Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ending Homelessness Nationally

Earlier this month I attended the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) conference in Washington, D.C.  While there, I learned that despite the fact that many service budgets have been cut at the federal and state levels, the American economy is not “out of the woods” in regard to homeless services across the country.  Nan Roman, president of the NAEH, reported the impressive fact that homelessness has remained steady—that is, it has not risen—during the recession.  This fact is partly a result that homelessness is a lagging indicator of society’s economic woes.  For agencies providing homeless services, the recession may have yet to hit. 

LPCS has begun to see this trend through an upswing in the number of people that are homeless for the first time (33%) and episodically (40%).  In the past, higher education was thought to be a safety net against homelessness, but is no longer true.  Last year more than 50% of our guests attended or graduated from college. Several guests over the past year reported that they were foreclosed upon or last experienced homelessness several years ago, and were unable to find living-wage work quickly after being laid off.  Additionally, the cost of renting in Chicago continues to rise.  One out of four guests who moved in to LPCS in the last year had an income; however, they were unable to afford housing. 

Despite the reality check from the NEAH conference that our work is far from extinction, we realized that LPCS is on the cutting edge of programming in many ways.  First, we work with agencies throughout the Chicago area to follow a “housing first” approach.  Guests begin to work with case managers to identify and sign up for housing opportunities from the day they move in—and often before.  Community clients who join our waiting list meet with a case manager and are encouraged to begin working on goals right away. 

As a part of the Interim Housing Community, our case managers are working intensively with guests through an increasing average length of stay; although this results in fewer guests moving through our programs overall, it means that the work with those guests is deeper and successes are more likely to have a lasting impact.  This longer stay and more intensive work with case managers is making an impact: over 70% of On Track Program participants found permanent housing. After one year, at least 66% of graduates remain housed.
Finally, we know that a contributing factor to this housing retention is a continued connection to LPCS. Approximately 2/3 of graduates continue to remain involved at LPCS, touching base with staff members on the trials and tribulations of their lives and participating in case management and referrals when needed.  We have long believed in the power of community, and our Graduate Community is a demonstration of that.  Many become involved as volunteers, and others join our new Graduate Council, offering feedback to program staff on new programming, planning events for current guests, and speaking to community groups about their experiences with homelessness and LPCS. 

LPCS is looking forward to another year of community and collaboration with our neighbors, our volunteers, our supporters, our guests, and our graduates.  Stay tuned for updates on ways you can be involved in our newest ventures via our e-newsletter and our print newsletter, Transitions.  To sign up to receive either of these, please visit the News section of our website.  

--Betsy Carlson, Program Director

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