I attended the National Coalition for the Homeless meeting in April. Here are some of the things that I heard. Our two members from Florida were not able to attend, but Florida is still working on stupid laws to restrict access to food. These are general notes. You can go to the specific state/community for more information or contact the National Coalition for the Homeless. Thanks to Gloria for typing up these notes.
Illinois: Working on events around the 20th anniversary Homeless Education Law which was the foundation of McKinney Vinto Homeless Kids Act. Trying to get $3 million from State Legislature to serve the huge rise in homeless kids in the Illinois school districts since 2009: 26,000 to 55,000 kids in the last full school year.
Mass/NH: Advocates are doing a lot with hunger and homelessness in New England. There were 50,000 Kids in Massachusetts schools in the last school year. They are working on a Children’s Bill of Rights law for the state.
Austin, Texas: No Hate Crimes to report. The City is mostly in compliance with no sit ordinance. Working on developing permanent supportive housing and constructing a manufactured home area to keep people out of the shelters. Developing a strategy of “no dischargers to homelessness.” City is focusing on preventing homelessness.
Minnesota: 6% increase in numbers of homeless families. Affordability of housing continues to be a problem. The City of Duluth passed Homeless Bill of Rights. Developing housing in communities for those disadvantaged because of low credit scores. Want to try to rehab the large number of foreclosed properties. Working on a minimum wage increase and a second chance re-entry ACT.
Sacremento CA: Homeless Bill of Rights put on hold in the State. The funding for the Housing Trust Fund lost in legislature. The City is building a new arena – 70 construction jobs to homeless people, but on the negative side there will be six single room occupancy buildings lost or 75 total units of affordable housing lost. The City is considering aggressive panhandling ordinance in the next month. There was money allocated for the Safe Ground to assist with keeping the space clean and removing trash unfortunately the members are fracturing and need to regroup. The number of homeless children in the schools has tripled in the last few years now at 250,000 student in California. Sacramento did a really intensive Homeless Death study used and is now being used by nurses to improve outcomes.
Georgia: Legislative session is a Biblically short 40 days. They passed even stricter voting charges that make it harder for poor people and minorities to vote. A NYC Mayor Bloomberg funded group is in Atlanta planning around homelessness and housing. This despite the fact that homeless family numbers exploded in NYC during the Bloomberg administration because he eliminated affordable housing funding. It seems that a private equity group has been purchasing subsidized housing and may be interested in converting it to something else. The main shelter in Atlanta continues its legal struggle against the City of Atlanta and other community leaders who have shifted funding for homeless services resulting in huge losses of shelter beds.
South Carolina: There are no State or local dollars going to homelessness--only dollars is from HUD Continuum of Care funding at $9 million. Tried to get rental assistance in state but that was killed in the legislature. The state charges $50 for a person to get ID if they are coming out of jail. There is a lot of interest in homelessness and housing, but no political will to do anything about the situation.
Louisiana: Redevelopment of a nursing home for affordable housing has taken years because of opposition by local government. They have been in court for years and the people who want to redevelop the property have continually won, but the project has still not happened. The Justice Dept came in to investigate and found why the City of New Orleans has continually violated the law to redevelop this property. The State has punished the city for not developing the property and not being in compliance, but the City has not backed down and seem to not care about homelessness and remains opposed to the development.
What is going on in the Nation’s Capital? War on Poverty brought up a lot of discussion on the merits of the food stamp, Medicare, and other 1960s era legislation. The right wing is saying that all the programs have failed on want to block grant all the programs to the States to develop 50 different laboratories for how to deal with poverty. They insist that there is too much focus on inequality instead of economic opportunities available to Americans. It looks like the House Tax Reform efforts are dead, and it seems a long shot that immigration reform will happen. There is some light on Sentencing Reform with the Justice Department proposing commuting the sentences of a number of the 100,000 people held for long prison sentences for federal drug offences. They are reviewing clemency decisions and there will be small number who have their sentences commuted under limited circumstances. This President has been the least generous President on clemency in modern history. There is some Congressional interest in sentencing reform because of the huge amount of money we spend on incarceration. There is a bill that would ban receipt of food stamps for life for any ex-offender and no Federal Housing benefits.
New York City: Bad news because of the huge numbers of families asking for shelter-- 53,000 homeless families each night with 22,000 children – highest number in American history. 400,000 apartments lost – lower income families saw their housing disappear over the last five years. New administration has completely changing course. Recognized the deplorable conditions within some of the shelters and are trying to move families out of these facilities. Plan to put 6,000 homeless families into housing. Need state resources, which is a problem because the legislature is pretty dysfunctional. They will introduce a new affordable housing plan in the next week. The bad news is that Bill Bratton was appointed Police commissioner. He has not been good to low income and minority members in his previous jobs. He is working on stepped up enforcement of panhandling on subway. The did stop the “Stop and frisk policy" which the court and the new administration declared discriminatory. NY is working on new ID opportunity for immigrants.
Boston/Massachusetts: Good Mayor for housing elected in Boston and there is a Lame Duck governor finishing up his term for this year. They continue to see growth of those living in shelters/motel homeless who are receiving some kind of assistance. They are looking for funding for care for people leaving a mental health or behaviorial health institution. They are a laboratory for the new ACA healthcare access & resources integrated care must include housing, must be important part of the diversion gap.
Indiana: No Statewide Coalition yet. Local police & mental health partnered to figure out when is it appropriate to arrest. Food and shelter programs being harassed and shut down across the state. Concern that there is a real disconnect in HUD saying numbers down and communities saying there is a rise in homeless families. Many shelters lost public money and now are exclusively funded by private sources. They have no incentive to collaborate or be a part of coordinated intake. Shelters are still dying in our communities. They are having issues with the Complete count numbers by HUD done in January throughout the United States.
Arkansas: Problems with shelters numbers going up but funding for the shelters going down because of changes in definition of who is homeless that has shown a decrease in need. They did shoot down a voter registration law.
Washington state: There is a threat to the dedicated revenue source that provides rental assistance. Because of state budget issues they want to take funding from this revenue source to go to other sources.
Puerto Rico: very difficult economic times that are challenging everything that the territory does. The homeless groups are not as committed to civil rights issues as they were in the past. Tough budget times are challenging the homeless groups trying to keep beds available to homeless people. PR had passed Homeless Bill of Rights, but now there is an effort to see how it has been implemented and followed by police and others. May want to change what we they have to provide real protections to the community. Health concerns in the shelters has caused a lawsuit within the continuum over new regulations. The local homeless advocacy have been cut in half making it difficult to operate Speakers Bureau in the territory. Going more toward services less on advocacy.
Mississippi: 33 shelters in whole state. Number of people coming back home who need help has increased over the last three years. The shelters continue to experience funding losses. More people coming back home means a reduction in housing. Dropouts from college because they can’t afford to continue and then become homeless.
Denver/Colorado: Recreational marijuana has made it difficult for the social service providers to come up with policies to meet this new reality. There is an inadequate supply of family shelters, local government and state need to address this continued problem. Denver has found that they need 27,000 housing units with a subsidy. They do plan to create 3,000 units, but don’t have the money at this point; overflow shelter usage has decreased. “Camping” ban increased engagements with police. They rebuilt a shelter that has been mats on the floor to improve conditions. There are NIMBY problems in a number of communities. One community is trying to build a wall around their shelter keep what they perceive as problems contained. Medicare Expansion – 15% before of the Denver healthcare for the Homeless patients had Medicare in 2012– 25% had Medicare in 2013 and they expect 50% this year. This is a huge boost in helping to support these programs. They are working on doubling the size of their health care clinic in Denver. There is a nice treatment program for homeless people in Southeast Colorado that has a long waiting list. Developing another seventy-eight supportive housing units. HUD & VA are trying to work on a coordinated intake and assessments to serve homeless and veterans who are experiencing housing issues.
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