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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

Notes from the Field—Board Member Spotlight Richard R. Troxell

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

According to George Santayana “An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world,” which pretty much sums up the world occupied by homeless activist Richard Troxell who currently resides in Union County North Carolina.

Most of Richard’s work was in Austin, Texas, where he caused the most trouble and left his mark with a sculpture he designed called “the Homecoming” at Community First! Village.  Richard can give you an hour’s long narrative about the chance meeting between the elderly woman depicted in the sculpture and the man and her daughter.  He can give you the military background of the dad and how the elderly woman’s journey led to this place.  This 7 year quest to bring this sculpture from concept to learning how to cast sculptures to collaborating with other artists to finally seeing his creation placed in 2019 is a dream realized for any artist, but the grassroots organizing and assistance offered by Richard to those oppressed by society may be his biggest impact on the world. 

The Homecoming

Richard had a day job helping people navigate the legal and social services network in Austin, but he had a side gig as the face of House the Homeless to twist the arms of city officials to stop pushing around people experiencing homelessness.  Pushing people out of the arts areas of Austin; pushing them away from South by Southwest conference; pushing them off park benches, and pushing them out of sight.  While everyone thinks Austin is some liberal oasis in the middle of a right wing fundamentalist state, sometimes the worst people who strip you of your rights are those with so called liberal beliefs.  In the 1990s, nearly every city in the United States led by “progressive-man-of-the-people” mayors were horrible places to live for those experiencing homelessness. Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Seattle all had Mayors who were just cruel and heartless to homeless people.  The City of Austin was no different with police sweeps, selective enforcement of certain laws, and attacks of free speech panhandling like the other liberal bastions. Richard found success fighting the “No Camping” ordinance in the courts after five years and argued his case for more humanity from City Hall in the court of public opinion. He fought disorderly conduct tickets for existing as a person without a home and regular attempts to shut down the shelters. Many cities including Austin pass these laws under the umbrella of “Quality of Life” ordinances.  They are more appropriately called “Quality of Life for Mostly White Visitors to the City” ordinances, but they typically targeted the lowest income members of society.  Richard successfully fought against an ordinance that made it illegal for certain people to rest in public which then began a cascade of other similar laws to fall. 

Richard set up a huge fall event for 18 years to give out long underwear and winter gear to those facing a tough cold winter without regular shelter. The Thermal Underwear that  “winterized them” and threw live music parties serving over 600 people, while his wife, Sylvia served them ham with cakes and pies, cornbread and real butter etc. (This event continues to this day.) He passed out hats during heat waves, emergency whistles to fend off serial assaults, and he worked to get those without a roof, some privacy in our society.

Semi-retired and relocated to North Carolina making personal COVID-19 face masks, Richard is now the national field general for House the Homeless and still on the quest to get the Universal Living Wage to be a part of the national discussion.  Richard joined the National Coalition for the Homeless way back in the early 1990s and has always felt that the key to ending homelessness is giving people enough income to be able to sustain themselves free from shifting winds of benevolence from government or the religious sector. Richard wants to see a second statue in Washington DC to memorialize all the homeless individuals who did not survive without a roof over their head.  He has become very interested in pushing for Social Security to be more equitable and not doom a person to a life of poverty if they are disabled. He would like to see social security income, SSI, assistance paired with a housing subsidy that limits the amount a person pays toward rent to no more than 30% of their income or even better 25% of their income as it was during the Nixon administration. In this way, people who cannot work will be able lift themselves off our streets. He will always bring the discussion back to honoring a person’s labor by paying them a wage that provides them the basic standard of living in a community. If Richard attends the meeting, he is going to bring up the need for a universal living wage in America.  I was always surprised that he did not bring a neon sign with the Universal Living Wage logo so that he could turn on and off at various times during the National Coalition for the Homeless board meeting.  

He moved from the state with the highest number of uninsured people in the United States in Texas to the rural county of Union, North Carolina which boasts a large number of uninsured as well at 12.3%.  So, plenty of work for Richard in North Carolina. Child poverty in Austin was around 13.1% when he left with about 12% of the population living in poverty while only 7.3% of the population of rural North Carolina live below the poverty level.  The unemployment rate in Austin is around 6.3% while it is only 5% in Union County North Carolina.  The semi-blue state of North Carolina has a partial postponement of evictions while the deep red state of Texas only has the federal CDC moratorium on evictions.  All other state and local restrictions on evictions have expired during this pandemic in Texas. Austin is the fastest growing metro area in the United States, but it also boasts the widest income disparity of any community.  

Two other goals for Richard that he has been looking at as the new administration begins in Washington include a federal ban on discharges onto the streets as well as more involvement by the US Department of Transportation under the guidance of newly ratified Transportation Cabinet Member, Mayor Pete Buttigieg to include those sleeping under the highway bridges of America in the plan to improve infrastructure.  It is a sad reality in the United States that many sexually based offenders cannot find housing anywhere after they have served their time and often turn to encampments mostly under the nation’s highways.  This is not to say everyone who lives under bridges are sexually based offenders, but there are a disproportionate number.  This has led to absurd situations where offenders register with the County sheriff a highway bridge as their permanent residence, which is certainly not the safest or most effective way to reduce recidivism. In fact, the current method for tracking offenders is probably the dumbest and worst strategy on the planet to keep society safe.  Richard saw the big plans for investing in roads and bridges out of the Biden administration and wants housing to be a part of that plan that would create a lot of well paying jobs. This is not to reward sexually based offenders, but to keep all society safe by reducing risks.

California passed a law Senate Bill 1152 in 2018 which attempts to eliminate hospitals from dumping patients onto the streets, and sets up a training protocol to prevent people showing up at the shelter in cabs with their hospital gown and an IV bag still attached.  Richard would like to see this law expanded to include alcohol and drug treatment programs as well as mental health institutions; given some teeth for a strong enforcement mechanisms, and expanded to every health care facility that receives Health and Human Services dollars in the United States.  He also has toyed with the idea of seeing the same apply to all federal institutions so that there has to be some thought about where an individual will live after leaving the US military, housing subsidized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Department of Agriculture or even those released from a federal penitentiary. Richard demands that we discharge no one into homelessness (with strong enforcement). After a period of extreme cruelty by the United States government where we caged kids and separated them from their family, reinstated the federal death penalty and banned people from entering the country because of their religion, it is time to bring back a government of compassion and concern for the well being of everyone living within its borders.  

Richard is a published author, Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage, which carries on through today as he is in the process of publishing his latest book, Short Stories in a Long Journey. He self-published, Striking a Balance (about pending gentrification in East Austin) and Ending Homeless at its Core-Richard’s first e-book. If you are interested in more of his history of activism, you can pick them up on Amazon. He will continue to work toward economic justice as well as civil rights for the most vulnerable in our society albeit in a slightly more compassionate community in North Carolina.  He combines the passions of an artist with the common sense of an advocate and the knowledge of a social worker making him one of the best friends to have if you do not have housing in America. 

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