NCH Earns Glowing Congressional Recognitions on its 30th Anniversary

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) recently presented congressional recognitions congratulating the National Coalition for the Homeless on its 30th Anniversary, commending NCH for its accomplishments in the struggle to end homelessness.

Senate Recognition

Remarks made by Senator Ben Cardin on the US Senate floor, April 17, 2013

NCH began with activists’ pursuit of the right of people experiencing homelessness to have shelter and affordable housing, and has developed into an advocacy organization at the forefront of implementing policies to prevent and end homelessness. Our 30th Anniversary is a period of reflection, a time to honor the past and build hope for the future through effective and impactful education, advocacy, programs and service.

NCH inspired descriptions from Sen. Cardin like “an outstanding organization,” and one that commits to “selfless striving to end homelessness.”  These remarks welcome a glance at actions that helped create this legacy, like ensuring that those who have experienced homelessness remain an integral part of advocacy efforts, especially through the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau.  Rep. Johnson acknowledged that NCH “has made tremendous gains since its inception,” which keys into our successes in awareness, philanthropy, advocacy and service related to homelessness over its thirty-year history.  Sen. Cardin  pointed to NCH’s shaping of housing policy for the economically deprived, and how it “spearheaded advocacy for the Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act,” which remains a substantial move toward preserving the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness.

Congressional Recognition

Remarks made by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson on the US House of Representatives floor, April 18, 2013

This recognition highlights not only the organization’s tremendous bounds over its three-decade history, but also a needed positive relationship between NCH and members of Congress.  Both Rep. Johnson and Sen. Cardin realize the importance of introducing policies to end homelessness and deserve their own praise for efforts that demonstrate legal strides towards ending homelessness.

Rep. Johnson was a co-founder and currently co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness, and recently conducted a congressional awareness briefing on family homelessness in America.  She also introduced the Violence Against the Homeless Accountability Act of 2013, which pushes for the Department of Justice to include uniform crime stats concerning hate crimes against homeless individuals.

Sen. Cardin has also expressed support for protecting people experiencing homelessness from violence, introducing a bill in the previous session of Congress to quantify hate crimes against people experiencing homelessness (Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act), making an effort to include NCH’s own documentation of hate crimes against the homeless, and conducting the first ever Senate hearing on violence against the homeless.  Both Sen. Cardin and Rep. Johnson have headed a congressional push to end homelessness, which includes providing homeless veterans with homes, and revitalizing housing in and bringing jobs to disenfranchised neighborhoods.

These initiatives mark a partnership between NCH and Congressional members that has been critical in the coalition’s epoch of successful advocacy.  Congress’s willingness to pursue valued policies gives organizations like NCH needed allies, voices that offer legislative support to the priorities that will bring an end to homelessness.  In accepting deserved praise on its 30th Anniversary for years of accomplishments on the path toward ending homelessness like promoting the Bring America Home Act, NCH equally acknowledges and thanks Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) for their efforts.

Read Senator Cardin and Representative Johnson‘s full recognition declarations.

Post by Keith Meyer, NCH Awareness & Advocacy Fellow, Rising Junior at Allegheny College

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Congressional Caucus looks for solutions

Today the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness and Senator Patty Murray held a briefing on Homelessness in America: Experiences & Solutions in the 113th Congress.  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and staffers from the offices of Senator Patty Murray and Rep. Alcee Hastings kicked off the event with remarks stating the Congresspersons’ commitment to spreading awareness of homelessness among current Congressional members.  The hearing room in the new Capitol Visitors Center was filled to capacity with interested Congressional staffers and advocates!

photo 3Carmela DeCandia, Director of the National Center on Family Homelessness, started off the speakers by giving statistics on family and child homelessness.  Those of us who work in homeless advocacy are familiar with this numbers, but they are still quite startling: around 1.6 million children will experience homelessness this year – for the first year ever the Department of Education found more than a million students did not have stable housing!  The impact that this lack of stable housing has on children is also quite startling – 50% of children who experience homelessness will also experience depression or anxiety, and will have below average test scores.

The next speaker to share his testimony was Devin Johnson, a High School student from Prince George’s County in Maryland.  Devin related his experience with homelessness, which started when both of his parents were laid off from jobs at a restaurant chain.  Over the years, Devin lived with family members, in shelters and outdoors in tents, moving constantly with his family and having to change schools often.  He related many of the challenges homeless families and children often face, losing all belongings, not getting along with family, and having difficulty dealing with school.  Devin’s testimony was critical in showing the audience the face of the human struggle of homelessness, but also how the human spirit can persevere through obstacles.  As he put it, “It feels so good to say you finally made it after it’s been a hard long road…anything is possible.”

Here is a shot after the hearing with NCH Staff Michael Stoops, Neil Donovan, and Megan Hustings, taken by Je’Lissa Fowler

Here is a shot after the hearing with NCH Staff Michael Stoops, Neil Donovan, and Megan Hustings, taken by Je’Lissa Fowler

Also providing some personal testimony, but from an advocate’s perspective, was Brian Carome, the Executive Director of Street Sense, Washington, DC’s Street Newspaper.  Mr. Carome shared his deep personal outrage that homelessness has become an accepted as a part of our daily existence.  Many of us who were born in the 1970’s or later have never known a time without homelessness.  But this current epoch of homelessness was not always the norm, federal housing and welfare programs did at one time succeed in creating a stable home environment for most Americans.  Brian stated that homelessness not only wreaks havoc on the American Family, but that it also greatly decreases a person’s life expectancy.  He became choked up when remembering a friend who died while homeless, at the age of 37, a death that could have been prevented with greater access to housing and healthcare.

Maria Foscarinis of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty rounded out the panel of speakers by bringing the previous testimony to bear on current policy issues.  She declared, “homelessness is not a disease…we know how to end it!”  Maria described how the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides educational supports for children and families experiencing homelessness, but not all local programs have the resources to meet needs.  She applauded the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing program from the Recovery Act of 2009 as housing over one million families, though this short term program is now over.  Maria stressed that there is too little funding for the solutions that are working across the country, and that the cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of making lasting housing solutions.

At the beginning of the briefing, Sarah Bolton, Senior Policy and Budget Advisor to Senator Patty Murray pointed out that the elephant in the room was sequestration, and its impact on Federal programs.  Sequestration has already caused decreased funding for housing vouchers, and as it was put in the briefing, the cutting of funding for housing vouchers is one of the most effectively ways to drastically increase family homelessness.  All of the testimony given at the briefing sends a strong message to Congress: start doing more to help house American families!

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March Madness

In the business of national advocacy it’s difficult to measure your success and impact. However, as a national coalition representing the interests of homeless stakeholders, we must be able to measure our success and impact both accurately and often. As advocates, we understand the importance of disseminating information and the wisdom of sharing it as broadly as possible.

NCH Speakers' Bureau members Steve Thomas and Shelly Gilbert with staff from the Families USA Foundation

NCH Speakers’ Bureau members Steve Thomas and Shelly Gilbert with staff from the Families USA Foundation

The Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau is a program of the National Coalition for the Homeless, with bureaus now in more than two dozen cities, including its flagship program in Washington, DC. The Faces of Homelessness is comprised of people who are or have recently been homeless. It works to educate the public about homelessness and what can be done to prevent, reduce and ultimately end the widespread condition of being un-housed. NCH’s “first person” approach is a unique and necessary tool for establishing significant platforms for those affected directly by homelessness. Each bureau creates unique local opportunities for its members to advocate both personally and collectively for building bridges to their greater community.

Students from Nazareth College with NCH Speakers' Bureau members Andre Colter, Shelly Gilbert, and George Siletti

Students from Nazareth College with NCH Speakers’ Bureau members Andre Colter, Shelly Gilbert, and George Siletti

During the month of March, NCH’s bureaus were busy supporting students who chose to take an “Alternate Spring Break”. While many students were at the beach or back home with friends, students from more than three dozen universities and colleges came to our Nation’s capitol to take on the “Homeless Challenge” of sleeping on the streets for a few nights with our homeless guides, listening to a speakers panel and taking on the goal of an “Outreach Run”.

NCH’s programs are becoming increasingly more and more popular with students, corporate members and throughout our membership. These programs are now reaching a broader more diverse audience with its message and experiences.

This month, NCH had success with record breaking impact:

March 2013 Activity
Faces of Homelessness Speakers Panels Held: 34
Policy and Lobbying Presentations Given: 18
Outreach Runs Conducted: 9
Homeless Challenges (2 nights) Led: 8

Total Number of Events: 58
Number of Schools/Organizations Engaged: 39
Total Number of Audience Members Engaged: 1,986

Participating Schools & Organizations:
Amizade Global Service-Learning (PA)
Baruch College (NY)
Bellarmine University (KY)
B’nai B’rith Youth Organization/Panim el Panim (DC)
B’nai B’rith Youth Organization Civic Education Project (IL)
Clemson University (SC)
Close Up Foundation (VA)
Colorado State University (CO)
Concord University (WV)
Davidson College (NC)
Families USA Foundation (DC)
Florida International University (FL)
George Mason University (VA)
George Washington University (DC)
Hamline University (MN)
Humanity in Action & Lantos Foundation for Human Rights (NY)
Kent State University (OH)
Loyola University (MD)
Nazareth College (NY)
Ohio Wesleyan University (OH)
Pilgrimage (DC)
Princeton University (NJ)
Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (DC)
St. James Lutheran Church (PA)
St. John’s College High School (DC)
St. Luke’s Lutheran (PA)
Steinbruck Center (DC )
United Methodist Seminars (DC)
University of Illinois-Urbana (IL)
University of Maryland-College Park (MD)
University of North Carolina-Greensboro (NC)
University of South Florida (FL)
Vanderbilt University (TN)
Virginia Commonwealth University (VA)
Washington Center for Internships & Academic Seminars (DC)
Washington Seminar Center (DC)
Westminster Presbyterian Church (PA)
Williams College (MA)
Winthrop University (SC)

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Remembering Fearless Advocate John Joyce

If homelessness is a national problem with local solutions, then John Joyce was Rhode Island’s answer to the question “Who will fight the good fight against homelessness in our community?”

This past week, the city of Providence, the state of Rhode Island and the nation lost an advocate’s advocate when John Joyce lost his battle with cancer at the age of 50. The National Coalition for the Homelessness and its membership, both housed and un-housed, wish to express a profound sadness for a friend lost too early and thanks for a life that was truly special by any measure.

John Joyce

John Joyce

Many years went into the making of this courageous homeless advocate. Like many before him, John’s path through homelessness made him a genuine soldier for the war on poverty. His testimonials were spoken from the heart and rendered clearly in first person experiences. John led Rhode Island through an important process that resulted in the enactment of the nation’s first “Homeless Bill of Rights”, a state legislative success that has been emulated nationwide.

We will miss John for his courage and his commitment. But perhaps most of all, we will miss him as a true sign of hope that one day we will live in a fully housed nation.

Please read more about John’s life and death at http://news.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/2013/02/homeless-advocate-joyce-dies-after-cancer-battleready.html

-Neil Donovan, Executive Director, National Coalition for the Homeless

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VISTA Counts in Local Communities

During our difficult winter weather months, members of the National Coalition for the Homeless AmeriCorps*VISTA program are working diligently with their partners in local communities to conduct “Point in Time” homeless counts.

Point-in-Time PiT counts often look different form one community to the next, but the purpose is singular. Required by US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the PiT count is a volunteer led effort to try to capture an accurate iStock_000006795293Small-300x199picture of the number of homeless individuals living in shelters and on the street. Data from the count enables service providers to gauge the extent of homelessness, determine the services needed to prevent, reduce and end it, and help leverage federal funding to support homeless directed services. However the truth concerning the fullest accounting or enumeration of America’s homeless men, women and children lies somewhere far beyond current attempts at data collection.

When volunteer enumerators seek to count those experiencing homelessness they can find them sleeping in a downtown square, a park bench, sleeping out in a car, or hidden from public view under a bridge. Since the counts began, more than two decades ago, there has been considerable controversy concerning the efficacy of a nationwide enumeration. However, the National Coalition for the Homeless and its member organizations believe that many communities across the country are capable counters, wonderful advocates and stewards for progress towards ending homeless. In spite of the best efforts by local area advocate and providers, it’s still remains difficult to imagine that an accurate portrayal of homelessness can be found in a majority of local communities. Nonetheless this is how numbers are collected and resources are allocated. So, America’s only enumeration of those experiencing homelessness is still a very important annual “tradition” for community stakeholders working to end homelessness. In dealing with the confines of the count, NCH-VISTA members have taken this moment to use it as an outreach opportunity in their community.

NCH-VISTA members now employ many different outreachamericorps-week ideas and practices to reach and conduct outreach to individuals experiencing homeless in their community. The members mobilize volunteers to create care packages for individuals, hand out gift certificates, and develop relationships with the individuals that they come in contact with. Through these much needed exchanges, members are able to inform individuals in their own community about what services were available to them.

An NCH VISTA member in Florida has recounted an experience where he was able to inform a group of homeless people under encampment that they had access to a food pantry and a health clinic that they were not aware of. Our members were able to share their “survival guides” that they created, hygiene materials, as well as hand out bus passes to homeless connect events that were planned for the following days. Homeless Connect events are ways for individuals experiencing homelessness to go to one location to receive services such as health screenings, check ups, hair cuts, and job training information.

Our VISTA members are taking advantage of the opportunity to make a big impact on their communities. Though flawed, the homeless count is a great benefit to engage and make contact on a larger scale with those experiencing homelessness in some of the most meaningful ways possible.

-Brian Parks, VISTA Project Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless

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