I did not attend the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference, but could not help but be overwhelmed with Tweets from the Conference. I have only attended one NAEH conference and did not find it very helpful because of the cognitive dissidence between the national group and what is happening in the field with real homeless people. The government response to homelessness is championed as "progressive and based on science" while I find that they are responsive to a problem as it looked 20 years ago and then it takes another five years to pivot to respond to current issues. Researchers with a business interest in steering cities toward their way of thinking gave us PowerPoint presentations on putting resources into their method of solving homelessness. Then when I got home, I looked around and saw that the majority of homeless people who need help are not disabled, have not been homeless for a long period of time and just don't have enough money to afford rent. Then the big social service providers are talking about chasing the dollars and outcomes and have lost sight of the humanity and reason that they were in existence. The decisions made at these conferences seem to just transfer limited resources from one fragile population to another population declared the flavor of the month (youth or veterans or disabled, etc.).
Here are some examples of what I mean from the flow of tweets this week...
Has a HUD Secretary ever said to a crowd, "I pledge that I will not be working to end homelessness?" or "Things are so bad in Washington that we will see an increase in homelessness over the next five years?" Or "We hope that we can keep treading water and we hope that the number of people who die while sleeping on the streets will be kept to a minimum."
That is a true statement, and no one can disagree that brand new beautiful apartments will not help a community. What about the increase in family homelessnessss (who do not qualify for PSH) and what about the emergency services that are cut because we are slicing the pie even thinner? 80% of our money locally now goes to PSH, but we do not have 80% more money then we had five years ago. In fact, we have about 20% fewer dollars then we have five years ago. I find it interesting that Rich Trickel at the City Mission was talking about the huge numbers he is seeing while national advocates were proclaiming victories about lower veteran's homelessness and reducing long term homelessness.
We have these pronouncements (expressed in tweets) about requiring change in the system in order to solve homelessness:
We often increase homelessness by inviting people into the system when they really needed diversion from the system. #NAEH14
In Cleveland, we have 22 families sleeping in a church basement nearly every night because we do not have enough space in our shelters. It does not seem that system change, rapid rehousing or diverting people has done much to change this dynamic locally. We have dramatically changed the system with "coordinated intake" and yet we have the largest number of families in our community that I have ever seen. We have rapid re-housing for families which does a great job in keeping the amount of time a person spends in shelter down, but it does nothing to reduce the numbers. There are five people waiting for help for every person we can offer a bed to in our community. And Cuyahoga County has set up a diversion program which "diverts" between 20 to 30% of the population. This only puts off the inevitable. We are not solving their issues, but delaying them asking for a bed.
.@NLCHPhomeless Great partnering with you on Combating Criminalization of Homelessness at #NAEH14! Resource to share: http://usich.gov/resources/uploads/asset_library/RPT_SoS_March2012.pdf …
I am glad this was mentioned at the conference because this is a huge issue in America where cities are hiding homeless people by making it illegal to be visible. But just because there is a discussion does not mean we are doing anything about it. When is the federal government going to get tough on these cities and say, "Look, we give you millions to solve homelessness. If you don't stop passing laws and repeal all the laws you have passed directed at homeless people, we are going to convert all your homeless money into housing vouchers. And another thing, stop having police arrest homeless people for disorderly conduct, because a city that does not provide housing is by definition a conduct that is disorderly. It does not help to ticket or jail a guy sleeping outside, so stop it."
Diversion is not a "NO" it's a "how can we help you from becoming homeless". Best for client, best for homeless system. #NAEH14
Excellent. Now prove it. Stop the flow of homeless people coming from jails. Stop pitting one population such as veterans against other populations such as the unemployed for limited dollars. Start counting youth who couch surf among the homeless population. Start using the Dept. of Education definition of homelessness. Stop using bogus counts as proof of anything except that we can get volunteers to do anything we ask. Stop complicating our job at the local level with campaigns that do not in fact "end homelessness." A goal of 100,000 homes was reached earlier this year and at least in Cleveland we still have the same number showing up at shelter and the similar numbers of abandoned and vacant housing. The reason: 560 new housing units of PSH do not shut down one shelter bed locally. If you want to close down shelters build 5,600 housing units locally. Everything else only replaces units that are taken off line because they have reached their natural lifespan. How about ending homelessness for everyone in a timely manner not one group at a time? This only makes other non-preferential groups homeless for longer and longer periods of time. By the way, if we keep championing reductions of 2% or 4% in a year for one group, we lose sight of the real goal. We will never get to the point of declaring victory by championing these small decreases in one population.
B. Poppe: the goal is a world in which family homelessness is a rare and brief occurrence and no family is w/out shelter #NAEH14
I like Barb Poppe and Nan and all the gang, but what is the big picture here? Is the United States better off for homeless people than it was 40 years ago? When I started 18 years ago there were 6,000 people in Cleveland experiencing homelessness and about 3,500 using the shelters. Now there are 22,000 people and 9,000 people using the shelters every year. NEOCH was created because of the rise in family homelessness, but no where near the numbers we are seeing over the last three years. We have displaced so many people, incomes are stagnant and there are way fewer entry level jobs that can support a family then there were 30 years ago. We have millions more people receiving a disability check, but they cannot afford the rent. So, I am not sure it is time to pat anyone on the back for contributing much to homelessness. At this time, I see nothing going on to address family homelessness in America. I see things getting worse for families with cuts to food stamps, unemployment compensation, and housing programs. No one should be celebrating.
Bottom line most of our Veterans do not need Transitional Housing programs to succeed. "Housing First" just works better. #NAEH14
This is why social service types should not become involved in collecting statistics. These graphs do not show this conclusion. The transitional programs are not sitting empty in our community. They may not be serving our highest need population or they may take too long to help, but none of the data shows which program a veteran or family may need. Here is the way to look at this issue. Cuyahoga County has 1.35 million people and 230,000 living in poverty. We have about 350 transitional beds in our community. No one can say that there are not 350 people of the 230,000 living below the poverty level in our community who "need" two years of case management support to get back on their feet. These sweeping generalizations that are based on nothing but opinion undermine confidence in these speakers. It may be too expensive or too long to provide help, but there is a need for housing units in our community and we should have a diversity of beds. The vet sleeping near the Willard Park garage would have a different opinion about his need for a transitional shelter bed then most of the speakers at the NAEH conference.
Nan Roman: (Point in Time) PITCount estimates aren't just a count of beds. Beds went up while family homelessness went down #naeh14
Is this a job creation program for homeless social services for the next 50 years or do we want to end homelessness? Every advocate I talk to says family homelessness is going up (Cleveland, Atlanta, New York, Washington DC, Minnesota) and yet many at the national level are saying there is a decrease. By the way, if you do not have guaranteed access to shelter how can any count be trusted? If you say to a family that there is not space in the shelter so go stay with your Mom, in their mind they are still homeless, but by HUD standards they are not. Counting homeless people is a flawed exercise that is not based on any science. It is not real data that has any usefulness for community planning or developing an emergency response to homelessness. We have seen 45 years of increases, how can we be at the beginning? It diminishes the work of the Housing NOW march and the McKinney Vento legislation and the Runaway youth effort and all the other work that has been done to say we are at the beginning. But if we are looking at "larger economic forces" then why was there no discussion on an increase in disability payments or giving the nation a pay increase with improvements in minimum wage? Why no discussion about debt specifically student loan debt that moves people to bankruptcy and homelessness? What about sanctioning cities for making it illegal to be homeless? Why not forcing cities to provide housing to every one of its citizens? Why not designing mandatory mentoring programs with city employees who get compensated for keeping people out of homelessness? How about outlawing any discharge to a shelter? There are so many big picture items that would actually have an impact on ending homelessness that no one is talking about. Instead we focus on managing the crisis and counting the number of people we help out of the river after their family has dissolved and they have nearly drowned. Pushing paper better in our community will not end homelessness.
Not spending one more dollar on case management and just investing in assertive engagement in Multnomah County? Horrible idea. #NAEH14
Can't think of 1 thing in 312 days on the road ending homelessness last year supporting abandoning case mgmt 4 assertive engagement #NAEH14
Phoenix, AZ reached functionally zero chronically homeless. This is attainable in Erie County, NY too. #NAEH14
So many different strategies and so many different theories. By the way, since the VA crisis of fake data started in Phoenix did anyone question their data on long term homeless? Just reading the stream of tweets from the National Alliance conference is depressing and makes me want to raise the white flag to surrender to those who say we have lost the war on poverty. Most people in America believe that we will always have homeless people and listening to these "national experts" in New Orleans makes it seem more likely. I got into this with the desire and feeling that America could end homelessness quickly if we just had the political will. If you listen to these "national experts" you may be inspired that you can help a percentage of the population, but not in ending homelessness in America. If there are a million homeless people in America why set a goal for building 100,000 homes? It makes no sense.
We are so far off course in how we address real people's problems. We are so misguided in how we approach addiction, mental health, forgiveness, and housing from the national level. Most of what gets said is to justify poor decisions and a lack of resources. We seem to be developing an entire science for justifying homelessness in America. There is no inspiration or immediacy from the group. The further we get away from the generation who won a world war, placed a man on the moon and ended an intractable war in Vietnam, the less confidence we seem to have that we can accomplish big goals. We now set goals for managing a problem instead of setting goals for quickly ending a problem. We know how to end homelessness and it is not through data, diversion, counts or thinking small. We need more affordable housing, more income for the population, enforcement of civil rights, and universal access to health care including behavioral health. If we focused on these four areas there would not be homelessness. Civil rights include the right to a quality education for every student and the right to live inside in a safe environment.
The First Lady, Michelle Obama, graciously attended the conference and spoke to the group. She said that we had reduced veteran's homelessness by 24%. After the scandal that cost the VA Secretary his job, can we trust any of the figures that they are giving us? But even if we do accept the stats, we only have until 2015 to house the other 75% to meet the President's goal--the glass is three fourths empty. From the twitter feed, it seems that she focused her thoughts on ending veteran's homelessness in America. I do not understand this concept. We did not set a goal of ending polio among seniors. We focused on eradicating polio for all. We do not try to immunize all African American kids--we went after all kids. We did not set up a highway system in Republican states or try to provide equal access to voting or government for one minority group. The goal was not to eliminate child labor in the North or set up a social security safety net for disable seniors. We do not solve problems in America piecemeal. When did this work where we take on a huge issue in our society and address it with one population at a time. If we do in fact end veteran's homelessness in 2015 and we have been working on the problem for 45 years, can we set a goal of 2275 for an end to family homelessness next?
Maybe it was just getting a flood of 140 characters of information instead of hearing complete speeches, but it was a depressing week with NAEH14. We are far away from ending homelessness in America.
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