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Donald Whitehead Jr. Named Executive Director of NCH

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Donald WhiteheadThe Board of Directors of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) announced today that it has hired Donald H. Whitehead Jr. as its new Executive Director. Mr. Whitehead brings more than 20 years of experience in serving and advocating for persons experiencing homelessness to NCH, including five years experiencing homelessness himself.

“At a time that our nation is experiencing record homelessness, a rise of COVID-19 infection among those experiencing homelessness, and a rising movement for racial and economic justice that calls to account decades of institutional racism that contributes to the disproportionate over-representation of people of color on our streets, we are extremely proud that the oldest national organization focused on ending homelessness in our country is now being led by Black man who has himself experienced and overcame homelessness and addiction.” said John Parvensky, outgoing NCH Director.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to help elevate the voices of those experiencing homelessness so that our country can address the intersection of racial justice and housing justice, and finally completes the unfinished business of the civil rights movement”, said Donald H. Whitehead Jr.”

Whitehead, who has served as the NCH Board President for the past year, will give up that role to devote his full-time effort as Executive Director.  Previously, Whitehead has directed several programs serving people experiencing homeless including outreach and case management, health care, emergency shelter and permanent supportive housing.  He has also served as a national advocate and an Organizational Management Consultant focused on homelessness and racial equity.  He brings a unique combination of direct service to those experiencing homelessness as well as years of advocacy for systemic change to end homelessness through increased federal investment in housing and services as well as an end to policies that criminalize homelessness.  Whitehead is also a veteran who served three years in the U.S. Navy.

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), founded in 1981, is the oldest national organization focused on ending homelessness in America.  It is a national network of people currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to their mission of: To end and prevent homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected. Over the last 38 years through advocacy efforts addressing the root causes of homelessness including lack of affordable housing, and partnering to write landmark legislation including the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987.

The hiring of Whitehead to lead NCH was made possible by an anonymous two-year capacity building grant.

Sue Watlov Phillips will become Board President of NCH.  Watlov Phillips has worked together with people experiencing homelessness by addressing both the immediate needs and structural causes of homelessness for over 52 years and currently serves as Executive Director of MICAH – Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing in Minnesota.

Dr. Rajni Shankar-Brown serves as Board Secretary of NCH.  Shankar-Brown is an internationally renowned scholar-educator and social justice activist in education, is a leading expert on child and family homelessness, diversity and transformative leadership, community engagement and human rights. Dr. Shankar-Brown is a professor and the Jessie Ball duPont Endowed Chair of Social Justice Education at Stetson University, as well as the Founder and Executive Director of the Poverty and Homelessness Conference.

Barbara Anderson serves as Board Treasurer of NCH.  Anderson served for 24 years as Executive Director of Haven House, an emergency shelter and service center for families and individuals experiencing homelessness in rural Indiana.  She is currently devoting her time full time to advocacy and organizing on behalf of those experiencing homelessness in rural communities.

In 2019, NCH entered into a strategic alliance with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH)  to leverage the strengths of each organization towards a renewed focus on elevating the crisis of homelessness being experienced in communities across America and increasing organizing and advocacy for immediate action at the Federal level to end homelessness and reduce its trauma on the millions of individuals and families experiencing homelessness and those at imminent risk of losing their homes. The agreement allowed NCH to build its capacity to focus on its strength of bringing together those experiencing homelessness to share their experiences with our nation’s leaders in a call for immediate action to end homelessness.  The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless will continue to provide its administrative, financial and policy capacity to support NCH’s renewed efforts as Whitehead assumes his new position.

How can the Federal government plan to End Homelessness?

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The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness announced in June that it would be working to update the coordinated Federal plan to end homelessness. Comments were solicited via the USICH website, though now, all mention of this comment process have been removed.

Below are the concerns and comments that the National Coalition for the Homeless shared:

NCH Comments on the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness
Submitted to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness July 2020

Thank you for your efforts to revise the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness, and to gather comments from stakeholders. However, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is concerned that the US Interagency Council on Homelessness is not soliciting input from a broad enough audience, nor in a transparent process that includes people who have experienced homelessness as key drafters. 

After nearly four decades of advocacy on behalf of those experiencing homelessness, NCH believes that any further Federal Strategic Plans to End Homelessness must be made in direct partnership with people who lived the experience of homelessness. The true experts, people with this “lived experience” of homelessness know first hand the effects of Federal policy and as such, can hone in on what changes can be made to achieve the goal of ending mass homelessness in the United States. 

Further, any Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness must:

  1. Have clear and quantifiable goals, objectives and action steps. The plan should include a timeline, parties responsible for implementation, and a description of funding needs and sources. 
  2. State that housing is a civil and human right, as a safe, stable home is the foundation for human development, student achievement, economic survival and community health. 
  3. Identify the systemic causes of homelessness, including structural racism, redlining, and other disinvestment in black and brown communities. The plan and its objectives should be written with a clear equity lens. 
  4. Affirm that any efforts to criminalize people, or the daily survival acts of people, who live outdoors – things like urban camping bans, food sharing restrictions, and limits on when and where people can sit or lie down – are counter-productive, cause trauma, and should be halted or reversed in city code.

If you were to propose one new initiative that the federal government is not doing now what would it be?

  • Fund Permanent Supportive Housing from the Housing Choice/Section 8 Program (with program changes that provide flexibility for criminal/credit/tenant issues)   
  • Do not dismantle COVID-19  response networks, maintain the CDC guidelines for encampments including access to sanitation and water  
  • Decisions and priorities on use of funds should be locally driven not HUD driven 
  • Return to funding transitional housing, both in scattered sites and through rental assistance 

Outside of prior USICH federal strategic plan focuses, what else might the federal government do to prevent and/or reduce homelessness?

  • Increase workforce development programs that train people experiencing homelessness as Peer Advocates to supplement the current homeless provider workforce. 
  • Listen to people who have/are experiencing homelessness and include at decision making tables on types of programs that work. 
  • Equity in funds – ensure tax credits, bonding, appropriations, etc. reserve funding for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness and rental housing at below 30% of median income
  • Strengthen the interagency coordination of resources for livable incomes and employment (both FT and part time/contracted/gig/piece work and migrant/day labor) and public assistance including unemployment, SSI and Social Security.  
  • Universal Health Care/Immediate and voluntary access to medical services for all individuals, youth, families experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness.
  • A guaranteed opportunity for permanent housing that is affordable at their income for all individuals, youth, families experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness.

What is one activity the federal government is doing that you believe should be deprioritized?

  • Coordinated entry – Implementation is inconsistent and costing millions in HUD TA, and systems often lead to discriminatory and unethical service delivery
  • Point in Time count – It is archaic and an inaccurate system- does not count people in programs where most of the homeless funding is going to: permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing
  • HMIS –violates Data Privacy, HIPPA laws
  • HUD controlled process of how funds should be used by communities
  • HUD’s homeless definition -utilize one homeless definition (the Department of Education’s definition or similar) across all agencies.

What is one activity that the federal government is doing well and that should be prioritized? 

  • The Youth Advisory Boards Model should be implemented in the Adult population. People who have/are experiencing homelessness need to be voting decision making members of the Federal and all State Interagency Councils and at CoC level and funded agencies.
  • The Veteran model that includes dedicated vouchers (VASH), Transitional Housing, workforce development (HVRP, CWF), Healthcare to scale and prevention (SSVF) should be mirrored that can be accomplished with substantial increases for targeted homeless programs through HHS and DOL.

Overall, what would you say the top 3 federal priorities should be as they relate to preventing and ending homelessness?

  • Listen to people who have/are experiencing homelessness. Decisions and priorities on use of funds should be locally driven with people who have/are experiencing homelessness not HUD driven. 
  • HUD programmatic changes: Funding Permanent Supportive Housing from the Housing Choice/Section 8 Program (with program changes that provide flexibility for criminal/credit/tenant issues), Rapid Re-Housing must include a livable income component to be able to pay rent after subsidy ends (employment and /or public assistance access/ housing assistance)
  • Creating a Unified definition of homelessness across federal agencies and Immediate and voluntary  access to emergency housing/shelter for all individuals, youth, families experiencing or at imminent risk of homelessness.

In terms of homelessness, what areas are in need of greater attention at the federal, state, and local levels?

  • Affirm the Right to Housing and protection of the civil rights of people experiencing homelessness. 
  • Listen to people who have/are experiencing homelessness and include at decision making tables on types of programs that work. 
  • Fund Expanding Affordable Housing Stock to Pre-1970 Levels.
  • Expand and fund the use of innovative housing approaches: Tiny Homes, Shared Housing, Small Market FMR’s, Community Choice in Service Delivery, homeownership, scattered site/rent subsidy transitional housing
  • Expand homeless prevention to include eviction protection, a right to counsel, and cash assistance 
  • Universal Health Care
  • Expand fair housing protections to prevent rental redlining and source of income discrimination.
  • Coordination and placement into housing opportunities that are affordable for people being discharged from correctional/ mental health/chemical health/physical health/etc. institutions.

A step forward, a step backward

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The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) celebrates the Supreme Court decision earlier this week that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Young people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender nonconforming, are 120% times more likely to experience homelessness than their cisgender and straight peers. This disparity is caused by mistreatment by family as well as institutions, and discrimination not just in employment, but also in access to housing, health care and education. 

“[This] ruling by the Supreme Court is a monumental victory for LGBTQ people across the United States. Discrimination in employment is a critical barrier to safe and secure housing for LGBTQ youth and adults,” says Gregory Lewis, CEO and Executive Director of True Colors United. “Discrimination against someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity is sex discrimination. This ruling makes clear that efforts underway at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to undercut protections for transgender people experiencing homelessness should not be allowed to continue under the law.”

NCH has long supported inclusive access for LGBTQ people to shelter and other emergency services. In 2003, along with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, we authored a guide for how shelters can make their agencies safe for people who identify as transgender. A ground-breaking survey of transgender Americans in 2015 found strong economic disparities for transgender people. Nearly one in three, (29%) of respondents were living in poverty versus 14% of the general population, and 30% reported having experienced homelessness at some point in their lifetime. As recently as 2016, HUD itself published guidance for shelters requiring that transgender residents are accepted to single-sex shelters based on their gender identity, without regard for what may appear on someone’s state identification. 

But after insensitive and discriminatory comments about transgender people made by Secretary Ben Carson, HUD has shown intention to roll back the 2016 guidance for shelters. A proposed rule will likely be published in the coming weeks that would allow single-sex shelters to judge gender by biology, and not by someone’s self identity.  

According to the Transgender Law Center, “This situation is particularly dangerous for transgender women who are inappropriately placed in men’s shelters where they often subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and abuse, including sexual assault. While some transgender people will run the high risk of facing harassment and violence in a shelter that doesn’t match their gender identity just so that they can be housed for the night, others in this situation will simply forgo shelter and sleep on street.”

NCH firmly rejects any attempt to deny safe access to shelter or other resources for transgender and gender nonconforming people, especially transgender people of color, who disproportionately experience housing instability, discrimination and violence.

For more visit:
Info on Black Trans Advocacy Organizations
Lambda Legal
True Colors Fund