Homeless assistance systems, as we all know, have limited resources. This means that they often cannot serve everyone. To make the most of their available resources, many communities try to serve the subpopulations and individuals who are most in need of help. Doing that, however, can be tricky.
Communities must first identify the most vulnerable persons and then match them with the most appropriate services. Experts have devised a variety of tools for communities to use to accomplish this daunting task. These tools are administered by workers in the homeless assistance system, who ask people experiencing homelessness questions in order to determine the degree of their vulnerability, as well as what services they should receive.
(Here at the Alliance we have developed our own tool for communities: The Alliance Comprehensive Assessment tool.)
There is wide variety in the assessment tools that communities use and how they use them. Last fall, the Alliance and the Office of Policy Development and Research of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) brought together leading homelessness experts from around the country for an expert convening to discuss the assessment tools that communities use and what questions they should include.
Last week was a busy one for the Alliance’s policy team. On Monday, Feb. 2, the Obama administration released its fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget proposal, and we wasted no time in poring over the details to determine exactly what the administration is proposing for key homeless assistance and affordable housing programs.
Soon after, we published a number of materials on the budget proposal for advocates, from a chart that outlines the proposed funding levels by program to sample FY 2016 appropriations talking points. You can find them all at our President’s FY 2016 Budget Briefing page.
We also hosted a webinar that provided an overview of the appropriations process and an analysis of the administration’s proposed funding levels.
Earlier this week President Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2016, which begins Oct. 1, 2015. The proposal includes strong measures to help communities re-house homeless people and prevent people who are at-risk from becoming homeless. As has become typical over the past several years, however, grave disagreement between the administration and Congress over larger budget issues means a lot of uncertainty for the future of homeless programs. The President’s budget presents a feasible best-case-scenario for progress on homelessness. (The worst-case-scenario is decidedly grimmer.) It’s based on some commonsense assumptions about homelessness.
Here at the Alliance, we often say that the answer to homelessness is housing. Though there are many ways to ensure people have access to housing, one of them is by connecting them to employment. If people are employed in living-wage jobs, they should be more able to afford housing.
Over the past several years, MDRC, a nonprofit that conducts research on social policy, has examined a demonstration project to explore ways to increase employment and earnings for families living in subsidized housing. In 2012, MRDC released early findings from the project in a report, “Working Toward Self-Sufficiency: Early Findings from a Program for Housing Voucher Recipients in New York City.” (MDRC will release a second report of longer-term findings soon.)
MRDC focused on the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, a federal program that works to decrease reliance on housing vouchers by providing case management to prepare families for and connect them to employment, increasing families’ share of the rent as their income increases, and diverting families’ increased rent payments into interest-accruing accounts that are paid out to them upon program completion.
On particularly cold winter nights, many cities mount aggressive campaigns to encourage vulnerable adults living outdoors to come in for the night. City leaders or nonprofit groups elect to expand their community's shelter capacity, often with church basements or city facilities that aren't designed to be used as sleeping accommodations.
Individuals who seek shelter at these temporary overflow locations aren’t likely to receive much in the way of services, but they won’t be asked many questions either, which is often by design. The idea is to erect as few barriers to shelter as possible so that people will choose to come indoors when weather conditions are particularly dangerous.
And yet, these overflow shelters offer a unique opportunity for service providers to engage particularly vulnerable homeless veterans and others who might typically avoid emergency shelters. With Congress and the Obama administration providing unprecedented new resources to help veterans escape homelessness, this winter is time to take advantage of it.