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Lessons Learned from Paula C. September 19, 2012

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There was an early afternoon memorial service this past Monday in Asheville, a crowd of people scurrying to enter the sanctuary under gray, rainy skies.  A few folks drove up in nice cars – BMWs, Toyotas, Hondas, Subarus.  Others walked through the rain, backpacks closed as tightly as possible to protect belongings, a few had raincoats, a handful wore baseball caps in an attempt to stay dry.  Settling into the pews, it was quiet, somber, as is often the case when the altar holds photographs of someone no longer within our reach.  Several people were crying, everyone attentive to the sacredness of the space surrounding those pictures, aware of the loss they represented.

Paula C. died last week.  Unlike most of us, though, Paula died without having keys to a place to call home.  She was known to many who worked in the homeless services’ system here in Asheville, because she had been homeless and in and out of the Asheville area since 2007.  In the many stories told on Monday, her life in Asheville took shape.  A woman of few words, she spoke only when she had something she deemed worthwhile to say.  One of her trademarks was the walkman radio/music player attached to her almost all the time, with headphones constantly on.  She was a camper, unable to manage the rules and close quarters of night shelters because of on-going struggles with fragile mental health and substance abuse.  That was Paula’s life here, until just a few months ago.

She showed up at Homeward Bound’s A HOPE Day Center last spring, almost unrecognizable to staff who had known her for years.  Drastic weight drop, bad color, shaky arms and legs: clearly sick, and also clear.  Clear, as in sober, and truly cognizant of what was happening around her.  She’d been gone from Asheville for a few months, and had come home sober and ready for something else.  Ready for stability, ready to create a life with mental and physical health support, looking for the community essential to living out her sobriety.  With help from Homeward Bound, the Western North Carolina Aids Project and others, Paula did just that: began a new life.  Paula’s new life was a life marked by clearness, sobriety, and – still – only a few words.  There were some other differences, too.  She took off her headphones.  She smiled.  She laughed.  She became a loyal friend.  She came into Homeward Bound’s Room in the Inn shelter, sleeping each night in a local faith community’s building surrounded by warmth and care, and safe from the dangers of the streets.  Paula was even in line for an apartment of her own, scheduled to move in literally a week from the morning she died.  She almost got those keys.

During Paula’s memorial service, the Room in the Inn Director, Sharon Blythe, talked about the lessons she learned from Paula: to speak only when really necessary; to listen to those around you; to care for the people you are with day in and day out; to understand family includes all kinds of people; to advocate honestly for healthy decisions about safe sex; to seek support from your community.  I was fortunate to know Paula these past few years as well, and I want to add one more lesson to those: impatience.  Paula got impatient with those whose intentional violent and aggressive behavior made it difficult for her and others experiencing homelessness to be safe.  She was impatient with the limited resources available for affordable housing for her and the many in our community whose income comes no where close to what the rental market demands.

Paula C. leaves us with many lessons.  So do the 9 other individuals who have died in our community this year without a home of their own.  Let’s take Paula’s impatience and allow it to fuel advocacy.  Advocate for affordable housing for everyone in our community, support the work of the City Council’s Affordable Housing Committee, volunteer with homelessness service providers who work day in and day out to help our neighbors move out of night shelters and off the streets into safe, stable housing.  Find your place in the work to end homelessness here in this place we all call home.


The Importance of Collaboration June 13, 2012

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Police ensure community safety in the context of a larger collaborative of City Departments and agencies that work to find long-term solutions for people who experience homelessness.

The Asheville Police Department (APD) has an obligation and responsibility to enforce the law.  Unfortunately, enforcement of the law can create a negative perception which is reflected on those carrying out the law.  This has been the case in our community, especially as it relates to those experiencing homelessness.  Sometimes, the relationship between the police department and those experiencing homelessness is positive, but many times, the relationship needs repair.  The APD, City partners, and service providers working with the homeless, are strategically working together to tackle this issue.

Homeless camping gives a vivid picture of the dynamics between the police and those experiencing homelessness.  As summer approaches and the weather warms up, more and more individuals choose to camp outside as oppose to sleeping in shelters.  As a result, the clash between police and homeless campers becomes more apparent.

The police have the authority and duty to carry out the law against illegal camping.  These laws are in place for a reason, which is to protect the health and safety of those camping and those in the community.  The purpose is not to criminalize the homeless.  Camping itself is not an illegal activity; campers only break the law when they don’t have a camping permit or permission to camp on the land, or when their campsite does not comply with building and safety codes.  The police have the obligation to make sure campers abide the law, so when campers break the law, there will be consequences.

The City’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness was inspired by people who have no other place to call home and therefore sleep outside; this plan has implemented successful strategies and assisted in many people who were once campers get into housing. This plan is carried out through partnering with agencies in the Homeless Coalition.  These agencies collaborate together to prevent or end homelessness for everyone experiencing a housing crisis by building relationships with people and focusing on removing barriers to housing while offering services and resources that can sustain housing.

The Homeless Initiative encourages communication and collaboration with the police and service providers so that those experiencing homelessness are able to navigate resources available to them. In order to have a sustainable impact, the police work with other departments in the city and community service providers so that people who camp outside are connected to information and resources that can lead to housing. Service providers currently partner with the APD by connecting those in the camps with resources available in our community. Through communicating with service providers, the police are educated and aware of the vulnerability and particular needs of those living in campsites.

Getting the Community Involved January 11, 2012

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Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day

Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was held on December 21, 2011 – this was a very special time to honor those who experience homelessness.  Our community united together at Haywood Street Congregation to remember those who have died while experiencing homelessness in the past year, support those who currently experience homelessness, and commit to ending homelessness for all.

The contributions of many people made the service memorable, so thank you to everyone who participated. Even if you were unable to attend this year’s service, there are many opportunities ahead to be involved with the Homeless Initiative’s efforts.

Community-Wide Involvement

Participants and sponsors for the following events represent hundreds of people and groups with different creeds, resources, and goals, all of whom are committed to ending homelessness in our community:

  • Faith Summit
  • Homeless Coalition
  • Homeless Initiative
  • Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day
  • Homeless Summit
  • Project Connect & VA Stand Down
  • VA Summit

To learn more about our past and upcoming events and projects, or to contact us about sponsoring an event, please visit our website.

Want to volunteer?

Facts about homelessness.


Today is Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day December 21, 2011

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Today is Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. Held on eve of the longest night of the year, this service commemorates the lives of those who died while homeless in our community in 2011. It also calls us to join together so that no one else has to die on our streets.

Twenty-Five people died this past year alone; even though these were tragedies, there is still hope that arises out of the lives they lived. The tragedy of Mell Ailes’ death on Thanksgiving impacted many who knew him; he had been a staple in the Asheville community and always kept a smile on his face! His warmth touched many hearts, and he always wanted to help anyone in whatever way he could.

The people who died were friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members in our community.

  • Gerald Hixon found his way from homelessness into housing and had even become a member of the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee before his health problems, exacerbated by homelessness, caused his untimely death.
  • Ian Pennell was born in Sterlingshire, Scotland in 1947.  He was an accomplished artist and craftsman, specializing in jewelry-making.  For the past twenty-years, Mr. Pennell traveled across the United States, living in his van and selling hand-made jewelry in various folk art galleries and craft guilds while making connections with people along the way.
  • Sharon Ogle was a gentle soul who loved her children and cared for those around her. She was a regular volunteer at A HOPE and was always grateful for the connections she made through the day center
  • Steve Halulko, just 22 when he died, was an energetic, bright young man with charm who loved his friends and noticed the people around him.

Today’s service honors everyone listed below, in addition to those who are not named—those who have had to suffer from health problems, violence, and hunger while homeless.  The service is a joint project between the Homeless Initiative, Homeless Coalition, First Presbyterian Church of Asheville, and the Haywood Street Congregation.  It will take place at 12:30PM today at 297 Haywood St., Asheville NC.  Donations of blankets, hats, gloves, and coats are also welcome at the same location today.

In Memory

Mell Ailes

Jesse Bailey

Charles Davis

Richard Evans

Jeffrey Gault

Steve Haluko

Gerald Hixson

Rhonda Lordman

Chris Mann

Clarence Matthews

George May

Kelly Metcalf

Gerald Morgan

Adrian Nelson

Rachel Nesbeth

Rick Ochoa

Sharon Ogle

Ian Pennell

William Porter

Matthew Ratliff

Vernon Rauch

Destiny Reifschneider

Sandra Smart

Larry Short

William Wing

In Unity: Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, 12/21/2011 December 15, 2011

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Let us come together in unity to commemorate the lives of those who have died while experiencing homelessness this year.

Our annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day will be held on Wednesday, December 21, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year.  This day of recognition  will provide an opportunity for our community to grieve the recent deaths of those men and women who experienced homelessness in Asheville and Buncombe County.   Our community will unite together to show regard for those community members who are currently experiencing homelessness, as well as show support for the local agencies that work to end homelessness for all.

Every year, an average of 20 people die while homeless in this community alone, and the latest deaths of beloved community members have highlighted the issue of homelessness.  People throughout Asheville and Buncombe will join together to lift up the lives of those who died, and recommit to Ending Homelessness so that no one else dies on our streets.

The Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day:  Reflection and participation.

The Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day is co-sponsored by the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative, the First Presbyterian Church of Asheville, and the Haywood Street Congregation.  There are several ways that the community be involved in this year’s event.

Memorial Service, December 21 at 12:30 

  • This year’s memorial service will be held at The Haywood Street Congregation, which “seeks to be a place of welcome to all.”  Each Wednesday, the church holds a worship service, and many of those who attend experience homelessness in the Asheville-Buncombe community.
  • The Haywood Street Congregation will open its doors at 9 am for anyone who would like to come inside the sanctuary for a time of reflection.  At 11:30, the church will be providing a free community meal.  This will be followed by a special memorial service at 12:30.
  • The memorial service will provide an opportunity for anyone to share personal memories and stories of those who passed away in 2011.  At the service, various community members will read the names of those who have passed and light candles in their memory.  There will also be music, provided by Eric Wall of First Presbyterian Church.
  • The Haywood Street  Congregation is located at 297 Haywood Street at the corner of Haywood Street and Patton Avenue in Downtown Asheville.

Donations accepted

  • Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day falls on the first day of winter.  Winter is a difficult time of year for those experiencing homelessness, especially when there is a shortage of winter clothing and supplies.
  • Community members who would like to donate coats, hats, jackets, and blankets may bring them to The Haywood Street Congregation between the hours of 9 am and 12 pm.

Candles and posters

  • To show unity, downtown businesses and residents are invited to place a Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day poster or a burning candle in their window throughout the night.
  • If you would like to download a poster to print, you may click here.

On any given night, over 500 individuals are without a home in our community. Those who experience homelessness are at a much greater risk of injury and death than their housed counterparts. According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, those without housing are 3-4 times more likely to die prematurely than those with housing. The average age of death for those experiencing homelessness is around 50 years in contrast to the average of 78 years for the rest of the population. Deaths among those without housing are often the consequence of inadequate access to healthcare, hate crimes and exposure to harsh weather.

We hope you will join us in commemorating the lives of those who died while homeless in 2011.  So far, we have learned of 22 people who have died this past year. If you know of someone, please contact us so that we can read their name during the memorial.

There are still opportunities to volunteer and help with the service, if interested contact Rachel at  the Homeless Initiative (rwintenburg@ashevillenc.gov).

Let us honor those who have passed away in 2011

Mell Ailes

Jesse Bailey

Charles Davis

Richard Evans

Jeffrey Gault

Steve Haluko

Gerald Hixson

Rhonda Lordman

Clarence Matthews

George May

Kelly Metcalf

Adrian Nelson

Rachel Nesbeth

Rick Ochoa

Sharon Ogle

Ian Pennell

William Porter

Matthew Ratliff

Vernon Rauch

Destiny Reifschneider

Sandra Smart

Larry Short

William Wing

Continuum of Care Grant: UPDATE October 18, 2011

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is currently accepting applications from communities for its Continuum of Care Grant, due 10/28/2011.  The purpose of Continuum of care funds are to reduce the incidence of homelessness in communities by assisting homeless individuals and families quickly in transitioning to self-sufficiency and permanent housing.

On Thursday October 20 at 2PM on the 5th Floor of City Hall, representatives from the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee, the Homeless Coalition, and the City of Asheville’s Community Development Division will meet to review Asheville-Buncombe’s Continuum of Care grant application. This meeting is open to the public.

Each year, Asheville-Buncobme receives funding through the Continuum of Care to offer housing and services to people who are experiencing homelessness.   This community has a strong record in successfully implementing programs funded through this grant resulting in safe, stable housing for people experiencing homelessness.  This year, over $1 million dollars in funds are being requested.

At the meeting,  the community’s success with meeting the strategic goals of the grant will be discussed and the agencies managing the programs included in the grant will have an opportunity to discuss their application.

To see the grant announcement and access additional resouces, go to the HUD Homeless Resource Exchange.

Project Connect is *Just Around the Corner* August 10, 2011

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The 2011 Project Connect theme is: We Are Community 

Project Connect will take place on SEPTEMBER 22nd, 2011 from 8AM-1PM @First Baptist Church on 5 Oak Street.

People with and without homes are valued in this community; this year’s event will highlight the collective commitment of the community to create and implement solutions to ending homelessness.

Some exciting things to look forward to this year:

  • Businesses, organizations, and community groups will join in on the bold goal to house as many participants as possible,
  • Resources and services ranging from hair cuts to food stamp applications will be available to people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness,
  • Community volunteers from all walks of life will have the chance to support event participants & learn about issues of homelessness, and
  • Topical Issues will be discussed throughout the day to educate and encourage community participation.
WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!  It will take a little bit from everyone to make this event a reality!!
Help us get people into housing
Do you have a service or resource that might help someone access housing? This includes things such as offering a donation for a rent deposit, making an apartment available to a qualified candidate or donating furniture for someone who is moving in to their own place.  Even if you aren’t sure what you could offer, are you willing to come by and sign our giant poster to show that the community is renewing its commitment to ending homelessness?  Contact Amy Sawyer to get involved.
Can you provide information or services to people who are homeless?
We want you! Get creative & imagine how you might be able to offer support. This includes things like hair dressers giving hair cuts, nurses helping with foot care, or even something like a youth group singing during lunch to brighten the atmosphere.  Sign up here to offer a service.
Do you want to volunteer at the event?
We welcome volunteers from throughout the community and commit to providing you with training and support so that your experience is meaningful and helpful.  Sign up here to volunteer.
Can you donate something?
We’re hoping to fill over 300+ backpacks with things like toothpaste/toothbrush, razors, lip-balm, socks, and winter hats – your donations would help us reach that goal!  We’re also looking for people to donate fruit, biscuits, and granola bars for breakfast. Sign up here to donate.
Get involved!  To learn more, contact: Amy Sawyer, 828.259.5851

Asheville City-Agency Collaboration Wins National HUD Award May 4, 2011

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Recently, our community was one of fourteen across the nation to receive HUD’s prestigious Door Knocker Award! To learn more about how Homeward Bound of Asheville’s “Pathways to Permanent Housing” program is helping to end homelessness in our community, check out this HOME Door Knocker’s Award link and read on below for more details!

Mercedes Marquez, Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development and Donna Anderson with Door Knocker award winners Brian Alexander (Homeward Bound) and Amy Sawyer (City of Asheville) in Washington, D.C.

The City of Asheville’s Community Development Office and Homeless Initiative,  the Homeless Coalition, Homeward Bound and the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium were honored by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on May 2, 2011 with a HOME program 20th Anniversary “Door Knocker Award”.

Homeward Bound’s Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program, “Pathways to Permanent Housing” was chosen as one of fourteen programs nationally to receive the award. HUD Assistant Secretary Mercedes Marquez said, in announcing the award, “The Pathways to Permanent Housing program demonstrates how HOME funds can be used successfully to assist communities reaching underserved populations.”

“I am proud of the City of Asheville and Homeward Bound; this is a well deserved award. Homeward Bound has shown an incredible dedication to implementing the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and has made a real impact on the lives of people in our community,” said Mayor Terry Bellamy.

Homeward Bound’s collaborative and innovative programs incorporate important community resources, services, and funds to offer people who are experiencing chronic homelessness an opportunity to move off the streets and into housing. HOME funds are used to make rent payments for persons who had formerly experienced chronic homelessness. Homeward Bound and the Consortium have learned that “housing first” strengthens the ability of these persons to stabilize their lives, leading to personal gains and the reduction in need of many other community services.

“Homelessness is solvable, and housing is the answer; our 10-Year Plan says that’s true, Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness  says that’s true, and we’ve found through experience that that’s true,” said Brian Alexander, Executive Director of Homeward Bound. “Both we and the City of Asheville believe that effective stewardship of public resources means investing in solutions to homelessness, and that’s what we’ve done together through Pathways to Permanent Housing. Being recognized for that by HUD is an honor for each of us and is something our community should be proud of and should see as encouragement to continued investing in those solutions.”

This prestigious award is just one of fourteen given nationally and recognizes the dedicated partnership between the City of Asheville, the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium and community agencies like Homeward Bound. Asheville and Consortium have participated in the federal HOME program since its inception in 1991. HOME funds are allocated annually by HUD specifically to help communities create and retain affordable housing. It is the largest federal block grant program dedicated to producing affordable housing at the state and local level. The Asheville Regional Housing Consortium, comprised of Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania Counties, and managed by the City of Asheville Community Development Division has been recognized by HUD as a model for other multi-county HOME consortiums.

Amy Sawyer, the City’s Homeless Initiative Coordinator, and Brian Alexander, attended HUD’s 20th Anniversary Conference to accept the award from Assistant Secretary Mercedes Marquez on May 2, 2011. The main focus of the conference was on helping HUD partners strengthen their affordable housing programs. During the conference, Ms Sawyer and Mr Alexander gave a presentation on best practices for tenant based rental assistance.

For more information on the City of Asheville’s disbursement of Tenant-Based Rental Assistance or the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, contact Amy Sawyer, Homeless Initiative Coordinator, at (828).259.5851 or asawyer@ashevillenc.gov. To learn more about Homeward Bound’s programming, contact Brian Alexander at (828).258.1695 or brian@hbofa.org.

Housing for All – The 2011 Homeless Summit March 15, 2011

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On Thursday, March 24 the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative will host its annual Homeless Summit.


March 24, 2011

8:30am – 4:30pm

Masonic Temple, 80 Broadway Street

Asheville, North Carolina

The Summit, called Housing for All: A Plan in Motion, is open to all members of the Asheville-Buncombe community. The goal of the Summit is to provoke an energetic discussion between agencies, faith groups, business owners, college students and faculty, people experiencing homelessness and all other members of our community that will lead to strategic steps we take as we continue to make a true impact on homelessness in our community.

The Summit will provide an opportunity to discuss the Homeless Initiative’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and our community’s goals for the future as we look at where we’ve come and where we’re going in our efforts to end homelessness. We hope you can join us for the whole day but if not, we’d love for you to come when you can!

Housing for All: A Plan in Motion Summit agenda:

, 8:30AM

Morning Presentations

Opening and Welcome: Asheville City Council

A System in Transition: Opening Doors, the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness, Denise Neunber, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness

Asheville’s 10-Year Plan: Looking in the Rearview Mirror, Checking for Blind Spots, and Hitting the Gas, David Nash, Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee Chair, and Robin Merrell, Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee Member

Housing First Works: The Story of the Chronic Homeless Team, Chronic Homeless Team Participants


Learning in Context: Summit Participants will have a chance to meet local service providers and people who have experienced homelessness.

Leadership Lunch: Community leaders will hold a strategic dialogue to discuss how to meet the goals of the 10-Year Plan and Opening Doors.

Afternoon Breakout Sessions, highlights include:

  • Anishnawbe Health: A Story of Successful Street Outreach in Toronto, Canada
  • Nourishing the Spirit: Faith & Homelessness
  • Past and Future: UNC Asheville’s Collaborations with the Community on Understanding and Preventing Homelessness
  • The Power of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)
  • SOAR – Accessing SSI/SSDI means income and housing stablity for people with disablities
  • Opening Doors and Implementing 10-Year Plans Across the State
  • Follow-Up from Last Year’s Summit: Circles & Hope to Home Programs
  • Ending the Cycle: Jail Diversion and Crisis Intervention Training
  • Zoning! Knowing where to build, sell, and devleop.
  • A deeper look at the Chronic Homeless Team

Closing Comments – 3:30PM

Registration is $15 and includes lunch. *Scholarships are available, indicate your need during registration.

Click here to register or contact Katherine McCrory at 828.259.5733.

We’ll see you all at there!

Conference on Ending Family Homelessness Brings People Across the Nation Together February 16, 2011

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The National Alliance to End Homelessness hosted the National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness this past week. The conference offered people with personal experiences of homelessness, staff from agencies, researchers, decision makers, and 10-Year Plan advisory board members the opportunity to come together and discuss how to help families experiencing homelessness and how to prevent other families from having to experience it at all.

Homelessness is never acceptable and it’s distressing to think of families experiencing it. The good news is that there is local and national attention on the issue! On February 9-11, hundreds of people across the nation – including people from North Carolina and the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness (NCCEH) – gathered in Oakland, California to share best practices on ending homelessness. The conference included many seminars and trainings – some of the topics covered this year were:

  • Updates and training for Rapid Re-Housing,
  • Addressing family homelessness in rural areas,
  • Housing for survivors of domestic violence,
  • Serving young parents,
  • Addressing substance abuse challenges of homeless families,
  • An update on Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to end homelessness and how it relates to families,
  • and ending homelessness for veterans and their families.

This conference is  important because our nation has seen an increase in family homelessness in recent years due to foreclosures while many families, struggling from month to month to make ends meet during a time of high unemployment and great economic uncertainty, live at imminent risk of homelessness. According to last year’s Point in Time Count in Asheville and Buncombe,  101 adults and children were identified as being part of a family – that means that 1 out every 5 people (or 20%) counted were in a family.

At the conference, community leaders highlighted examples of opportunities that they embraced in their efforts to end homelessness. These included reaching out to landlords to provide affordable housing, connecting families experiencing homelessness with long-term benefits such as SSI or SSDI through SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery), and using data collected through HMIS to better evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts to end homelessness and adjust our actions accordingly.

Lastly and importantly, nation-wide success were celebrated at the conference – such as the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program (HPRP) which focuses on preventing homelessness for households at imminent risk of losing their housing. HPRP has also successfully helped move families back into housing immediately if they do become homeless so that homelessness does not become a way of life for them. In fact, new HEARTH Act legislation builds on the success of HPRP and challenges communities to reach the goal of housing families within 30 days.

The information provided at the conference, as well as local successes, has significant impact for our community and our efforts to end family homelessness. As we learn about nation-wide evidence based practices, we can adopt methods that we may not have tried or adjust our existing efforts as necessary to ensure that no family has to experience homelessness.

If you’re interested in learning more about family homelessness, check out this fact sheet from USICH which explains family homelessness and how Opening Doors is responding.

Visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ blog for information on how to view the materials from the conference. (Updated February 25, 2011)

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