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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.
At the beginning of this week we released a newsletter focusing on what’s needed moving forward to end Veteran homelessness and some important and innovative work going on across the country to make significant progress. Working from a detailed analysis by Dr. Dennis Culhane of the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, we released to the public Ending Veteran Homelessness: A Report by USICH, which details progress and opportunities for greater collaboration to achieve the 2015 goal. We also highlighted the work five communities on track to end Veteran homelessness undertake to make such progress, and more local innovations.
This week the New York Times also delved deeper into the challenges of female Veterans when they return to civilian life, particularly the challenges following military sexual trauma. Its impact on the ability of female Veterans to regain stability can exacerbate challenges that lead to homelessness. The growing number of female Veterans experiencing homelessness is shown through the personal stories of a few Veterans, and solutions like HUD-VASH are highlighted.
I have visited Washington, D.C. many times, but to live there opened up a brand new adventure. The presidential campaign was in full swing, Congress was gridlocked, deficit spending cuts were being called for, and more were splashed in the daily papers and on TV. I wondered what it would be like to live in the center of it all. Over the years I had heard that “those bureaucrats” in Washington, D.C. don’t understand what the real issues are, or think they know better than those living and working in the states. I pondered these thoughts and feelings as I had just accepted a six month opportunity to work at USICH. I would now become “one of those Federal government bureaucrats.” What would I experience and learn over the next six months?
For me, the best way to take full advantage of this opportunity was to relocate to D.C. Within a week after arriving on September 4 from Utah, I rented a place six blocks east of the Capitol and my new adventure began. My primary focus during my time here was to work with the Department of Justice and explore how USICH might assist in improving policies and methods for successful reentry into communities for those released from incarceration. Preventing homelessness following incarceration is a component of the objective of Opening Doors that focuses onadvancing the health and housing stability for people with frequent contact with hospitals and criminal justice. Successful reentry into a community reduces both homelessness and recidivism. With a roughly 60% national recidivism rate, creating successful reentry solutions is a wise investment for Federal, State, and local leaders. Attorney General Eric Holder created the Federal Interagency Reentry Council to help push forward this work, which includes several sub-committees working to improve coordination among the Federal departments with programs designed to assist those released from incarceration. I was able to quickly become part of the discussion and planning process on many of these sub-committees, including the development of housing and service priorities actions for the Reentry Council for the coming four years.
02/25/2013 - Making Stronger Connections for Veterans: Questions to Ask of Your Community to Accelerate Progress
I was recently asked to meet with the Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans, so I prepared a presentation on the efforts USICH had underway with our Federal, State, and local partners related to preventing and ending homelessness among Veterans. During my presentation and discussion with this key group of leaders within VA, I also wanted to engage in a dialogue about what they were seeing in their communities: both the ways VA programs were working together and how community organizations can connect with VA to accelerate progress.
I posed these questions:
- How could VA outreach to Veterans who aren’t connecting to Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs)? How could community organizations help VAMCs make these connections?
- How could VAMCs use the 2013 street count process to connect VA to every unsheltered Veteran? How could community organizations help?
- How could VAMCs improve targeting of programs to ensure that Veterans are receiving the right intervention for their needs? How could community organizations help?
- How could VAMCs accelerate adoption of Housing First practices? How could community organizations help?
- How does VA increase effectiveness of VA’s Grant and per Diem-funded programs to increase successful discharges to permanent housing, make stronger program connections to unsheltered Veterans, and to reduce the length of stay for Veterans in their transitional housing programs? What lessons have been learned by other transitional housing providers that might be helpful?
- How could VAMCs better integrate with mainstream and community resources? How could community organizations help VAMCs make these connections?
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.
02/22/2013 - The Youth Point-in-Time Count: Philanthropy Partnering with Government to End Youth Homelessness
Funders Together to End Homelessness is the only national network of funders working to end homelessness. We promote a catalytic approach to philanthropy that goes beyond grantmaking to active civic engagement in solving homelessness.
Early last year, Funders Together to End Homelessness started to hear from our philanthropic members around the country. They wanted to know what they could do to help those youth who were living on the streets, without a safe or stable home. There was suddenly a buzz – a groundswell of interest in the issue of youth homelessness. Funders wanted to know how they could support efforts in their community to focus on both ending and preventing youth homelessness. The issue was at the forefront and the will was there; the problem was that funders were unsure of how best to approach the issue and what to do that would make a difference, not only in the short term, but in creating long-term, sustainable solutions. They lacked basic data to even know where to start. There was a need to know how many youth were affected in their communities, to learn who these youth were, and to understand how they came to be in this situation. Most importantly, they needed to know what kinds of initiatives they could support that would help prevent or end this tragedy of youth homelessness.
Around the same time as we were hearing from our members, Funders Together was holding meetings in Washington, D.C. with senior government officials from the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness (USICH) and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH). During these meetings we discussed this burning issue and how we could work together to gather data to assist in developing best practices around preventing and ending youth homelessness.
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.
During the last ten days of January, Point-in-Time (PIT) Counts were conducted across the United States in order to count the number of people experiencing homelessness and connect them with support services. As described in the USICH December newsletter, the results of the PIT count offer the only national data on the total number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the country, including those that do not use homeless assistance programs. The PIT count informs resource planning and policymaking at the federal, state, and local level and is also the primary means of measuring progress against the goals of Opening Doors.
At USICH, we tracked the media coverage of the 2013 PIT Counts. We compiled this coverage for you and organized the articles according to states covered by each USICH regional coordinator. We are taking this opportunity to highlight the important work of our local leaders and partners in the effort to gain an accurate count of people experiencing homelessness in this country. And by covering PIT Counts that took place in urban, suburban and rural areas, we hope to call attention to the different strategies required to count people experiencing homeless in these different types of locations.
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.