Archive for Homelessness

V.A. Budgets Spending Increase, End to Vet Homelessness in 2015

VA-logoVery recently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released its proposed 2015 budget of $164 billion, reflecting a 6.5% increase in spending over the current year. Among the goals that will be achieved in 2015 are the end of veteran homelessness and the elimination of the agonizing disability claims backlog that has drawn criticism from all quarters.

The 2015 budget appropriates an additional $1.6 billion in funding the V.A.’s plan for ending veteran homelessness. The money would fund V.A. direct assistance and programs it operates with community agencies and non-profits to help veterans and their families at risk of becoming homeless.

One-third of homeless adult men and nearly one-quarter of all homeless adults have served in the armed forces. It has been estimated that nearly 200,000 veterans may be homeless on any given night and that twice that many experience homelessness during a year. Many other vets are considered at risk because of poverty, lack of support from family and friends and precarious living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. Ninety-seven percent of homeless veterans are male, and the vast majority of them are single. About half of all homeless veterans suffer from mental illness, and more than two-thirds suffer from drug or alcohol abuse problems. Nearly 40% have both psychiatric and substance abuse disorders.

The V.A. has numerous programs to benefit homeless vets. Eligible homeless veterans may be eligible for such benefits as disability compensation, pension, education and training, health care, rehabilitation services, home loan guarantee, residential care, insurance, vocational assistance and employment and compensated work therapy.

Homeless vets in need of health care, can phone the V.A. National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838 and be connected to a trained V.A. responder. This is a free service to homeless veterans, who need not be registered or enrolled in V.A. healthcare. A homeless vet who calls may be connected with the Homeless Program point of contact through the nearest V.A. facility.

The V.A., through the Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program, provides outreach, exams, treatment, referrals, and case management through trained and caring specialists, to provide the tools and support necessary to help veterans get their lives back on track.

Last year, V.A. provided health care services to more than 100,000 homeless veterans and its specialized homeless programs provided services to 70,000 vets. More than 40,000 homeless vets receive compensation or pension benefits annually. Although limited to veterans and their dependents, the V.A.’s major homeless programs constitute the largest integrated network of homeless assistance programs in the country, offering a wide array of services and initiatives to help veterans recover from homelessness and live as self-sufficiently and independently as possible. Nearly three-quarters of homeless veterans use V.A. health care services and 55% have used V.A. homeless services.

The V.A., using its own resources or in partnerships with others, has secured more than 15,000 residential rehabilitative, transitional and permanent beds for homeless veterans. The V.A. spends more than $1 billion from its health care and benefit assistance programs to aid tens of thousands of homeless and at-risk veterans. To increase this assistance, V.A. conducts outreach to connect homeless veterans to both mainstream and homeless-specific V.A. programs and benefits.

These programs strive to offer a continuum of services that include:

  1. Aggressive outreach to veterans living on the streets and in shelters who otherwise would not seek assistance;
  2. Clinical assessment and referral for treatment of physical and psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse;
  3. Long-term transitional residential assistance, case management and rehabilitation;
  4. Employment assistance and linkage with available income supports and permanent housing.

The V.A. has awarded more than 400 grants to public and nonprofit groups to assist homeless veterans in 50 states and D.C. to provide transitional housing, service centers and vans for transportation to services and employment.

The V.A. sponsors and supports national, regional and local homeless conferences and meetings, bringing together thousands of homeless providers and advocates to discuss community planning strategies and to provide technical assistance in such areas as transitional housing, mental health and family services, and education and employment opportunities for the homeless.

V.A. programs for the homeless include:

  1. Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program operates at 133 sites, where extensive outreach, physical and psychiatric health exams, treatment, referrals and ongoing case management are provided to homeless veterans with mental health problems, including substance abuse. This program assesses more than 40,000 veterans annually.
  2. Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans Program provides medical care and rehabilitation in a residential setting on V.A. medical center grounds to eligible ambulatory veterans disabled by medical or psychiatric disorders, injury or age and who do not need hospitalization or nursing home care. There are more than 1,800 beds available through the program at 34 sites. The program provides residential treatment to more than 5,000 homeless veterans each year. The domiciliaries conduct outreach and referral; admission screening and assessment; medical and psychiatric evaluation; treatment, vocational counseling and rehabilitation and post-discharge community support.
  3. Veterans Benefits Assistance at V.A. Regional Offices is provided by designated staff members who serve as coordinators and points of contact for homeless veterans. They provide outreach services and help expedite the processing of homeless veterans’ claims. The Homeless Eligibility Clarification Act allows eligible veterans without a fixed address to receive V.A. benefits checks at V.A. regional offices. The V.A. also has procedures to expedite the processing of homeless veterans’ benefits claims. Last year more than 35,000 homeless veterans received assistance and nearly 4,000 had their claims expedited by Veterans Benefits Administration staff members.
  4. Acquired Property Sales for Homeless Providers Program makes properties V.A. obtains through foreclosures on V.A.-insured mortgages available for sale to homeless providers at a discount of 20 to 50%. To date, more than 200 properties sold have been used to provide homeless people, including veterans, with nearly 400,000 sheltered nights in V.A. acquired property.
  5. Readjustment Counseling Service’s Vet Centers provide outreach, psychological counseling, supportive social services and referrals to other V.A. and community programs. Every Vet Center has a homeless veteran coordinator assigned to make sure services for homeless veterans are tailored to local needs. Annually, the program’s 207 Vet Centers see approximately 130,000 veterans and provide more than 1,000,000 visits to veterans and family members. More than 10,000 homeless veterans are served by the program each year.
  6. Veterans Industry/Compensated Work-Therapy and Compensated Work-Therapy/Transitional Residence Programs. Through these programs, the V.A. offers structured work opportunities and supervised therapeutic housing for at-risk and homeless veterans with physical, psychiatric and substance-abuse disorders. The V.A. contracts with private industry and the public sector for work by these veterans, who learn new job skills, re-learn successful work habits and regain a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Veterans are paid for their work and, in turn, make a payment toward maintenance and upkeep of the residence. Approximately 14,000 veterans participate in Compensated Work Therapy programs annually.
  7. HUD-V.A. Supported Housing Program is a joint program with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides permanent housing and ongoing treatment to homeless mentally ill veterans and those suffering from substance abuse disorders. HUD’s Section 8 voucher program has designated more than 1,750 vouchers worth $44.5 million for chronically mentally ill homeless veterans, and V.A. personnel at 34 sites provide outreach, clinical care and case management services.
  8. V.A.’s Supported Housing Program allows V.A. personnel to help homeless veterans secure long-term transitional or permanent housing. They also offer ongoing case management services to help the veterans remain in housing they can afford. V.A. staff work with private landlords, public housing authorities and nonprofit organizations to find housing arrangements. Veteran service organizations have been instrumental in helping V.A. establish these housing alternatives nationwide. V.A. staff at 22 supported housing program sites helped more than 1,400 homeless veterans find transitional or permanent housing in the community.
  9. Stand Downs are one-to three-day events that provide homeless veterans a range of services and allow V.A. and community-based service providers to reach more homeless veterans. Stand downs give homeless vets a temporary refuge where they can obtain food, shelter, clothing and a range of community and V.A. assistance. In many locations, stand downs provide health screenings, referral and access to long-term treatment, benefits counseling, ID cards and access to other programs to meet their immediate needs. Each year, the V.A. participates in more than 100 stand downs coordinated by local entities. Surveys show that more than 23,000 veterans and family members attend these events with more than 13,000 volunteers contributing annually.

A pending initiative: The U.S. Department of Labor and the V.A. are collaborating on a pilot project to assist veterans discharged from incarceration to avoid homelessness and re-incarceration.

Homelessness has Doubled in North Dakota, Where Fracking Has Created the Nation’s Fastest-Growing Economy… and Where Housing Has Rapidly Become Too Expensive for Thousands of Newcomers

HumaneExposures4The state with America’s fastest-growing economy, North Dakota, has attracted thousands from across the United States and abroad since the late 2000s, as oil companies have set up (environmentally questionable) hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations that extract tens of billions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas from the Bakken shale.

People are lured from all over by tales of $300 signing bonuses for fast-food workers and gas station attendants who make $50,000 per year. At a time when the unemployment rate in the rest of the country is hovering at 6.6 percent, North Dakota’s unemployment rate is only 2.7 percent.

The catch is that amid all the boom time plenty, there is a severe housing affordability crisis. North Dakota saw a 200 percent jump in homelessness last year, the biggest increase of any state. There are now 2,069 homeless people in this state of 699,628, according to HUD data. That translates into 28.6 homeless people per 10,000. The national average is 19.

Michael Carbone, executive director of the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People, explains:

People are coming because it’s widely publicized that we have jobs, but it’s not widely publicized that we don’t have housing.

Williston, ND is perhaps the most extreme example of a phenomenon that researchers say has followed frackers across the country. As the shale boom draws great numbers of people to sparsely populated and remote areas of the country, demands are placed on limited housing stock, so rents climb.

Energy firms—where workers can earn $100,000 or more working in shale oil and gas fields—often build or rent housing for their employees, but service jobs do not come with the same perks.

Williston saw its population more than double, from 14,716 in 2010 to an estimated 33,547 last year. The number of homeless in the area is 986, more than 47.6% of the state total.

Local rents have skyrocketed. One-bedroom apartments, which a few years ago rented for $500 per month, command as much as $2,000 per month now. It is currently difficult to get a real estate agent on the phone, and waiting lists for apartment houses and RV spaces are overflowing. People now rent out rooms in their homes for as much as $1,000 a month. Starter houses sell for $300,000 or more.

And here’s the shocker: in frosty Williston, where temperatures can drop to minus 30 degrees, and where 48% of the state’s homeless reside, there are no homeless shelters—and the city says it does not have the resources to cope with its expanding homeless population.

Williston mayor Ward Koeser recently asked the city council to use the local National Guard Armory as a shelter, but councilors declined, deciding the city, which has a 2014 budget of $233 million, could not afford to pay the $450 a night needed for security.

North Dakota expects to generate more than $5.28 billion in oil and gas tax revenue during 2013-2015. Williston’s share is about $32 million a year. Overall, North Dakota’s take from all taxes, including local property taxes, is $11.1 billion.

In the U. S. Congress, North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp recently introduced a bipartisan housing finance reform bill that would fund programs for the homeless in her state. The bill is still in committee.

Heitkamp said:

Homelessness, a quickly growing problem in North Dakota, hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

In Williston, people who cannot afford or find housing sleep underneath bridges, inside grain bins and in the stairwells of some hotels. Recently, in nearby Watford City, a homeless man living in a dumpster burned his hat, scarf, blankets and boot liners to stay warm. His two frostbitten feet eventually had to be amputated.

Mario Solano left his home in Miami to travel to a new life in central North Dakota. At first he found temporary jobs driving trucks for oil and gas companies. Eventually, he found permanent employment working as a ranch hand in Williston, making $14.50 an hour, which he thought was enough for a place of his own.
But excessive rents killed that idea and forced him to live in his car. He now parks and sleeps in a gas station parking lot, showers at the gas station, has breakfast at Hardee’s or Walmart and shows up at the Salvation Army to get vouchers for prescription drugs and canned food. A nearby family of five live in a van.

Captain Joshua Stansberry of the Williston Salvation Army says:

The common scenario is that these people spent their last dollar to take a bus to come here to make a better life for their family back home. But with the high cost of living, they are forced to live a transient lifestyle.

Not just workers are affected. Student homelessness in North Dakota increased 212% last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In Watford City, for example, 25% of the kids, or 263, are homeless. Teachers have had to deal with students who have no kitchen table or desk to do their homework on. Class sizes have swollen from an average 16 children per teacher a few years ago to as many as 28 today.

The Salvation Army in Williston is now buying one-way bus tickets for people to go back home.

Many Cities Criminalize Homelessness While Others Provide Free Housing and Other Valuable Assistance

dtusaNot too long ago, Tampa, FL—which had the most homeless people for a mid-sized city—passed an ordinance allowing police officers to arrest anyone they saw sleeping or storing personal property in public, and it followed that up with a ban on panhandling downtown and in other locations around the city.

Philadelphia banned feeding homeless people on city parkland. Columbia, SC ordered the homeless the choice to either relocate or get arrested. Los Angeles spent $6 million in a year for 50 extra police to make 201 arrests of Skid Row homeless people for “crimes” like jaywalking and loitering. That money could have housed 225 people.

St. Petersburg, FL outlawed downtown panhandling, sleeping in numerous outdoor locations and storing personal belongings on public property. Orlando prohibited groups from sharing food with 25 or more people in downtown parks, and although the law was found unconstitutional, Orlando appealed the decision.

A 2009 study, Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, conducted by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless, found that of 235 cities: 33% prohibit “camping” in particular public places and 17% have citywide prohibitions on “camping”; 30% prohibit sitting/lying in certain public places; 47% prohibit loitering in particular public areas and 19% prohibit loitering citywide; 47% prohibit begging in particular public places; and 23% have citywide prohibitions on begging.

The trend of criminalizing homelessness continues to grow. In the 224 cities included in the study’s prohibited-conduct charts there was a 7% increase in laws prohibiting “camping” in particular public places, an 11% increase in laws prohibiting loitering in particular public places and a 6% increase in laws prohibiting begging in particular public places.

In 2009, the U.S. Congress passed and President Obama signed The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, which requires the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness to devise constructive alternatives to criminalization measures that can be used by cities around the country.

Homeless criminalization measures can be counterproductive in many ways. Police sweeps of city areas to drive homeless people from their living areas frequently result in the destruction of individuals’ personal property, such as important documents and medication, and they frequently move people away from services. When homeless persons are arrested and charged under cruel ordinances, they may develop a criminal record, making it more difficult to obtain the employment and/or housing that could help them become self-sufficient.

Courts have found certain criminalization measures to be unconstitutional. For example, when a city passes a law that places too many restrictions on begging, such restrictions may raise free speech concerns, as courts have found begging to be protected speech under the First Amendment. When a city destroys homeless persons’ belongings, such actions may violate the Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

When a city enforces a law that imposes criminal penalties on a homeless person for engaging in necessary life activities, such as sleeping in public, such a law may violate that person’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, if the person has nowhere else to perform the activity.

When a city passes a law that does not give people sufficient notice of what types of conduct it prohibits, or allows for arbitrary enforcement by police, such a law can be determined to be overly vague in violation of the Constitution. Courts have found certain loitering and vagrancy laws to be unconstitutionally vague. In addition to violating domestic law, criminalization measures can also violate international human rights law.

Instead of criminalizing homelessness, local governments, business groups and law enforcement officials should work with homeless people, providers and advocates for solutions to prevent and end homelessness. Cities should dedicate more resources to creating more affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, emergency shelters and homeless services in general. To address street homelessness, cities should adopt or dedicate more resources to outreach programs, emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing.

Instead of advocating for criminalization measures, business groups can put resources into solutions to homelessness. When cities work with homeless persons and advocate for solutions to homelessness, instead of punishing those who are homeless or poor, everyone benefits.

Some cities and states do offer constructive alternatives to criminalization. Since 2005, Utah has been saving jail and other costs by giving homeless people flats with zero strings attached, along with social workers to help them secure employment and job skills, so that they can eventually become self-sufficient. If the newly housed people don’t become independent right away, they still keep the rent-free apartment.

As a result of this approach, Utah dropped its homelessness rate by 78%, got 2,000 people off the streets and should have a roof over everyone’s head by next year. Since Casper, WY saw its homeless population increase twofold in three years, it is now looking to start a program based on Utah’s.
Nation of Change points out:

Republicans in Congress would probably have required the homeless to take a drug test before getting an apartment, denied apartments to homeless people with criminal records and evicted those who failed to become self-sufficient after five years or so, but Utah’s results show that even conservative states can solve problems like homelessness with decidedly progressive solutions.

Other constructive approaches:

  1. In order to reduce the need for panhandling, a coalition of service providers, business groups and the City of Daytona Beach, FL began The Downtown Team program that provides homeless participants with jobs and housing. While in the program, participants are hired to clean up downtown Daytona Beach and are provided initially with shelter and subsequently with transitional housing. A number of participants have moved on from the program to other full-time jobs and housing.
  2. Cleveland, OH. Instead of passing a law to restrict groups that share food with homeless persons, Cleveland has contracted with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless to coordinate outreach agencies and food sharing groups to prevent duplication of food provision, to create a more orderly food-sharing system and to provide an indoor food-sharing site to groups that wish to use it.
  3. Portland, OR. As part of its 10-year plan, Portland began “A Key Not a Card,” where outreach workers from five different service providers are able to immediately offer people living on the street permanent housing rather than just a business card. From the program’s inception in 2005 through Spring 2009, 936 individuals in 451 households have been housed through the program, including216 households placed directly from the street.


The Major Challenges Affecting Women Released From Incarceration

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeAfter incarceration, women face different problems than men do. They usually have extensive histories of drug use , are likely to be clinically depressed, tend to have low self esteem and have fewer job skills. These factors lead to their being more likely than men to be homeless and to have problems with intimate partners. The process of post-release reunification of mothers with their children can be a unique reentry challenge, along with the need to earn a living while resuming childcare responsibilities.

A comprehensive study of female inmates released in Texas showed that women who do time in that state’s prisons and jails usually have extensive histories of criminal justice involvement, with several prior convictions but few previous stays in state correctional facilities. They are typically incarcerated for low-level property or drug possession offenses, and are likely to have serious and long-term substance use problems. These issues often co-occur with depression and other mental health problems. In the study, 83 percent reported illegal drug use in the six months before prison, and 30 percent reported heavy drug use. Before incarceration the average length of drug use was seven years, with almost 40 percent having used for 10 years or more.

Upon returning home, women experienced more conflict with family members and intimate partners. The goal of finding and retaining a job during the first several months following release remained elusive for the majority of women. They were much less likely to have received job training or to have gained vocational skills while behind bars and were less apt to take part in job placement services upon release. Women exiting prison reported more difficulties meeting their day-to-day financial needs and they experienced more residential instability than did men.

The study reported:

At one year out, women are more likely than men to have problems stemming from drug use and to have partners who drink or use drugs daily. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be back behind bars in a year’s time, typically due to a drug-related offense or a property offense driven by addiction problems.

The vast majority (96 percent) of all women exiting Texas prisons and jails were serving time for nonviolent offenses: 47 percent for drug possession, 18 percent for drug sales or manufacturing, 23 percent for property offenses and fewer than 10 percent for a parole or probation violation.

Twenty-six percent were offered transitional services only in their last week of incarceration. These pre-release programs covered such topics as how to: access alcohol and drug treatment, seek employment, continue education, find a place to live and obtain photo identification. Many released women expressed a need for greater help with housing, education and substance abuse treatment.

The immediate challenges women faced upon release included obtaining housing and adequate financial support, finding gainful employment, achieving independence and providing for their families.

By eight to 10 months out, 31 percent had lived with another formerly incarcerated person, 19 percent were living with someone who was abusing drugs and 22 percent resided with an alcohol abuser. Twenty-three percent reported that her criminal record had been an obstacle to finding housing at some point since release.

Women experienced tremendous difficulties in obtaining legal employment during the year after release. While 58 percent had worked before prison, only 36 percent were working at two to four months following their release

Both before and after incarceration, women had lower rates of employment and lower hourly wages than men and were more likely to work in food service or retail sectors. For many women, only part-time work was available.

Women with a school diploma or GED, those who had been employed in the six months prior to prison and those who took part in pre-release programs worked more often in the months following their release. Those who were married or living as married before prison worked more than those who were not. Abstinence from drug and alcohol abuse was one of the strongest predictors of employment.

Eight to 10 months after release, 65 percent reported receiving financial support from a family member, spouse or friend, while only28 percent reported legal employment as a source. Eighteen percent had received public assistance, 15 percent got Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance and 10 percent reported income from illegal activities.

At eight to 10 months after release, 70 percent said they sometimes or often had barely enough money to get by, 63 percent said they often had trouble paying their bills, and 59 percent reported worrying about how they were going to survive financially. Thirty percent had trouble keeping housing and another 30 percent had difficulty finding food for themselves and their families. since release. Fully 46 percent were burdened with debt. Twenty-four percent reported that their family had not provided the amount of support they had anticipated, and they were more likely than others to return to prison in the first year following release. About one in seven mothers (13 percent) reported having custody problems since release.

Some women also reported having high levels of conflict with their partners. While only a handful of women reported physical violence or threats, 39 percent reported frequent arguments and 27 percent complained of spousal controlling behavior. Nearly half of women with partners (43 percent) reported that their living mates had criminal records.

Eight to 10 months after release, 36 percent of the women interviewed in the study reported using illegal drugs or being intoxicated in the past 30 days. The most commonly used drugs were cocaine (22 percent) and marijuana (21 percent), with seven percent reporting daily cocaine use. Thirty-one percent of those reporting substance abuse in the past month estimated that they had been intoxicated or stoned on a daily basis during that period. On average, however, the severity of substance abuse among these women was lower after release than before prison.

Sixty-seven percent of the women reported that they had been diagnosed with some type of chronic health condition, with the most commonly reported illnesses being asthma (31 percent), back pain (30 percent) and high blood pressure (25 percent). Twenty-one percent reported having an infectious disease, including tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and other STDs. Fifty-five percent reported diagnoses of depression and other mental health problems, and 27 percent were likely suffering from undiagnosed mental illness.

Thirty-two percent admitted having engaged in criminal activity, with the most common crime being drug possession (28 percent), followed by drug dealing (10 percent), auto theft (5 percent), petty larceny (4 percent), and assault (4 percent). Twenty-five percent returned to state prison or state jail within 12 months after release.

Those who participated in a pre-release program in prison or state jail were less likely to return, as were those with a high school education or GED. Those under post-release supervision were also less likely to return within a year’s time. The likelihood of return to prison was also lower for those who felt their families were helpful during their reintegration.

The study shows that pre-release family conferencing is critical in both shoring up valuable family support systems and in minimizing the tensions and negative influences that are associated with family relationships. These conversations should include child care responsibilities and custody issues, living arrangements, and financial contributions to the household. They should also provide opportunities for returning prisoners to share their anxieties and personal challenges, to express remorse for past behaviors and to articulate the types of both tangible and emotional support they need from their families.

With Baby Boomers Aging, Elderly Homelessness Could Skyrocket, Vastly Increasing Emergency Room Usage

Sign: Elderly People

Photo by Ethan Prater on Flickr, thanks for using Creative Commons!

A 2011 study by the Homeless Research Institute of the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that the number of homeless senior citizens will increase by 33% in 2020 (from 44,172 in 2010 to 58,772 in 2020) and will more than double from the current number by the year 2050 (to 95,000)—unless something is done to reduce these numbers.

According to Medicare, nearly half of all seniors (48%) live in poverty today, especially in: DC (59%); California (56%); Hawaii (55%); Georgia (54%); Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island and Tennessee (52%); Florida and Mississippi (51%) and Arizona (50%).

Fortunately, chronic homelessness decreased by 3% from 110,911 in 2009 to 107,148 in 2011. And the chronically homeless population has declined by 13% since 2007. The drop is associated with an increase in the number of permanent supportive housing beds from 188,636 in 2007 to 266,968 in 2011. Providing permanent supportive housing ends chronic homelessness.

A study named The State of Homelessness 2012 lays out a roadmap for ending homelessness:

Prevention and rapid re-housing clearly work. This is the lesson of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which appears to have forestalled an increase in homelessness, despite the poor economy, high unemployment and lack of affordable housing. With 40% of homeless people unsheltered, the crisis-response system must be improved.

Today, many older individuals with histories of housing stability experience a first-time period of homelessness. Living on limited, fixed incomes—including Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income—elderly persons experience severe housing cost burdens more frequently than the general population, potentially resulting in housing loss. Twenty-six percent of elderly households were “severely cost-burdened,” versus 20% of all households in 2007. Compounding this, access to affordable senior living can be challenging, with an average wait time lasting about three to five years.

According to one study, common causes of elderly homelessness include: financial problems, mental health problems, relationship breakdown, physical health problems and issues related to work.

Another study identified three non-overlapping reasons for homelessness: “36% said they lost a job and could not find another and/or had problems with drinking; 39% reported discontinued or inadequate public assistance and/or a disagreement with family or friends with whom they were staying; and 25% reported inadequate income and/or illness.

Lack of stable housing has been associated with increased Emergency Department (ED) utilization. Unstably housed adults over age 50 use the ED at rates nearly four times that of the general population. Certain factors among these older patients were associated with making at least four ED visits in the past 12 months: female sex, white race, no usual source of primary care, at least one outpatient visit during the past year, alcohol problem, at least one fall during past year, executive dysfunction and sensory impairment.

Due to prolonged exposure to stress, those living in poverty often experience weathering, causing them to age prematurely by 10 to 20 years beyond their chronological age.

Factors that are significantly correlated with frailty in the older homeless population include: chronological age, being female, increased health care utilization and poorer nutrition scores. Additionally, adverse life events including trauma, drug and alcohol use and incarceration are can place those without stable housing at greater risk for hospitalizations, falls, and premature mortality.

Systems of care must be improved to accommodate the unique needs of older and elderly adults without stable housing. To reduce avoidable ED utilization and improve health status, a study recommends routine screening and counseling on alcohol abuse, addressing common risk factors for falls, increasing access to eyeglasses and hearing aids and connecting patients with housing to decrease acute-care use.

Another study recommends:

Having frontline geriatric nursing triage, shelter-based convalescence or medical-respite facilities, and nurse case management utilizing a chronic-disease self-management program.

Photo: Ethan Prater on Flickr

D.C.Proposed Bill Would Help Pay Rent for Low-income and Very-low-income Seniors

Washington D.C. council member Tommy Wells has introduced legislation to help pay rent for “low-income and very-low income seniors.”  The Housing Assistance Program for Unsubsidized Seniors Act of 2013 would provide assistance to D.C. residents over the age of 65 whose rental payments exceed 35 percent of their income.

Wells said:

Because of the rising costs of living and the rising costs of health care, District seniors are more and more frequently confronted by homelessness. It is unacceptable that they are being forced to choose between paying for medicine and food or paying their rent.

Too many longtime District residents have been forced to move away from the city they’ve helped build or worse fallen into homelessness. It is time for the District to step up and provide the preventative assistance necessary to ensure our seniors do not end up homeless.

Recently, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) reported that “strong demographic trends, economic insecurity and lack of affordable senior living have contributed to increased housing instability among seniors.
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 26 percent of the senior citizens who live in the nation’s capital, about 25,000 men and women, live at or below the poverty level.

A 2011 study by the Homeless Research Institute of the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated that the number of homeless senior citizens will increase by 33 percent in 2020 (44,172 in 2010 to 58,772 in 2020) and will double from the current number by the year 2050, with 95,000 older people expected to be living without stable housing.

According to AARP:

A great contributor to this phenomenon is the fact that the baby boomer generation is now hitting 65. Already, about 45 million Americans are considered senior citizens and according to U.S. Census projections, that number is expected to grow to 60 million, topping off at 90 million by the year 2050. These numbers mean that added services such as housing, health care and nutrition will greatly be needed.

The NHCHC reports that the age composition of the homeless population has shifted significantly over the past two decades, with the median age of single adults increasing from 35 years in 1990 to 50 years in 2010. Still, the majority of unstably housed adults over 50 are between 50 and 64 years old, with only 5 percent age 65 and over.

While a number of safety net programs exist for the elderly, those between ages 50 and 64 often fall through the cracks, despite having similar physical health to those much older, due to daily stress, poor nutrition and poor living conditions.

The D.C. council members who proposed and have expressed support for the rent-assistance measure believe the number of homeless senior citizens can be reduced if they are given assistance through this program and another proposed effort proposed to exempt senior citizens who are long-time residents of the District and earn less than $60,000 from paying property taxes.


“Project Homeless Connect” Provides Many Services in 220 Communities, Including Wealthy Santa Cruz, CA and Morristown, NJ, Where Homelessness is Increasing

Project Homeless Connect 2009

Project Homeless Connect 2009 (Photo credit: University of Denver)

Although homelessness is declining nationally, it is still increasing in many communities, including wealthy Santa Cruz, CA and Morristown, NJ. One reason the situation is improving in many communities is due to the Project Homeless Connect program, which Mayor Gavin Newsome created in San Francisco in 2004 and which now is providing needed services for people without homes in 220 communities and three countries. The federal government’s Interagency Council on Homelessness has declared Project Homeless Connect a national best practice model.

Project Homeless Connect holds large annual events at which homeless people can take advantage of numerous offered services, including dental care, eyeglasses, family support, food, HIV testing, housing, hygiene products, medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, SSI benefits, legal advice, state identification cards, voice mail, employment counseling, job placement, wheelchair repair and veterinary services. Hundreds of individuals, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies provide these services.

Recently, more than 40 groups offered services at the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect event at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. More than 700 people attended and took advantage of services including medical care, legal help, food and haircuts.
Kymberly Lacrosse, community organizer for United Way of Santa Cruz County, one of the organizers of the event, said:

It was a great turnout for clients. It was 700 people that didn’t get served yesterday or the day before. Even if it had only been 100, it’ would still be amazing.

According to a recent countywide survey, Santa Cruz County now has 3,536 homeless, up 41% from 2,265 in 2009. The City of Santa Cruz has 892 persons without habitation, or 31% of that total. Forty-four percent of the county’s homeless live on the street, 28% reside in cars or vans, 11% are in emergency shelters, 8% are in encampment areas, 7% are in emergency transitional housing and 2% sleep in abandoned buildings.

Thirty-eight percent of those experiencing homelessness for the first time had been homeless for a year or more. Thirty-one percent of survey respondents reported not receiving any government benefits. Twenty eight people spent one or more nights in jail or prison in the past year.

Three hundred and ninety-five of the county homeless were veterans, and 87% of those lived on the street. Five hundred and forty-four homeless people were in families. There were 128 unaccompanied children, and 97% of them were on the street.

Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents reported a disabling condition. Such conditions included mental illness (55%), substance abuse (26%), chronic physical illness (17%), physical disability (20%) and developmental disability (3%).Thirty-nine percent used emergency room services one to three times in the previous 12 months, and 21% did so four or times.

Affluent Morris County, NJ has seen homelessness rise by 13% over the past four years. Project Homeless Connect recently held an event in downtown Morristown where more than 200 people took advantage of services from haircuts to healthcare offered by 35 entities.
Why does such a rich area see homelessness increasing? Because modest gains in the economic recovery mean rents are rising high enough to disqualify people who depend on federal housing vouchers to subsidize their rents.

Lisa Falcone, director of Project HOMI (Homeless Outreach to People with Mental Illness) said:

When I started placing people in rooming houses five years ago, the rents per month for a room were about $200 less than they are now. Now you can rent a room for anywhere from $600 to $700 a month, and it’s hard to get a $500 room. The cost of utilities and overall living expenses has gone up, too. It’s difficult for people to make ends meet, and there’s a lack of jobs.

Some of the few affordable rental options are barely habitable. To make matters worse, the Congressional sequestration has reduced by 5% to 8% the number of HUD vouchers available in communities. Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy for the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says:

At a time when there’s a lot of people in a lot of need, the program should be going up to meet the need, but instead, it’s going down.

The national alliance reports that sequestration puts at risk 125,000 individuals and families using vouchers nationwide, as well as another 100,000 in emergency shelters.

The 2013 Morris County Point in Time Count of the Homeless tallied 346 people, including 88 children, this past Jan. 30, an increase of 9% from 2011. Some estimate that the number of people who are homeless over the course of this year could be two to four times larger.

The Morris County Point in Time Count also revealed that 18% were unsheltered; 24 %were in their 40s; 31%had been homeless for more than a year; 60% were Caucasian and 60% suffered from a mental illness.
Project HOMI started the year with a caseload of 80 and is ending it with approximately 180, according to Falcone, whose mental health association also was involved with another 700 people.

Exacerbating the problem, Falcone said, is the reality that rooms with rents affordable enough to meet HUD voucher requirements are less likely to be in hub towns like Dover, Morristown or Parsippany, where there are services. Instead, they tend to be in outlying areas of the county, not close to public transportation, so these people can’t get to jobs or the treatments they need.

The recently updated Morris County Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness calls for several measures, including the creation of a centralized homeless management information system as well as permanent housing solutions for specialized populations.

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In Canada, the Government’s Highly Successful Five-year Housing-first Strategy for the Homeless Has Just Been Extended Until 2019

Homeless person in a bus shelter at York and W...

Homeless person in a bus shelter at York and Wellington Streets, downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Experts on homelessness are giving the Canadian federal government credit for utilizing the right approach to helping some of the most vulnerable people in Canada. Ottawa just extended its Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) until 2019 with $119 million per year in new funding.

Dr. Stephen Hwang, a scientist and homelessness researcher at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, said:

They are to be applauded for moving to a housing-first approach, which is evidence-based. It’s wonderful that the federal government decided to renew the federal homelessness initiative for another five years.

For the next half-decade, Employment and Social Development Canada will concentrate funding on programs that take the housing-first approach to mentally ill and addicted people living on the street. A $110 million, 2008 to 2013 research project led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada showed how getting the most visible and notorious homeless people into permanent housing first leads to greater success down the road treating addictions and mental illness and keeping people off the streets.

Toronto’s Streets to Homes program has moved about 4,000 people into their own apartments since 2005 using a housing-first model. Eighty% of Streets to Homes’ clients remained in their new homes at least 12 months. Edmonton’s housing-first initiatives cut that city’s street population by 20% between 2008 and 2010.

The government expects that 65% of funding to Canada’s 10 largest cities will be spent on housing-first projects. Smaller cities will have to come up with housing-first initiatives for about 40% of their funding and tural communities will have no housing-first requirement.

Since the launch of the HPS in 2007, the government has approved more than $745 million for projects to prevent and reduce homelessness across Canada.

A 2009 poll found that approximately one in nine Canadian adults, or close to three million people, reported that they have either experienced or come close to experiencing homelessness Rates were highest among respondents with income levels less than $40,000 a year (20%) and those 45 to 55 years of age (16%).

In 2010, the number of households on affordable-housing waiting lists was at an all-time high of 141,635 across Ontario, up almost 10% in a year.

Between 2007 and 2011, almost $55 million in federal homelessness funding was invested in 317 projects which directly focused on youth and young adults between 15 and 30 years of age.

Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership is helping reduce, prevent and end youth homelessness in Saskatoon by administering HPS and investing more than $1 million per year into projects targeting street youngsters.

Covenant House Vancouver’s Crisis Shelter program provides street youth a safe place to stay, food, medical attention and the opportunity to develop a plan to move away from the streets and into a better life.  In January 2010, 32 new beds opened, bringing shelter capacity to 54 beds. The expansion was funded in part by an $800,000 contribution from the Canadian government through HPS.

However, Catholic agencies that deal directly with mentally ill and addicted street people warn that HPS is no silver bullet, and that federal focus on it may neglect other useful tools in fighting homelessness.

At Good Shepherd Ministries in downtown Toronto, assistant executive director Aklilu Wendaferew looks forward to applying for HPS funding and believes that approach can work, but he warns against thinking we now have a cure for homelessness.

Wendaferew said:

Just relying on one single approach to the problem wouldn’t be wise. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to adopt a number of approaches. Mental health is an issue. Addiction is an issue. And poverty in general is a serious problem.

When the huge North American recession hit at the end of 2008, the numbers of people sleeping in Canadian shelters and dropping in for meals both spiked. This was not a mental health problem but was due mainly to loss of income and poverty.

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Performance-Improvement Clinics Help Communities Better Serve the Homeless by Coordinating Efforts of All the Area’s Homelessness Entities

English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit...

English: Homeless man in New York 2008, Credit Crises. On any given night in USA, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless, according to estimates of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, in too many communities, a welter of well-intentioned public and nonprofit programs designed to reduce homeless function with competing services and fundraising. This results in unnecessary and unproductive duplication of activities and everyone fighting for the same diminishing dollars.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) offers performance-improvement clinics focused on creating a coordinated plan to reduce homelessness and determine the most appropriate governance structure to implement it.

Too often there is uncoordinated competition among a community’s agencies working in the areas of homelessness prevention, law enforcement, criminal justice, mental health, chemical dependency, hospitals, schools, veterans’ assistance, Medicaid and welfare. When they can all sit down together and work out an overall plan to engage the totality of their services for the same goal, they can save a lot of money and be much more effective, considerable experience has shown,

NAEH’s Center for Capacity Building offers 1.5-day clinics to help communities reduce homelessness and produce better outcomes. The clinics include group discussions, system design and modification planning sessions and presentations on best practices. Participants also receive hands-on technical assistance with data analysis and system assessment before the clinics, as well as follow-up support afterwards.

Jill Fox, Director of Programs and Evaluation for the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness attended one of these Performance-Improvement Clinics in Richmond and reported:


The room was filled with leaders from private, public, and faith organizations from across the homeless-assistance spectrum. Leaders from local government, Departments of Social Services, mental health and substance abuse services, school-based service organizations, housing developers and homeless service providers all came ready to discuss homelessness in the region. Organizations specializing in populations including victims of domestic violence, veterans, children and families all had a seat at the table.

“When we recognize that no one organization can end a person’s homelessness, we understand that achieving our organizational missions depends on how effectively we work together.

“The data presented for the Richmond region suggested that programs with a ‘housing-first’ approach achieved better permanent housing outcomes and cost less than traditional shelter.

Next month, in the area surrounding Olympia, WA, the housing division of the state Department of Commerce is gathering a number of area agencies in an attempt to replicate the successes realized in other communities that have used these clinics to save money and greatly boost results.

In addition to conducting these clinics, NAEH is working with Congress on a number of pieces of legislation that will help the federal government meet it’s goals of significantly reducing homelessness and completely eliminating veterans’ homelessness within five years.

It wants Congress to provide $2.381 billion for the Homeless Assistance Grants program within HUD in fiscal year 2014 to further invest in proven “housing first’ programs. It also seeks $1.4 billion in the same fiscal year to end veterans’ homelessness by 2019. NAEC wants Congress to invest $75 million for new HUD-VA-supported housing vouchers for 11,000 chronically homeless veterans. Today, nearly half of all homeless veterans reside in California, Texas, New York or Florida.

 NAEH also wants the feds to increase access to permanent, affordable housing for extremely low-income individuals and families by modernizing the Mortgage Interest Deduction and using savings to capitalize and fund the National Housing Trust Fund.

It also seeks to:

1) expand the use of innovative and evidence-based family intervention models to support family reunification;

2) build on existing investments in programs serving runaway and homeless youth;

3) improve crisis-response and early intervention approaches;

4) expand the reach and availability of transitional living programs to provide more youth with a stable housing foundation to act as a basis for achieving economic independence; and

5) expand data and research on the nature and extent of homelessness among unaccompanied youth, to improve outcomes for these vulnerable young people.


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“Housing First” Approach is Saving Money and Providing Homes for the Most Vulnerable Homeless People

English: A homeless man in New York with the A...

A homeless man in New York with the American flag in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early 1990s New York University School of Medicine prof Sam Tsemberis and the Gotham organization Pathways to Housing pioneered the “Housing First concept” which focuses on the chronically homeless, without requiring them to first give up alcohol or substance abuse.

Housing First is an alternative to a system of emergency shelter/transitional housing progression. Rather than moving homeless individuals from the streets to a public shelter, from a public shelter to a transitional housing program, and then to their own apartment in the community, Housing First moves the homeless individual or household immediately from the streets or homeless shelter into their own apartments.

Housing First, when supported by HUD, does not only offer housing but also provides wraparound case management services to the tenants. This provides stability for homeless individuals, increasing their success, accountability and self-sufficiency. The housing provided through government supported Housing First programs is permanent and “affordable,” meaning that tenants pay only 30% of their income towards rent.

With Obama Administration support (and 30% of HUD homelessness funds), Housing First resulted in an unprecedented 29.6% drop in the number of chronically homeless living on the streets (175,914 to 123,833 people)—from 2005 to 2007 alone. Today, Housing First programs successfully operate in New York City, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and smaller cities, such as Anchorage AK, Plattsburgh NY and Quincy MA.

Housing First is currently endorsed by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) as a “best practice” for governments and service-agencies to use in their fight to end chronic homelessness. These programs are all parts of the communities’10-year plans to end chronic homelessness, as advocated by USICH.

In Los Angeles County, the Home For Good project hopes to house all the area’s chronic homeless by 2016. Robert Harper and Charles Miller of Americorps make daily rounds of LA’s Skid Row seeking the most vulnerable homeless and working with other agencies to find them housing fast.

Harper declares:

A person is out here about to die and you tell them ‘Sign a waiting list and wait for a year? Come on, now. We’re known as the 90-day people.

When Home For Good case managers meet someone on the street, they create a vulnerability score from items like income, medical history, substance abuse and usual whereabouts. That info is computerized and made available to all participating agencies.

Considerable research has shown that the Housing First approach can save lots of money by keeping the chronically homeless out of jails, shelters and emergency rooms.

Housing First is now growing in popularity in Canada and is in many communities’ ten year plans to end homelessness. In Calgary, fewer than 1% of existing clients return to shelters or rough sleeping, there are 76% fewer days in jail and there is a 35% decline in police interactions This demonstrates improved quality of lives for those in the program, along with a huge cost savings on police, corrections and shelters

The Denver Housing First Collaborative, serving 200 chronically homeless, found a drop of 34.3% in emergency room visits, a 66% decline in inpatient costs, an 82% plummet in detox visits and a 76% reduction in incarceration days. Two years after entering the program, 77% of participants were still housed through it.

In Seattle, the Housing First program for alcoholics saved taxpayers more than $4 million in its first year. Thanks to Housing First, Boston was able to close some homeless shelters and reduce the number of beds in others.

The US Congress appropriated $25 million in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants for 2008 to show the effectiveness of Rapid Re-housing programs in reducing family homelessness. On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, which allows for the prevention of homelessness, rapid re-housing, consolidation of housing programs and new homeless categories.

The Housing First methodology is also being adapted to decreasing the larger segment of the homeless population, family homelessness, such as in the LA-based program Housing First for Homeless Families, which was established in 1988.

Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania homeless researcher, says:

There’s a lot of policy innovation going on around family homelessness, and it’s borrowing a page from the chronic handbook—the focus is on permanent housing and housing-first strategies.



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