A Local Perspective on the 2014 National Conference on Homelessness

Submitted by Mark Putnam, Director, Committee to End Homelessness in King County

MOnumentThis past July, several King County based Committee to End Homelessness staff braved the heat and humidity of a Washington, D.C. summer to attend the 2014 National Conference on Ending Homelessness.

The annual conference offers more than a thousand people from across the United States and Canada who work to end homelessness an opportunity to learn from each other, discuss effective solutions for ending homelessness with leading experts in the field, and offer their voices in shaping effective strategies and policies to end homelessness in their region.

This year’s conference signaled a new tone and energy in the work of ending homelessness. Attendees celebrated the great strides made in developing and implementing innovative strategies that aim to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time. We know what works and doesn’t work, and there’s a renewed energy to take on the challenge of adjusting current practices and systems to undertake these innovative practices.

Workshop speakers highlighted:

  • Housing first principles for all populations, including rapidly re-housing families and single adults as a viable and effective approach to help move people off the streets and into housing
  • Strategies to prioritize the most vulnerable people into the homeless housing system as the most effective way to target limited homeless resources
  • Utilizing data to inform decision-making, including developing standards to measure program and system-level performance and re-tooling systems to align with more effective and efficient efforts

The good news is that King County is on track, and in some cases even ahead of the game, in these efforts.

This year’s conference didn’t let us down! With 90 workshops over three days; with dynamic keynote speakers like Senator Cory Booker, HUD Secretary Julián Castro’, the new United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Chair, Thomas E. Perez, and Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, Becky Kanis Margiotta, we left DC even more committed and energized for the work ahead.

King County was well represented with local stakeholders presenting at conference workshops, including:

  • Emily Harris-Shears, Catholic Community Services (Targeting and Preventing Homelessness)
  • William Hobson, DESC (Person-Centered Options for Persons in Recovery)
  • Melinda Giovengo, YouthCare (Innovative Collaborations in Strengthening Models to End Youth Homelessness)
  • Jim Mayfield, WA DSHS (Research on Rapid Re-Housing)
  • Kollin Min, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Partnering to Support Young Children and their Parents)
  • Jim Theofelis, The Mockingbird Society (Where Does State Policy Fit in Your Advocacy Playbook?)

And, our very own:

  • Mark Putnam, CEHKC (Strategies to Develop and Strengthen Your Continuum of Care)
  • Megan Gibbard, CEHKC (Transatlantic Practice Exchange: Lessons from Across the Pond AND Systemic Responses to Youth Homelessness)

The last day culminated with the key note from The First Lady of the U.S., Michelle Obama. Before the First Lady took the stage, the 1,600 conference participants were shown videos, including Seattle University’s American Refugees four animated short films about family homelessness, and a video from the Mockingbird Society featuring youth advocates.

While our own Michelle Valdez was fortunate enough to get a close-up and handshake from the First Lady, we all agree that the opportunity to hear her speak about the work of ending homelessness among Veterans (of which Seattle/King County is also a part of), was the icing on the cake.

We’ll end our brief update with a message from Michelle Obama:

“Yet, when so many others accept homelessness as a fact of life, you refuse to give up.  When they scoff at your idealism, you show them the data and evidence that prove that we can solve this problem.  And when they still throw up their hands and walk away from this challenge, you roll up your sleeves and get back to work.”

Committee to End Homelessness of King County staff attending included:

  • Mark Putnam, Director
  • Megan Gibbard, Program Manager
  • Michelle Valdez, Program Manager
  • Triina Tennelo, Program Manager

To Learn More:

National Alliance to End Homelessness – 2014 National Conference on Ending Homelessness

Materials and presentations: http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/2014-national-conference-presentations

First Lady’s key note speech: http://www.endhomelessness.org/blog/entry/heres-first-lady-michelle-obamas-speech-from-our-2014-national-conference

Home for Sale: Nowhere to Call Home

amre_5[1]Our partners at SU’s Project on Family Homelessness just published the first in a series of blog posts on the “American Refugees” short films produced by our other ‘sister’ project, The Film & Family Homelessness Project. Read below for new project assistant Emma Lytle’s reflection on “Home For Sale,” which contrasts the excitement of buyng a home with the heartbreak of foreclosure, telling the story of one family’s sudden descent from stable employment and housing into homelessness.

A film that showed me how close homelessness can be for families

By Emma Lytle, Seattle University senior communications major and project assistant, Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness, originally posted in the Project on Family Homelessness Blog on 7/25/14 

 Note: This is the first in a series in which we ask our staff to react to the “American Refugees” film that most appealed to them.

Stability is the foundation and the glue that holds a family together. Stability comes in many forms, whether it’s sustaining a steady job or having a place to call home.

As the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, I grew up feeling that sense of stability. But some families aren’t always so lucky. Sometimes that glue disappears from a family as parents struggle to make ends meet. Continue reading

Want to end homelessness? Then we need to address domestic violence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, Founder, FaithTrust Institute

Sometimes the reasons for homelessness and poverty are obvious:  a lost job, a bankruptcy, a foreclosure, a death in the family. But more often than we’d like to admit, the cause is violence in the family. Domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault can force women and children (primarily, but not exclusively) out of a home and into a precarious, uncertain future.  The majority of homeless youth fled physical and sexual abuse at home. Over 90% of homeless women have experienced severe physical abuse in their lives; 63% have been victims of intimate partner abuse as an adult.

Families now make up a THIRD of the homeless population; a typical homeless family in a shelter is a woman with two children. Throughout our history, FaithTrust Institute has sought to address the complex dynamics of domestic and sexual violence, particularly the faith and cultural aspects of abuse. The psychological impacts of witnessing and experiencing violence have lifelong effects.  The isolation of domestic violence leaves many women without a stable, independent source of income or credit history. It can also destroy social networks and support systems. Without the means to rent an apartment and no close relationships, a woman and her children who are fleeing – sometimes for their lives – have nowhere to go.

FaithTrust Institute events button

Women of faith experience domestic violence within the context of their belief system; religion and religious teachings will be either a resource or a roadblock.  Especially at a time of crisis, a woman needs to know that her faith community values her wellbeing.  I believe that we as helpers should never put a woman in the position of having to choose between safety and the support of her faith community. She needs both. And it’s up to us to provide that.

Continue reading

Project Cool: Supplying a Brighter Future for Children who are Homeless

We love our colleagues at Seattle U’s Project on Family Homelessness. In the piece below, Krista Kent, new Digital Design Assistant for PFH, tells us all about how cool SKKCH’s Project Cool really is! She speaks to the power of community, of volunteering as a way to engage more deeply with your community, and points to the great need of the more than 6,000 homeless school-aged children in King County. Read on to learn more (and check out the “What you can do” box at the end for ideas of how to take action now)!

By Krista Kent, Digital Design Assistant, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness and senior at Seattle U

crayola-markers-164895a8e3f12fa0[1]As a child I always loved buying new school supplies, and there was perhaps nothing better than a brand-new case of Crayola markers. Having worked in a first-grade classroom this past year, I have seen that students are still excited to have new supplies. But for families who can’t afford to buy supplies, local supply drives play an important role in the community.

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Project Cool for Back to School, which gathers supplies and creates backpacks for local school-aged children who are homeless. Volunteers came together at Columbia City Church of Hope earlier this month to help assemble and pack backpacks full of school supplies and dental kits.

Presented by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Project Cool prepared more than 1,300 backpacks with the help of 130 volunteers over the course of five days. The backpacks will be distributed to nonprofit organizations in August, just in time to get them to students all over King County.

Continue reading on the Project on Family Homelessness Blog →


Faith in Action at All Saints Parish

A shout out to our partner parish in Puyallup, All Saints, whose advocacy and work with homeless families was just recognized in an article in Northwest Catholic last week! Read the full article below to learn more about how the parishioners are putting their faith into action. (And look for a word from School of Theology & Ministry Dean Mark Markuly!)

Helping homeless families

Puyallup parish works through interfaith project at Seattle University to fight homelessness

By Kim Haub

All Saints Puyallup parishioners at Olympia capitol
Members of Puyallup’s All Saints Parish traveled to Catholic Advocacy Day in Olympia, where they asked legislators to streamline assistance programs and reduce the waiting time for homeless families to receive aid. Photo: Courtesy All Saints Parish

For All Saints parishioner Veronica Kaipainen, helping the homeless is a family affair.

The Kaipainens participate in Faith and Family Homelessness Project events at the Puyallup parish, where they learn ways to help and advocate for the estimated 319 homeless families in their community.

“I am drawn to the idea of faith in action,” said Kaipainen, a public school counselor. “This really seemed to be an activity that I could apply to my professional life as well as my spiritual life.”

All Saints is one of 14 Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations — and the only Catholic one — participating in Seattle University’s Faith and Family Homelessness Project. All Saints received nearly $10,000 in grant money through the program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Continue reading

With A Series Of Small Bans, Cities Turn Homelessness Into A Crime

  • “Camping” in Public: 34% of cities impose city-wide bans on camping in public
  • Sit/Lie Laws: 53% of cities prohibit sitting or lying down in particular public places
  • Vehicular Residency: 81 cities have laws prohibiting sleeping in one’s vehicle, a startling 119% increase from 2011
  • Food Sharing: 9% of cities prohibit sharing food with homeless people
  • Begging in Public: 76% of cities prohibit begging in particular public places.
  • Loitering, Loafing and Vagrancy: 33% of cities make it illegal to loiter in public
    throughout an entire city.
  • One example of bad criminalization policy: Orlando, Florida. 34% of homeless people in the Orlando area are without shelter beds, yet the city restricts or prohibits camping, sleeping, begging, and food sharing.

The NLCHP concludes that these laws are both costly to taxpayers and ineffective in reducing homelessness, in addition to being grossly inhumane and unconstitutional in many cases. Read the full report to learn more.


Susan St. Amour panhandles on a median in Portland, Maine. The city tried to ban loitering on medians last year, but a judge found the law unconstitutional. Photo credit: Caroline Losneck for NPR

Laws that criminalize homelessness are on the rise across the country, according to a new report by an advocacy group. The laws prohibit everything from sleeping in public to loitering and begging. Advocates for the homeless say the laws are making the problem worse.

Susan St. Amour is among those who could be affected by the new restrictions. Twice a week, she stands on a median strip at an intersection in downtown Portland, Maine, asking passersby for cash. She says she needs the money to get by.

Continue reading

Foster Youth and Homelessness

Judy Lightfoot strikes again with yet another great piece for Crosscut’s Kids At Risk series! In the article below, Lightfoot recounts the story of “Seven,” a now 25-year-old young woman who experienced a traumatic childhood of neglectful caretakers, anger and isolation as she bounced in and out of the foster care system. At 20, Seven managed to get into permanent housing and later found new community and opportunities through the Fostering Scholars Program at Seattle University, where she is currently pursuing a BA in Criminal Justice.

Unfortunately, Seven is the exception rather than the rule – many teens like her end up on the street when they turn 18. In Washington state, a remarkable 35 percent of teenagers who age out of foster care each year become homeless, according to a recent study. Success stories like Seven’s, Lightfoot points out, take “a village of caring, committed and patient professionals”; a supportive community, interconnected providers, and persistently compassionate individuals can make all the difference. Read below for the full article.

How to Keep Foster Youth from becoming Homeless Youth

By Judy Lightfoot, originially published 7/7/14 in Crosscut

Foster_homeless_Seven_at_Youthcare_crop_fit_300x300[1]“Seven” grew up in a repressive authoritarian cult. She was so isolated from the world, she didn’t know what TV was until she was 12. After her father was kicked out of the cult, she attended public school for the first time. “I had to stay after school so they could teach me how to read a clock,” she says.

The 21st century overwhelmed Seven. She got good marks in seventh grade, but she couldn’t sit still. “I was a loose cannon,” she admits. “I was a watcher and absorbed things [until] it was just too much. Kids who weren’t nice to me I kicked in the shins.” When puberty hit, with its hormones and identity crises, she broke down and was expelled for violent behavior.

Seven ran away from home to live with an older sister who traveled a lot for her job in the adult entertainment industry. Unsupervised, Seven started using with street kids, and eventually went missing downtown. By age 14, she was bouncing from group foster homes to juvenile detention to hospital ERs and psych wards. Antipsychotic meds cooled her down enough for placement in a more normal foster home, but her foster mom was spiteful, repeatedly telling Seven: “When you turn 18, we’ll have a nice bonfire in the street for your stuff.” Continue reading