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Homelessness Task Force Meet with Interagency Council, 100,000 Homes Campaign

By Eugene T. Lowe
January 28, 2013

The Hunger and Homelessness Task Force, chaired by Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, met January 19 and heard presentations from Conference of Mayors President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Mike Brown of City Policy Associates, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) Executive Director Barbara Poppe, and Community Solutions of the 100,000 Homes Campaign National Field Organizer Linda Kaufman.

Nutter spoke about his city’s hunger and homelessness problems. He set his remarks in the context of Philadelphia’s 28.4 percent poverty rate (the national poverty rate is 17.1 percent). In addition, the food insecurity rate for the city is one of the highest in the nation. The mayor added that 450,000 Philadelphians rely on the SNAP program to feed their families. Another 180,000 people are eligible for SNAP but are not signed up to receive the benefits. Nutter said that, only a few days ago, he basically revamped his anti-poverty agency that had been in operation for decades. He said the new agency has a new director, new name, new focus and more resources (700 million dollars a year from a variety of sources) to help low income people and people living in poverty.

Brown gave a brief history of the annual survey. He said that the task force began in 1982. At that time, there were tensions about the survey as many thought that homelessness was not a national problem. But the mayors kept at it, sharing notes, realizing that homelessness was indeed a national problem. In 1985, it was decided that the survey should be standardized so that the results would be comparable year after year. Brown said that the survey today is essentially the same survey that was used in 1985. City Policy Associates is the policy research organization that conducted the Conference of Mayors 2012 Hunger and Homelessness Survey Report.

Poppe talked about the first ever federal plan to eliminate homelessness called “Opening Doors.” The plan provides a road map for the joint action of 19 federal agencies that are part of the Interagency Council on Homelessness which has as its purpose the alignment of mainstream housing, health, job education and human services to help prevent people from experiencing homelessness. Poppe said that the nation has “made progress on preventing and ending homelessness despite the economic downturn and continuing recovery.” She added, “In the wake of the recession, we have prevented a real surge in homelessness, in part, because of the work of the Recovery Act, through a program called Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing.” Poppe spoke at length about housing first that considers housing as therapeutic in and of it self. Housing is the place where people become stable, then access employment and all other needs.

Kaufman described the 100,000 Homes Campaign as a national movement of 185 communities around the country who have decided that they are going “…to take the precious resource of housing and align it with people who need it most in their community.” Kaufman showed a photo of a group of people living on the streets in the year 2000. She said that only one of those persons in the photo is alive today. “Things we cannot see raise peoples’ risk of dying on the street,” Kaufman added. The 100,000 Homes Campaign has developed a vulnerability index to help communities know by name, who the people living on their streets are with enough information to triage them into housing. In this way, the “most sacred and precious resource of housing go to people who are most likely to die on the street.” Kaufman said that in September of last year, there were 20,000 people housed as part of the campaign and 155 communities participating. Today, there are 31,000 housed and 185 communities participating. Philadelphia, Allentown, and Santa Barbara are some of the cities participating in the campaign. Kaufman encouraged the mayors to get their cities to be part of the campaign.