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NCH applauds appointment of HUD and HHS Secretaries

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

The National Coalition for the Homeless congratulates Marcia Fudge on her appointment as the 18th Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Xavier Becerra on his appointment as Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)! See below for more about Secretaries Fudge and Becerra.

Marcia Fudge is as tough as her hometown of Cleveland

If you live in Cleveland for any length of time, you have to develop a thick skin to be successful.  It is tough union town with snow in May, people have no problem telling you how bad you are doing your job and the city has been in the top five poorest communities in the United States for the past two decades.  Marcia Fudge, the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio serving as the former mayor of one of the surrounding suburbs and Cleveland’s Congresswoman.  

Marcia Fudge started out her political career as mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, which is best known as the cut through to somewhere else. This small suburb of Cleveland features 90% African American residents and is only 4 square miles.  This experience gave her a great background to chair the Congressional Black Caucus during her years as a Representative for the East Side of Cleveland.  Fudge is especially sensitive to the disparity that exists in the United States for minority populations with development and investments going to predominately white suburbs of Cleveland with majority minority suburbs left behind. 

She was often unopposed in her election to 11th Congressional district in Ohio after the sudden death of her friend Stephanie Tubbs Jones.  This seat is historic in Ohio going back to the first African American nominated to Congress from Ohio, Louis Stokes who served for 30 years.  The seat was gerrymandered to include African Americans in Akron by the racist Ohio legislature in 2012.  This was to limit African American representation in Congress from Ohio to just 2 out of 16 total seats, and so Fudge understands institutional racism.  This will prepare her to rebuild her new agency and its commitment to fair housing after a rough couple of years in which the previous administration focused more on the failings of individuals instead of the systems built to keep people living in poverty.  

Thought during her tenure in Congress, Fudge did not take the lead in supporting people experiencing homelessness, she could be counted on to speak up when seniors or veterans were involved.  These two populations are the third rail of Ohio politics and will get a response if there is a scandal or potential problem with federal funding or bureaucratic entanglement.  When there was a threat to a senior housing property her office was involved, and she was supportive of expanding affordable housing locally.  

Locally, Fudge has been a champion of expanded food stamp benefits, education and voting rights. She was a person who showed up and put in the work everyday to put forward ideas of racial equity and access for low income and minority members of her constituency.  She was not brash about wielding her power, but behind the scenes there was no doubt who was the Mayor of Northeast Ohio.

Fudge will be a huge champion for fair housing and should be good at expanding opportunities for affordable housing in the United States.  She will not criticize people who need help or struggle with housing like some of her predecessors at HUD.  Fudge will be a lot more open to innovative programs and working toward solutions.  She will work for equity in the distribution of resources and access to essential services.  Don’t let her quiet and reserved demeanor fool you. Marcia Fudge is as tough as turning one of those giant container ships down the winding Cuyahoga River of Cleveland. 


Xavier Becerra Takes on the Biggest Health Challenges in the History of the US

Congratulations to the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra! Becerra is facing the biggest health challenges to ever face the US and probably a more difficult job than every single one of his predecessors combined. While HUD receives all the attention in the federal response to homelessness because of the obvious link to housing, HHS has more of an impact on the daily lives of homeless people. The first priority for Secretary Becerra is to oversee the huge outlay of funds in the American Rescue Act and ushering the United States through the final push to defeat Covid19.  The HHS Secretary has a huge amount to administer under the American Rescue Plan including:

  • Covid 19 vaccinations for those covered by Medicaid and those uninsured.
  • A re-opening of the Obamacare marketplace with expanded eligibility
  • An expanded role for the CDC in planning, promoting and tracking vaccine distribution.
  • $7.7 billion for state, local and territorial health departments to establish public health workforce
  • An expansion of funds for alcohol and drug treatment and community mental health services to the local community.
  • Additional funds to prevent overdoses, syringe services, and other harm reduction programs. 

Becerra is a previous member of the US House of Representatives from the heart of Los Angeles. He spent the last four years regularly challenging the Trump administration as Attorney General for the State of California.  He has the challenge of getting 200 million Americans vaccinated so that we can reach herd immunity and finally be able to gather without masks for Thanksgiving. Then after the pandemic, he still has to lead the second largest of the federal bureaucracies behind the Defense Department.  He will need to restore faith in the Center for Disease Control and return science based research and guidance to many of the departments under his purview.  Becerra will have to reform the internal structure of the Department and take the muzzle off the HHS Inspector General.  The efforts to strip away regulations during the previous administration hit HHS especially hard and demoralized the workforce.  The National Coalition for the Homeless want to see HHS take a more prominent position within the federal government to eradicate homelessness in the United States. 

The National Coalition for the Homeless will urge the new Secretary to take a lead role in ending homelessness in America with a health care related “continuum of care” distributed to local communities targeting homeless people and programs for the 2022 federal budget. Imagine if a federal agency forced the local community to take responsibility for making homelessness a healthcare issue. Think of the resources saved if local communities were given an incentive to take responsibility for all those who lose their housing as a result of their mental health, addiction (including gambling) issues, or just general healthcare debts as well as chronic health conditions.  They could pay for these services with a tax on prescription drugs, alcohol, smoking, and the gambling industry.  If all those with a health related emergency were removed from the shelters and homeless services, we could actually see a light at the end of this long American nightmare of homelessness.  

NCH believes we need treatment on demand that goes beyond just AA and is forgiving of relapses.  We need a mental health system that takes responsibility for life long care in much the same way as the developmentally disabled community provide life long wrap around services.  The HHS Secretary needs to force a complete overhaul of the foster care system nationwide to eliminate the urge for the local community to remove (mostly minority children) because a mother is poor.  We need to push for guaranteed basic income to replace the broken welfare system including childcare, unemployment, and cash assistance. We need HHS to assure that no one loses their housing because of medical debts and that a doctor can prescribe housing as a solution for the guy at the emergency room with a chronic health condition.  NCH believes that psychiatrists and mental health professionals should be available to every single person who becomes homeless and that the industry should be required to volunteer their time in much the same way as attorneys represent indigent clients.  Finally, none of the health care facilities that receive even $1 of federal funds should ever discharge a person to the shelters or the streets. 

Open Letter to NYC Department of Homeless Services

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Action Alert, Blog

To: Ms. Joslyn Carter
New York City Department of Homeless Services

We read the NY Times story about the Bronx Parent Housing Network shelter and the allegations of harassment by the former director in February 2021.  The National Coalition for the Homeless is concerned that the repeated allegations were made over a long period of time and no one seems to have acted on them until the New York Times front page story.  We know that the City is under court supervision to provide shelter to everyone who seeks assistance, which has led to an explosion in shelters and the funding of shelters.  The National Coalition for the Homeless is concerned that the system has become so huge that it needs a complete overhaul and is beyond mere agency personnel changes or updating standards to have any impact on protecting the end user. 

It seems as though there are broader community wide policy changes that need to occur in order to stop the tide into the system and make the time that a person is without housing as short as possible. We recommend looking at a complete overhaul of the homeless social service system to prevent discharges from subsidized housing through eviction as well as medical facilities including drug treatment and mental health facilities into the shelters.  We support increasing the local housing subsidy to those struggling with homelessness so that they have more options in the market and could receive a subsidy that beats or at least matches the federal Housing Choice Voucher program. Shouldn’t the goal of the homeless shelter system in New York be to decrease the time spent in the homeless social services to the shortest time possible?  We believe that the goal could be written into every contract to get those seeking assistance out of the shelter/housing assistance programs as soon as humanly possible?  Maybe an incentive package for the homeless assistance industry for moving families into stable housing in under 30 days?

We understand from local advocates that you have set up an impressive system for input by current members of the homeless community to provide input to the Continuum of Care funding, but we also understand that these are only a fraction of the homeless assistance funds in New York City.  We ask that you consider expanding the oversight by homeless people to include all homeless social service funding and constructing a peer network in which those using the facilities could receive help from graduates of the programs.  This could be a model for programs from around the country and it would stem criticism of this giant bureaucracy unresponsive to the needs of its constituents. We are not asking for the hiring of a consultant who will spend the next year with focus groups to prevent sexual harassment in the shelters, and in the end will produce $1 million poster that says “Sexual Harassment is Wrong—If you see something say something.” We all know that sexual harassment is not acceptable especially in a shelter serving domestic violence victims, and we all understand that women who have few choices are especially vulnerable.  From our perspective, we see a need for reform within  government that failed to set up protections, and once there were allegations, failed to respond quickly?

We understand that the Department of Homeless Services is reviewing the situation with the Bronx Parent Housing Network and will work with a caretaker CEO to make changes. NCH is asking that this incident prompt a larger look at shelters and housing for those experiencing homelessness to transform them back to short emergency services and not long term housing solutions.  We hope that you will look at the entire system to make dramatic changes so that anyone entering the shelter system is protected from predatory behavior and has access to a process to report abuse that will result in immediate actions. We have some recommendations:

  • Build into the contacts an incentive system to move people into housing within 30 days of presenting.
  • Limit intake restrictions so that the process is simple and speedy without barriers to access or a long questionnaire that includes a detailed history.
  • Work with local advocates to implement a city wide ban on government funded institutions discharging anyone into a shelter. 
  • Increase all local housing subsidies so that the family/individual can afford housing at the market rate and not be stuck in housing that pays the landlord less than market rates. 
  • Reduce hostile discharges from the shelter system.  The discharge policies for homeless social services should be focused on restorative justice model and not a punitive system that results in a high number of evictions.  Force a high bar with much bureaucracy and greater transparency with the goal of moving people into a better situation instead of so many lateral moves or discharges onto the streets. 
  • Work with groups like Picture the Homeless or Urban Justice Center to collect and report feedback from those using the homeless social service that would result in meaningful oversight. We are not asking for token input of 1 or 2 homeless individuals but real empowerment of leadership groups to provide real involvement by those who have experienced homelessness. This entity needs to be staffed by those who have experienced homelessness and supported by public funding.  This so called “homeless ombudsman’s office” should be visible within the social service system to accept complaints and have the authority to act on those complaints.  
  • A comprehensive review of all agencies policies and procedures to assure that there are tough standards against harassment of clients or staff.  There are good models available and every social service provider should have strong policies with clear consequences for those who violate these standards. No need to contract with a consultant.  We are asking for common sense protections to be put in place for every group receiving public money.
  • A new project to hire currently homeless individuals as so called “mystery shoppers” to report directly back to the Department of Homeless Services on the facilities and care that residents or clients are receiving. 
  • Once a problem is discovered there is due process for the agency, but the investigation and adjudication must be swift and consequential.  We believe these new policies should be published and that complaint process be transparent with the specific names withheld but all other information be released to the public. 
  • Again work with grassroots leadership development groups such as Picture the Homeless or the Urban Justice Center to provide current and formerly homeless individuals a meaningful role in deciding on local priorities for funding. These community leaders with lived experience should be consulted on how resources are divided within the community.  They should have a bigger role than the other communities of interest such as other homeless service providers, government or housing providers. It is our experience that when consulting people who have utilized the shelter system, the reliance on congregate living facilities is greatly reduced.  No one wants to have to sleep on a cot in a gymnasium without privacy because it only adds to the trauma of homelessness and strips a person of their dignity. 
  • Finally, the National Coalition for the Homeless was founded by a group of homeless and formerly homeless people in New York and Washington DC, and for our 40 year history we have always attempted to demonstrate the power and wealth of experience of those who have survived homelessness.  To that end, we have always recommended the importance of peer networks to ending homelessness.  We believe that for a large metropolitan area there should be a safe place for people currently experiencing homelessness can go to learn from those who lived through the trauma of homelessness.  We believe that there is no greater use of public resources than a mentoring network of trained individuals with lived experience who can help people who have recently lost their housing navigate the complicated system and can help to avoid the pitfalls or dead ends that often slow a person’s ability to find stability.  

We would be happy to set up a meeting to discuss any of the issues we have raised.  We are not trying to criticize your work, but we only offer an outside perspective.  We all want to see a better environment for the people we both serve.  We all want to reduce the trauma associated with homelessness and to fund projects that we would be willing to see a relative effectively utilize.  Thank you for all your hard work in protecting fragile populations in our society. 

Sincerely,

Donald Whitehead

cc: Mayor Bill DeBlasio

NCH applauds passage of the American Rescue Plan

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

Congress has voted to enact the American Rescue Plan and President Biden signed it into law today! The legislation includes nearly $50 billion in essential housing and homelessness assistance, including over $27 billion for rental assistance and $5 billion in new funding for states and cities to provide housing stability for tens of thousands of people experiencing homelessness.

The $27 billion for rental assistance, combined with the $25 billion provided by Congress last year and a separate $5 billion for utilities in the American Rescue Plan, can eliminate the over $50 billion of rent and utility arrears that renters have accrued during the pandemic and will enable longer-term housing stability for some renters. This success would not have been possible without your incredible advocacy and the unwavering leadership of congressional champions!

The $1.9 trillion relief package provides broad based relief. This new law will: 

  • Extend enhanced unemployment benefits through the summer. 
  • Give millions of people a desperately needed cash infusion of $1,400. 
  • Expand the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit to help low- and middle-income people. 
  • Fully fund vaccine distribution. 
  • Extend nutrition assistance for hungry children and families. 
  • Provide housing and utility assistance to keep people in their homes. 
  • And deliver aid to states, communities, tribes, and territories to cover safe education in the pandemic, maintain critical services and prevent job layoffs. 

This new law will cut childhood poverty in half. This new law will provide a critical lifeline for millions of people and families who have lost jobs and wages during the pandemic. And, it is vital to fully vaccinating the U.S. population. 

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