The Poverty Defense: How Poverty is Not Sufficient to Explain Racial Disparities in Homeless Populations

By: Greg Barchuk, Data Manager, Your Way Home

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For the last few years, communities have begun to pay closer attention to the demographic disparities in their homeless populations.  For example, in Montgomery County, residents who are black or African American comprise only 10% of the general population, but account for over 50% of individuals experiencing homelessness.  Nearly 1 in 4 individuals experiencing homelessness (23%) in this county is a child under age 18 who is black or African American.  Including children of all races elevates the ratio to about one in three (33%).

“But homelessness is related to poverty, and more black folks are poor,” right?  It’s a simple explanation, and one that conveniently removes our collective responsibility for the reality of racially disproportionate outcomes in homelessness.  In America, poverty has historically been considered a personal issue that is fixable if one simply pulls harder on their own bootstraps.  This is how we rationalize cutting food stamps or imposing work requirements on disabled Medicaid recipients.

But while homelessness is related to poverty, and a higher percentage of the black population in the United States does experience poverty, these two statements miss an inconvenient truth: the majority of people living in poverty are white.

Let’s talk in real numbers for a moment.  In 2017, the poverty rate among white residents was 8%, while it was 20% for black residents. (Source: Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2008-2017).  This is what people are alluding to when they suggest that racial disparities in homelessness are due to disparate poverty rates.  There are over 34 million people living in poverty in the United States.  Over 7.8 million are black, but over 14 million are white.

The disparity in poverty rates by race would help explain homelessness if the populations of white and black residents were roughly the same.  But they aren’t.  White residents overwhelmingly outnumber black residents, and more people living in poverty are white.

So why aren’t more people who experience homelessness white?

SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities), a project of the Boston-based consulting firm C4 Innovations, studied the intersection of race and homelessness in six communities across the country, and published its Phase One Findings Report in 2018.  Included in the report was a compelling graph (Figure 1a on page 9) that compared the racial distribution of the communities in its study to that of residents living in “deep” poverty, and to that of residents served by the homeless system.  In these communities, residents who were white accounted for about 62% of the population, while residents who were black represented 18%.  For folks living at or below 50% of the federal poverty line, almost 46% were white and 34% were black.  In other words, a higher percentage of people living in deep poverty were white.  Yet, almost 65% of the homeless populations in these communities were black, and only 28% were white.

If poverty was the primary factor driving people into homelessness, these communities should have seen homeless populations that were about 46% white and 34% black.  The “poverty defense” cannot explain why that isn’t the case.

Your Way Home Montgomery County made a commitment to advance equity in its homeless system in 2018.  This included working with the SPARC team, which featured the publication of an initial findings report in January 2019.  We continue to work with SPARC to identify strategies to improve equity in our homeless system.

What also continues is our work in analyzing the homeless system through an equity lens.  For example, we reproduced Figure 1a with Montgomery County data, and the result was alarming.  Not only do white residents of Montgomery County represent a higher percentage of the population living in poverty, but they do so to an overwhelming degree: over 65% of individuals at or below the poverty line are white, and only 19% were black.  Yet, only about 40% of the homeless population in Montgomery County is white, while over 50% is black.

This compels us to revise our earlier statement: While a higher percentage of black folks live in poverty, the vast majority of Montgomery County residents living in poverty are white.

Poverty cannot explain why the majority of people experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County are black.  It’s not even close.

Local info: The poverty rate for black residents of Montgomery County is about 15%, while the poverty rate for white residents is only about 5%. But white residents outnumber black residents here by a ratio of over 8 to 1, and there are 25,000 more poor white residents (35,957) than poor black residents (10,067).

Local info: The poverty rate for black residents of Montgomery County is about 15%, while the poverty rate for white residents is only about 5%. But white residents outnumber black residents here by a ratio of over 8 to 1, and there are 25,000 more poor white residents (35,957) than poor black residents (10,067).

A Commitment to Inclusivity

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As partners committed to ending homelessness in our community, we must continually strive to create spaces and places that are safe, welcoming, and supportive for all. For our homeless crisis response system, this means creating shelter spaces and cultivating practices that are trauma-informed and responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable populations, including persons who are transgender or identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or gender-nonconforming.
 
This month, as we reaffirm our commitment to supporting equality for all persons, we want to reiterate our system’s mission to creating that supportive and inclusive system. Your Way Home is currently leading an LGBTQ Action Team to identify and recommend ways in which human services systems across the County can be more inclusive to members of this community. Our partners at the HealthSpark Foundation, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, the Montgomery County LGBT Business Council, Laurel House, Abramson Center for Jewish Life, Valley Youth House, Two Spirit Society, Family Services of Montgomery County, and the Housing Equality Center are working with us to better understand the unmet needs of this community and recommend tangible ways our safety net can improve. We look forward to sharing the results of this Action Team later this year.

All people deserve a safe and stable home, and Your Way Home is committed to making that ideal a reality for every resident in our community.

Disabling Conditions, Race, and Permanent Supportive Housing

by Greg Barchuk

As Your Way Home embraces equity as a core strategy to end homelessness in Montgomery County, we continue to examine the ways in which racial, ethnic, gender, and age groups are inequitably served by the homeless crisis response system.  This year at the National Human Services Data Consortium (NHSDC), I presented a session on how to measure demographic disparities in homeless response systems.  [Click here for a link to the presentation]

One area that we and other communities around the country have pinpointed is a disproportionality in access to permanent supportive housing (PSH), and how it may be connected to the intersection of disability and race.

In many places, we see white participants in homeless systems enrolling in PSH at higher percentages than that of white folks in the general homeless population.  Since the homeless system in most communities is disproportionately made up of black or African Americans, this means that we see more white residents in the longest-term permanent housing type, while higher percentages of black residents are in emergency shelters and (time-limited) transitional housing.  In short: white folks are in apartments, while black folks are in shelter.

Permanent supportive housing is an intervention targeted to individuals who are chronically homeless, which, in order to meet the definition established by HUD, requires both a confirmed disabling condition and homeless duration of at least 12 months (either consecutive or in total over at least 4 periods of homelessness within the past 3 years).  It combines long-term housing supports, often in the form of rental assistance, with supportive services to ameliorate the ways in which disabling conditions impact a person’s ability to live independently.

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National data does not support the notion that the white population experiences higher rates of disability than the black population – it is in fact the opposite.  Thus, the pattern we see in PSH enrollment rates suggests one of two possible explanations: 1) a more-disabled selection of the white population falls into homelessness than the black population, or 2) something is going awry in communities’ coordinated entry processes. 

What is Going On?

Much of the initial work in this area has been focused on evaluation of the tool(s) we use for triage.  This is important - we should ensure our triage and prioritization processes are free of bias.  It would be ethical malpractice to simply assume our survey tools are foolproof, or that they need no revision as cultural attitudes shift over time.  Some communities have identified a racial bias in their assessment scores – white folks score higher, indicating a greater need for interventions like PSH.  However, we have not seen this in Montgomery County.

During one session I attended at NHSDC this year, another attendee offered a different explanation.  In discussion about asking whether a homeless individual has a mental illness, she (as a woman of color) said: "For white folks, depression is a mental illness.  For us, it has to be something like schizophrenia."

If cultural differences in the definition of mental illness play a large role in whether a person is identified as chronically homeless, it undermines the validity of PSH eligibility criteria.  If this is happening, it raises significant concerns about how communities prioritize housing resources.

Testing the Theory

I looked into our data to see if this pattern was present.  Perhaps to no surprise, it is.  Because the disabling condition data element is collected multiple times (assuming a person enrolls in more than one project type during a year), I focused solely on the emergency shelter population.  In 2017, Montgomery County shelters recorded 673 unique enrollments in which a person reported having a disabling condition.  Of these, 53% of shelter residents reporting a disability were white, and 41% were black.  In Montgomery County, about 51% of the entire homeless population is black and only 38-40% is white, so at first glance this would suggest that the white homeless population is more disabled than the black homeless population.

But that is not the entire story.

Self-reports of mental illness overwhelming skewed white.  Among those reporting mental illness as a disabling condition, 58% were white and 37.0% were black.  However, after taking into account any disabling condition except mental health, the pattern was reversed: 55% of non-mental health disabilities were reported by black shelter residents, and only 37% were reported by white residents.

This white skew in mental health reporting is so strong that it pulls our overall disability percentages toward the white shelter population.

It’s worth noting that, at least in Montgomery County, we see no irregularities in enrollments for our rapid re-housing (RRH) program.  Likely, this is because RRH does not require participants to have a documented disabling condition.

Implications

National data does not support that white people experience mental illness at higher rates than people of color.  Barriers to accessing health care and/or mental health diagnoses, implicit bias of medical professionals, different levels of stigma across cultures, all help to skew patterns in self-reports.

In 2018, the American Psychiatric Association published a report that acknowledged the disproportionate impact of these factors on people of color.

CoCs must look beyond the surface-level metrics of homelessness, and dig deeper into how concepts like “disability status” break along racial, ethnic, or gender lines.

We live in a country that has had the deck stacked against African Americans for centuries, and we see the consequences of those injustices in the data of every other social institution.  The homeless crisis response system is no different.  We cannot ignore these realities if we ever hope to understand and end homelessness.

LGBTQ Community Advocate Internship Position

PDF of LGBTQ Community Advocate Internship Position Description

The LGBTQ Community Engagement Project is an initiative of the Your Way Home public-private partnership to end and prevent homelessness in Montgomery County. The project is funded by a grant from the HeathSpark Foundation. The project is designed to further understand and bring awareness to the unique needs of LGBTQ individuals experiencing extreme poverty in Montgomery County. 

Interpreting and addressing the needs of LGBTQ youth, adults and seniors has been a challenge for Your Way Home since its inception. It is our hope that this project will build on the work of the current Your Way Home Equity Evaluation, leverage existing Your Way Home system and partnership mechanisms, forge new alliances with cross-sector system leaders, and engage people with lived experience in meaningful ways that lead to transformational and systemic changes that will advance a more equitable and inclusive system for all.

Transportation and travel will be compensated.  Phone and work station are available at the Montgomery County Office of Health and Human Services. 

Salary: $12-$15 per hour with a max of 15 hours per month.  Advocate will be paid on a monthly basis.  Advocate will work from date of hire until the project end: January 1, 2020.

The LGBTQ Community Advocate:

·  Has lived experience of homelessness/extreme poverty (required)

·  Has lived experience in the LGBTQ community (required)

·  Has experience in community outreach and engagement (preferred)

·  Is comfortable public speaking (preferred)

·  Is a resident of Montgomery County (preferred) or is knowledgeable of the area

·  Has experience using social media i.e. Facebook and Twitter (preferred)

·  Is comfortable organizing and coordinating meetings/gatherings (preferred)

 The role of the LGBTQ Community Advocate is to:

·  Interview LGBTQ individuals with lived experience of homelessness/extreme poverty to help determine barriers to accessing services in the system.

·  Engage through social media

·  Conduct interviews or focus groups with LGBTQ Community members and Your Way Home System Leaders

·  Compile a resource list to help educate the community about LGBTQ resources

·  Provide feedback to the Your Way Home Operations team and LGBTQ Community Engagement Action Team

·  Present findings to the Your Way Home Operations Team, scheduled meetings of Health and Human Services, and providers, partners and community members in the County. 

Management will support the Advocate in all aspects of the work.  Outcomes of the internship include:

·  Identifying barriers for LGBTQ community members to access services

·  Identifying challenges and pitfalls for LGBTQ community members to access services

·  Identifying services that can be added to make the health and human services system equitable

·  Better engagement of the LGBTQ Community

·  Education and outreach

 

Contact Blair Dawson on or before May 1st at bdawson@montcopa.org  or 610-278-3929 with all resumes and letters of interest.  Resumes and letters of interest can be dropped off at the Human Services Center: 1430 DeKalb Street, Norristown, PA 19404

Announcing a 47% Reduction in Homelessness

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Your Way Home is excited to announce a reduction in homelessness by 47% since its inception in 2014, as measured by the annual Point-In-Time Count.

Over the past five years, Your Way Home has transformed the homeless crisis response system in Montgomery County by more effectively diverting, triaging and re-housing literally homeless residents.  During this time, Your Way Home has focused on creating a coordinated and unified homeless crisis response system that connects homeless households to permanent housing as quickly as possible. More recently, Your Way Home has piloted new programs that provide homelessness prevention services to households facing eviction and doubled-up families. 

Your Way Home’s success in reducing homelessness demonstrates the impact of what we can achieve when nonprofits, government, philanthropy and the community work together towards a shared vision. Our initiative is successful because of the collective work that all of our partners have done to more effectively respond to the crisis of homelessness, which is why we have been able to rehouse over 864 homeless households since 2014. 

As Your Way Home continues to prioritize its commitment to ending literal homelessness, we recognize that we must also develop solutions that will help prevent more families and individuals from losing their housing.  We acknowledge that while our data shows a sizable reduction in homelessness, the Point-In-Time Count itself does not reflect the full picture of homelessness in Montgomery County- it is a snapshot of what homelessness looks like on one day in time, for those who are literally sleeping outside or in shelters.    

The Point-In-Time Count (PIT) assists us in creating dialogue around homelessness in real time and with real data. It establishes the magnitude of the problem of literal homelessness and helps us track progress toward our goal. What the PIT does not quantify are those experiencing extreme housing instability: those couch- surfing or doubled- up in housing, those living in substandard housing, or households paying over half their income towards rent.  The PIT does not give an accurate picture of the affordable housing crisis in Montgomery County, nor does it reflect the urgent needs of those who are housing insecure.

However, the PIT does tell us that we are on the right track towards achieving our goal.  We have made a sizable reduction in homelessness in Montgomery County over the past five years.  We have not yet reached our goal of ending homelessness but we are proud of where we are today.  We continue to build on this strategic framework and embrace strategies that make Your Way Home a more equitable system. 

Point-In-Time Count Reflection

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On the night of January 24 from 9:00 PM to 12:00 AM, I volunteered with my fellow Commissioner, Val Arkoosh, and forty others for the Point-In-Time Count led by Your Way Home. This annual exercise provides important information on how homelessness impacts the county and how it can be ended. Groups of volunteers searched for homeless individuals and families in areas of the county including; Abington/Willow Grove/Cheltenham, Ardmore/Lower Merion, Lansdale/Souderton, Norristown/Bridgeport and Pottstown/Royersford. I was on the Norristown/Bridgeport team.

I was not sure what to expect. I knew that there were homeless citizens in Montgomery County. I have visited the county shelter many times, including monthly meals and holiday dinners led by my church. I have worked with great non-profit organizations that provide emergency and transitional housing throughout the county. Occasionally, I will encounter individuals around the Courthouse or at the Norristown Transportation Center asking for money who may be homeless. However, to see people at night, on the street, under bridges and on playgrounds was powerful and disturbing.

Our group was led by Joel who works for the Salvation Army. He explained that some people did not want to be counted or surveyed for various reasons. We went to spots along the railroad tracks where we could tell people had been living. There might be a couch or a lean-too and some empty cans but no people. Our first encounter was at the DeKalb Street Bridge. A woman was sleeping underneath it and came out when she heard us to receive the supplies we had. It was like we had knocked on her front door! It was a mild night but drizzling, unlike some of the frigid nights earlier in the week and she said, “It wasn’t too bad”.

We went to the Crawford Park. It has a playground underneath the Schuylkill River Trail that I have run or ridden past many times.  I’ve always seen it during the day and there are always children playing basketball on the court and using the playground.  

That night, there were at least two people in sleeping bags on the court and the playground. We did not approach them because they seemed to be asleep but they were “counted”

Upon reflection, it’s more upsetting to think of those we didn’t count because they didn’t want to be seen. They are quite literally “living in the shadows.” There are many reasons why people become homeless in our society and county. But whatever the reason, we need to end homelessness in our county. No one should be sleeping under a bridge or in a park.

I am proud of the progress we have made but there is much more to be done. I am glad that I had the opportunity to see it firsthand and I thank the volunteers from around the county who participated. Your Way Home also has wonderful partners who work on this issue daily and I am grateful for their efforts. However, we all need to do more so the Point-In-Time Count is not necessary.

Sincerely,

Commissioner Ken Lawrence

 

A Look Back at 2018

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Dear Your Way Home community partners,

As 2018 comes to a close, I wanted to send a note to thank each of you for your commitment to one of the most pressing issues in our community- ensuring every Montgomery County resident has a safe and stable place to call home. I’m endlessly inspired by the hope and compassion that you exhibit in your work with some of our most vulnerable residents, despite what are often tragic and frustrating circumstances. It’s important to take a moment to remember that so many of our neighbors are celebrating the holidays in their own home because of you.

Our Your Way Home community has had a significant impact in 2018. As we head into the last week of the year I wanted to share a snapshot of that impact with you:

  • Montgomery County has experienced a 37% reduction in homelessness since we launched Your Way Home in 2014. This year alone, we have helped 152 homeless families move into housing, and a total of 430 formerly homeless families stabilize in their housing. We’ve provided shelter for over 600 residents and have allocated hotel vouchers so that no child or pregnant woman ever sleep outside in Montgomery County. 

  • We’ve expanded our partnership’s focus to include strategies for preventing homelessness through two new pilot projects that launched this year. Our EPIC partnership with the Montgomery Bar Association and Foundation, the Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities, Legal Aid of Southeastern PA, and the Montgomery County Courts, provides free legal representation and financial assistance to prevent evictions in Norristown. We’ve prevented 67 households from being evicted, or 76% of those enrolled, since January.

Second, we’ve partnered with the education system to better support at-risk elementary school children and their families. Through the Sprout Initiative, launched in partnership with the North Penn School District, Keystone Opportunity Center, and Villanova University, we are assisting families with school-aged children regain housing stability and support student success, with the goal  of increasing children’s educational achievement through more stable housing. 

  • As we shared in our 6th Annual Summit this past summer, our partnership has embraced advancing racial equity as a core strategy in ending homelessness. Through the HealthSpark Foundation, we’ve engaged a nationally recognized firm to help us conduct a Racial Equity Evaluation of our partnership, the first phase of which will be completed in early 2019. This initiative- which puts our partnership on the forefront nationally to take on systemic and structural racism in fighting homelessness- will transform our service system to better serve people of color and other historically marginalized groups. 

  • We’ve created new collaborations with other sectors, advancing our mission to better align human services to meet the multifaceted needs of vulnerable residents. For example, our new partnership with MCIU Head Start prioritizes Your Way Home clients for their services, so that homeless families have priority access to this free, federally-funded preschool program. 

Additionally, we’ve hosted community forums to increase information sharing with other sectors. Our fall Forum, co-hosted by the Montgomery County Commerce Department, highlighted Equitable Access to Economic Opportunities and discussed innovative strategies for overcoming systemic barriers to employment.  

  • Finally, we know that none of this work is possible without garnering the financial support to continue it. Through the Your Way Home Initiative Fund, we’ve raised over $150,000 in private grants to support consumer assistance, research and evaluation, consumer engagement, diversity training, and other activities. We have also been awarded over $500,000 in new public funding to support our core programs. This is because we can continue to show that we are delivering high quality, responsive services to our residents. 

I’d like to sincerely thank our Your Way Home Advisory Council members for their service this past year, including our outgoing Chair, Virginia Frantz of the Montgomery County Foundation, Inc. Virginia has been a steady partner and champion for us, building relationships with the philanthropic community and advising our partnership since its inception. 

In 2019, we are thrilled to welcome our new Your Way Home Advisory Council Chair Joel Johnson, Executive Director of the Montgomery County Housing Authority. Joel’s leadership and knowledge in issues of housing affordability and access will be invaluable as our partnership moves towards embracing long-term solutions to homelessness prevention in the coming year.  

I’d also like to thank our CoC Governing Board, as well as those of you who have joined us on our Action and Advisory Teams throughout the year. Thank you to our core partners- our call center, outreach staff, shelters, Housing Resource Centers, and numerous community organizations- who carry out our mission each day. Finally, to the Your Way Home Operations Team- it is truly an honor to work with each of you.

My best wishes for a happy holiday and joyous new year. See you in 2019!

Emma

Emma W. Hertz, MPA
Administrator
Office of Housing and Community Development
Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services

June/July 2018 Newsletter

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2018 SUMMIT RECAP

Your Way Home hosted it's 6th Annual Your Way Home Summit: Advancing Equity, on June 8th at the Montgomery County Community College.  The Annual Summit provides an opportunity for many of our core providers, community partners, funders, landlords, and consumers to hear about the progress we’ve made in ending homelessness over the past year, and the work that we plan to do moving forward to accelerate our impact.
 
This year’s Summit provided much to celebrate:

  • A 37% reduction in homelessness since 2014, as measured by our annual Point in Time Count, including a 50% reduction in homelessness among families with children.
  • An increase in the percentage of people exiting homeless shelters directly to permanent housing to 57%, up from 35% prior to Your Way Home launching, and
  • A success rate of 85% overall- meaning that of the people we help to move to permanent housing, 85% do not return to homelessness within at least 2 years.

These accomplishments are due to the efforts of our community members who have worked so hard to move the needle on these challenging issues, by embracing strategies like Coordinated Entry, housing-focused Emergency Shelters, Housing Resource Centers, strong connections to Supportive Services in our community, and a partnership structure that includes voices from across sectors to guide our common agenda.

Our commitment to adopting strategies related to homelessness prevention, addressing the affordable housing crisis, and equity, in addition to reaffirming our commitment to ending literal homelessness were announced during the summit.  The topic of Racial Equity as a Sustainable Practice to Ending Homelessness was woven throughout our keynote presentation, by Jeff Olivet, as well as our main stage commentary.  The equity panel discussion, lead by Jason Alexander, Senior Policy Adviser for Your Way Home highlighted the intersections of equity and homelessness in various sectors of our population.  Panelists included: Vanessa Briggs of Brandywine Health Foundation, Sidney Hargro of Philanthropy Network, Kim Krauter of Advanced Living Communities and Jeff Olivet of Center for Social Innovation (also the keynote speaker).   

The second half of the Summit gave attendees the opportunity to attend breakout sessions.  Each session interwove the overarching theme of equity into their discussions.  The breakout session topics were:  "Homelessness & Eviction Prevention",  Your Way Home: The Story and the Numbers",  "The Role of Public-Private Partnerships in Accelerating Change",  "Achieving a Collective Impact through Systems Change", and "What’s Gender Equity Got To Do With It?".

Your Way Home also presented three Champions for Change Awards recognizing the outstanding contributions from key individuals across different sectors of our partnership. The 2018 Champions for Change were: 

Allegra Cressman, Executive Director, Interfaith Hospitality Network of the Main Line
The Honorable Margaret Hunsicker, Magisterial District Judge, Montgomery County
Russell Johnson, President & CEO, HealthSpark Foundation

For more information on Your Way Home's equity initiative and to view more pictures from the Summit, please click here.   

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EQUITY FORUM

In the past four years, Your Way Home has created and adopted the core strategies known to be effective in ending homelessness: adopting a housing first approach, coordinated entry, and rapid re-housing, among others. The next step in this process is an effort to proactively combat, in meaningful and authentic ways, the impact of historical and ongoing discrimination in housing practices by adopting equity as a core strategy in our work to end homelessness. Your Way Home will begin its work on equity by developing a better understanding of our system’s role in perpetuating the disproportionate impact of homelessness on certain demographic groups in Montgomery County.  Further, we will work to discover ways in which our partnership can mitigate and overcome these challenges. Your Way Home has engaged the Center for Social Innovation, a consulting firm responsible for the SPARC initiative (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities) in order to conduct an Equity Evaluation of Your Way Home’s partnership. 

This work will represent the first step, as a public-private partnership, to begin outlining how we might meaningfully address the impact of discrimination and institutional racism in our partnership moving forward.

On Tuesday, July 10th, Your Way Home hosted an Equity Forum, led by Jeff Olivet and Lunise Joseph of Center for Social Innovation.  The Forum was the first opportunity for our partners in this work to hear from Your Way Home providers and friends regarding their experiences with racial inequity.  During their time in Montgomery County, our partners at Center for Social Innovation met with decision makers, outward facing provider staff, and consumers to gain their feedback and insight into the interactions they are experiencing as individuals of color in Montgomery County. 

Your Way Home will continue to report out on the data and research we find during this partnership.  Please continue to check for updates on our Equity web page and through our e-newsletter.  

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Equitable Access to Economic Opportunities

An estimated 50,000 Montgomery County residents are faced with housing instability each year due to the high cost of housing, and low or stagnant wages for many workers. Historically underserved populations, such as people of color, people with disabilities, women, and the LGBTQ community, are more likely to experience housing instability than other populations due to barriers to economic advancement.

Your Way Home is hosting a Forum on Equitable Access to Economic Opportunities to understand the challenges to economic mobility faced by these populations. The forum will highlight programs and employers that are working in unique ways to assist individuals that have experienced barriers to employment.  The keynote and  panel discussion will focus on equity as it relates to economic opportunity and mobility, access to supportive employment programs, and increasing outcomes for underserved populations. 

For more information and to register, please click here.

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CLIENT STORY

Recycled Rides is a nationwide community service project of the National Auto Body Council in which insurers, collision repairers, paint suppliers and others collaborate to repair and donate vehicles to families and deserving service organizations.

In the Recycled Rides program, insurance companies donate the vehicles, parts and paint manufacturers donate the materials, and local auto body shops donate the labor to repair them. 

Keystone Opportunity Center, a Your Way Home Housing Resource Center,  applied to Recycled Rides on behalf of a family in the program.  The family was homeless and staying at a participating Your Way Home shelter.  Despite experiencing  more than 6 months of housing instability, the mother worked hard to provide a sense of stability for her family.   She felt it was important to make sure her son was enrolled in kindergarten and did not want their life circumstances to keep him from moving forward.  This meant bundling up three little ones in the winter and walking her son to and from school every day.  

With the addition of a vehicle this mother now has access to services that aid her children's emotional and education needs as well as the tools she needs to keep a full-time job.  Access to transportation is a game changer for many families living in poverty.  Families with cars are more likely to find a job and to stay employed.  Unreliable transportation is one of the primary reasons why individuals lose their jobs. 

Thank you to our partners at Keystone Opportunity Center for making this request a reality! 


RFP OPPORTUNITIES

PA-504 FY 2018 CoC Program Competition: New Project Application


The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Continuum of Care (CoC) Program is designed to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness; provide funding for efforts by nonprofit providers, and State and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused to homeless individuals, families, and communities by homelessness; promote access to and effect utilization of mainstream programs by homeless individuals and families; and optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Your Way Home Montgomery County PA-504 CoC anticipates having $184,392 available for new Rapid Re-Housing projects. Populations to be served in order of priority include:

• Rapid Re-Housing for families and/or single adults.
• Rapid Re-Housing for youth aged 18 – 24.
• Joint TH and RRH component project for Transitional Age Youth aged 18 – 24.

Additionally, Your Way Home Montgomery County PA-504 CoC anticipates having up to$307,319 available for project(s) that are dedicated to survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  Project types may include:

• RRH - Rapid Rehousing

To access the new project application, please click here

For more CoC Program Competition information and instructions, please visit the Continuum of Care page on the Your Way Home website by clicking  here.
 

2018 Home4Good New Project Application

Home4Good is a collaborative initiative between the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh (FHLBank Pittsburgh) and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) to provide grants to address systemic gaps in support and services and help make homelessness in the Commonwealth rare, brief and nonrecurring. 
Home4Good is designed to support projects, programs or activities in Pennsylvania that lead to stable housing for individuals and families who are currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  
The PA-504 Continuum of Care (CoC) administers this program in Montgomery County. The deadline for submitting applications is August 24, 2018.  The award for this RFP is expected between: $50,000 to $250,000. 

Eligible proposals should concentrate in one or all of the following areas (selected by the PA 504 CoC Governance Team):
1. Street Outreach
2. Homelessness Prevention
3. Coordinated Entry

To view the application, click here.

Advancing Equity: A Letter to the Your Way Home Community

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Dear Your Way Home Community,

Last Friday, I was honored to host many of you for our 6th Annual Your Way Home Summit: Advancing Equity. As the Administrator for the lead public agency of Your Way Home, the Montgomery County Office of Housing and Community Development, I recognize that this event provides an opportunity for many of our core providers, community partners, funders, landlords, and consumers to hear about the progress we’ve made in ending homelessness over the past year, and the work that we plan to do moving forward to accelerate our impact.
 
This year’s Summit provided much to celebrate:

  • A 37% reduction in homelessness since 2014, as measured by our annual Point in Time Count, including a 50% reduction in homelessness among families with children.
  • An increase in the percentage of people exiting homeless shelters directly to permanent housing to 57%, up from 35% prior to Your Way Home launching, and
  • A success rate of 86% overall- meaning that of the people we help to move to permanent housing, 86% do not return to homelessness within at least 2 years.

 
These accomplishments are due to the efforts of our community members who have worked so hard to move the needle on these challenging issues, by embracing strategies like Coordinated Entry, housing-focused Emergency Shelters, Housing Resource Centers, strong connections to Supportive Services in our community, and a partnership structure that includes voices from across sectors to guide our common agenda.
 
And yet- there is still so much work to be done.
 
As my experience as a Your Way Home system leader has evolved over the past four years, I have come to learn that even our best interventions can only go so far to help people recover from the traumatic experience of homelessness.
 
In other words, we have treated the symptoms of homelessness, but not the root causes- like poverty, violence, discrimination, and a lack of affordable housing, to name a few.
 
During our Summit last Friday, I was able to share how Your Way Home has finally built the will, resources and champions to dig into these root cause issues, and to understand their relationship to homelessness and what we can do about them, together, as a community.
 
Here’s what we believe to be true:
 
First, for every 1 household that experiences homelessness in Montgomery County, 20 more are on the brink. The problem is, it’s difficult to predict who they are, whether they will become homeless, or how to prevent them from doing so. And just to be clear, we simply do not have the funding or human resources to help everyone. However, we’ve spent the past year researching better strategies and promising practices to do so. This research culminates in our Unlocking Doors report.
 
Second, is that we know that homelessness is disproportionately experienced by people of color and other historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups. In Montgomery County, 50% of the population we serve through Your Way Home is black or African American, compared to about 9% of the general population. Forty-eight percent of persons served by Your Way Home have at least one reported disabling condition, compared to 14% of the general population in the state of Pennsylvania.  Sixty-four percent of homeless households are headed by women, including 89% of households with children. Finally, national studies have indicated that as many as 40% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ, compared to about 7% in the general population.
 
So, when you begin to look at the data closely; when you study our country’s major systems like housing, criminal justice, and healthcare; and when you really listen to people’s stories, you can’t help but conclude the following:
 
We cannot talk about ending homelessness without also talking about the impact of institutional and structural discrimination on certain groups, particularly on people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities. We cannot help but conclude that our systems have been designed to discriminate against these groups, and that as a result, it has become easier for certain groups to become homeless in the first place, and it is harder for them to leave.
 
As advocates, policymakers, funders, landlords, and service providers, we have an imperative to not only deeply understand the issue of discrimination and its impact on homelessness, but we must also proactively work to redesign and retool our programs, organizations, and culture to overcome these inequities.
 
Your Way Home is committed to leading this conversation forward. At our Summit, we provided some introductory material on the topic of equity and homelessness through our keynote speaker, Jeff Olivet, whose work on Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities concluded that structural racism is a driving factor of homelessness. You can read more about his work here. Jeff’s firm will continue to work with Your Way Home through the fall to conduct an Equity Evaluation.  This evaluation will review our Your Way Home system performance data, policies and procedures, and board recruitment practices through an equity lens and then will provide specific strategies for our partnership to adopt in pursuance of advancing equity. A multi-sector Advisory Team is being gathered to guide this work, and will be hosting community forums and consumer listening sessions throughout the summer and fall. We’ll be sharing progress on this evaluation at futureCommunity Meetings, through our newsletter, and on our website and social mediachannels.
 
We also hosted a panel discussion at the Summit with leaders from philanthropy, public health, and affordable housing to discuss the impact of equity in these systems. The spirit of their discussion was captured in graphic visuals, featured above. Finally, we provided copies of The Color of Law and “Awake to Woke to Work: Advancing a Race Equity Culture”, to all conference attendees. You can find copies or links to these resources on the Resources page of our website.
 
Our Summit on Friday started the conversation on equity within our partnership, but we know that this is a long road ahead. While our Equity Evaluation will provide more specific strategies and goals, the Your Way Home Operations Team will be adopting some initial strategies to advance equity in our partnership, such as:

  • Sharing system performance data disaggregated by demographic group;
  • Including equity, discrimination, bias, and similar topics as part of our Community Meetings, Continuum of Care Governance Team meetings, and Action/ Advisory Team meetings moving forward;
  • Ensuring diversity on our councils, teams, and speaker panels that is representative of the populations we serve;
  • Providing more training opportunities for topics such as implicit bias and microaggressions;
  • Connecting our community to more resources for learning about issues of discrimination and equity, especially as it relates to ending homelessness, through our website, newsletter, and social media.

 
I’m continually humbled by the passion for ending homelessness among our community, and encouraged by the number of people who have already reached out since Friday to share that the decision to advance equity in our partnership is an imperative that will strengthen our system. I invite you to join us in taking this significant and courageous step towards advancing equity for the benefit of all.
 
In partnership,
 
Emma W. Hertz, MPA
Administrator, Montgomery County Office of Housing and Community Development

New Report: Unlocking Doors to Homeless Prevention

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Since 2014, the Your Way Home system has evolved to include a single call center, diversion from shelter for those that have alternative housing options, housing-focused emergency shelters, a robust rapid re-housing program, and prioritization for permanent supportive housing for those that need more support to maintain housing stability. As a result of these system transformations, Montgomery County has reduced homelessness by 37% in four years.

However, our work is not done.

While our system is positioned to more effectively respond to the crisis of homelessness, we haven’t yet tackled the monumental effort of preventing more vulnerable families and individuals from losing their housing in the first place. If we are to truly meet our goal of making homelessness a rare event, we must start to work “upstream".

Your Way Home is  thrilled to share the final report from our eviction prevention research study, “Unlocking Doors to Homelessness Prevention: Solutions for Preventing Homelessness and Eviction.” This report is the culmination of the research study sponsored by HealthSpark Foundation to help Your Way Home develop a comprehensive homelessness and eviction prevention strategy in Montgomery County.

Through this study, we reviewed local data to better understand the need for eviction prevention services in the County, identified model eviction prevention strategies from our peer communities across the country, and solicited community feedback on which projects to implement locally. The study has led to the launch of two pilot projects to address homelessness prevention, the Eviction Prevention and Intervention Coalition (EPIC) and the School-Based Homelessness Prevention Program
 

The “Unlocking Doors” report includes information on our research process, the models we studied, and our implementation status. It also shares helpful tips for philanthropy, community partners, and local governments looking to adopt similar strategies in their own communities.

"As a final note, one of my personal “lessons learned” from this study has been that partnerships are the key to addressing complex and widespread issues like homelessness prevention and housing instability. Alone, none of our organizations or sectors can meet the needs of our most vulnerable residents- rather, we need the collective expertise, wisdom, resources, and support from each of our groups to truly address these types of social challenges. I’m grateful to be a part of an initiative that creates these types of partnerships."

-Emma Hertz, Administrator of the Montgomery County Office of Housing & Community Development


To read the full report, please click here.

International Women's Day

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Happy International Women’s Day! 

 
In a year that has been especially turbulent, it is more important than ever that we take a second and acknowledge today as one of significant reflection.  The International Women's Day 2018 campaign theme is #PressforProgress.  Press for Progress is a push for global attention towards achieving the ultimate goal of gender equality.
 
No issue is an island, and crucial to collective impact is the acknowledgement that achieving real impact means driving real action.  Collective action and shared responsibility for furthering gender equality are what make International Women's Day successful. Sheryl Sandberg, the author of the bestselling Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, once said, “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”
 
Your Way Home is proud to spotlight our entirely female 24/7 street outreach team.  In October Your Way Home launched its partnership with Access Services.  Through this partnership we are now able to provide services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, prioritizing housing and benefits for vulnerable families, youth and single adults experiencing homelessness.   Services include: round the clock responsivity for physical resources, screening and assessment, housing counseling, and connection to housing resources.
 
Your Way Home’s priority is to serve individuals who are living outdoors, in their cars, in tents, or in other places not meant for human habitation. The complex needs, configurations, and situations of families and individuals who are experiencing street homelessness is assessed every day by the Your Way Home’s trauma-informed, street outreach team.  Following the core principals of trauma-informed care is something that has made our street outreach team especially successful in their work.  They have succeeded in creating a trustworthy environment while maintaining appropriate boundaries and empowering clients. 
 
Your Way Home has made it a priority that no pregnant women or child under 5 should ever be without shelter, due to the serious health consequences associated with the experience.  In 2017 alone Your Way Home served 646 women which is 52% of the population served by the program.  It is important to acknowledge the unique challenges facing homeless women including: access to proper prenatal care, menstruation products, and increased risks of domestic violence, just to name a few. 
 
“International Women's Day is not country, group or organization specific. The day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. So together, let's all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity. Collectively, let's all Press for Progress.”https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Theme  
 
We need to applaud the strong women, like our street outreach team who are doing amazing, life-changing work.  Their job is not easy, they don’t always witness a happy ending, but they continue to get up every day and  make a difference.  Thank you ladies, for your strength, resilience and tenacity.  You are amazing!  #PressForProgress