Community 2020 Forum on Homelessness
TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS
Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Robert Coles, Harvard University
Maria Foscarinis, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
Mayor Dennis W. Archer, City of Detroit
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Office of Community Planning and Development
451 7th Street, Southwest, Room 10130
Washington, DC 20410-4000
MS. LAWING: Good evening, everyone. Good to see you. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tonight's lecture is on The Road Home: Meeting the Challenges of Homelessness. I would like to welcome Dr. Robert Coles, Mayor Dennis Archer, and Maria Foscarinis to HUD.
This is our third Community 2020 lecture series. Our first one was on economic development; our second one was on race relations; and tonight homelessness, a topic near and dear to most of our hearts.Vice President Gore, unfortunately, was unable to be with us tonight, but he is the honorary chairman of this series and very supportive of this series. Mrs. Gore has been a tremendous influence to all of us who work on homelessness and address homelessness.
We would like to welcome representatives from her office, Susan Liss and Trouper Sanders tonight. Tonight we have about a thousand people with us. We are very excited. And in addition to HUD staff and HUD professionals, we have members of the homeless advocacy community, homeless persons, people who have experienced homelessness, formerly homeless persons. We have providers, many people from other federal agencies who oratored on addressing homelessness and working with many of you from the nonprofit community. We also have persons from faith-based organizations.So it seems that we had the assemblage that we need to have a thorough discussion tonight. We also would like to recognize Rhoda Glickman, Joan Kenny, Fred Karnas, and Michael Freedberg at HUD who have worked very hard on tonight's program. It is now my tremendous honor to introduce the moderator for tonight's event, Secretary Andrew Cuomo.
Secretary Andrew Cuomo has been Secretary now for a year, it is hard to believe, of this department. Previously to this year, he was Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development. At Community Planning and Development he oversaw not just the homeless programs, but the growth of the homeless programs, to doubling the budget under President Clinton, and also to increasing tremendously the number of homeless persons who move into permanent housing and get jobs and to healthy situations.
He brought with him his experience from HELP in New York City. He founded HELP in 1987. It is the nation's largest provider of homeless services and housing for homeless families. So tonight you have the experts. Enjoy the evening. And now I would like to introduce Secretary Cuomo. Thank you.
Secretary Andrew CuomoSECRETARY CUOMO: Good evening.
THE AUDIENCE: Good evening.
SECRETARY CUOMO: What does it mean when 1,000 people show up to talk about homelessness at 5:00 o'clock in the evening? I think that's a good sign. And let's starts by giving all of you a round of applause for showing up tonight to discuss this. Thank you.
SECRETARY CUOMO: It is my honor to welcome Dr. Robert Coles and Mayor Dennis Archer and Maria Foscarinis here. And with the people we have assembled on this panel, I have no doubt, as Jacquie Lawing said, that this is going to be a really intelligent discussion. We have the different perspectives, a mayor, who actually has to make it happen in the city, and Dr. Coles, who has studied the issues of children with national eminence and Maria Foscarinis, who was there at the very beginning, who was working on this issue before we even knew it was the issue that it turned out to be.
I would also, before I introduce formally the panel, I would like to take a moment to thank the HUD team here. You heard from Jacquie Lawing, who is now the deputy chief of staff. It was my good pleasure to work with her for the past four years in Community Planning and Development and she has done an outstanding, outstanding job on these homeless programs.
Saul Ramirez is now the Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development -- please, Saul. Some would say that it's about time that we have had, that we got a good Assistant Secretary in CPD. And we have Fred Carness, who is also here with us today. Fred has been, again, working on the homeless issues for over a decade and he has done extraordinary work, as has the whole team. And I want to thank them all very much for that.
This seminar series, as you call it, is very important to us here at the Department. We see our role as a cabinet department in managing programs and getting budgets done and reporting to Congress, in advocating for the causes that we represent, but also as a catalyst for thought and discussion, especially on matters of policy. John F. Kennedy first envisioned the Department of Housing and Urban Development. President Johnson signed it into law and got it passed, but President Kennedy first envisioned it.
And incorporating the President's, President Kennedy's vision, when Lyndon Johnson spoke about it, he said, and I quote, "This new department, HUD, will provide a focal point for thought and innovation and imagination about the problems of our cities." And that's what this seminar series is supposed to do for us. We have talked about economic development, race relations, tonight homelessness, but let's take these pressing issues, get the best minds in the nation, and let's talk them through and make sure we understand them, get that policy discussion going, and then lead us into action.
The homeless topic that we are about to talk about tonight has many facets, as you will hear, as represented by this panel. To understand the issue you have to understand the numbers of the issue. Part of the problem is about numbers.
President Clinton, the first year he took office, asked us to do a report on homelessness. And we did the report called Priority Home. And the report said, quoting the Urban Institute, that there are about 600,000 homeless Americans on the street. The first federal administration, I am proud to say, that stood up and said: This is a real problem, a national problem, and this is the scope of a problem, was President Clinton when he said about 600,000 homeless are on the streets, but that number can be deceptive.
Over five years, 7 million Americans have been homeless. Why? Because 600,000 homeless at any given time, but there is a lot of turnover within that population.
And if you look at that population over a period of years, 7 million Americans, it is estimated, were homeless.
When President Clinton took office the homeless budget was about $500 million. I remember that number because I had just come from the state of New York and the federal budget on homelessness was less than the state of New York alone was spending. And that was the budget for the nation, less than one state was spending, $500 million.
Over the past four years, we have seen that budget double under President Clinton. And we just heard a few weeks ago the President announce the single largest increase in the budget, which would take it to the highest funding level ever, a $327 million increase, which would take it to $1.1 billion. That was announced by the President at Christmastime.
SECRETARY CUOMO: And the numbers are important, and the resources are important because we will not solve this problem without resources, I am convinced.
It is not a question of will or drive or prerogative. It is also a question of resources, but it is not going to be resources alone. It has to be a different approach. It has to be a new policy. It has to be a different understanding.
Jacquie referred to the continuum of care, which was this President's acknowledgment that we are not going to solve this in Washington, this homeless problem, it's only going to be solved community by community across the country.
It is only going to be solved when a community takes responsibility, steps up to the plate and says "we want to solve this" and understands the problem for what it is. It is a housing problem, certainly. It's also a social services problem. It's also a problem of victims of domestic violence. It's also a substance abuse problem. It's also a problem of jobs that aren't paying enough for people to live, paying rent and get ahead.
So there are many facets to the homeless problem, and unless each community steps up to the plate and addresses it, we won't actually solve it in any ultimate sense; understanding that we need the federal government there in partnership.
But you will hear the numbers and you will hear the analysis from the panelists. That's why they are here.
When I think about the problem, I think back to the faces of the problem because sometimes for all the numbers and all the policy, we lose the humanity, which really homelessness is all about.
And as you heard I ran a not-for-profit organization before I came to HUD called HELP. HELP, a short name, not the most creative name, but it's what we came up with at the time. And in 1986 we built the first HELP facility and we called it HELP ONE, because it was the first facility. And we were staying in that vein of creative names.
And we had planned HELP ONE for about two years.
It was 200 units. It was in Brooklyn, New York. And I thought we had thought of everything, 200 units, we had day care, we had libraries, we had job training services, everything on-site, one square block.
And we finally built it and we were up and we were operating and it dawned on us that we had forgotten something, school age children. After-school programs didn't exist within our program.
And it hadn't occurred to us, but when you are in that part of Brooklyn, which was a very, very tough neighborhood at that time, you couldn't let the school age kids go outside because literally they would be taking their life in their hands. And we really had nothing to do with them.
They got out of school, it was 3:00 o'clock, and they had all sorts of energy, and they wanted to do a lot of things, and we didn't want them on the streets, but we didn't really have any facility or programming for them.
So someone came up with the bright idea of forming a little league team. This sounded smart, good. We will go out there, fresh air, team spirit, and we formed the HELP ONE Mets. I liked the name. I was the coach, so I got to name the team.
And we went out and we got ourselves uniforms, beautiful satin baseball jackets, red satin baseball jackets. Because the uniforms were all donated, they were different colors, so they didn't actually match, but it didn't matter to us. We thought we looked good and we were the HELP ONE Mets. And it meant everything to the kids.
The games would start on Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. They would start to assemble at 5:00 a.m. Why? Because they couldn't sleep. Because they were part of this team, and the team then became for them almost a surrogate family, almost a surrogate community. And they couldn't wait to be part of this, literally 5:00 a.m. on Saturdays.
And we would go out and we would play games. And we would practice during the week, the HELP ONE Mets. Now, to say that there was not an athlete on the team would be kind, okay?
SECRETARY CUOMO: And when you think about it, these children all had tough circumstances. Many of them didn't have a father. They didn't have the opportunity to get the training or to play ball.
At that time there was a team called the Bad News Bears, okay? And it was a movie that was running. Our team, the HELP ONE Mets, made the Bad News Bears look like professionals. That's how bad the HELP ONE Mets were.
And the way it would work in little league is you would play either three innings or a certain amount of time, about an hour and a half, which for us was a Godsend because when a team is that bad, the inning is never over. So luckily at one point the clock would run. But they were all very shrewd, tough kids. They had to be to survive what they went through. And we used to say: The HELP ONE Mets; we never won a game, but we never lost a fight. And we had a lot of fun with the HELP ONE Mets.
At the beginning of one season, we started out, and there was a young fellow who caught my eye, his name was Robby, beautiful young African American boy, and he had a great smile. And he had great loving eyes about him.
And I took him in the beginning of one practice, and I brought him out to the outfield and I said: Come on, we are going to practice, just you and I. And we are going to assess your talents, or lack thereof. And I would throw Robby the ball and he would hold his mitt out here with his great big smile ready, and I could throw the ball and the ball would hit him right in the chest and he wouldn't move but he would keep smiling, Robby. And I said: Here we go, it is going to be another long season for the HELP ONE Mets.
And Robby would get up to bat with that great smile and the pitcher would throw the ball. It would go past him. The catcher would catch it, and then he would swing. And we tried everything with Robby. We got him batting coaches, and they had devices where you have a little pole and you put the ball on the top of the pole and he tries to hit it standing still but none of this worked.
To make a long story short, it got to a point where you said it couldn't just be a lack of talent. No one can be that bad just from than eye/hand coordination point. And we took Robby to the doctor. It turned out at seven years old Robby was legally blind and it had never been diagnosed.
And to me this was such a damning statement on the entire system. It almost defied belief. How do you get to seven years old, you are legally blind, and it hasn't been diagnosed?
Just think of all the things that had to go wrong in his life.
Where was the teacher? Where was the school? Where was that institution? Where were the parents? Where were the aunts? Where were the uncles? Where were the neighbors? Where were all those networks that should have caught that, all those support systems, all those institutions?
How do you let a child get that far in life without knowing? How many systems, how many people had to fail him? Now, you think about Robby's particular circumstance. He wasn't really attending schools regularly because he was homeless, so his mother was bouncing from place to place. And he was in and out of schools. And, truth, his mother had problems of her own that she was working out. At that time she had a substance abuse problem, so she wasn't totally focused on her son and his health.
But it was to me a truly damning statement of how some people in this country live. And with all the numbers, the face in the humanity of this problem to me is even more powerful than the statistics.
And it raises a very fundamental question for us. It says: Will we as a society allow some people to be in that circumstance? I don't care if it is 600,000 or if it is 7 million. If it is 4, will you allow that to be as a society?
All these great signs of success that we have, Time Magazine says strongest economy ever, more millionaires than ever before. 14 million new jobs, crime down, unemployment the lowest in 24 years, but you still have people sleeping on the streets.
Are you a success as long as you have that condition present? The President of the United States says no, says it with two words, one America, that this is not going to work, this place, and we are not successful until we are successful together, community and family and interdependence actually means something.
And the sweetest success is still shared success. That's what we are working to here at HUD, working together, understanding the role that we can play here in government, understanding the role that Washington can play and the role and responsibility of the community, we are going to solve this problem.
I am more convinced today than at any time in the ten years that I have been working on this issue. And seeing 1,000 people here tonight makes me even more convinced.
Let me thank you all for being here tonight and let me get on with the introductions of our panel.
First, we are honored to be joined by Robert Coles, a professor of social ethics at Harvard University and one of America's leading thinkers on the issue of race, childhood development, and community service.
Dr. Coles is a continuum of care, and that's when he is all by himself. Over a distinguished 40-year career as a psychiatrist, educator and thinker, Dr. Coles has published more than 60 books, written 1300 articles, and in 1973 won the Pulitzer Prize for his landmark five-volume series, Children of Crisis.
More than that he has changed the way America thinks about the moral, political, and spiritual development of children, and he has a unique connection to this department.
When President Kennedy first came up with the idea of a Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1961, Robert Coles was one of his advisors urging him to do so. And now we have come full circle. Last week President Clinton announced that after a lifetime of good work, Dr. Coles would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award this nation can bestow. Congratulations.
SECRETARY CUOMO: We are also honored to be joined by Maria Foscarinis. Maria is the founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and one of America's true pioneers in the fight to win homelessness.
Twelve years ago when most official Washington even refused to admit that there was such a problem called homelessness, Maria fought not only to move homeless people from the streets to self-sufficiency but to make sure that the rights of homeless people were recognized by law.
Ten years ago she was the heart and soul behind the Stuart McKinney Homeless Assistance Act which is the first and only major legislation addressing homelessness. Today under her direction the Law Center is at work in all 50 states, litigating to protect the rights of homeless people, fighting the criminalization of homelessness, and working to keep homeless families together. She is one of the most tenacious and effective advocates the homeless community can have. I know that from working with her and then, on occasion, being on the other side of the table from Maria. We are honored to have her here tonight. Thank you, Maria.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Finally, we are honored to have Mayor Dennis Archer from the city of Detroit, who has spent the past five years showing all the rest of us that urban America can be reborn. In his first inaugural address, Mayor Archer had the audacity to look at 20 percent unemployment, record crime, record poverty, and say: "Believe it, we will prevail." And under his leadership, Detroit has prevailed.
Unemployment has been cut in half, crime is down, investment is up, and confidence has returned. But of all of the issues he works on, homelessness is still closest to his heart. In 1994 Mayor Archer convened the Task Force on Homelessness to develop a comprehensive strategy. Today Detroit is implementing a homeless service delivery system that is serving as a model for the nation.
For his work, Mayor Archer not only received the recognition from Newsweek Magazine as one of America's 25 most dynamic mayors, but he has been also awarded the Public Service Achievement Award by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The mayor combines the intelligence that to govern, you must bring a head and a heart, and he does it with a special style and inspiration that inspires us all. I am pleased to welcome him to the department, and I thank him for joining us today. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. (Applause)
SECRETARY CUOMO: And we will begin by hearing from Dr. Coles. Thank you.
Dr. Robert Coles
PROFESSOR COLES: Many years ago my wife and I were working in Florida with migrant farm workers. This is the 60s, the early '60s, and there was a federal presence there through the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, as it was known. There was a migrant farm workers section there working with people who needed health care and were unable to find it and prompting throughout the nation efforts to reach out to migrant farm workers. They were homeless, obviously, almost by profession, moving around from one part of the country to the other, and trying to find work, well motivated, well motivated.
I remember very clearly trying to get to know these children and sitting with them as they drew pictures for me. That's the kind of work I do.
If you were to talk with children in this country from all backgrounds and ask them to draw pictures when they are about seven or eight or nine, they would soon enough begin to draw pictures of themselves and relatives. And it doesn't take them long to draw a house or a school or other buildings, a natural aspect of human development of child development.
And for the first time -- and I have had some experience in other homes -- for the first time with these children bundled together and huddled together in Belle Glade and Pahokee and Williston and Bean City, as I would sit with them in what we would now call community shelters, really arrangements by the growers to house them temporarily so that they could then be brought to the fields, do their work and brought back, to make-shift housing, if housing at all, some of them slept under the stars, I noticed that these children were unable, unwilling, it was beyond their capacity, it seemed, to draw pictures of buildings.
They could draw pictures of themselves to some extent, not the best pictures, but when I would ask them to draw a building, a house, a home, a school, they seemed at a loss. And they would make marks on the paper but couldn't pull those marks together into what you and I would find to be a recognizable structure.
And this taught me what can happen to children, not from within themselves neurologically, or their home life, necessarily, but simply by the fate of their experience.
They didn't know what buildings were reliably enough to represent them for others. The kind of thing that your children and mine would ordinarily just pick up in the course of their lives, confidently with crayons, building structures, bricks, roofs, chimneys, smoke coming out of them, this was not available to these children's capacity as young artists.
And I learned from that something of what happens environmentally to children when they are hard-pressed in a particular way. Even as I learned from Afro-American children in the early '60s how hard it was for them to draw themselves strong and able in comparison to the white children they would represent for me, when I was studying school desegregation in New Orleans and Atlanta in those early years of the '60s.
I would find children drawing pictures of white children who were much bigger than them, stronger, better represented their arms, their feet, their facial expressions. This is the work that Kenneth Clark, the great Afro-American psychologist did in the '50s and some of us pursued in the '60s, documenting it, documenting it in the crises of that decade.
And, similarly, with these migrant children, in a different way, not so much trouble with facial expressions or representing race and strength or weakness, but telling us their problems by representing them, that they had no solid buildings to fall back on and, therefore, didn't know how to represent them, that they lived lives adrift, that they were in constant motion across this land. I put this work aside when I went north and returned to Boston and started doing work in the city there, the northern version of desegregation, busing, as it took place in the center of Boston as families were moved around to try to desegregate schools that were either all white or all black, as they were then described.
And in the early 1980s I was asked by some social workers to get to know some children who were then homeless. They were welfare children who had been moved around from one part of the city of Boston or Cambridge to another. And I would sit with them for many days talking with them, finding out about their lives, and, again, doing drawings with them.
And, again, I saw what I had seen in Florida; children who are unable to represent a home for me, a house for me, even a school building for me. I was going to bring some of those drawings here. They are not in spots, we didn't have the machinery, but if you would see those drawings, you would be able to distinguish between children who had homes and children who don't have homes by virtue of their ability either to confidently represent a house, a school, a neighborhood building of one kind or another and those seemingly unable to do so.
So there is in child development an aspect of one's experience as children know or don't know to represent it.
Now, I am ashamed to tell you about a university that I know well who a number of years ago was confronted with a problem. There are grates near the buildings in that university out of which steam comes and homeless people would spend the night trying to suck up warmth from the buildings of a major American educational institution.
And one day a solution to that was put into effect for all of us to see with the help, I suppose, of architects; namely, grates were built on top of the grates, little homes of sorts, to protect the grates from human presence. Obstacles in the way of warmth for fellow American citizens in the second half of the 20th Century. And so our homeless problem in Cambridge came to an end, our homeless problem in Cambridge. But who is our? Those of us in the university? The students got an education. They walked by and saw one day homeless people on grates, huddled together, some of them very friendly and respectful of the students, maybe in awe of them, certainly in envy of them, and another day they are gone, moved to the Cambridge common.
One of my students who had been following those folks, trying to understand them. Where did they come from? Who are they? Where would they like to go? There is a Gauguin triptych in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that he painted in 1897 just before he died: Where do we come from? What are we? And where are we going? And this particular student followed those homeless people to the Cambridge Common and to other parts of Cambridge trying to find out about them. And meanwhile those of us who walked by those grates saw their protection.
This is out of Charles Dickens. This is out of Thomas Hardy. This is town down with a vengeance. This is power and wealth and privilege protecting itself mercilessly. And this is an education too for students, for faculty, for all of us that we, sheltered by our privilege at an institution that owns billions could see this daily, could learn to shrug it off, and ultimately not to notice it because that's what happens, we stop noticing and stop caring. You talk about an education. You talk about social ethics that someone like me is supposed to teach. Those homeless people were teaching us social ethics all right, in a course not in the data log, a course that has to do with life. And we learned, boy, did we learn. And we learned ultimately not to care.
A little while ago one of my sons and I saw a movie, Good Will Hunting. I hope many of you either have seen it or will see it. One of the actors in that movie was a student of mine. He left Harvard and now we all know him, but I will tell you, he confronts that institution with street smart Cambridge kids who take its measure hard, who take its measure hard.
And when I was watching that movie, there is a tremendous speech in that movie, you might call it an aria. It is a populist aria that confronts us in some of our callousness and greed, living side by side with vulnerability and hurt and pain in this country, worth the price of admission alone to hear that statement, as these kids tell some of us, who are so smart and who have become so callously dumb. So let us, let us pay heed. Pay heed not only to the homeless, but to ourselves, to our vulnerability, our moral vulnerability, that we can learn not to care and as a result be at such increasing distance from that and from whom, from the prophets of Israel, from Jesus of Nazareth.
Earlier in this century an American president in 1936, in 1936 talked about one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clothed, ill-fed. There are still many of us, of us in this American community living under those circumstances. And if it is their vulnerability that we are here to address, it is our desperate moral need that we are also here to address.
MS. FOSCARINIS: I want to start by thanking HUD and the Secretary, particularly, for holding this event. I think it is extremely important. And I also want to thank all of you for being here.
It is a critically important issue and bringing this focus and attention to it is very, very important to solving it. I want to start by talking about where we are now on the issue of homelessness.
We have made progress, and there is good news. There is more federal funding. We heard about the increases in the McKinney Act funding. There is more national focus on and commitment to long-term solutions.
We have, we started with emergency relief. That was the focus. Now we have the continuum of care, the emphasis on long-term solutions. We have a Secretary at HUD who is an advocate and a former provider. All of this has made a real difference to many, many homeless people, and also, I should add, to those of us working on this issue.
But at the same time we need to be aware that all signs are homelessness is continuing to increase across the country. It is especially increasing among families. Homeless children now represent 25 percent of the homeless population and that has devastating implications, as we just heard, for their future, as well as for our own.
We know that shelters are turning people away. A recent report released last month by the Conference of Mayors found that the turn-away rate by shelters was the highest ever reported. Many homeless people are literally living on the street or in other public places. They have nowhere else to go.
So we have some bad news as well as good news. What we are doing works, but is not enough. Let's remember the major federal response to homelessness, the Stuart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, first enacted in 1987, was meant to be a first step only. It was, in fact, part one of what at the time had been a three-part proposal. It was the emergency part. Part two was prevention. Part three was long-term solutions.
Those parts were never enacted. And that's our challenge now. We know what solutions are to homelessness. We know what we need. We need solutions that help people who are now homeless, move out of homelessness. And we need solutions that prevent people who are at risk from becoming homeless.
We need solutions that recognize, first of all, homelessness is not some mysterious, isolated phenomenon. It's, rather, part of a continuum, it is part of a continuum of poverty, it is the most extreme form of poverty in America today.
Second, the homeless population is not monolithic. It includes families. It includes children, single adults, people who are mentally or physically disabled, people who are addicted. Different solutions are appropriate for different homeless people.
But we know what the essential framework for solutions is: Housing, income, social services, and protecting basic rights.
Housing, housing is key to any solution. We need increased federal resources for housing. Right now only 23 percent of those eligible receive it.
We need more private resources. We can encourage or even require developers to create low-income housing as a condition of other development. We can use the tax code through low income housing tax credits.
Mentally disabled or addicted homeless people may need special housing with services. This is important as a long-term solution. It is also important in the short-term. Where permanent supportive housing has been provided to mentally ill homeless people, to this population, they tend to use shelter services disproportionately. There have been dramatic reductions in shelter populations. We need to do this short-term and long-term.
Income and jobs have to be part of the solution. Many homeless people right now work, but they don't earn enough to pay for housing. This is important. There are a lot of stereotypes about homeless people. In fact, a significant proportion of homeless people work either full or part time, but they work at jobs that are sporadic, that pay minimum wage, they don't earn enough to pay for housing.
They need training. They need training for jobs that are or will be available. They need a wage that is adequate to pay for housing. Homeless people can benefit from the earned income tax credit. Many of them don't know about it or can't apply. We need outreach to help them get that.
Some people can't work because of age, because of disability. Again, there are some resources that they can benefit from; disability benefits. Many don't receive them. These benefits need to be made more available. People need to be helped to get them. And they need, the levels need to be raised so that they are sufficient to be able to afford housing.
Social services: Homeless families, in order to become self-sufficient, need day care to maintain employment or maintain employment. Transportation is critical for all homeless people to get to jobs, to get to school, to get to other social services.
Health care: Illness can throw a family or a person back into homelessness. Education: Homeless children need to be able to go to school on a regular basis, on a consistent basis. They need preschool so that they have a chance at getting developmental aid. Some homeless people need help with mental health care. About 25 to 30 percent of the homeless population is mentally disabled. Some are addicted to drugs or alcohol. They need treatment.
Recent changes in federal policy: The termination of disability benefits for people who are disabled due to addiction mean that we need to address the needs of this population, particularly now, for both treatment and housing. They have lost their source of income.
Civil rights: We need to protect homeless people from unfair discrimination. We need to protect especially against the criminalization of their status. We need to protect providers from being prevented from offering services.
We need to ensure and protect the right to vote. Homeless people are among the most disenfranchised groups in our society today. We need to change that.
The solutions in many ways are the easy part. We know what they are. We knew what they were ten years ago. How we get there, how we get there is the hard part. How do we get these solutions in place?
I think right now we are at a transition point. We have some tremendous opportunities to make change, to really solve homelessness if we take advantage of them.
I think we need to do four things and there are four things that are related: We need to broaden our constituency; we need to convert some current negative trends into positive opportunities; we need leadership to articulate an agenda, to mobilize behind it; and we need to reframe our strategy.
We have got to broaden our constituency. We have got to broaden the group, the constituency that supports solutions to homelessness. We need to reach out broadly to define common interests. The business community and cities can be key in this area.
Right now there is a trend in many cities around the country, not all, but in many cities around the country. There is a trend towards enacting laws that make it a crime to sleep in public, to sit on public sidewalks, to be in public places, to beg. These laws are meant to clean up cities, to make them more friendly to business, to make them more friendly to tourism, to make them less so to homeless people.
People who are homeless are literally being penalized for being homeless. They are being -- there is an effort to sweep them out of city areas or sometimes out of cities. But the problem is that the cities that are doing this don't have enough aid, enough resources to help their homeless residents.
In the cities that we have looked at, and we have surveyed this issue over the years, in the cities that we looked at there was not even enough shelter space, not to mention housing, not even enough shelter space to accommodate the population estimated by the cities to be homeless.
So people are being swept away, they are being penalized for being in public when they have no other place where they can be. This is a negative trend, clearly. It is something that we have fought against, that many groups are now focused on fighting against. We can use this negative trend as an opportunity for change. There is a common interest. No one wants homeless people to be on the street for a variety of reasons. Businesses, because it is bad for businesses; cities, because it is bad for business; advocates and providers because it is the wrong thing to do. It is punishing homeless people.
Let's focus on that common interest. We know that criminalizing homelessness does not work. It is challenged in courts. Some courts have said it is unconstitutional. It uses resources. It costs more to jail someone than to provide housing and services. It uses police time and effort, and it doesn't work. Fundamentally it does not work.
People have to be somewhere no matter how hard you try to sweep them away. If they have nowhere else to go, they are going to just reappear. So criminalization makes no sense from any point of view.
Let's mobilize the groups now working on this effort to support solutions. We know that housing works. We know that services work. We know that job training works. Let's get the business community to support those solutions.
They can help by providing some funds. They can help by hiring homeless people, by training them for jobs. They can help politically by exerting pressure, by providing political support for these solutions. This, I think, is a major opportunity and it can make a difference.
There are models of this. There are models of cities working proactively, working together with business groups with homeless people with advocates for real solutions.
Another opportunity, welfare reform. Welfare reform right now is a cause for concern for us. Some shelters in other programs are telling us that they are seeing large increases in the people that they are serving as a result of welfare reform, as a result of families being sanctioned under the new welfare rules, as a result of people who are disabled, due to addiction being cut off from their disability benefits. They are seeing more people coming in.
So this is cause to be concerned. It can also -- welfare reform can also be an opportunity to make change. Under welfare reform, there are significant new funds being made available to the states for job training and child care. Well, these are key elements of a solution to homelessness; job training, jobs, child care.
There are resources now being made available. We need to be making sure that homeless people, homeless families benefit from those resources. We need to make sure that they are part of the discussions now taking place in the states, that their needs are addressed.
If we don't do this, they are likely to be overlooked. Homeless families will also have some special needs, obviously for housing and for transportation. We need to make these issues part of the debate. They have not been or not been sufficiently part of the debate. They have been to a large extent overlooked.
We need to make sure they are part of it and that we use welfare reform and the new funds as an opportunity to work for permanent solutions to homelessness.
We need national leadership on this issue. This is a role for the federal government to be playing to be protecting and speaking on behalf of the most vulnerable and politically powerless Americans among us. HUD and Secretary Cuomo are playing a terribly important leadership role on this issue by speaking out, by organizing forums like this, by pressing for increased resources.
Other federal agencies are also very important. The Interagency Council on the Homeless, which brings them all together, needs to be reactivated and refocused, reenergized, but to really broaden and to really mobilize our constituency, we also need this to be a priority of the highest level.
I know President Clinton has been concerned about this issue and has taken some steps on it. We need to have a White House conference on homelessness. This is a position that is supported and being pressed for by my organization, by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, by the National Coalition for the Homeless, by National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, by the Corporation for Supportive Housing, by many, many national and other groups.
MS. FOSCARINIS: We need to mobilize. I am glad we seem to be getting some more support now, but we need all this support we can get because we need to raise this issue to that level. And Candidate Clinton did propose a White House conference on homelessness. I think now is an appropriate time to have it.
The final point I want to make is I think we need to adjust our strategy somewhat. Homelessness is wrong. It is immoral. This is an important message. It is a necessary message. It has been a message that we have used, we have relied on. It was critically important to getting emergency relief, but I think for lasting long-term solutions we need more.
Homelessness raises other issues also, more pragmatic ones, you could say. Allowing homelessness to continue is costly, both fiscally and in terms of lost human capital. It is unhealthy for homeless people, obviously, and for the general public. And it can hurt business, and it can contribute to the decline of cities.
I am not saying let's abandon the moral point and focus on cost/benefit analysis. I am not saying this is just enlightened self-interest. I think there is a way to incorporate both points if we broaden our view of what exactly the moral issue is here. Homelessness is not immoral only for homeless people, but it is also only in terms of the effect on homeless people, it also raises moral problems in a larger sense as well. It is bad for us as moral beings to live in a society, to live in a world that stands by while some of its members have to literally struggle simply to survive.
So I think it is in all of our interests, and it is in our pragmatic and our moral interest to work for a world where no one needs to be homeless.
Homelessness doesn't have to be. It is not a natural disaster. It is not a disease. It is not something we don't know how to address. It is a man-made catastrophe. We know how to prevent. And we know how to end it.
And let this meeting be a first step, be a step towards that goal.
Mayor Dennis Archer
MAYOR ARCHER: I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation in having the opportunity to address you this evening. Detroit's battle with the problem of homelessness goes back many years.
In many ways it is a by-product of fundamental changes in the economy, in government policy, and in social patterns that major cities like Detroit have struggled with for the last two decades. By 1990 a broad overview of our population revealed that a significant number of our citizens would have trouble with permanent housing. The 1990 census reported that 32.2 percent or 328,000 of Detroit's citizens lived at or below the poverty level, as did 46.6 percent of Detroit's children.
Approximately 115,000 Detroiters were without jobs. I am happy to report that Detroit's economy has improved substantially since 1990, yet on any given day there are approximately 10,000 homeless persons in Detroit. Nearly 10 percent of that number are children.
Detroit has 2,200 emergency shelter beds. Homeless families comprise nearly 23 percent of the homeless population. About 30 percent of the total homeless population in Detroit are veterans. 53 percent of the single homeless population report problems with substance abuse. 43 percent of family head of households in the homeless population also report substance abuse problems.
22 percent of the singles and 19 percent of the family category have been diagnosed with both mental illness and substance abuse.
That was part of the challenge I faced when I became mayor on January 1 of 1994. While those numbers may seem overwhelming, our city did not succumb to a doom and gloom approach to address our problems.
When I assumed Office of Mayor in January of '94 our new administration faced many hurdles; an eroding tax base, stagnant economic growth, deteriorating neighborhoods, and concerns about delivery of basic city services and more.
These issues were and are important, but all of them combined pale in comparison to the despair felt by just one homeless child with no bed to call his or her own or the embarrassment felt by a parent who can't offer that child what many of us take for granted each day. And what about the frustration of a community seeking ways to end the cycle of homelessness, that entraps so many of our fellow citizens? As rough as that reality was for us when we took office, we acknowledge that homelessness was a priority issue. Its impact was felt throughout the very fiber of our community.
A cabinet level task force was created to bring current and formerly homeless individuals, representatives from the homeless advocacy community and nonprofit social providers, the religious community, private foundations, local and state units of government, and the business community to identify the solutions to homelessness in Detroit.
That task force produced A Home for Every Detroiter, a guidebook containing the essential strategies and elements for a new approach, a new attitude about developing programs to meet the needs of our homeless.
We developed a Homeless Coordination Department to implement the strategies. Their work made it possible to enlarge our interests into now what is Detroit's Homeless Action Network, a consortium of more than 100 different organizations.
These groups have laid aside individual agendas and rolled up their collective sleeves so that the larger community would benefit from shared resources, a unified vision, and an enhanced case management system.
The key element of our continuum and a major contributing factor to our success has been the level to which we have been inclusive while developing program models. We ensure that the homeless are involved in every aspect of the design and implementation of Detroit's programs to end homelessness.
We talk to people on the streets and in the shelters, to currently homeless and long-term and former homeless Detroiters. Our advocacy committee convened focus group sessions of clients and ground level case managers. Their input continues as a vital component within our system of developing coordinated reality-based social and human service systems within our continuum of care.
This activity dovetailed neatly into HUD's required needs assessment, using the insight gleaned from the focus groups and tapping into the reservoir of volunteers. Our community came together to develop a peer-review community and ranking structure that led to producing a very good blueprint for effectively responding to homelessness.
We utilize service providers and local business entities and individuals who are not seeking funding to evaluate and write proposals submitted by agencies who are. Our technical service teams help organizations improve, enhance, and fine-tune project proposals prior to submission.
The momentum generated by this new attitude of collaboration was boosted by the development and full implementation of HUD's continuum of care philosophy.
I am proud to say, as the Secretary alluded to, that in March of 1997 Detroit received the National Public Sector Award from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. And in July of 1997 our city received HUD's Best Practice Award in recognition for our out-of-box approach to creating a broad-based, service rich continuum of care approach to fighting homelessness.
I believe the future bodes well for the city of Detroit. Our network and all-volunteer organization, that does not compete with its members for funding, is a broad-based inclusive formal collaboration between homeless persons, nonprofits, community groups, the private sector, housing developers, foundations, local state and federal government representatives.
Organizations will continue to work cooperatively to develop joint projects to address unmet needs as determined through our needs assessment process.
We have a shelter standards ordinance and a shelter zoning ordinance, both of which will ensure that homeless persons are treated with dignity. We will continue to strive to be one of
America's best models for intensive case management systems, which eliminates duplications of services, leads to information sharing, and ultimately will benefit thousands of lives who will successfully move through the continuum to become self-sufficient members of the Detroit community.
Today we have 2,300 emergency shelter beds and 1500 winter warming center beds. Our first strategy is prevention and moving people from emergency to transitional housing with support services as soon as possible.
Our transitional housing units are up from 214 in 1994 to nearly 1,000 units today. We had absolutely zero housing units designated for permanent housing for homelessness in 1994. We now have nearly 700 permanent housing units and are working with the state, county, and our Detroit Housing Commission, in collaboration with the local real estate companies, to develop a database of permanent housing units. We will do even better in the future, as long as we have a homeless problem.
During the last two years Detroit has played a lead role in the development of the Anchor Case Management Client Service Software System, a jointly funded initiative of HUD and HHS, which has allowed us, at a moment's notice, to track placement of our homeless population, identify what resources are being used and where they are needed.
This system will also greatly enhance our ability to count Detroit's homeless population for the upcoming 2000 Census. In addition, we have implemented Michigan's first community voice mail system whereby a homeless person, without phones and others seeking employment, will have access to telephone services, as they complete their case management goals of finding permanent housing and long-term employment.
As an aside, in 1994 we had a relationship with HUD. Today we have a true partnership. I can't begin to tell you how highly regarded the local HUD office in Detroit is by the homeless service community.
From their membership in the Homeless Action Network to their participation and contributions to our homeless children's Christmas party, they are taking each step with us, guiding and supporting us in our daily endeavor to make a permanent difference in the quality of life for thousands of Detroiters.
Our joint work will not be over until the last homeless Detroiter has become permanently self-sufficient. This year's updated needs assessment clearly documents the increased need for resources to assist those residents of our city who are not eligible for the majority of the ever-dwindling assistance programs.
More specifically, there is an urgent need to assist single men and women without dependents who don't qualify for welfare, food stamps, Social Security implemental, Social Security disability, and many other programs whose eligibility criteria has been tightened.
Just last month the city of Detroit received word that Detroit's application for funding through HUD's Supportive Housing Program competitive funding process was ranked as one of the best submitted in America.
Our needs assessment received 60 out of 60 evaluation points. Our city won $24 million, which will enable us to continue to eliminate homelessness.
But as we look to the future for innovations to help eradicate our problem, one of the highlights of Detroit's submissions to HUD this year was our Career Initiative Center; a partnership of several collaborating agencies that form an employment continuum of care.
The state of Michigan has instituted a program aimed at helping former public assistance recipients with children and their households find work. No such program exists for individuals who are not living with their children.
This gap in service results in single individuals between 18 and 50 having little assistance as they try to gain or sustain independence through steady employment.
This newly-funded Career Initiative Center or CIC seeks to address this gap by providing a service-rich environment that will enable participants to function in a self-sufficient level, living and working as productive tax paying members of their communities.
The CIC will, one, create client-owned microenterprises to provide business ownership opportunities for participants; two, develop employment opportunities with private sector companies such as Wendy's, Hardees and others, which have already committed employment slots to this project; three, fuel economic development and; four, provide operating revenue for the participating nonprofits.
The CIC service partner agencies represent a wide range of disciplines, such as job placement with pre- and post-placement support services, substance abuse assessment and services, vocational assessment, intensive stipend-based training and development services, case management services, mental health assessment and services.
In conjunction with the education and employment training offered, the CIC offers clients mandatory life skill training, personal responsibility development, preemployment skills training, basic education and GED preparation, job coaching and alternate work -- alternative work opportunities where participants may choose employment in microenterprises developed for and in some cases by CIC participants.
As I begin to close, let me make the point that many Americans today assume that homelessness is principally a plight of transient individuals. In fact, as most of us know, families with children are the fastest growing group among homeless people. Inadequate education is among the most devastating of the barriers impeding homeless families and individuals. The reality is as simple as it is stark; without education, there is little hope.
Today, education is the fundamental tool with which Americans build and mend their lives. Without it, poverty cannot be overcome. Poverty can be alleviated temporarily and its worse symptoms treated, but it will remain firmly and relentlessly entrenched, besieging generation after generation of families.
Sustained high quality education will stop that cycle. Therefore, educating our nation's growing numbers of poor children is the most basic and promising step we can take toward breaking this cycle. Homeless children need education most desperately of all. They are even more undereducated and at risk of severe generational poverty than are poor children with permanent shelter. Their very experience of homelessness further diminishes their already meager chances for healthy development and academic success.
More attention must be paid to our educational institutions. We must insist that we ring the very last drop of efficiency out of our public schools. For our adults, we must ensure that apprenticeship programs are made accessible to every population within our community.
Finally, we must clearly communicate to our business community the true economic impact of poverty and homelessness. Detroit's Career Initiative Center perhaps shows the connection to the business sector. There we have made the case that it is in the business owner's best interest to involve themselves in these issues because poverty and homelessness will affect their bottom line. Additionally for me, I know that spirituality is key to sustained self-sufficiency. In my view, the church is critical to the permanent transformation of the soul of our community. There is a strong role for the faith-based community as we struggle to keep our heads above the tidal wave called reform.
We must constantly seek new sources of resources. As a city we are looking for ways to fund and to provide leveraging dollars for innovative projects that empower program participants. I am confident that by working together and by sharing our successes and, yes, our failures, we can look forward to a bright and wonderful future in the year 2020. Nontraditional partnerships, true collaborations, and accurate data-gathering will prove to be the best weapons to fight poverty and homelessness. We still have a serious homeless problem in Detroit, but we have come a long way. With our actions we have communicated our most deeply held values and beliefs, and we have seen results that encourage all of us and compel us to keep moving forward. What has happened in Detroit and many other cities is a testament to cooperation, to the belief that major improvement is possible, and that we can shape our future.
In Detroit and elsewhere positive changes have been the product of the deeds of a group of ordinary people, people who had extraordinary levels of commitment to make a difference. Thank you.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Well, we said we had the best talent across the nation, and we have all the various perspectives on the homeless problem, from the mayor's point of view, Dr. Coles, and from Maria Foscarinis and the advocacy community.
And I think they did a great job, and let's give them one more round of applause.
SECRETARY CUOMO: We are running a little late, but this is such a special opportunity, we asked if there were questions that you would like to pose to the panel, and if time is permitting, we would like to just touch on a few for as long as we can go. For Dr. Coles, from Sue Marshall who runs the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, Doctor. And they do great work here in the District of Columbia. It is our pleasure to work with them.
Sue's question is: For those of us who find ourselves providing emergency and transitional housing, what is the most important thing we can do to mitigate the impact of poverty and homelessness on children?
PROFESSOR COLES: Well, at the risk of being simple-minded, we can resume the war on poverty that was started and not won.
PROFESSOR COLES: This is a nation of enormous wealth. It is mind boggling. I read that we are going, to talk about homelessness, that we are going to be building structures on the moon or the planet Mars to do interplanetary investigations and building homes for people there so they can explore the barrenness of outer space while thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens can't take for granted a home of their own or a permanent or relatively solid housing.
This is a matter of political and moral priorities, obviously for all of us. It is also a matter, I think, that ought to pull together people of different political persuasions because it beats me to figure out how anyone adhering to Christianity and politics can forget what Jesus said when he made reference that the least of us, he was among us.
So I wish some of us who are out trying to meld together religion and politics in this country would pay attention to those biblical statements, in both the old and the new testament.
PROFESSOR COLES: Take them to heart and try to live as those prophets of Israel and Jesus admonished us to live. And remember Tolstoy in his moral fables, in Master and Man, and In The Death of Ivanoliach, that we have a moral legacy, each of us, to live up to, and as a nation to live up to when those who have the kind of power and wealth we have in this country can solve this problem, if there is a moral will to do so.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Well said, as usual, Doctor. For Mayor Archer from Rich Bradley, Downtown Business Improvement District here in Washington, D.C. I think an appropriate question for the mayor, given his extraordinary ability in Detroit to bring people together and forge partnerships.
Mayor, the question is could you discuss in more detail how the business community has been involved in the building of Detroit's continuum of care partnerships?
MAYOR ARCHER: We have had a very good outreach to our business community, one that has helped to create a number of jobs and one to recognize that if they are going to be successful, they need to have a good work force.
And if they want the image of their product and the image of their city to be one that is worthy of the greatness of their product, that everybody needs to be involved to be able to help the least of those, as Professor Coles mentioned.
And so we have got a very social conscience, I would suggest, business community that has been very helpful. And we have got a foundation community that I think is second to none anywhere in America. We have got some, since January of '94, we have had about $250 million of different projects funded, projects and programs funded in the city of Detroit by our foundation, and many of which deal with the problems associated with those who are in poverty or those who are homeless.
Joanne Clock, who is my director of the homeless coordination and also has responsibility for senior citizens, she and a group that she pulled together to develop a home for every Detroiter have been fabulous in reaching out to our business community. We bring the business community to the table to let them know and learn as we learn. Our business community in Detroit has got a big heart and we tug at it.
SECRETARY CUOMO: And you do so well, Mayor. For Maria Foscarinis, this is from Reverend Vernon Shannon from the John Wesley AME Zion Church here in Washington, D.C.
Churches have demonstrated success in caring for the homeless and providing services. HUD is willing to provide funds to enable churches to do more. Do you think this is the type of activity that HUD should pursue? Maria?
MS. FOSCARINIS: I think it is an activity that HUD should pursue. I agree that the faith-based community can play a major role. It has, in fact.
Faith-based groups, churches, synagogues have been instrumental, and they were among the first to respond to the crisis of homelessness. I think it is important for them to continue to do that. I think the more that they can, the churches and other faith-based institutions can be involved in this issue from all perspectives, from providing services, from advocating for additional resources, for longer-term solutions, I think that's a positive thing. I think they are one of the partners that ought to be involved in addressing this issue.
I wonder if I can also address briefly the children's issue?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Please.
MS. FOSCARINIS: From a kind of law and policy perspective. I think it is critical for homeless children to have access to education and also to preschool education.
And the McKinney Act, the federal statute on homelessness, has a provision that actually says homeless children must be ensured access, equal access to public school education and preschool education.
This has not always been enforced. When it is enforced, it makes a big difference. When it is complied with, it makes a big difference to homeless children.
In the District in particular, the District has the option of getting some federal funding to ensure compliance, to carry out this mandate. It has withdrawn from the program because of a lawsuit that was brought to enforce the law. That, I think, is shortsighted.
There are resources out there. They could make a difference for these kids.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Okay. We have a batch of questions here. We could be going on with this all night. We have already run over time, and you have been very gracious to stay kindly, and so has the panel.
Join me once more in giving them a round of applause for their time.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Let me just say in closing, as I think we have heard today, this is a very real problem and it is a problem that affects not just the people who are homeless, as every panelist has mentioned, but literally affects everyone.
And you can, if you want a testament to that effect, just watch any city in this nation, any corner in this nation where there is a homeless person and watch when people walk past that homeless person. You will see the discomfort, you will see the feeling that this is not right on a fundamental level, that we call ourselves a nation, we call ourselves Americans, and we have other people sleeping on the streets and in corners and in doorways.
People are not comfortable with that, and they shouldn't be comfortable with that. Dr. Coles spoke about the situation in Harvard and how at one point you don't notice.
At one point you notice less, but it still bothers Americans. This is a relatively recent situation. 10, 15 years is relatively recent. This is not a condition that any of us in this room were raised with, and it is not a condition that any of us in this room want to say is going to be a condition that exists for our children. No one area or group or institution is going to solve this. It is too easy to say: Well, it is the Federal Government, it is the city government, it is the state government. It is too easy to say: Well, it is the churches and the not-for-profits, they should be doing it. It is going to be all of us together and each of us individually.
And when we each say: This is my job, it is my job to make it happen, whether it is Mayor Dennis Archer or Maria Foscarinis or Dr. Coles or Andrew Cuomo, it is each of our responsibility to make it happen. And the way it is going to happen is by working together. That's when we are going to have this licked.
We have made great progress in this administration, and we have a lot to be proud of, a President who cares and communities who have mobilized. We will build from this, we will go forward, and we will solve this together.
Thank you very much.
(Whereupon, at 6:35 p.m., the meeting adjourned.)
Content Archived: April 15, 2011