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Congressional caucus looks for solutions

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Policy Advocacy

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!

Remembering Fearless Advocate John Joyce

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Civil Rights

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

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

Homeless Advocates Set 2013 Policy Priorities

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Policy Advocacy

The executive directors and policy staff representing many of the nation’s leading homeless advocacy organizations met yesterday as the Homeless Advocates Group (HAG) to set policy priorities for 2013. Each member organization of HAG has set its own independent set of issues. The goal of this meeting was to reach consensus around a set of common policy priorities that collectively the group could both support and promote within and among each organization’s own allies.

The policy priorities chosen were:

     1)       National Housing Trust Fund

     2)       Criminalization of Homelessness

     3)       Affordable Care Act Rollout and Implementation

     4)       Preservation of Federal Funds Targeted to and for Those Experiencing Homelessness

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) lobbied hard for the Criminalization of Homelessness to be made a top priority and are very pleased with the progress made during this prioritization process. NCH was represented by Neil Donovan, executive director and John Harrison, NCH Speakers Bureau and the Washington DC based Homeless Peoples Advocacy Network (HPAN) group SHARC.

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