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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.

Tips For Volunteers December 30, 2010

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This time of year brings special holidays that offer many people time for celebration and reflection. With the turn of the year, people often take time to stop and reflect on their lives – what they enjoy and what they’d like to change. As well, good experiences over the holidays and the realization that at the end of the celebrations, many people have a safe, warm place to call home can lead to a sense of re-commitment to those who are not as fortunate.

Perhaps this is why we get a lot of people contacting us here at the Homeless Initiative during the holidays asking how they can help. We are happy to say that there are hundreds of different opportunities for community members. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here is a creative list of what you could do to help those experiencing homelessness, developed by Earth Systems. Additionally, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has some great tips.

Volunteers have done everything from help serve a single meal to serving at Project Connect to joining a mentoring program with a team, helping a family settle into new housing and stabilize their lives. There is something for everyone and, often, the single most important things volunteers take away from the experience is the one-on-one connection made with a person experiencing homelessness. It is those human connections that again and again have birthed the most amazing actions and commitment that support housing and the people seeking it in our community.

To learn about volunteer opportunities: Contact United Way’s Hands On: http://www.handsonasheville.org. At this site you can search for local opportunities by agency, category or volunteer job to find your perfect fit.

If you know of an agency or type of agency that you’d like to contact, United Way’s 2-1-1 Community Information Line can help you get that agency’s contact information – just dial “211” on your phone or visit their online database: http://www.211wnc.org.

If you’re considering donating goods, be sure to call ahead to agencies to find out what they need and when the best time to donate is. If you’re planning on volunteering, here are some things to consider:

Know your strengths (and your limits).

Not all volunteer jobs are suited to everyone and that’s okay! Give some thought to where you think you could be most useful and chat with volunteer coordinators at different agencies to learn what opportunities exist. Your communication can help agencies offer better opportunities and can help you know more about what works for you!

Be open to new things!

It’s okay to be nervous, especially if you’re doing something totally new to you, and you might just discover that you love it! Being flexible not only helps the people you’re volunteering for, but it can teach you a lot about yourself.

Be consistent and considerate.

It takes a lot of effort to coordinate volunteer efforts and you can aid in the process by honoring your obligations by showing up on-time and with a positive attitude. Remember that the people you’re there to help are having a rough time and a smile from a stranger can mean a lot. It’s not always easy or elegant work, but it’s important work.

Lastly, be available!

Certainly the winter months pose significant challenges for people experiencing homelessness and the agencies serving them are glad that people want to help. But don’t forget that agencies need your help year-round. Their needs may shift slightly throughout the year and, by volunteering beyond the holiday season, you may find new volunteer opportunities that you adore!

You can make a difference now and you can make a difference year-round. Together we can end homelessness! To find the information detailed in this blog and more about volunteering and donating in our community, visit the Homeless Initiative website.

Housing Matters: Youth Homelessness December 14, 2010

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This month in our blog we’ve defined homelessness, discussed Housing First, and looked at veteran homelessness. Today we’re going to take a look at youth homelessness.

As you will learn, youth homelessness has its own complexities and just one blog entry is not enough to address all the related issues, so we will revisit youth homelessness (as well as homelessness experienced by others) in later entries. In future posts, we’ll specifically look at the impact homelessness has on our community and the agencies and groups in Asheville and Buncombe County that work to address it.

Our partners at the National Alliance to End Homelessness have graciously allowed us to repost their informative interview on youth homelessness between Marisa Seitz and LaKesha Pope.  See below:
Marisa Seitz:  [For this blog post I’ll focus on the federal plan to end homelessness] objective eight: Advance health and housing stability for youth aging out of systems such as foster care and juvenile justice.
To learn about youth homelessness [in general, since it is a part of homelessness that goes unseen], I talked to LaKesha Pope, Senior Youth Policy and Program Analyst [at the National Alliance to End Homelessness].

Here are some of the questions I asked her and what I learned:

What causes youth homelessness?

Youth can become homeless for many different reasons, many of them the same factors that cause other groups to experience homelessness. However, the major factors that usually contribute to youth homelessness are family dysfunction and breakdown, specifically family conflict, abuse, and disruption. Many youth enter a state of homelessness as a result of:

  • Running away from home,
  • Being locked out or abandoned by their parents or guardians,
  • Running or being emancipated or discharged from institutional or other state care.

Another reason youth often become homeless is because of systems failure of mainstream programs like child welfare or juvenile corrections. These systems fail to address the needs of those leaving the programs, and consequently the youth end up homeless because they are not able to secure housing by themselves.

What does youth homelessness typically look like?

There are four general groups that homeless youth fall into, and it is possible for them to move between groups.

  • First-Time Runners – Youth in this group can usually be returned to their families or guardians.
  • Couch Surfers – Very hard to identify. They use their social networks to find couches of friends or relatives to sleep on for one night or longer.
  • Service Seekers- Those who seek shelter services, easier to identify since shelters are where counts are done. The most visible of homeless youth.
  • Street-Entrenched Youth – Youth who are on the street for six months or more.

There is no research to support the notion that homeless youths often come from homeless families.

Are there groups within the youth population that are particularly affected?

In urban settings, African-American youth are disproportionately represented, and in rural communities, Native American youth are disproportionately represented.

LGBTQ youths increasingly make up a portion of the homeless youth population as well, often due to parents or guardians kicking the youth out due to their orientation, or due to abuse at home for said orientation.

Why is it hard to count youth homelessness?

Homeless youths are particularly difficult to count because they can blend in well. They often appear as students in most public places. Many youths also don’t consider themselves homeless, such as those who couch surf.

Why do youths aging out of foster care and other systems tend to become homeless?

Poor discharge planning.

Youths “aging out” of systems are disconnected and do not have social networks to rely on for assistance in finding housing or employment. They lack self-sufficiency skills and can often be affected by an emotional condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Systems are also ineffective at checking to make sure pre-arranged housing accommodations stick.

This is the group the new federal plan hopes to end to targets specifically in an effort to end this problem.

How do we try and solve youth homelessness?

First, the same way we try and solve all types of homelessness: housing.

Beyond this, youth also need to be connected with adults that will help them, and given life skills development. One way to administer this is through youth housing continuum. To learn more about this and other applied solutions, take a look at our policy ad practice brief.

Marisa Seitz: These were just a few of the questions I asked, but already I could see a new side of the homeless population that needs to be addressed just as much as any other. If you want to know more, LaKesha gave me a great document that gives lots of information on youth homelessness. It’s a brief but illuminating read – four pages can tell you a lot of great information about youth homelessness. You can find it on our website, here.

If you have questions about youth homelessness or homelessness in general, or about the [National] Alliance [to End Homelessness], ask us at or formspring, where you can see the answers to your questions and many others. One of our goals is to help disseminate information about homelessness, so we are more than eager to answer any questions you might have.

Reposted from a the National Alliance To End Homelessness July, 8,2010 post.

A few last thoughts from the Homeless Initiative: If you have experience with youth homelessness and would like to share your experiences with us, we’d love to hear from you! You can find information on how to contact us by clicking here. More information about the Homeless Initiative is also available on our Facebook page.

Ending Homelessness – Veterans and the 5-Year Plan- UPDATED December 10, 2010

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As we have discussed previously, homelessness is the experience of being without stable housing and, as such, it affects an incredibly diverse range of people. This diversity necessitates a closer look so as to better understand issues and determine best-practices for ending homelessness. Today we’re going to look at homelessness among veterans.

Only 8% of the general population can claim veteran status yet veterans make up 1/5 of the homeless population in the United States. This means that homelessness among veterans is more than double the rate of homelessness among the general homeless population. The issues facing veterans are, in many ways, similar to those of non-veterans (lack of affordable housing, lack of a support system, not having a livable income or access to health care, etc). Veterans, however, are made more vulnerable to homelessness due to the physical and psychiatric disabilities that many face after active service. In Asheville-Buncombe during 2009, the regional VA served 457 veterans experiencing homelessness.

For many, it is unconscionable to allow men and women who have risked their lives for our country to be without a home and, in response, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has made ending homelessness among veterans a priority in “Opening Doors“, the federal strategic plan to end homelessness. As part of this federal partnership and strategic plan, the VA produced a 5-Year Plan to address homelessness among veterans and end it by 2014. VA Secretary Eric Shineski explains the plan this way: “If we want to end veteran homelessness, we must attack the entire downward spiral that ends in homelessness… We must offer education and jobs, treat depression and fight substance abuse, prevent suicides and provide safe housing.” The VA is focused on “the three P’s” – Prevention, Partnerships and Perseverance to stay the course along with community partners until the last veteran is off the street.

Through the 5-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the VA will expand existing programs and develop new initiatives to prevent veterans from entering into homelessness and to treat those who are currently homeless. This will be done by:

  • Increasing the number and variety of housing options including permanent, transitional, contracted, community-operated and VA-operated housing.
  • Providing more supportive services through partnerships to prevent homelessness, improve employability and increase independent living for veterans.
  • Improving access to VA and community based mental health, substance abuse and supportive services.

In response to this federal leadership, the Charles George VA Medical Center, which serves 20 counties in Western North Carolina, is currently implementing the plan using six key strategies listed in bold below, along with a few examples of resources offered to veterans in Asheville and Buncombe County:

  • Outreach & Education: A 24/7 hotline for those experiencing a housing crisis and/or in need of information about veteran services at 1.877.4AIDVET.
  • Treatment: The Homeless Veteran Dental Initiative which helps veterans involved in the Grant and Per Diem Program get the dental care they need.
  • Prevention: The Veteran Justice Outreach Initiative which is just getting started and will work with incarcerated veterans and veterans facing charges in court.
  • Housing & Supportive Services: The Charles George VA Medical Center has partnerships with the ABCCM Veteran’s Quarters and FIRST at Blue Ridge to offer transitional housing programs for veterans who are experiencing homelessness through the Grant and Per Diem Program. Also, the VA is moving towards the Housing First model with the HUD-VASH program which pairs housing vouchers and supportive services to offer permanent, supportive housing to veterans and their families.
  • Income/Employment: Compensated Work Therapy targets veterans experiencing chronic unemployment, homelessness and who are diagnosed with persistent alcohol and/or drug addiction.
  • Community Partnerships: The VA has representatives that take part in the Homeless Coalition in order to share information and promote data and resource sharing.

While the VA, The Veteran’s Quarter and its sister program, the Steadfast House, work specifically to address the unique needs of veterans experiencing homelessness in our community, there are many more organizations, faith groups and volunteers that work to support veterans in the Asheville-Buncombe community. During our conversation with Allison Bond of the VA, she noted that it is the community-wide support of veterans, people experiencing homelessness, the Homeless Coalition and the successful implementation of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness that has enabled the George Charles VA to implement its 5-Year Plan and to see such success with it in a short time-span.

To learn more about veterans experiencing homelessness or if you are a veteran without housing, contact Allison Bond at the VA Medical Center by calling (828).298.7911 ext 15506. You can also find more information on the VA Facebook page.

As always, you can learn more about homelessness in Asheville-Buncombe by visiting our website and our Facebook page.

Housing Matters December 3, 2010

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Homelessness is a huge topic so when we talk about it, it’s not always easy to know where to begin. That doesn’t mean that having an honest and constructive dialogue about a big topic like homelessness needs to be confusing, threatening or overwhelming!

In fact, we’re happy to lead the way and start talking about the issues that matter. The Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative’s social media project offers us a great platform as we take an honest accessible look at housing stability and homelessness in our community and answer questions like:

  • What does housing stability mean to people?
  • What resources and solutions exist to address the varied aspects of a housing crisis in our community?
  • What are some outcomes of our efforts to end homelessness?
  • And, very importantly, how can people get involved?

To get started, over the coming month, we will delve into the experiences of mothers, fathers, siblings and children who have lived, worked and even fought for our country and who have experienced a housing crisis to better understand the impact of homelessness in the Asheville-Buncombe community. You’ll hear about successes and, sadly, you’ll also hear about the stories of people who have lost their lives while experiencing homelessness as we come together for the 2010 Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service.

Stay updated on upcoming Homeless Initiative events by checking our Facebook page, our Twitter feed and the Events page of our website.

Housing First November 30, 2010

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In yesterday’s entry, Our Goals: End and Prevent Homelessness, we provided a basic definition of homelessness as a way of bring everyone to a common understanding from which a larger conversation about homelessness can emerge. Today we’d like to offer a definition of an intervention model that the Asheville-Buncombe’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness is based on: Housing First.

In addressing housing instability, our community works to offer unique combinations of housing-centric financial assistance and supports for people who are experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of experiencing homelessness. For some this may mean help with two month’s rent and landlord advocacy to prevent eviction while for others it may mean long-term support while the household works with a case manager to obtain social security income because of a disability.

These combinations of financial assistance and support fall under the Housing First model. A recent post from the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) helps explain further what housing first is and why we use this model as we work to end homelessness:

Why Housing First?

Early last week, the staff at the Alliance had a messaging meeting where a staff member shared with us the frustrations of people he’s been meeting on the field. With the recession in high gear and people in dire need of help, why – advocates and providers asked – why were we not endorsing the rapid construction of temporary shelters?

And then I saw this article on my good friend Shannon’s change.org blog.

So I thought the timing was right to ask: Why Housing First?

But first: What is Housing First?

Housing First is a concept that was pioneered by Dr. Sam Tsemberis of the NYU School of Medicine and an organization in New York called Pathways to Housing.

The premise of the Housing First campaign is that housing is a basic human right and should not be denied to anyone, regardless of their habits or circumstances. Housing First prescribes providing the homeless permanent supportive housing – which includes supportive services coupled with permanent housing (not shelter). The supportive services address addiction, mental health, case management and the like, and provides stability for homeless individuals. These services increase the ability of homeless individuals to maintain permanent housing and achieve self-sufficiency.

It’s important to note that this approach is a significant departure from the traditional way the country approached homelessness before. In the old system, homelessness management was emphasized through shelter, mental health services, medical services, and the like before permanent housing was even considered an option. The premise of this old program was that homeless people had to “earn” permanent housing – an unintentionally patronizing framework. Housing First, as the name suggests, emphasizes housing first, coupled with services, bypassing shelter altogether.

Why Housing First?

Put simply: it works. Studies have shown that those communities who implement Housing First strategies have successfully helped people achieve self-sufficiency and get out of homelessness.

In May of this month, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story about some of the successes the Housing First model has seen in the last few years:

“To cite two: 85 percent of formerly homeless adults have maintained a permanent home after five years in the organization Beyond Shelter’s housing-first program in Los Angeles. And in Pathways to Housing’s program for formerly homeless people with psychiatric disabilities in New York City, 88 percent have been able to maintain a permanent home, compared with only 47 percent of the residents in the city’s traditional program.”

In fact, between 2005 and 2007, the nation saw a nearly 30 percent decrease in the chronic homelessness population, much of which has been attributed to the Housing First approach.

Not only does it work, but it’s cost-effective for the chronically homeless population. While people tend to shy away from the Housing First model over claims of high overhead costs, it turns out to be much more cost-efficient in the long run than temporary shelter.

Consider the cost of the average chronically homeless person in an urban area – say, New York City. Between accessing government services, emergency care at hospitals, run-ins with law enforcement, incarceration, and the like – the cost of an average chronically homeless to the state is quite high. Higher, it turns out, than the permanent supportive housing – which would not only provide the chronically homeless person the services he/she needs to better their well-being, but remove them from the streets altogether and place them in stable housing.

(I’ve cited this story before, but Malcolm Gladwell, of Blink, Tipping Point, and Outliers fame, wrote a story demonstrating just that called “Million Dollar Murray”.)

Housing First is a definitive, effective, and significant step for a systemic change in the way we approach homelessness – one that has been embraced by advocates and elected officials alike.

And that’s why Housing First.

For more about the Alliance’s take on Housing First – check out our website.

This post was authored by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The original posting from July 23, 2009 can be found on their blog, About Homelessness http://blog.endhomelessness.org.

Our Goal: End and Prevent Homelessness November 29, 2010

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November’s Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week helped us take a look at homelessness, including the myths surrounding homelessness in our community and how those myths impact our perceptions. Thinking about homelessness can be mysterious and overwhelming, so it helps to come together and talk about what it means. We are excited about the dialogue that has emerged and happy to offer the community some common definitions to use as we continue our dialogues on homelessness.

First, what is homelessness? The answer is beguilingly simple: homelessness is the experience of not having a home.

To be specific, the federal definition, as set out by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), describes the situation of any individual or family who, for various reasons, has found it necessary to live in emergency shelters or transitional housing for some period of time. This category also includes unsheltered persons who sleep in places not meant for human habitation (for example: streets, parks, abandoned buildings, cars and tunnels) and who may also use shelters on an intermittent basis.

Another important definition is “imminent risk of homelessness”, which describes the situation of persons who are “couch-surfing” (staying temporarily with friends), temporarily living in a hotel, or even living in housing that they will have to leave due to eviction or lack of resources.

As you can see, the emphasis is on a lack of stable housing. This means that homelessness can, and does, affect a wide range of people. This is, in part, what makes ending homelessness a complex and evolving process.

Asheville-Buncombe’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness has in its mission to end chronic homelessness and, moving forward, respond quickly and efficiently to individuals and families if they do experience a housing crisis so that homelessness does not become a way of life for anyone.

And we’re not alone. State and National organizations such as the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness (NCCEH), the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness recognize the importance of applying community interventions that focus on housing as a means to ending homelessness and offer communities such as ours with best-practices research and the recently released Opening Doors, the federal plan to end homelessness.

Ending homelessness will not happen overnight and it cannot happen without your help! Visit our website for more information on how you can get involved.

Are you experiencing homelessness or have you in the past? Do you know someone who is experiencing homelessness or who has previously? We’d love to hear from you. It is your stories that need to be heard and we hope that you will consider sharing them with us.

Have you visited our Facebook page? There is a lot of great stuff on there. Why not head over and have a look?

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