A Night of Outreach and Learning

Last Monday night, I arrived at the “Homeless Count” organized by the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID), nervous and excited to participate in a direct service activity, after a month and a half into my research and advocacy internship with NCH.

Volunteers were given a brief orientation session and were divided into groups, my group was assigned an area in the heart of Chinatown. We were given a map, a flashlight, several outreach service information cards, and some questionnaires. We were instructed to locate people who were experiencing homelessness, pinpoint their location on our map, ask them the questions on the questionnaire, and give them a service outreach card so they would be aware of the services available to them in D.C.

Being new to the count, I decided to sit back and watch how my fellow group members would approach people who were homeless. It seemed straight-forward, they would approach someone, introduce the organization we were with and explain how this homeless count was meant to help them.

At first, it seemed like our introduction made sense, we were helping them, right? However, I quickly began to wonder if I was helping them at all. We were demanding these people’s time, late at night, asking them personal questions, and I couldn’t help but wonder: what was I actually giving them? The only thing we had to physically give out was the outreach services information card that listed services these people might have already known about.

Feeling that I was not really doing anything of value for the homeless, we approached a an older gentleman, who made it clear to me what I should have been doing all along. The man, we’ll call him Jackson, was a Vietnam veteran who had originally come to D.C. for a job in construction. Unfortunately, when he arrived, the job fell through and as time went on, it became harder to make ends meet. Eventually he wound up living on the streets. Even at 74 years of age, Jackson said that he would still be able to do construction work, if there were any jobs available that is. This man had a lot to say but after 5 minutes with him, my group nudged me to move on.  I could tell Jackson had more to say so I stayed,  figuring that if all I had was a measly pamphlet to give him, the least I could do was give him my time and full attention.

When we met Benjamin, I was faced with an ethical dilemma. The last question on the survey was: “Is there anything we can do right now to help you?” But my question was: If there was something we could do, would we? No one made that more evident to me than Benjamin. Though he sat with us and answered all of our questions, when he asked for small meal because he had not eaten since the morning, my group and I quickly declined saying we had no food to give. I wondered why we had asked the question in the first place if we were not really going to do anything about it. I had money, I could have gone and bought him food, but the group assured me that that was not what we were here to do. We were here to count, not to feed and not to enable the cycle. Perplexed, I wondered how feeding someone kept them homeless…wouldn’t  it just keep them healthy and alive?

Finally, we met a couple named Mike and Chloe, who were traveling from Miami. They said they were trying to get to Maine, and when I asked why, they responded that they were going “home”. As Mike played the drums and Chloe danced around to the beat, they assured me that the money they were collecting was to catch a ride “home”. They didn’t seem down, on the contrary, they seemed to like an adventurous life on the road. Though not quite the average homeless couple, we counted them and headed back to the BID office.

By 12:30, our counting had come to an end. In total we counted 12 people who were experiencing homelessness, some sleeping, some walking, some working and some, just trying to get home. Hopefully, the BID’s count will ensure that all these people find permanent help.

*names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identities.

By: Kelsi Sullivan, NCH Summer Intern

Through being a member of NCH, find out how you can help LGBTQ youth deal with the risk of homelessness. Here is some insight from our summer intern, Meghana Sthanam.

This summer, I am fortunate to be able to advocate for a problem I am truly passionate about: the disproportionately large number of LGBT individuals facing homelessness everyday. I’m originally from Birmingham, Alabama, where, almost unsurprisingly, you find a sizable population of LGBT youth without consistent housing. Most live with friends or stay at clubs, hoping to find a bed for the night by whatever means. Although I recognized the problem, after joining NCH, I realized this is a problem that plagues the entire country. In the general population, 3-5% of people self-identify as LGTBQ. Furthermore, studies have shown that the homeless LGBTQ youth population in theU.S.can be as high as 40%, almost half of the entire homeless population. It’s easy to see that young LGBTQ individuals inherently face greater risks of homelessness and discrimination simply by identifying themselves as a different sexual orientation or gender identity. I believe this issue deserves as much attention as other LGBTQ issues, such as gay marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; we cannot continue with this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinking that has pervaded our culture.

There are so many ways our members can help. For those involved with shelters, whether an employee or shelter resident, using positive language to create a safe haven for LGBTQ individuals is essential.  By simply avoiding derogatory thoughts and actions, you can make a person feel more welcome, especially when that person is coming from a climate in which acceptance is lacking. For our youth members still in school: be a friend! The numbers show that an extremely high percentage of homeless LGBTQ have experienced harassment and abuse within their home and school. Thus, reaching out a friendly hand can make a huge difference in someone’s life. For individuals working with law enforcement, LGBTQ youth compose 13-15% of those currently in the juvenile justice system, often because of the school-to-prison pipeline, abandonment by their family or victimization in their schools. Lastly, to all our members: please continue to be an advocate!

Yesterday evening, NCH hosted an event called “Can You Hear Us?” outdoors in Shevchenko Park, in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC . Four members of our Speaker’s Bureau presented their personal stories and advice to a group of young, well-engaged activists.

Each speaker addressed a different issue. David Pirtle began the event by talking about the violence he faced simply because he was homeless. T. Sanders inspired us all to advocate for an issue we feel passionate about. She chose to advocate for at-risk youth; this was due to the fact that she herself was in such a position. John Harrison, addressed the derogatory manor in which he was treated because of his appearance as a “bum.” Lastly, Steve Thomas discussed how one wrong decision can lead to the path of homelessness. Even at 51 years old, Steve said all he needed was his “mommy,” someone to care for him and encourage him to keep going.

While inspired, I was initially disappointed that on the surface, the mission of this event appeared to be unfulfilled. Though the speakers were clearly audible even over the bustling of traffic, they were not truly heard by the many people who chose to walk by. As our last speaker Steve Thomas said, “Homelessness is a matter of convenience for other people.” It was not convenient for most people to come to such an event when more exciting activities than a discussion on homelessness were taking place.  Homelessness is only “convenient” when it personally touches you.

Inevitably, the next question that came to my mind was how do we get this issue to touch others. I realized however, that the answer was to continue doing exactly what we had done. While this event may not have touched many, it transformed the way of thinking for those who attended.

After the event, one member of the audience told me,

“You really grabbed my attention. I have a completely different impression about homelessness than I did before and I would like to become more involved with this issue. Your organization and these speakers have made a great impact today.”

It was then that I understood: while it would have been wonderful if hundreds of people came to this event, our organization was still able to influence at least one person. This one person will in turn influence another person, and one will eventually turn into hundreds. A major goal of our organization is to inspire others to take action and yesterday, we did just that.

A special thanks must once again be given to our four wonderful speakers, without whom, we would not be able to effectively carry out NCH’s mission.

By Sahana Malik

Hunter Scott is a student at American University and was an intern at NCH this past spring. Since his time working in NCH’s office, he has remained involved with the Coalition and the battle to end homelessness. Read Hunter’s unique perspective on why Membership Matters to young people:

I’ve had a passion for working for the homeless since I was an intern at San Francisco’s Project Homeless Connect, where I often used publications and tools provided by NCH to do the work of the organization. Many young people place importance on volunteering with direct service providers, hoping to help the homeless in a face to face capacity. After taking this attitude myself, I decided to get a different experience by interning at NCH during my sophomore year in college. While there, I worked on NCH’s social networking presence, measuring its impact as an effective advocate for the homeless online. During my internship, I learned how working in advocacy organizations, especially national advocacy organizations like NCH, provides the tools needed to create the broad social change that I hoped for after volunteering in direct service capacities. After I finished my internship, I took a grant writing and non-profit management class. I decided to partner with NCH for my projects to support its advocacy work. Today, I continue to support NCH because they provide the needed national progressive voice on all matters relating to homelessness, and will lead the way in bringing the homeless in this country home.

Fred Karnas has been involved at NCH for decades. His long term commitment to ending and preventing homelessness is inspirational and we at NCH are grateful to have members as supportive and enthusiastic as Fred. Below he explains why Membership Matters to him:

How did you first become involved with the National Coalition for the Homeless? In what ways do you continue to be involved with the Coalition?

In the mid 1980s, in Arizona, I worked closely with Louisa Stark, NCH’s first Board President.  She shared many of NCH’s early reports and activities.  In 1989, I participated in the Housing NOW! March in DC, which NCH co-sponsored, and I had the opportunity to meet many NCH Board members and staff.  Then in 1991, I became NCH’s Executive Director, having the privilege of serving for nearly 5 years in a leadership role with some of the most courageous and committed social justice advocates in the nation.

Why do you believe that your Membership Matters at NCH?

Sadly, even after nearly three decades of work by many, the abomination of homelessness remains with us.  Membership in NCH is critical because in the cacophony of voices on how best to end homelessness, the voices of those most affected are often drowned out.  Supporting NCH provides people who are, or have, experiencing homeless, a critically important platform to be heard. 

How do you interact with NCH? In what ways have you benefited from being a member?

I could list many many ways that I have benefited from NCH’s work, from the excellent reports on homelessness-related topics that others often ignore to an increased understanding of the importance of addressing crimes against homeless persons.  But, for me personally, the greatest benefit has been the connection to advocates across the country who are doing heroic work day in and day out to end homelessness.  I have learned so much from other NCH members over the years that has informed my work and motivated me to continue to walk the walk.

Thank you Fred for being such an integral part of NCH!!  To join NCH and help us prevent and end homelessness click here and find out why Membership Matters!

There are very real and important reasons why homelessness in America grew to such crisis levels during our lifetime and why it continues to exist today. There are also a number of basic ways that each of us can help locally to prevent, reduce and end homelessness nationwide. 
Beginning today, the National Coalition for the Homeless is launching Membership Matters, a new membership campaign to help Americans better understand homelessness as a national problem with local solutions. During this campaign we’ll introduce you to effective, meaningful and reasonable ways that each of us can make a lasting difference in the life of a family or individual who is either un-housed or at-risk of homelessness.
There’s a building sense among advocates and academics that the current national levels of funding and services is only enough to manage the problem of homelessness in America. The sustained lack of affordable housing, living-wage jobs and access to affordable healthcare is preventing America from moving towards a permanent and lasting solution to homelessness. NCH believes that there are profound consequences to managing this social crisis for too long: the United States is at risk of producing the first generation of chronically homelessness individuals and families who are housing resistant and a nationwide network of social supporters who questions whether homelessness can be ended.
Membership Matters is not a fundraising campaign. In fact we are adjusting the cost of joining or sustaining membership in NCH down to make your membership decision easier. If you are or were homeless or living in poverty, your membership fee is waived. All other membership rates for students, individuals, families, organizations and corporations have been reduced and are also negotiable to ensure the greatest levels of involvement and participation in NCH.
Over the next eight weeks, we’ll be rolling out NCH’s Membership Matters campaign with:
•     The Facts and Myths of Homelessness in America
•     Action Alerts to let your lawmakers know how to have the biggest impact
•     10 Recommended Strategies for Local Involvement that you can use at home
•     Frequently Asked Questions to help you understand the lives of the homeless
•     Top Story News tweets throughout the day.
•     Blog posts from staff, national experts and NCH members.
•     Membership surveys
•     Research, reports and white papers on topics of importance to ending homelessness.
•     …and lots more.
Don’t miss this opportunity to make a difference!  Become a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless! (Click Here)
Be a part of a growing movement of concerned people: current & formerly homeless, activist, advocate and all who are committed to ending homelessness. We want and need you to join, sustain or renew your membership today, because at NCH we believe that Membership Matters
Neil J. Donovan
Executive Director

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is expected to publish later this week in the Federal Register interim regulations for the new Continuum of Care (CoC) program under the HEARTH Act and a summary of these regulations.

Eligible activities & program requirements of the CoC program addressed in the regulations are:

  • Permanent housing ( PSH for people with disabilities and rapid re-housing) (PSH)
  • Transitional housing (TH)
  • Supportive Services Only (SSO)
  • Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS)
  • Prevention (For High Performing Communities designees)

“HUD expects the regulation to be published in the Federal Register in the coming week. The interim regulation will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The final Homeless Definition is in effect for administration of the CoC Program interim rule.” -HUDHRE.info

Read the Regulations and Summary

To each person, the word “home” carries a different meaning. For some, it is simply a roof over one’s head. To others however, the word “home” carries greater significance: it implies a certain sense of comfort provided not only by the protection of having a physical shelter, but also by the support given by a person’s family or loved ones. Thus, having a “home” can also mean having a community to rely upon.

This is exactly what the word “home” meant to the residents of Camp Take Notice (CTN) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The camp was a grassroots tent community of homeless people who worked to create a safe and sober atmosphere in which they could receive food and shelter. CTN partnered with Michigan Itinerant Shelter System-Interdependent Out of Necessity, an organization that facilitates tent communities for the homeless, to create the camp.

Photo by Michael Dietsch

Unfortunately, the Michigan Department of Transportation ordered the eviction of the camp, stating the residents of CTN were trespassing. Homeless persons were forced to move out of the area on June 22nd, 2012 and abandon the community they called home. An eight-foot wall is now being built around the area in order to prevent the establishment of any other encampments.

Of the 68 camp residents, only 33 qualified to receive one-year housing subsidies; the others were left to fend for themselves. In a situation like this, real sustainable solutions for every resident need to be provided. Unfortunately, this rarely occurs when dealing with criminalization of the homeless. Many simply believe that by implementing camping bans and similar laws, the homelessness issue will disappear. Yet, without sustainable solutions attacking the root of the problem, the homelessness issue will still remain widespread.

Michigan Senator Rebekah Warren has worked tirelessly to delay the eviction, and help create alternative solutions to the problem. “I am deeply concerned for the well-being of the residents of this camp and I believe that all people deserve basic necessities like shelter, running water and electricity.”

Senator Warren sought another property that could serve as a new location for the camp but was regrettably unsuccessful in her attempts due to MDOT’s unwillingness to delay the eviction. Consequently, there was insufficient time to find another location. Despite these setbacks, she remains committed to the issue by continuing to look for long-term solutions to the homelessness issue.

While Senator Warren’s work is inspiring, too few public officials champion the issue of homelessness. In fact, many support criminalization efforts that negatively target the homeless in an attempt to “deal with the homeless problem.” Everyone deserves to have a place they can call home. Creating barriers to housing not only violates basic human rights, but it also counters the better interests of our society. It is thus imperative that more actions be taken to prevent such criminalization laws from being put into place.

By Sahana Malik, NCH Summer Intern

See NCH Staff talking more about Home and Homelessness. (Special thanks to Speak For We for the insights, platform and innovative thinking!)

On July 10, NCH hosted a briefing at the capital to discuss acts of violence against the homeless and advocate for hate crimes legislation.  The importance of this issue was marked by the attendance of the four co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness: Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13th), Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL-23rd), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30th), and Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY-4th).

Greg, victim of violence

All four congressional members spoke passionately about the remarkable number of violent acts against the homeless that have been recorded, as well as the overwhelming lack of data currently available.  Representative Johnson also discussed her bill, HR 3528, which would include “homeless status” in current federal Anti-Hate Crimes legislation and further require the collection of data on hate crimes committed against the homeless.

Afterwards, NCH played an equally horrifying and crucial video that displayed images of homeless individuals being beaten up.  It was difficult to watch as some of the most vulnerable members of our society were targeted and battered for circumstances outside of their control.  This video reinforced how vital hate crimes legislation is to protect the homeless.

The briefing also featured three speakers who testified about their different experiences with violence against the homeless.  The first to speak was Captain Wierzbicki of the Broward County (Florida) Sheriff’s Department who was instrumental in the passage of hate crimes legislation against the homeless in Florida in 2010.  He stressed the need for law enforcement participation in the passage of such legislation because of their role in reporting hate crimes and working with homeless individuals.

The next speaker was David Pirtle who testified as to his experience living on the streets of New York and Washington, DC due to mental illness.  Mr. Pirtle not only witnessed others being brutally beaten, but suffered abuse repeatedly himself.  His compelling story reinforced that people living on the streets are deserving of protection, particularly because of added vulnerability to the elements, illness, and hunger.

Lastly, Maria Foscarinis, current director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) and former NCH staff, testified as to the efforts by NLCHP to combat homelessness.  She drew attention to criminalization efforts across the country to penalize people for “activities of life” performed in public spaces.  She stated that access to affordable housing is a human right and that governments should seek to deal with the root causes of homelessness.  For example, permanent supportive housing has proven to be not only widely successful, but a financially responsible solution.

This event demonstrated the shared recognition amongst government officials, advocates, law enforcement, the homeless, and concerned citizens that hate crimes legislation should be expedited to protect this segment of the population. Such legislation will not only punish and deter individuals from committing bias-related crimes, but it will make a statement to the community that the homeless are deserving of such protection.

By Allison Dinmore

Homelessness occurs when someone “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence.” This definition, however, fails to take into account the true hardships and complexities of what it means for a person to be without a home. Because of prejudice and negative perceptions, living on the streets often makes someone invisible. For this reason, the voice of a homeless person, while audible, may not truly be heard.Can You Hear Us?

Our country was founded on the premise that no voice should go unheard and no injustice unchallenged. It is thus imperative that our country upholds this principle by listening to our equals, housed or un-housed. The Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau is a program of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) in which individuals who have been un-housed speak about their experiences. Such a forum educates the public and generates understanding about the plight of the homeless. It is through such understanding that we as a country can identify the root causes of homelessness and seek out solutions to end it.

On July 25th, NCH will host a public forum on homelessness that will celebrate the voices of the homeless. Join us, as T. Sanders, David Pirtle, Steve Thomas, and John Harrison reveal their personal experiences with homelessness.

Can You Hear Us?
Date: July 25th, 2012
Time: 6:00 p.m.
Place: Taras Shevchenko Park, 23rd and P Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20037