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Bill Hobson Tribute


Bill Hobson of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center.

Deputy Director at the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Richard Cho remembers supportive housing champion Bill Hobson. Richard and Bill presented on Housing First at the Network’s 2007 Conference.

On March 4, 2016, Bill Hobson, retired Executive Director of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), passed away in his home at the age of 76, survived by his family and the legacy of having proven beyond all reasonable doubt that anyone, no matter how ill or troubled, can achieve a new life in a home of their own.

I first met Bill in 2007 on a fact-finding mission I helped organize for several officials from the City of New York to see for ourselves how he had managed to successfully house 75 of the most vulnerable and high-cost “chronic inebriates” in the City of Seattle at their already notorious 1811 Eastlake supportive housing project.  This was at a time when the notion of Housing First was still considered experimental—an approach that could only be achieved with significant resources and perhaps for a very limited number of people.  We went to the trip expecting to see that Housing First was about providing housing “without conditions.”  What we learned from Bill instead was that Housing First was about unconditional love.

Bill has been often quoted as saying that “there is no such thing as a throwaway person.” Those who knew Bill also knew that he had a particular way of speaking that could be both painfully direct and yet full of ironic understatement—something that only someone born and raised in Texas can pull off.  Indeed, far from seeing people as not “throwaway,” Bill dedicated his life’s work to elevating the most vulnerable, most forgotten, and most shunned.  And while he received national attention for 1811 Eastlake, this project was just one example of so many of Bill’s accomplishments and innovations.  Under Bill, DESC grew from a provider of low-demand shelter to one of the most prolific developers and providers of supportive housing.  He pioneered the idea of using a Vulnerability Assessment Tool to actively seek out and prioritize for housing people experiencing homelessness with the most severe behavioral health issues and functional challenges. He commissioned research to prove that one’s criminal history had no effect or bearing on one’s ability to be a good tenant. Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill engendered the paradigm shift within the national effort to end homelessness that to end homelessness, the onus should not be on the highest need people to come and seek help; it must be on the providers and systems to bring that help to the highest need people.

Over the years, Bill and I developed a friendship that he would have said was built on mutual respect and admiration, and on occasion, mutual challenge. The truth is that our friendship was not fully mutual in that my respect and admiration for him could not be matched.  When Bill accepted an award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness in 2012, I was honored to join him as his special guest at the ceremony.  Few people have influenced my orientation in my own work to end homelessness more than Bill Hobson. Bill’s passing leaves a huge chasm in the ongoing struggle to end the tragedy and injustice of homelessness in America.  Let us work together to fill this chasm and fulfill Bill’s vision that everyone, including and especially those with the most complex challenges, should have a safe and stable place to call home. 

| Press

New Report from HSC: “New York Nonprofits in the Aftermath of FEGS: A Call to Action”


In the wake of the March 2015 collapse of Federation Employment and Guidance Services (FEGS), one of the largest social service providers in the sector, the Human Services Council (HSC), which represents organizations across multiple social service sectors including supportive housing, sought to determine to what extent FEGS’ demise was a unique event and to what extent it reflected major sustainability issues within the entire social service sector. The report, “New York Nonprofits in the Aftermath of FEGS: A Call to Action,” determined that while FEGS faced its own challenges, the central issues that led to its collapse are common across all nonprofits in the social service sector, concluding that the sector as a whole is “in crisis.”

Led by Gordon J. Campbell, a former senior government official and former President and CEO of United Way of New York, the Commission consisted of 32 human services executives, civic and philanthropic leaders, former government officials, and other stakeholders with a vast array of knowledge concerning nonprofit management and oversight.

The ensuing report, the product of exhaustive interviews and surveys, found that a full one in five social service providers was insolvent in 2013 and that half were either operating in the red or just breaking even.  The report identified three central issues contributing to the crisis, the most prominent of which is that government contracts do not cover the cost of services. The report found that government contracts currently pay 80 cents on the dollar.

An example is Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, a Network member and the organization that took over FEGS’ contracts. The agency operates $18 million in the red each year, fundraising $13 million of that sum and using $5 million from the organization’s endowment.

The human services sector works with 2.5 million New Yorkers, spanning housing, behavioral health services, children’s services and job training. The city has 5,100 contracts worth $4.3 billion, and the state has an additional 2,000 contracts worth about $1.5 billion.

The report made seven recommendations, including that government agencies consult with nonprofits as they create new programs. It recommends that wasteful and duplicative oversight regulations should be replaced with meaningful government oversight to ensure that providers are financially and programmatically responsible. The report also states that funders must collaborate with providers in risk assessment and reporting systems to better predict, quantify, understand, and respond to financial, operational, and administrative risks.

The Commission finally recommends that the human services sector establish an RFP ranking system to assess risks and identify problematic government agency policies and practices, better evaluating government performance. This will allow for more informed decision-making around programmatic viability and liability in applying for government contracts to help prevent the collapse of more human services organizations.

“We cannot continue to take on endless government contracts that do not pay the real costs of service, nor should we,” the report said. “If contracts and grants do not pay adequate rates or involve significant hurdles such as unfunded mandates or unjustified metrics, the programs cannot be as effective as they could be, and for too long nonprofits have filled the gap. Now, the gap is too large. Providers have to say no, not only to shed light on funding issues, but because these chronic issues eat away at the fabric of the human services delivery system.” For the full report click HERE.

| What's New, Research, Press

Widespread Call for a Robust NY/NY4 Agreement


Major media from around New York State, and local media, continue to call on Governor Cuomo for 35,000 new units of supportive housing statewide to address the burgeoning crisis with chronic homelessness, particularly among the most vulnerable.  These articles all appeared within the past month.

Editorials included:

"If New York Really Wants to Help the Homeless" New York Times, January 6, 2016

"Andrew Cuomo homeless edict isn’t a long-term answer" Newsday, January 5, 2016

Coverage of the Governor's recent Executive Order included:

"Cuomo's Cuts Have Exacerbated Homelessness, Says Local Advocate; Supportive Housing Needed" West Side Rag, January 6, 2016

"Cuomo Misses Point, Homeless on Streets Say" New York Times, January 4, 2016

Coverage of supportive housing more generally:

"How to End Homelessness in New York City" The Atlantic, January 4, 2016

"Ending the Revolving Door of Homelessness" Gotham Gazette, December 28, 2015

"Code Blue in Effect, but Troy Shelter Won't Force People To Stay" Time Warner Cable News, January 5, 2016

"After extensive search, de Blasio appoints new deputy mayor" Politico, January 5, 2016

"Contradicting de Blasio, Cuomo says homelessness ‘not an economic problem’" Politico, January 5, 2016

"Decrease in Homeless Veterans in New York Far Outpaces National Drop" New York Times, December 31, 2015

"Cuomo-de Blasio feud threatens cooperation on housing for homeless" Politico, December 29, 2015

"Cuomo, De Blasio Could Deliver a Holiday Miracle for the Homeless", December 23, 2015

"Capital Region advocates for the homeless hold vigil" Times Union, December 21, 2015

"National Homeless Memorial Day" Times Union, December 21, 2015

"Observing Homeless Persons' Memorial Day" Gotham Gazette, December 21, 2015

"NYC's mayor launches new program to help quell tide of homelessness" Reuters, Dec 17, 2015

"Gilbert Taylor, New York City Homelessness Chief, Quits Post" New York Times, December 15, 2015

"Supportive housing is key" Queens Chronicle, December 10, 2015

"Advocates' $4 billion plan urges Cuomo to fund more supportive and senior housing" Crain's December 10, 2015

"Famous homeless veteran gets a home in Astoria" Times Ledger, December 10, 2015

"Stemming New York City's 'Inherited' Homelessness Problem" WNYC, December 8, 2015

"City to Build Housing for the Homeless But Without State Help" WNYC, November 15, 2015

"De Blasio Pledges Additional 300 Beds In Youth Shelters, 'Taking The Gloves Off' On Homelessness'" Gothamist, January 8, 2016

"Residents Sound Off on Affordable Housing Plan for Mentally Ill in Bed-Stuy" DNAinfo, January 8, 2015

"De Blasio unveils latest homelessness proposal: ‘We’re owning this issue’Politico, January 8, 2015

"Avella offers proposals to combat homelessnessPolitico, January 9, 2015

"This week ahead in New York PoliticsGotham Gazette, January 10, 2015

"How one man’s death launched a street-homelessness aid project" Politico, January 11, 2015

"Mayor de Blasio to Raise Base Pay for City Workers" New York Times, January 5, 2016

"Banks: Review of city homeless services will include efforts to improve contracting processes" New York Nonprofit Media, December 17, 2015

"Mayor de Blasio, Facing Homelessness Crisis, Issues Plan to Fight It" New York Times, December 17, 2015

"Panel on Homelessness Talks Controlling a Crisis" NY1, January 5, 2016

"Media Notices Homeless People on Streets, Blames Progressive Mayor" The Nation, December 23, 2015

"Let’s Rethink Our Homeless Shelters" New York Times, January 1, 2016

"Bill de Blasio Teams up with Former Foe Christine Quinn to Fight Homelessness" The Daily News, December 23, 2015

"Questions Over Cuomo’s Order on Homelessness" New York Times, January 4, 2016

"New York City's Homeless are Finding Voucher Program Void" NPR, December 27, 2015

"New York Faces Struggle in Curbing Flophouse Schemes That Victimize Addicts" New York Times, December 28 2015

"City to End Use of 'Cluster' Homeless Shelter Units" Observer News, January 4, 2016

"Cuomo signs New York City public assistance bill" Politico, December 19, 2015

| In the Media, What's New, Funding, New York State, New York City, Press

NPR Reports on New York State’s Ground-Breaking Use of Medicaid Dollars to Create Supportive Housing













NPR aired an inspiring and informative story on July 28, 2014 profiling Lissette Encarnacion’s path from chronic homelessness into supportive housing in Common Ground’s residence, The Brook, financed in part with State Medicaid funds.

Reported by Amanda Aronczyk of WNYC, the piece features interview segments with New York State Medicaid Director Jason Helgerson, and Brenda Rosen, Executive Director of Common Ground (and a Network Board Member).

Aronczyk also focused attention on supportive housing in her WNYC stories from June 4, 2014 “Take This Apartment and Call Me in the Morning” and “Supportive Housing as Healthcare.”

Read the transcript of the July 28, 2014 NPR story here.

| In the Media, What's New, New York City, Press

Oregon Study: Supportive Housing Improves Health, Saves Money


A study released earlier this month reconfirms the economic and health benefits of supportive housing.

The report comes out of Oregon, where supportive housing has helped a group of formerly homeless individuals dramatically cut their healthcare expenses. It finds that tenants on Medicaid at Bud Clark Commons (BCC) averaged roughly $2,000 per month in healthcare costs in their year prior to housing. Once housed, that figure dropped to just $899 a month, a 55% decrease. Collectively, the 59 tenants studied at BCC reduced their Medicaid costs by more than $783,000 in just one year. You can read the full document here.

The report concludes:

“The average resident saw a reduction of over $13,000 in annual [Medicaid] claims, an amount greater than the estimated $11,600 it costs annually to house a resident at BCC. Importantly, this reduction in claims was maintained into and beyond the second year of residency, suggesting that supportive housing had a profound and ongoing impact on health care costs for those living at BCC.”

The Center for Outcomes Research & Education (CORE) prepared the report, which is titled “Integrating Housing & Health.” You can read the full study here and a press clip on its findings in Affordable Housing Finance here. We urge you to share the latest report on the positive benefits of supportive housing!

| New York State, Research, Press

Network Leadership Pen Wall Street Journal Letter to the Editor


The Network’s own Ted Houghton published a letter to the editor today in the Wall Street Journal.

The letter, available here, responds to a March 31 editorial on low-income housing and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mr. Houghton co-wrote the piece with Todd Gomez, a member of the Network’s Board of Directors. The two are also two co-chairs of the Housing First! coalition.

Mr. Houghton and Mr. Gomez argue that Congress must fund the National Housing Trust Fund (HTF), a long-unfunded potential source for low-income housing development. Their words echo the mission of the United for Homes campaign, a national coalition to fund HTF. Mr. Houghton sits on the national steering committee for United for Homes.

In their letter, he and Mr. Gomez write:

"In New York City, where the average Manhattan rent exceeds $3,000 a month, the trust fund will create apartments costing closer to $1,000 a month for families earning less than 50% of area median income (about $39,000 for a family of four). Two in three qualifying families pay more than half of their income on rent right now according to the U.S. Census, with little left over for essentials like food, clothing and medicine. And 52,000 New Yorkers are unable to find an affordable home at all and will sleep in municipal homeless shelters tonight. These are challenges that must be addressed. Investing in the development of affordable housing is a proven solution, whereas your editorial offers none."

We urge you to read and share their latest letter to the editor.

| Press

Study: Charlotte Supportive Housing Residence Saves Money, Improves Lives


A new report from Charlotte shows that supportive housing can dramatically reduce a formerly homeless person’s use of hospitals, emergency rooms and jails.

The study, available here, finds that the 85 tenants of Moore Place have increased incomes, greater social support, fewer arrests and decreased medical expenses within one year of moving into supportive housing. The findings on medical expenses are particularly striking: Tenants billed nearly $1.8 million less in medical expenses during their first year in housing as compared to the previous year. This represents a 70% reduction in hospital and emergency room use.

Moore Place Permanent Supportive Housing Evaluation Study reaffirms what more than two dozen studies have previously shown: that an investment in supportive housing can lead to significant cost savings. The report has already received substantial press coverage from the Huffington Post, the Charlotte Observer and other outlets.

“Housing the homeless not only saves lives – it’s actually cheaper than doing nothing,” concluded the Huffington Post.

Continue Reading …

| Research, Press

News Media Highlights Sister Tesa, Hour Children


Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, two stories were published this week on Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, the celebrated Irish American and executive director of a Queens-based supportive housing provider.

The pieces, which ran in the Wall Street Journal and Irish Central, highlight the recent opening of Hour Apartment House II, a supportive housing residence that opened late last year. The residence offers housing and services to formerly incarcerated women and their children.

The Wall Street Journal piece highlights the warm, inviting atmosphere created by Hour Children, the nonprofit that developed the residence. “I never thought I would live somewhere so beautiful,” says one of the tenants. “When you out there on the street, you don't think someone like Sister Tesa could love a total stranger. I'm glad she loves me,” says another. It’s a moving account of how supportive housing can transform the lives of some of New York’s most underserved individuals and families (please note that this article may be behind a pay wall).

Continue Reading …

| New York City, Press, Member News

“60 Minutes” Airs Segment on 100,000 Homes Campaign




Supportive Housing Success Stories Go Viral


We’ve seen a terrific number of pieces on the success of supportive housing and the housing first model over the last few weeks. Most of these stories have focused on recent successes outside of New York, from Utah to Arizona and elsewhere. Below, you’ll find links to this roundup of positive press.

Nation of Change: This piece on supportive housing in Utah has received a staggering 397,000 likes (and counting) on Facebook!

New York Times: The Grey Lady reports on a milestone in the effort to end veteran homelessness in Arizona. The paper refers to the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program as the “backbone” of the federal government’s effort to eliminate homelessness among veterans.

Think Progress: Numerous publications also covered the end of veteran homelessness in Arizona. This Think Progress piece has garnered more than 24,000 Facebook likes.

Boing Boing: This popular blogging site follows up on the Nations of Change piece. The post has received nearly 2,000 Facebook likes to date.

Slate: Influential columnist David Weigel highlights Utah’s effort to cut chronic homelessness by 74% through supportive housing. The piece has more than 6,000 likes on Facebook.

WyoFile: This Wyoming-based nonprofit news outlet argues that supportive housing is a humane, fiscally responsible investment. “By giving [homeless people] a roof over their heads instead of a hospital bed or jail cell,” the article concludes, “Wyoming communities can show that they are both compassionate and good stewards of public funds.”

| Press

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