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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 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 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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