for a safe, peaceful spot where they might be able to find some rest. Lawrence and Willie Lee also deepened my understanding of the array of housing and services options available in Las Vegas, using their knowledge to help a scared-looking young man we came upon at about 4:30 am as we finished walking our assigned area. This young man had been struggling since the previous morning to remain clean from a meth addiction. With no family or friends in the area to turn to for support, he was trying to make it through a long night alone. Lawrence and Willie Lee were able to suggest a services intake location he could try at 10:00 am, but then we had to leave him, six hours and a couple of miles away from the possibility of help and a potential path toward housing.
When visiting communities across the country, I am always reminded of the strength, coping and survival skills of persons experiencing homelessness. I woke up in the morning with raw, burnt-feeling skin on my face after participating in Chicago’s Point in Time Count on the night of January 22, 2013. The City of Chicago Department of Family Support Services led the efforts in partnership with the Chicago Alliance, numerous service providers, police, hospitals and volunteers across Chicago. During sub-zero temperatures, over 200 volunteers explored the 234 square miles of Chicago to count persons experiencing homelessness on the streets, on CTA trains, and in parks and abandoned buildings.
The team I participated with was led by the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFFS) Deputy Commissioner, Joel Mitchell, and included DFFS Communications Director Matthew Smith, Editor of Streetwise Suzanne Hanney, and Jennifer Cossyleon, a PhD student at Loyola University. Several media outlets followed us to our first location under the Dan Ryan Freeway, where we spotted movement around a metal barrel, deep under the overpass with flames providing some heat. As our team attempted to find an opening through the fence, we came upon a shopping cart; next to it were layers and layers of blankets. As the team walked closer to the cart, a man peered at Joel from under the covers. Joel extended a warm and friendly “hello” and shared that we were on the streets tonight to talk to persons experiencing homelessness to help the city improve services and get much needed resources to aid those efforts. Names were exchanged. Joel asked if he would mind answering a few questions and the man kindly obliged, sharing information freely from under his layers of blankets. He shared that he had not talked to anyone else tonight, but had been approached by other staff while living on the street, and had not been able to get housing.
More than 350 volunteers left Boston City Hall on the crisp, cold early winter night to fan out across the city streets and conduct the annual homeless census—a 33-year tradition. USICH Regional Coordinator Bob Pulster and I were part of the team lead by Boston Emergency Shelter Commission Director Jim Greene. Under the directive of Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Jim had emphasized that the volunteers participating in the count had a primary goal to assist and help those who were unsheltered. We were charged to help them connect to immediate resources like shelter, health care, food, blankets, and clothing. Counting alone would not be sufficient -- we also were to engage and outreach. If someone needed help, we were to wait with that person until one of the outreach vans arrived and a good connection was made. Our job was to make sure the linkage actually happened.
I observed Jim and another volunteer interact with two women, one in her 50s, the other in her early 20s and pregnant. Among the volunteers on Mayor Menino’s team was Dr. Paula Johnson, a noted primary care physician, the head of the Connors Center for Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and board chair of the Boston Public Health Commission. Jim beckoned Dr. Johnson over, and she spoke softly, and more privately, with the young woman about her pregnancy, homelessness and related risks. The rest of the group stood back to give them some space and a level of privacy. When Dr. Johnson urged the young woman to consider accepting a ride to shelter, she wavered, asking for time to think it over. Greene assured her that an outreach van would be back to check in with her during the night.
The HEARTH Act enacted by Congress in 2009 is, in many ways, a game changer. It gave the federal government the charge to create the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, setting forth the vision that no one in this country should be without a safe and stable place to call home. Perhaps most importantly, HEARTH moves governments and local stakeholders from a focus on individual program outcomes to a focus on how all programs work as a system to achieve results for an entire community. This strong statement made by the federal government foregrounds the work of implementing the HEARTH Act in communities across the country.
The HEARTH Act and the ways it seeks to improve a community’s response to homelessness has come into an even sharper focus in the recent weeks, as the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for FY 2012 Continuum of Care (CoC) program was released and communities are working on their CoC program applications. In an effort to assist these communities,our most recent newsletter released in November focused on the HEARTH Act; specifically, what the HEARTH Act means for communities, important things to know about the Continuum of Care (CoC) Program NOFA and federal resources to help communities navigate new elements of the HEARTH Act.
11/15/2012 - New Department of Labor “Innovation Fund” To Test Employment and Housing Services Collaborations
One of the challenges in providing employment services to homeless families is a lack of coordination across systems and across funding streams. Three projects recently funded through the Labor Department’s Workforce Innovation Fund (“the Innovation Fund”) are directly addressing this coordination challenge.
At the September meeting of the U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness, Michael Mirra, executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) discussed his agency’s Housing and Employment Navigator, a specialized case management program that offers individualized and flexible supports to link homeless families served by THA and other housing programs to mainstream employment and job training services.
Tacoma’s Navigator is one of the new Innovation Fund grantees and is being implemented under the leadership of WorkForce Central. The program will serve a total of 400 families in the Puget Sound region. Under the program, homeless families are assigned a personal case manager— called a “navigator”—with specific expertise in housing, social service, and workforce systems. The navigator works with the family to develop housing and employment self-sufficiency plans; register for and enroll in employment and job training programs and interventions; and offer assistance in addressing barriers to successful completion of programs and entry into employment. Meanwhile, housing and workforce agencies at the system level are participating in integrated service planning, interagency communication, cross training of staff, and streamlining and sharing outcomes around stable housing, full employment, and reduced reliance on public benefits.
Valley of the Sun United Way has come a long way in four years. Together, with partners in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, we have set ambitious yet achievable goals and have made progress towards the one big goal: ending homelessness in the Maricopa County region. By taking a look at our milestones and key actions throughout the past four years, we identified strategies that have worked for us, and we believe can work for other United Ways or community-wide partnerships across the country.
Take a look.
“I’m ashamed because the other kids say I smell bad.”
“Get those dirty bums out of our town.”
How many times have you heard sentiments similar to these, either from those experiencing homelessness, or from those encountering them on the streets? As advocates for the rights and dignity of homeless persons, we know these statements reflecting the stigmatization of homelessness are wrong, but few of us have thought more deeply about the causes and consequences of stigma.
At the end of September, over 400 people from the Southeast and throughout the country joined together in Clearwater, Florida for the 2012 Southeast Institute on Homelessness. The Institute, supported by the Florida departments of Children & Families and Education, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and Wells Fargo, is an example of the type of government, nonprofit and public sector partnerships that breed success in ending homelessness.
The focus of the institute was Building Successful Communities. Sessions, presentations, and dialogue groups asked participants to think about what is new, what is working, and what’s next in their community’s efforts to end homelessness. Keynote speakers, including USICH, invited participants into a dialogue about collaborative partnerships, creative planning, thinking “outside the box”, right-sizing and targeting resources, measuring success, and connecting with mainstream resources. No matter what stage of development communities were in when they got to the Southeast Institute on Homelessness, this event helped create a pathway for moving forward with people, groups, and partners looking to make changes in their programs for the better.
The biggest event of this week was our quarterly Council meeting, which was held on Wednesday at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The focus of this meeting was on the ways states and communities can best use mainstream resources, like school programs, public housing resources, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), woven with targeted homelessness resources to make progress. USICH Chair and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was joined by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Director of the Corporation for National and Community Service Wendy Spencer, Luke Tate from the Domestic Policy Council, and key representatives from 18 member agencies.
Several pilot programs in the United States have recently begun using social impact bonds, or Pay-For-Success bonds, to finance initiatives aimed at solving entrenched social problems like homelessness. First implemented in the United Kingdom, social impact bonds are an innovative way that some American cities can work with established private and non-profit partners to create real change. So what are social impact bonds and what are the new projects in the United States that use this model of financing?
Social impact bonds (SIBs), or pay-for-success bonds, are a new financial instrument that utilizes the typical structure of a municipal bond, where bonds are used to procure funds from private sector investors who are then paid back with interest if the project can achieve required outcome targets. As distinct from municipal bonds, SIBs invest in social innovation programs that range in focus from the justice system to homelessness and can therefore be used to incentivize change in both public and nonprofit systems working on these issues.
On August 23, Mayor Emanuel, along with representatives from the City, the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, New Moms Inc., Catholic Charities, and other keystakeholders,unveiled Chicago’s new Plan 2.0: A Home for Everyone. Plan 2.0 is based on the vision that ending homelessness is possible and in Chicago, everyone should have a home.
Building on the progress made under Chicago’s original Plan to End Homelessness, Getting Housed, Staying Housed, Plan 2.0 focuses on seven strategic priorities: the crisis response system, access to stable and affordable housing, youth homelessness, employment, advocacy and civic engagement, cross-systems integration, and capacity building.
I left Los Angeles on August 16 with both a new “I Am Home For Good” lapel pin and a new lesson in the power of collaboration.
USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe and I were privileged to attend the Home For Good Funders Collaborative event in Los Angeles (previously described here) at which the funding partners announced awards to 30 nonprofit organizations. That funding totaled $105 million of public and private investments and will result in more than 1,000 people becoming stably housed in the coming year with support to remain in that housing in the years ahead. Each event attendee received an “I Am Home For Good” lapel pin honoring their support and contributions; such pins will also be provided to every person housed through the funding awards announced. The Funders Collaborative’s accomplishments are truly remarkable and one important indicator of broader change in Los Angeles.
Envision your community having all of the right partners and leaders around the table to implement an actionable plan with goals and strategies to end homelessness. It takes commitment, dedication, passion, and political will to create opportunities for partnerships and solutions to ending homelessness. These qualities are abundant in Lafayette, and Tippecanoe County, Indiana.
Last week in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, I had the privilege to participate in a charrette planning process “Solutions Beyond Shelter” facilitated by the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH). The charrette is a unique and efficient process for communities to articulate goals and strategies to end homelessness relevant to their community needs. The process provides opportunities to explore new systemic and programmatic solutions to end homelessness between national and local leaders, with the community providing reaction and input on particular issue areas. CSH has facilitated numerous charrettes with communities across the country to develop new plans and breathe life into existing plans to end homelessness through a thoughtful and strategic process known as the “fishbowl.”
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.
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.
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.
The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness recently held its first statewide conference in Albuquerque on ending homelessness in their state. I had the honor of delivering a keynote to stakeholders from across the state at the conference and was joined by leaders such as Linda Couch from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (on the right in this photo). The energy, enthusiasm, and true passion for the cause of ending homelessness among service providers, advocates, and government officials was inspirational.
The challenge for this group now is figuring out how to harness that energy and deploy it in a careful and coordinated way to move from planning to action. This challenge is not unique to New Mexico nor is the major elements of their strategy to end homelessness very different from other states. However, the specific activities to support the strategy will need to be tailored to the population of individuals and families experiencing homelessness specifically in New Mexico. Using Opening Doors as a guide, New Mexico can create a framework for state- level efforts that can be replicated and adapted by the diverse communities throughout the state.
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.
I’ve participated in the annual Point-in-Time counts in a number of different cities over the past decade. The Point-in-Time count is one way we collectively can understand the scope and breadth of homelessness across the country and to measure our progress toward ending it. To kick off our new blog at USICH.gov, I thought I would reflect on a truly unique count that I did this January in New Orleans.
Refreshing local Plans to end homelessness can be re-invigorating because our communities, and we as service providers and practitioners, have changed over time. We have more collective experience under our belts—we know more about what works and what we’d like to try. This eagerness to make a deeper impact is the fuel that powers the Plans. I share what communities can do to ensure that their Plans are well-crafted and can create an impact.