The Homeless Veteran Outside NLC

Earlier this week as I approached the steps of our building, I noticed a man sitting against newspaper stands with a white cardboard sign that simply read “homeless vet.” Out of habit, I kept walking.  After less than 10 feet though, I was struck by what I knew was my obligation to honor his sacrifice by making sure he got the help he needed.

Rob was an infantryman in the Army. Served in Afghanistan. Honorably discharged five months ago. He came home to a changed marriage that quickly ended in divorce and resulted in him losing his house. His savings kept him off the street for a few months, but eventually that money ran out. Now he’s here in our nation’s capital being briskly walked by and getting the occasional dollar and change from someone who had just bought a coffee at the Starbucks he sat across from.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks with Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation and Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities at the launch of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks with Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation and Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities at the launch of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign.

Fortunately, Washington, D.C.  is one of the many cities that today have HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Support Housing) vouchers. There are also several non-profits administering the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). Since Rob is not “chronically” homeless, it is likely that with a relatively small amount of assistance and perhaps some job training, he could quickly be self-sufficient once again. This is the exact purpose of the SSVF program. Fortunately, with one phone call Rob was connected with Friendship Place, a service provider who collaborates with other stakeholders in the community to ensure veterans like Rob receive assistance from the right programs for their needs.

Today, many communities are stepping forward to ensure the resources in their city are being directed to those who need them most. One such city is Salt Lake City. Recently, Mayor Ralph Becker proclaimed November to be Veterans Housing Month. In the coming weeks, it is anticipated that Salt Lake City could become the first city to house all of their chronically homeless veterans.

Not to be outdone though, the City of Phoenix will hold a press conference on Veterans Day to discuss how they have reduced chronic veteran homelessness by 62 percent in just two years. Mayor Greg Stanton and other community leaders will outline how the city will house the remaining 56 unsheltered veterans in the coming weeks.

These cities illustrate what is possible when political leadership and community collaboration combine to provide the proper level of resources and work to implement data-driven strategies.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted the examples of Phoenix and Salt Lake City during his remarks at the National Alliance to End Homelessness – Never Another Homeless Veteran event earlier this week. NLC is a proud partner of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign and urges everyone to sign the statement committing to ending veteran homelessness today. Leadership committee members of the campaign include President George H.W. Bush, former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and Colin Powell, former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, The Home Depot Foundation, and many more.

At our Congress of Cities and Exposition in Seattle next week, Mayor Becker and Mayor Stanton will join Vince Kane, Director of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, and Becky Kanis, Campaign Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign to discuss how more cities can join Salt Lake and Phoenix in their race to getting to zero chronically homeless veterans.

In an era of tight budgets and partisan politics, providing an unprecedented level of resources for our veterans has received broad bipartisan support. But this support must be met with decisive actions on the ground. Local leaders can be the difference between success and failure. Veterans Day parades are nice, but making sure all veterans and their families have a place to call home is a more lasting way of showing our appreciation for their commitment and sacrifice.

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About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is a Senior Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Facebook, Jobs and the U.S. Department of Labor

Facebook, Jobs and the U.S. Department of Labor

By Neil Bomberg

City elected officials have an important new job search tool to share with their constituents who are searching for a job.  In addition to the local Workforce Investment Act (WIA) one stops and career centers, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has embarked on an exciting new initiative that is making searching for a job even more user friendly and accessible to anyone with a computer or smartphone,

Working with Facebook, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the DirectEmployers Association (DE), and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA), DOL developed and launched the “Social Jobs Partnership” last week.  The goal of the Partnership is to help America’s jobless find work through the use of social networks.

Knowing that tens of millions of Americans actively engage with one another on Facebook every day, it became clear that a resource like Facebook could provide a very effective way to connect unemployed workers with jobs in their communities and elsewhere.

Before launching its Facebook page, the Partnership conducted a series of in-depth surveys to determine how job seekers, college career centers, and workforce recruiters using the social web to find employment.  The Partnership learned that Facebook is an important part of the hiring process, Facebook is saving resources for recruiters, and Facebook is a resource for job seekers.

With this information in hand, the Partnership developed and launched a central page on Facebook that is hosting specialized resources and content designed to help job seekers and employers, including information about government programs to assist job hunters, and educational materials for job recruiters on how to use the social web to recruit job seekers and work with government programs (http://www.facebook.com/socialjobs).

Most importantly, the Facebook page includes more than 1.7 million job postings that can be searched by anyone using a Facebook application, at no cost to employers or job seekers (https://www.facebook.com/socialjobs/app_417814418282098).

Having launched only last week, it is too early to know how successful the social web page will be.  But if the number of hits is any indication, since its launch more than 54,000 individuals have “liked” the page.

Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part III

This is the third in a series on the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and NLC’s belief that Congress must reauthorize and modernize the Act to ensure that it meets the needs of today’s workers and employers. In this third blog we will explore how these locally-based job training programs have translated into real world outcomes that have benefited unemployed, underemployed and economically disadvantaged adults and youth throughout the United States.

Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part III

By Neil Bomberg

Having looked at the ways in which the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) is structured and operated, it is now worth asking how has the nation’s Workforce Investment Act system performed?

A review of national data suggests that it has performed very well. Overall outcomes are extremely good, especially when one considers that many WIA participants are among the most difficult to help find work.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 81 percent of all participants and 80 percent of all employers who participated in the WIA system said they were satisfied with the assistance they received.

Among low-income adults who participated in WIA programs:

• Fifty-five percent obtained employment. While this number is lower than it should be (the goal was 72 percent) it is significantly higher than the placement rate for non-WIA individuals, which is less than 25 percent.
• Eighty percent of those who obtained employment remained on the job after six months and 72 percent found a job which matched their skills levels.
• Seventy percent who received job training entered employment and 87 percent of those remained on the job more than six months.

Among dislocated workers who participated in WIA programs:

• Fifty-seven percent obtained employment as a result of their participation in WIA. Like the adult figure, this is lower than it should have been (the goal was 77 percent) but it more than twice the placement rate for non-WIA individuals which is 25 percent.
• Eighty-eight percent of those dislocated workers who obtained employment remained on the job after six months.
• Of those dislocated workers who received job training services 78 percent entered employment and 90 percent of those remained on the job after six months.

Among youth aged 19 to 24, 63 percent entered employment or returned to school, 57 percent obtained a degree or certificate, and 38 percent made measurable literacy and numeracy gains. Among youth aged 14 to 18, 87 reached their desired skills attainment levels and 67 percent obtained a diploma or its equivalent.

New Report Highlights Challenges for Veterans

Last week, Paycheck to Paycheck was released by the National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy. The report looked at the cost of housing in more than 200 metropolitan areas and the incomes earned for 74 jobs, including five jobs “targeted by training programs sponsored by the Department of Labor in partnership with the military and other organizations: carpenters, dental assistants, electricians, firefighters and truck drivers.”

The report found that housing costs remain a challenge for many veterans even with employment. With an unemployment rate of 30.2% among post-9/11 veterans ages 18 to 24, these findings are even more troublesome.

Where are younger veterans living? Data from the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics show the top 5 counties with the largest population of veterans younger than 44 are the counties around San Diego, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Phoenix, AZ; San Antonio, TX; and Chicago, IL.

For Los Angeles and San Diego, the report shows that none of the jobs targeted by training programs provide incomes that would make renting a two-bedroom apartment affordable. In Phoenix and Chicago, dental assistants don’t earn enough but other occupations fair better. Other occupations such as retail sales people and security guards also don’t pay enough.

The findings underscore a key point for elected officials and municipal leaders – skills learned during military service do not automatically translate into civilian jobs that pay a livable wage. There are many explanations for this, but instead of looking at those, city leaders can bring focus and leadership to solutions.

Connecting veterans to their education benefits and opportunities in the community is an important step. Coordination between local community colleges, vocational training programs and universities with reserve and National Guard units, as well as any nearby military installations can help ensure veterans know what programs are available. Understanding and preparing veterans for the local job market is also important. The Department of Labor’s “One Stop Career Centers” can be helpful, but partnerships with community leaders are critical.

Since March 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been promoting their Hiring Our Heroes campaign to help veterans and military spouses find employment. Working with their network of 1,600 state and local chambers, Hiring Our Heroes has hosted more than 210 hiring fairs in 48 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, with more than 10,000 veterans receiving jobs. This year, local and state chambers are hosting hiring fairs in 400 communities.

By bringing together the local chamber, veterans service organizations, educational institutions, government and military leaders, communities can ensure that services are not duplicated, information is shared and connections are made. No one organization can do this alone. Collective, coordinated and concerted action is required.

Let us know how your community is helping veterans find work in the comments below and join NLC members in our ongoing work to better serve veterans by contacting me at harig-blaine@nlc.org.

“My pride is back”: Ending the shame of Veteran homelessness

With Memorial Day approaching, we may find our thoughts drifting to enjoying a few days with family and friends away from the rush of everyday life. But hopefully, for a least a moment, we will reflect on why this three-day weekend in late-May happens. For the more than 22 million veterans, this weekend is a time to remember and honor friends and fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines whose lives were given for our country.

Yesterday on Capitol Hill, leaders of federal agencies charged with coordinating the government’s work to end veteran homelessness spoke about the resources available and what communities can do to achieve this goal by 2015. In his opening remarks, Senator Burr of North Carolina talked about how federal agencies cannot accomplish this goal alone. He pointed out that community resources along with local coordination and leadership were keys to success.

The Opening Doors plan by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness outlines the federal government’s strategic efforts to bring data-driven responses to prioritized populations. The work toward ending veteran homelessness is already showing promise. From 2010 to 2011, the number of homeless veterans fell by 11.5%, from 76,329 to 67,495. A renewed commitment by Congress and the Administration can claim some credit. Resources such as HUD-VASH vouchers and the newer Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) provide communities with flexible resources to meet the needs of veterans and their families. But to make sure these resources are effective, it is important that the right population uses the right resources at the right time.

Yesterday, speakers talked about developing a “no wrong door” model and using a “veteran-centric” approach. What do these terms mean pragmatically in our cities and towns? It means making sure the community is ready and able to meet the needs of veterans whenever and wherever they turn for help. But this presents real challenges. How is it possible to make sure everyone in a community knows about all of the resources available when things are constantly changing?

A key to success is making sure your community is not passively arranging resources and waiting for veterans to come. City leaders and municipal staff need to develop partnerships among the key stakeholders that can help reach veterans in a more proactive fashion. The old adage of an ounce of prevention being worth more than a pound of cure comes to mind.

When a veteran comes to the local VA Medical Center, are they asked about their living situation? When someone seeks assistance with housing, healthcare, transportation, childcare, or food, are they asked about whether or not they are a veteran? Who is talking with local American Legion’s, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other military service organizations? When someone is discharged from a prison or hospital, are they asked about their veteran status and housing situation? Do area faith communities know where to turn when someone comes to their doors? These are not the only questions we need to ask, but they can be the beginning of a locally coordinated effort to align local priorities with those set by federal agencies such as the Veterans Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Labor.

The final speaker yesterday was Ms. Eloise Wormley, a veteran who was homeless in Washington, DC. After her service, she didn’t know how to get re-established at home. Living with her mother and friends were only temporary solutions and she found herself on the streets grappling with physical and mental health issues. Fortunately, outreach workers asked about her veteran status and she was directed to a local non-profit that used SSVF funds to provide her with a home.

“I can’t say enough about what it means to have a key to my own home,” Ms. Wormley said. “I can stay on top of things now. I have two jobs and my pride is back.”

Local leadership and coordination is what enabled Ms. Wormley’s pride to come back. Federal resources do no good without local know-how.

What is your community doing to end veteran homelessness? Share your stories, successes and challenges below and join NLC’s work to help meet the needs housing needs of all veterans by emailing me at harig-blaine@nlc.org.

Congress Should Not Follow Paul Ryan’s Plan and Cut or Eliminate Job Training and Pell Grant Programs

By Neil Bomberg, Program Director

It is hard to understand, when one looks at the program outcomes for the Pell Grant program and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), why House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan wants to cut or eliminate their funding.  Both appear to be helping Americans obtain the job skills and education they need for the 21st century workplace.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that there is great demand for job training and job placement services.  Last year, more than nine million Americans received training and related services through the federally-supported workforce investment system – an increase of nearly 250 percent over the previous two years – and more than half of those individuals found employment in one of the toughest labor markets in history, in large part because of the assistance they received.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 10 million individuals relied on Pell grants last year, including many who were attending school while continuing to work full-time to support their families.

Critics argue that the outcomes for WIA participants and Pell Grant recipients — slightly more than half of WIA participants find jobs as a result of their participation in the WIA system, and 40 percent of Pell Grant recipients graduate from four year colleges after six years of study – are not sufficient to justify continued funding.  However, I would argue that these numbers are actually impressive when taken in context.

Fewer than 30 percent of all unemployed Americans can expect to find a job in the first month of unemployment, and that number decreases rapidly to less than 20 percent when one is unemployed for more than six months, according to the Brookings Institution.  Equally compelling is the fact that there is only one job opening for every four unemployed individuals, according to the Economic Policy Institute, suggesting that a placement rate greater than 25 percent is exceptional.  Yet WIA’s placement rate exceeds 50 percent.

Though the difference in graduation rates after six years for Pell and non-Pell students who enter four year institutions is significant – 55 v. 40 percent – the difference is explainable.  Pell Grant recipients are among the poorest students, and face significant financial challenges while in school.  Many cannot afford to complete their educations because of these financial challenges.  They are likely to be older than most students, which generally means that they have family and related obligations that non-Pell students do not have, thereby making it more difficult to complete college.  They are more likely to be first generation post-secondary students and come from families with very low academic achievement.  According to Inside Higher Ed more than 40 percent of Pell recipients come from families with a high school diploma or less as compared with non-Pell students where the rate is only 20 percent.  Conversely, 61 percent of non-Pell students come from families with a bachelor’s degrees or higher, as compared with 36 percent for Pell recipients.

Finally, if our goal is to ensure that more people than not have access to a post-secondary education, in large part so that they can compete in the 21st century economy, then Pell Grants are succeeding.  Over the past five years, the number of community college students receiving Pell Grants nearly doubled, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and in the past academic year, the number of recipients increased by 21 percent.

From where I sit, these data suggest that the Workforce Investment Act and the Pell Grant program have, in very different ways, made significant impacts on the populations they are designed to serve, and from NLC’s perspective, warrant continued support.