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State Of Homelessness in America 2013 Unveiled By NAEH

By Jean-Michel Giraud
President & CEO, Friendship Place
Huffington Post Blogger

Read this on the Huffington Post website

There was a feeling of expectation in the room at the National Press Club last week as the National Alliance To End Homelessness (NAEH) unveiled its State Of Homelessness In America 2013 report. National leaders like Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, and Linda Kaufman, National Field Organizer of the 100,000 Homes Campaign were there to show their support.

While trends have been encouraging in some ways, economic indicators coupled with the looming threat of sequestration clouded the nation’s sky.

NAEH’s President, Nan Roman felt positively about the fact that between 2011 and 2012, the latest set of figures we have, the national rate of homelessness remained relatively flat with a .4% decrease. She also noted specific areas of significant improvement, crediting the federal government for smart investments that have reduced veteran homelessness by 7.2% and chronic homelessness by 6.8%.

But with federal funding drying up for prevention and rapid rehousing for the general population and the marring effect of sequestration on the flow of funding through the federal system, what will happen to people on the streets or on the verge of homelessness?

For folks living at that end of the economic scale, overall economic trends can turn into personal disasters. The fact that salaries have not followed the steep increase in the cost of housing is having a devastating impact on their households. These individuals are way beyond the choice of what to buy at the supermarket to lower the weekly food bill or how much gas to get at any one stop. They are worried about how much longer they will be able to pay their rents or mortgages in order to stay in place.

Representative Cleaver of Missouri drove the point home by sharing his moving story of growing up in extreme poverty in the Midwest, which has taught him to place human value in helping others, as his family did, no matter how little you have. The family lived next to the railroad and many a “hobo,” the expression of the time, stepped off the train for a hoecake at the Cleavers’ during the Great Depression and in the years that followed. That’s because hoboes marked house fences based on the family’s willingness to help. His family got the high mark despite the fact that they had almost nothing.

It was inspiring to think that his passion would be felt in Congress where many key decisions will be made in the upcoming months, impacting the lives of the 633,782 people who were counted as living in homelessness last year.

This number does not include the 6.8 million people who are currently double-up with friends and relatives in the country. These are folks who live in more or less precarious situations in housing which is in somebody else’s name and … control. In other words, these are households within other households at risk of becoming homelessness.

In the report, the National Alliance outlines three immediate recommendations to shore up the homeless services system across the nation:

1. The crisis response system needs to be built up so an immediate response to homelessness will help people stabilize quickly. Everybody agrees that well-run shelters with effective services would be beneficial. This system should be boosted with an eye to limit shelter stays to the absolute minimum. Shelters should be triage areas and able to broker services for people, not become long-term living situations by default.

2. Prevention and rapid rehousing services are absolutely vital to help catch people before they spiral downward. This time-limited approach empowers people by offering just the right amount of help. It is a more economical way to provide assistance and people who have used it give great feedback about it.

3. We do need more very affordable housing and permanent supportive housing in our cities People filling low paying and direly needed service jobs, for instance, cannot be expected to commute for hours to get to them. And, seniors and people with disabilities need places to live they can be sure will be there in years to come.

The homeless advocacy community across the nation needs to get behind these well-targeted recommendations and see to it that they are adapted locally. We know this will take a collective effort from people like you. I’d love to hear your reactions to these recommendations and what you think your community should do.

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