State of Homelessness in America
The number of homeless people on America’s streets is morally indefensible — over 600,000 on any given night — but even more startling is how little we have historically known about this population. If solving a problem depends on first understanding it, it should come as little surprise that solutions to homelessness have often been slow.
Thankfully, that reality has changed rapidly over the last year, as more than 2,000 Americans have gone to the streets of their communities to add a crucial level of detail to what we know about our homeless neighbors. These volunteers are part of local teams implementing the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a groundbreaking effort that is transforming the way communities see and respond to homelessness.
Since the Campaign’s launch one year ago, volunteers from more than 30 cities have canvassed their neighborhoods block by block in the early hours of the morning. Together, they have sought out and surveyed the homeless people living among them, asking them critical questions about their health and social histories. The results of this massive data-gathering project have already revealed a new level of specificity that has helped communities recognize homelessness as an urgent public health issue and match homeless individuals with housing and health services at an accelerated rate. If the Campaign’s experience proves anything, it is that the more communities know about who specifically is homeless, the easier it is to find a lasting solution.
An initiative of Community Solutions, a national not-for-profit organization, the 100,000 Homes Campaign aims to find permanent housing for 100,000 of the most vulnerable and long-term homeless individuals and families in America by July of 2013. At the start of its second year, the Campaign’s 87 member communities have already moved 10,569 homeless people into permanent housing across the United States. With new communities joining every month, the Campaign is squarely on track to meet its goal.
So far, Campaign volunteers have administered more than 19,000 surveys, amassing a more detailed picture of the most vulnerable homeless people on our streets than has ever before been available. Here are some highlights:
- 43.9% face at least one health condition that puts them at serious risk of dying on the streets;
- 45% experience mental illness;
- 32.1% reported a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse;
- 22.1% are tri-morbid, meaning they live with mental illness, substance abuse, and a chronic health condition;
- 11.8% have visited an emergency room three times or more in the last three months;
- 38.9% have no insurance, including Medicaid and veteran’s benefits.
The survey that underlies this data is called the Vulnerability Index. It’s a questionnaire that captures data on the age, health status, institutional history (military, hospital, jail, and prison), length of homelessness, patterns of shelter use, and previous housing situations of homeless people in Campaign communities. Based on leading medical research by Dr. Jim O’Connell of Harvard University and Dr. Stephen Hwang of the University of Toronto, it identifies those individuals experiencing the health conditions associated with increased risk of death in the homeless population, including HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, and liver disease.
But the Vulnerability Index is much more than a medical questionnaire — in communities across the country, it has become a powerful community organizing tool that reveals homelessness for what it is: an urgent public health emergency. By putting names and faces to their homeless population, local teams have been able to identify and focus on the most at-risk, prioritizing them for housing and supportive services first. The result has been a marked acceleration in the rate at which Campaign communities are moving people off the streets for good.
Among cities with over 1,000 chronic or unsheltered homeless people, for instance, New Orleans leads all communities with an average of 62.4 homeless people housed per month. Washington, DC is next at 38.8 people per month, followed by San Francisco (29 people per month), Los Angeles County (28.3) and Atlanta (28).
Among communities with fewer than 1,000 chronic or unsheltered homeless people, the city with the best rate of housing placements is Philadelphia (10.7 people per month), followed by Chicago (9.1), Columbus (7.5), Detroit (7.5), and Omaha (7.4).
Permanent supportive housing saves money for communities, as formerly homeless people begin to replace hospital and emergency room use with primary and preventive care. Reducing the burden on jails, shelters, and local social service sites reduces the high public costs of those systems. Dozens of studies bear out the counter-intuitive fact that it costs far less to help someone out of homelessness for good than to do nothing. At a time of unprecedented strain on local budgets, ending homelessness makes clear financial sense for strapped communities
To learn more about the 100,000 Homes Campaign, or to see if your community is among the 87 already participating, visit100khomes.org.
Follow Rosanne Haggerty on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cmtysolutions
Amended bylaws have been adopted by the NACH Board of Directors as of 11 August, 2011. These revised bylaws are available for your perusal on our website.
Dan Hamrick presented on behalf of Operation Stand Down. OSD is a national organization that started in 1986 in San Diego, CA. Stand-down was named on behalf of the military phrase referencing the relaxing of the guard and rest. The event that OSD will be hosting is at Joe Davis Stadium and will be on October 21-23, 2011, and will be providing medical services, food, clothing, showers, barber shop services, contact assistance, bicycle repair, legal services, and more. The board has now decided to go from a once-a-year assistance program into a 12 months a year assistance program. Offices have been retained and are open every day from 12-4pm. Veterans are not required that any veteran have a disability for assistance to be provided. Operation Stand-Down is now located on 4440 University Drive, Huntsville, AL 35816. They can be reached at their offices at 256-715-0556, or 866-242-1790, and by fax at 256-715-0524. Their website is at http://www.operationstanddownhuntsville.org/. If you are interested in volunteering, whether you are a church organization, a local business, or an individual citizen of our great community, we would be honored to have you join us in this noble effort. Donations are accepted via Wells Fargo or their PO Box at:
Operation Stand Down Huntsville, PO BOX 7436, Huntsville, AL 35807.
NACH Agency Meeting 12 August, 2011 Family Services Center of Huntsville
A provider networking and fundraising event will be located at the Central Baptist Church in Decatur, AL on
Heather Artman presented her HMIS report. Heather is the current HMIS reporter and administrator at NACH, and has been for some time. She will be leaving us for a new job in September and we are sad to see her go. She has been a great resource and advocate for better practices in making things run as smoothly as possible in the HMIS administration process. She will be around to train and support her replacement for a while once her replacement has been selected, but we will miss her and her guidance.
HMIS non HPRP clients 9 clients left into permanent housing, and from the HPRP 50 clients entered into permanent housing and 20 of those were chronically homeless. This is great progress and we are happy to be able to share the news.
James Robinson reports that on 20 August, 2011 there is an event being put on by the HPD. For more information contact email@example.com.
The Studio is a day stay facility working with the Tennessee Valley Family Services out of Guntersville, AL. They help 12-21 year olds. Lynn Caffery is the executive director.
North Central Caring having a free health fair on Saturday, 13 August 2011 from 3pm to 6pm on Pulaski Pike.
Oxford House of Huntsville reports a lot of success with their pilot house and are looking now to open a women’s house as well and are looking for a house administrator. For more information
Harris Family Foundation and New Futures is in the process of renovating a building to open as a family housing location.
Alabama Non-Violent Offenders is in the process of opening a shelter in Hillsboro, AL.
Hot weather is still here, but cold weather will be upon us very soon. The NACH Blanket Drive will be announced shortly, and all donations will be accepted and sorted. Please be aware however that many of these donations will be distributed to people sleeping in the open air, and it is important to make sure that the donated blankets and clothing are the sort that will hold up in the open air and in all weather.
Please remember that if you or your agency is having an event or a fundraiser that you want more coverage or information about that you can send your flier or information to us at NACH and we will make sure it goes up on our website.
Our next meeting will be on September 9, 2011, and Jessica Rache from Crisis Services of North Alabama will be presenting.
You can read all the stats you want on America’s long-term jobless crisis. More than 6.3 million Americans have been out of work for more than half a year. The average jobless stint now lasts longer than nine months. We could go on.
But no facts or figures bring home the grim human dimension of this epidemic better than an account we received from an unemployed Iraq War veteran. “I have led men in combat, but my last job was a temporary cashier position in the women’s department at Nordstrom’s,” he wrote. “I don’t get many interviews, but when I do, I get a lot of handshakes and a ‘Thank you for your service, but you’re not what we’re looking for.’”
Nor can they top this description from a reader of what it’s like to go for months searching fruitlessly for work: “You start to hear a voice in your head that tells you, ‘Perhaps you’re just not good enough.’”
When we asked readers recently to share their personal stories of being out of work for an extended period, we expected to get a lot of responses. But we didn’t foresee the flood that ensued. “I imagine that you will have to hire more staff to wade through all the emails you get in response to this article,” one reader wrote. It turned out she was right: That’s exactly what we did.
The thousands of anecdotes you sent us offer a heart-rending glimpse inside the reality of long-term joblessness during the Great Recession and its aftermath. They convey sadness, anxiety, anger, shame, and despair, but sometimes also humor, generosity, and a quintessentially American determination to roll with the punches. And they offer a portrait of out-of-work people who are smart, articulate, motivated, and resilient—a useful corrective to some of the negative stereotypesthat too often shape perceptions of this huge group of Americans.
We want to thank all the thousands of readers who took the time to share their personal stories. For reasons of space, we can only publish here a fraction of the number we’d like to. So we’ve set up a separate website, “Down But Not Out,” to showcase many more in full. [ Click here for readers’ own tales of long-term joblessness at “Down But Not Out.””]
Meanwhile, here at the The Lookout, we’ve picked out portions of a smaller number of the most compelling responses, and organized them around some of the major themes that readers highlighted—from accounts of how they lost their job in the first place, to the emotional toll that being without work for so long can take, to the rare and unexpected silver linings that some respondents discovered.
How it all Began: “When the economy imploded in 2009, nobody was building anything”
Many readers described how they first became jobless, with tales that often seemed ripped from the bleak headlines of the last few years—taking in everything from the mortgage meltdown to the housing bust to government budget cuts.
• George C. from Brea, Calif., told us he worked for a bank that had a division that made sub-prime loans. After the housing bust hit, “the federal government ordered the company to cease & desist from all sub-prime operations, because they didn’t like banks that were also sub-prime mortgage companies, so that division of the company was shut down,” George wrote. Ultimately, the other divisions of the bank were sold, “at which time there was no more work for me to do.”
• “I was a steel building detailer with just over 14 years of experience,” Tom W. from New Haven, Ind., told us. “When the economy imploded in 2009, nobody was building anything. With no work, my employer was forced to lay off everyone.”
• Shannon B., a teacher and school administrator from Phelan, Calif., wrote that she lost her job in February 2009. “When the budget slashes hit, my position was the first to go.”
• Jerry, from southern California, told us he had worked in the electrical distribution industry for more than 25 years. “I lost my job in August of 2008 when the housing bubble and second Great Depression were hitting hard. The branch I worked in closed, since the industry relies heavily on new construction.”
• “I never saw being let go coming,” wrote Elizabeth M., who worked at an educational center. “I simply showed up less and less on the work schedule. Then, after 2 weeks of not appearing at all, I received a voice mail via my cell phone that informed me they were actually letting me go. (Whatever happened to telling someone to their face?)”
The Emotional Toll: “I hide my emotions, but deep down I feel I am dying off”
Your tales of losing long-held jobs—often with minimal advance notice or human consideration—were bracing. But more compelling still were the numerous accounts of how long-term joblessness has affected you personally and psychologically.
• Perhaps no testimony was bleaker than a note we received from Peter K., who said he used to be a middle manager making over $100,000 a year. His life now? “Stay up too late at night and sleep too long in the morning. Drink way too much … stare at the computer screen, stare out the window, stare at your image in the mirror, stare at the ceiling fan … Social life—none. I’m no fun. Sex—none. Women would sooner hear you have Hepatitis then learn you’re unemployed … Depressed—big time. Think suicide every day.”
• Scott V. told us that when his money began to run out and he didn’t know how he was going to feed his children, he had the same thought. “To be extremely honest I thought of taking the easy way out, which probably many people have. I read an internet article a couple of weeks ago about some 22 (?) year old ending her life because she had no job and too many bills that she couldn’t handle. Of course I didn’t do that, because I consider myself a strong person and I have a lot to live for.”
• “Most of the time you can barely get out of bed because you worry so much about your future,” wrote Todd L. of Houston, Tex. “I feel so behind, especially when talking to my peers. Several of them have already moved on from their first job to their second one. Many are in long-term relationships, something I know I can never have without a job and financial stability. I feel so … behind. I have grown much more envious of others lately.”
• Stefan K., from South Bend, Ind., told us he’d been out of work for going on two years. “After a few months pass by, you start to take it personally,” he wrote. “You start to hear a voice in your head that tells you, ‘Perhaps you’re just not good enough.’ You know it’s not true, but it feels true. You then began to feel ashamed when people, who know of your situation, keep asking if you’ve found a job yet.”
• Paul K. described how both he and his fiancée—who is also contending with a long-term bout of joblessness—have seen their relationship suffer as a result of their shared plight. “It’s very depressing and has caused many arguments and led to a very unhappy life for us for the last 2-3 years,” he wrote. “We now sleep late because we have no money to do anything. Gas costs too much so most days we stay home and just watch TV. It’s making me anxious, depressed, and my confidence is all but gone. I pray for a miracle at this point.”
• The pain of long-term unemployment doesn’t only affect layoff casualties—it’s also assailed many first-time entrants into the job market. Jill B. of Jonesboro, Ark. got a master’s degree last year, but it didn’t help her. “The hardest part of this experience has been having to come home, tail tucked, as a failure,” she wrote. “Out of necessity, I am now living with my parents again in a rural, Arkansas town. For financial reasons, I had to leave the thriving job market of Austin, Texas to come back to a place where there are no jobs at all.”
• “I hide my emotions, but deep down I feel I am dying off,” wrote Jeremy L., from Waupaca, Wisc. “I smile less. Friends don’t call me anymore to do things because I can’t afford to. I feel like a hermit living under a rock. I feel worthless. I feel like I’m pulling my girlfriend and daughter into a hole with me. Our once loving relationship has turned bitter and sour.”
The Financial Strain: “I am scared to death of what lies ahead”
Of course, there’s no way to overstate the financial impact of being without a steady income for an extended period. The notes and comments you submitted show the remarkable lengths that some of you have gone just to keep your heads above water.
• A 62-year-old Ohio man, W.M., told us he’d been forced to take contract work in South Carolina and Indiana. “I am the new migrant worker,” he wrote. “I get home to see my family when I can. I have about 1/3 less salary and no benefits but I can pay my way.”
• Some readers said they were selling their possessions to support themselves. “I have also sold my clothing, many of our belongings, and baby items on Craigslist and in consignment shops,” M.N. wrote. “I add oatmeal to many of my dishes to extend the idea of ‘beef’, as well as buying generics. We’ve [gotten rid of] all memberships to gyms and cable TV. We are trying to live a more simple life.”
• Some have been relying on family or friends. “I am in default for last year’s property taxes, and now stand to lose my home of 23 years,” wrote Vicki J. of Garland, Tex. “Had it not have been for a friend of mine helping me, I wouldn’t have even had electricity or food for the past three months.”
• Others are seeking a fresh start. “We can’t afford the house payments anymore, but our house lost about 50% of its value, so we can’t sell,” wrote Shannon B. “We simply cannot live on my husband’s salary. We are filing for bankruptcy.”
• Judy J. from Catawba, N.C., described paying for groceries with WIC checks—a form of government assistance—and worrying about delaying people behind her in line. “A few times I offered to let someone cut because ‘this is going to take a while,’” she wrote. “[B]ut they say, ‘No, it’s okay. I’m on WIC, too, so I understand.’”
• Karen P. from Maryland told us she had to move back in with her mother at the age of 40, and that her jobless benefits will run out in January. “I am scared to death of what lies ahead,” she added. “I have no idea if I will find a job or not.”
• And in a harrowing detail that evokes the hardships of an earlier time, M.C. wrote: “My family is eating stir-fried dandelions out of yards to keep from starving.”
Trials of the Job Search: “We can’t hire any more old people”
Landing a new job in this economy is tough no matter who you are. But when you’ve already been out of work for so long, it can be even harder.
• We asked whether employers were wary of hiring readers when they found out how long they’d been jobless — a form of discrimination that appears to have been on the rise lately. “Very much so,” replied Susan W. “As if it were my fault I was unemployed, regardless of the fact that I had put out hundreds of resumes and applications.”
• Many readers described a daunting level of competition for openings. “In my area, Elkhart County, Ind.., unemployment had gotten so bad that 1200 people applied for 10 openings at one company,” wrote Jason G. (Incidentally, if Elkhart rings a bell, that might be because it’s where President Obamalaunched his effort to get the economy moving again almost two and a half years ago.)
• “I applied at one place that literally handed out raffle tickets and the winning 100 tickets were the only ones that got to apply,” wrote M.O. “Of course my number wasn’t one of them.”
• An enormous number of older readers said they think their age is part of the problem for employers. Paula S., from Acworth, Georgia, who said she was “sixty-something,” described “two eye-opening experiences of blatant age discrimination … . One twenty-something supervisor asked me if I had ever thought about coloring my hair … . Another manager told his assistant with the door open when I showed up to complete an application and interview: ‘We can’t hire any more old people.’ “
• Britt S. said he’d tried to transition into another career after getting laid of from his newspaper job. But, “if an employer has a choice between a 27-year-old with a degree and 3 or 4 years of experience and a 57-year-old with the same degree and no experience, who is most likely to get the job?” he asked.
• Even Dan H., a skilled telecommunications technician in Scottsdale, Ariz., who’s not exactly long in the tooth, told us he thought his age worked against him. “I do believe that being 37 was a factor in being passed over for jobs,” he wrote. “[T]echnology is a young man’s game. Potential employers thought I may be rusty with my skills … Trained to an expert level, but no one can afford to hire me.”
Tips for Jobseekers: “Any job is a good job”
Many readers who had ultimately landed a job were eager to share what worked for them.
• “Network, network, network. I can’t say it enough,” wrote E.S., from San Diego, Calif. “LinkedIn is awesome, but enlist your Facebook contacts, or join a networking group. I know it’s horrible to ask your friends to keep their eyes out, but in the end that’s how I got hired. When you know someone who knows someone, who can vouch for you, you have a much better chance of getting a job with the company you want/in the field you want.”
• Kurt G., from Seattle, Wash., thinks the face-to-face meeting is the key. “It doesn’t matter what skills you have, and it doesn’t matter what skills the employers say they want,” he wrote. “What matters is having the skills that get you through the interview process. Focus like a laser on the interview process. If you’re successful there, you’ll get an offer, and after that, it’s up to the employer to retrain you.”
• Susan W. suggested making a nuisance of yourself. “I selected three companies I really wanted to work for, applied and kept going back and going back until they either told me to leave me alone or hired me,” she told us. “Two told me to leave them alone, the third hired me.”
• Chris C. of Modesto, Calif., had a different strategy: moving into a field traditionally dominated by women — a trend that’s said to be increasingly common for male workers on the job market. “I researched the employment situation where I am living and decided to retrain in something it appeared people would want,” he wrote. “After I received my nursing license it took me 3 months to find a full-time job.”
• And Cindy S. advised job-seekers not to be too picky. “Don’t be afraid to downgrade your expectations,” she wrote. “Right now, any job is a good job. When the economy recovers, it will be time to stretch out and seek a job for which you are qualified and paid well for, but right now, income is income.”
Solutions to the Crisis: “The vast majority of us are on our own.”
A lot of readers had thoughts about how to fix the long-term jobless crisis—or at least how to make things easier for its victims.
• Many respondents lamented the problem of having to compete with cheaper foreign labor. “Make it more difficult to offshore work, or to hire foreign workers at a discount,” wrote Kurt G., in a typical comment.
• Yvonne P., from Spring Hill, Tenn. suggested that the government give a “small tax incentive to businesses who hire people who have been unemployed for 6 months or more. Call it, ‘Americans Back To Work Tax Break.’” Not a bad idea.
• “There aren’t enough resources for retraining, especially of college-educated people,” wrote E.S. “The vast majority of us are on our own.”
• And Todd L. asked for a little more heart from employers. “I want companies and those who represent them to realize that job applicants and the long-term unemployed are not just resumes in a system,” he wrote. “We’re real people too. Please treat us like one.”
The Unexpected Upside: “We have made some memories that are priceless”
As is no doubt clear by now, the picture that most readers painted of long-term unemployment was overwhelmingly bleak. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some respondents who had the strength of mind to also take note of the positives.
• Stephanie B. of Memphis, Tenn., told us she works three part-time jobs and is left on a tighter budget than when she was on jobless benefits. And yet, she wrote: “The one thing that has come out of this experience that I am thankful for and hope I won’t ever forget, is the closeness we feel as a family. We can sit down to a checker tournament and play for hours. We can pull out the paper and crayons and create artwork we never had time to do before. There’s no more running around nonstop all week long. Most days feel like Saturday when school’s out. We entertain ourselves and each other on very little, and I think we have made some memories that are priceless.”
• Dan H., who rallied to the challenge of unemployment by working with his wife to start a new business, told us: “If you cannot get a job, make one I guess. In the last year, in order, we’ve moved for a ‘better life’ across country, had a child (when we conceived all was good), lost job, had car repo’d, borrowed money from family to get wheels, went on public assistance, cried a river over my manly short comings, was inspired by my wife and am now an entrepreneur. Scary how quick life changes.”
• Todd L., too, was able to look on the bright side. “I am blessed to have my family,” he wrote. “They support me financially and emotionally … I have become more religious. I pray everyday, asking God for a job and a girlfriend. Does it help? Somewhat. It is better than no religion at all. Most of the time it just makes me feel better. God has given me time and comfort. But I am still waiting for a miracle—a job and a girlfriend.”
• And Scott V., who’s now working after being jobless for more than two years, told others not to give up. “It does suck, but you can make it,” he wrote. “I have been humbled by losing my job almost 3 years ago. Having ZERO dollars in my bank account and very little cash in my wallet. Without the support of my family and the love of my life, to help me get by, I would not have made it this far. I do thank God for all his good graces he has bestowed upon me, which I know I don’t deserve. So whoever is reading this, DO NOT sit around waiting for something to happen, make it happen.”
Galen Bernard contributed to this report.
Our Executive Director Shannon Boyle in a New York Business News feature on Non-Profits.
NACH HMIS Meeting 8 July, 2011 Downtown Rescue Mission
Updated agencies on Volunteer Point work updates from Bowman in Service Point. Shelter Point and Volunteer Point are being used to track volunteerism and various shelter programs for many CoC’s to use for tracking information that agencies need to earn and apply for grant funding.
It is suggested that to make better use of the HMIS, ART Licenses will be encouraged to be acquired by each agency and trainings will be scheduled for those agencies interested. Heather detailed the ways in which the system and reporting tools can benefit each agency.
NACH Agency Meeting 8 July, 2011 Downtown Rescue Mission
Heather from NACH introduced the HMIS system and gave updates regarding the data going into the system and the grants that agencies can access using some of the data. 7 clients left the program, 2 of which had been chronically homeless, in June of this year. 9 moved into permanent housing.
James Robinson presented about his agency’s success and progress reaching out the homeless and runaway youth, and is modeling a new Host Home program. The host home would service a community from approximately 18-21. Both clients and host home’s are screened by him and his organization, which would manage it based on a standard set by a similar program in Minneapolis.
Larry Sisterman shared with us The Contributor, a newspaper that is printed to inform the communities local to it about the homeless and the disenfranchised. The newspaper is distributed by local homeless at 25 cents to a dollar per issue, to raise money and support the distributors.
- Agency Spotlight – Downtown Rescue Mission
Keith Overholt presented on the Mission.
Janet Locky – presented with her father about wanting to help the homeless. A tour was given of the Downtown Rescue Mission campus for the agency representatives and the young Ms. Locky.