Today when a family facing a housing crisis seeks shelter in Los Angeles or Mercer County, NJ, they will encounter a very different homeless service system than they would have just a few short years ago. That’s because both communities have radically transformed their homeless service systems to increase their capacity to help families.
In the past, families in L.A. would call programs all over the county to find a vacancy. Due to the county’s size, they might find a program 25 or even 50 miles from their previous residence. Too often, they would be forced to turn to an adult shelter program or a facility in Skid Row that was poorly equipped to support families with children. Today, the city has Family Solutions Centers strategically located through the county to assesses families’ housing needs and refer them to the most appropriate shelter or housing intervention in their own community.
When do youth become adults? If you ask the foster care system in most places, it’s at the age of 18, when youth “age out,” or are required to exit the system. More than 20,000 youth age out of foster care each year. This means that they have to learn to meet their own needs, as they no longer will have their needs met by the state. They must identify and maintain housing, find a job, and manage their own finances. Put simply: each year, more than 20,000 youth must rapidly become adults.
For many of these youth, aging out of foster care leaves them in a precarious situation in which they are vulnerable to homelessness. If we know that youth exiting foster care are particularly vulnerable to homelessness, what can we do to support this transition for the youth who are most likely to become homeless? And, how do we know which of these youth are most likely to become homeless?
Due to the sequestration cuts in fiscal year (FY) 2013, about 100,000 fewer families had access to housing vouchers by June of 2014 compared to December 2012[EC1] , according to speakers on a recent webinar held by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Prospects for 2016 Funding and Implications for Voucher Utilization.”
The lack of funding has put public housing authorities (PHAs), which are responsible for administering housing assistance, in a tight spot. PHAs have become reluctant to issue housing vouchers to families in need of assistance out of fear that they won’t be able to renew them. The good news is that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced that funding will be available this year to cover 100 percent of voucher renewal costs from calendar year 2014.
It’s that time of year again when members of Congress are circulating “Dear Colleague letters” to encourage their colleagues to support increased funding levels for programs that they care about.
As such, we’ve launched a Letter Writing Campaign to urge members of Congress sign on to letters in support of funding the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program at the level the Obama Administration proposed for FY 2016: $2.480 billion. This funding level would accelerate our progress toward ending chronic, family, and youth homelessness by allowing us to provide an additional 25,500 units of permanent supportive housing and 15,000 rapid re-housing interventions.
Here in Washington, DC the cold temperatures and harsh weather during hypothermia season, which lasts from November through March, are dangerous for everyone, but they are perhaps most dangerous for those who are homeless. Just last year, the punishing winter resulted in nine known deaths of homeless individuals in DC.
This winter I volunteered with the Hypothermia Emergency Response Team, which is run by the Capitol Hill Group Ministry. Team volunteers are deployed on nights when the Department of Human Services issues a hypothermia alert in an effort to support the city’s efforts to provide emergency shelter on these frigid nights. Hypothermia alerts are issued when the temperature is forecasted to fall to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below, including the wind chill factor.