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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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Tips For Volunteers December 30, 2010

Posted by abhomeless in The Basics.
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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

Posted by abhomeless in The Basics.
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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.

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