One Month After Memorial Day: What Has Happened In Your City to Support Veterans?

About a month ago, many of us were making final plans for the unofficial start of summer. Memorial Day is a day to reflect and honor the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Flags are hung, we bow our heads in remembrance, and in our own ways we say thank you. But our veterans deserve more than thanks. They deserve action.

At the National Press Club last week, former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) was joined on a panel by Dr. Jonathan Sherin of Volunteers of America, Kelly Caffarelli of The Home Depot Foundation, and Kobe Langley of the Corporation for National and Community Service for a forum titled: After the Uniform 2013: Facing the Invisible Wounds of War. Moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, the panel discussed the implications of wounds such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and sexual trauma on the stability and reintegration of veterans in communities.

The panel discussed the effect of having less than 1 percent of Americans serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. All of the panelists spoke about the varying impacts multiple deployments have had on these men, women, and their families. Their needs can be deep, complex, and have consequences that ripple through our communities in ways that we may not easily see.

Whether the needs relate to housing, employment, mental health, education, healthcare, or child care, the panel acknowledged that community-based solutions are the most effective way to address these needs. Top down solutions are unable to adapt to local conditions without local leadership. As a result, Senator Lugar pointed out, “Mayors and local leaders must be conveners in communities.”

Local level convenings can yield important insights about resources that are already in communities but may not be being used as effectively as possible. Regular meetings can identify gaps in service and help identify specific needs. Once specific needs are identified, the visibility of local leadership can help bring missing stakeholders to the table, who can help address these needs.

This is already happening in many cities both large and small. In a new case study published this week, we highlight work happening in Washington, D.C. Through the city’s Department of Veterans Affairs, city officials and the overall community is kept informed of veterans’ issues and the range of services available. By establishing partnerships with area stakeholders and committing to providing housing and supportive services, D.C. has seen a 29 percent decrease in veteran homelessness over the last four years.

One example of local coordination heightened as a result of regular stakeholder meetings is D.C.’s furniture give-away program. Starting in 2011, the city has partnered with various local government and community organizations to coordinate a volunteer-driven system to provide furnishings free of charge to veterans moving into new homes. The city offered a no-lease warehouse donated by the D.C. Department of General Services, and have worked with local military bases and private organizations to acquire excess furniture estimated to be worth more than $700,000. The local teamsters union provides volunteer drivers and a vehicle to transport the furnishings to veterans in need on a weekly basis. To date, over 160 veterans received furnishings from the program.

A similar effort is underway in central Texas. As a part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, the regional VA office is working with the Central Texas Council of Governments, area non-profits, local housing authorities, and local leaders. Like stakeholders in Washington, D.C., the central Texas team has identified that a storage space for donated furniture and transportation is one of their needs. The team has engaged with city officials from Belton, TX, who are currently in the process of seeing what resources either the city or private partners in the area may be able to offer to meet these needs.

We are only now beginning to understand the true impacts of invisible wounds. With an estimated 22 veterans committing suicide each day, deaths by suicide exceeding combat related deaths in 2012, and an on-going backlog of VA benefit claims, veterans issues are clearly a national emergency. But this national emergency is also a local opportunity.

The opportunity is the chance to improve service coordination in your community that will help not only veterans, but other special needs populations such as the elderly and disabled. In addition, as veterans are reintegrated into their communities, they will bring the financial benefits they have earned into the local economy. Furthermore, these men and women have characteristics that many employer are looking for, such as discipline and an ethic of team work and service.

As communities begin to understand what works, this knowledge can be syndicated nationally. There will not be a solution to every problem, but we cannot let the desire for perfection obstruct the path to improvement.

Learn from other examples of what cities are doing to serve veterans at www.nlc.org/veteranshousing and contact me at harig-blaine@nlc.org to learn how NLC can support efforts in your community.

Federal Afterschool Policy Proposals Could Have a Big Impact on Your City

With a substantial number of school-aged children and youth in need of engaging activities beyond the regular school calendar, city leaders can play important roles in supporting programs that create a positive and supportive environment for younger residents during the afterschool hours.

Researchers have consistently found that access to high-quality afterschool and summer learning programs keep children and youth safe when they are not in school, discourage substance abuse and juvenile crime, and improve student attendance and academic achievement.  However, although a growing number of city officials are serving as champions for afterschool, many cities rely heavily on state and federal dollars to support afterschool   programs.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) grant program, the sole source of federal funding that is dedicated specifically to supporting local afterschool programs, supports the creation of programs that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children and youth.

Reauthorized in 2002 as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), federal 21st CCLC grant dollars are administered and distributed by State Education Agencies, with each state receiving funds based on its share of Title I funding for low-income students.  As of May 2011, there were more than 4,000 grants funding afterschool programs, which served 1,660,713 children and youth in 10,466 school-based and community-based centers, according to the Afterschool Alliance.  Grant-supported afterschool programs provide numerous services to students attending high-poverty, low-performing schools, including academic enrichment activities, hands-on experiential learning, and educational development services.

Chances are that these federal dollars are having a meaningful impact on children and youth in your community.  As Congress considers reauthorizing ESEA, proposed legislation would have important implications for the 21st CCLC program.  For instance, some proposed changes would expand the use of 21st CCLC to fund more than just afterschool programming, potentially reducing the total amount of federal dollars going toward afterschool.  In addition, current proposals state that the dollars would go directly to school districts only for extended learning time models – limiting cities from using these funds to support city-run programs.

To help municipal leaders better understand the impact that these proposals could have on their communities and how to best position themselves to be ready for these potential changes, NLC will host an upcoming webinar on “Federal Afterschool Policy Proposals: The Implications for Cities.”  City leaders and representatives from the Afterschool Alliance will join NLC for an informative discussion on this topic.

After the webinar, which will take place July 10 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, join us (@YEFInstitute) and the Afterschool Alliance (@afterschool4all) for a Twitter Chat.  Tweet us any questions you may have on federal afterschool policy proposals using #OSTPolicy in your tweet.

For more updates and analysis on the proposed changes, check out the Afterschool Alliance’s Federal Afterschool Policy page, or contact Bela Shah Spooner at Spooner@nlc.org or Kim Eisenreich at Eisenreich@nlc.org.

“We Need to Act” – President Obama’s Clarion Call for Action on Climate Change

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama gave a rousing speech that introduced his Administration’s Climate Action Plan, a speech that aimed to position the U.S. as a global leader on climate change. ”We want a global low-carbon economy,” he said.

While the global perspective is certainly an important one, local communities – cities, towns, and counties– indeed see and feel the greatest impacts of climate change.   At NLC, we see that efforts to support climate preparedness and community resiliency need to take place at the local level, and are pleased to note that the President also recognized the importance of support for local action. For example, he recognized that over 1,000 mayors have signed agreements to cut carbon emissions and stated that,  “Washington has to catch up to the rest of the country.”

President Obama went on to note that states and cities across the country are already taking it upon themselves to get ready. He highlighted the ongoing work in Miami Beach, Fla. to protect the city’s drinking water supply against saltwater intrusion (check out NLC’s recent webinar spotlighting Miami Beach’s leadership on sustainability issues), as well as New York City’s efforts to fortify 520 miles of coastline against frequent and costly storms.

In reviewing the Climate Action Plan in further detail, NLC recognizes that the President’s plan explicitly aims to support local efforts through the following actions:

  • Strengthening roads, bridges and shorelines as a means to protect homes and businesses from extreme weather events;
  • Using the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency to help improve local transportation options; lower transportation costs; and protect the environment through advanced transportation technologies;
  • Launching the Better Building Accelerators Program to help encourage states and localities to adopt policies to continue to reduce energy waste;
  • Creating a short-term taskforce of state, local and tribal leaders to convene and advise the federal government on ways to better support local preparedness efforts, including removing barriers to long-term investments; modernizing loan programs; and providing better tools and resources to local communities; and
  • Utilizing “Environmental Justice Progress Reports” to identify and work with those communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

At NLC, we recognize that local communities across the country are feeling the impacts of climate change.  We are focused on sharing local stories of climate action and providing local leaders with the tools to proactively show leadership on this issue, as cities are on the front lines of preparing for and responding to the impacts of extreme weather events and a changing climate.  We urge the federal government and President Obama to continue examining the ways in which they can provide local leaders with the necessary tools, resources and support on this critical issue.

As President Obama urged, America must lead the way on climate change. “Don’t fear the future, shape it,” he said. Within this framework, it is clear that cities lead, and will continue to lead.

Getting Data in Gear

This post was written by Stephen Goldsmith and originally appeared on the Data-Smart Cities Solutions website on June 11, 2013. Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is a former mayor of Indianapolis and Deputy Mayor of New York City.

Ask a resident of the city of Boston what they like least about the city, and there’s a decent shot that they’ll mention traffic.

Boston’s notorious congestion stems from a “perfect storm” of several factors: high population density coupled with tightly packed suburbs, few methods of egress from the city proper, a difficult-to-navigate non-grid street layout, and a multitude of one-way and non-perpendicular streets. Taken together, it’s no wonder why Boston consistently clocks in near the top in rankings of worst cities to drive in, and why Bostonians sit in traffic, on average, for 53 hours each year.

The problem is well-known, and solutions are routinely proposed. Most famously, the city dug up a giant swath of downtown real estate in the 1990s—entirely rerouting the city’s chief highway—in an effort to make driving a little more bearable.

More recently, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has been examining the issue through a different lens. His new approach hinges not on any major construction project, but on analyzing and applying public data to boost efficiency in traffic flow and fix physical road problems before they cause crashes or necessitate street closures.

“We don’t do a good job of moving traffic,” Menino said in 2012 in his announcement of several such initiatives. “We’ve got to modernize.”

Backing up that promise, in March of 2013 the city announced a partnership with IBM for a pilot initiative focused on making the city run—and drive—better across the board. The partnership will entail the creation of a central software hub that, using disparate data sets from the city’s major agencies, will help administrators monitor citywide operations, anticipate problems that could disrupt transportation flow, and coordinate deployment of cross-agency resources to help the city function even when its infrastructure is overtaxed by major events like a Red Sox-Yankees home game.

Beyond this program, data is also being used to tackle street repairs, which if left alone can lead to dangerous driving conditions, car accidents, and road closures. The city is currently rolling out tracking tools and an asset management system to help maintain its more than 60,000 street lights—three percent of which are in need of replacement or rewiring at any given time. Additionally, Boston is crowdsourcing massive amounts of information from its citizens through programs like Street Bump, a project of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics that allows drivers to transmit road quality data back to the city; or Citizens Connect, which allows users to share information about accidents, downed signs, and other issues requiring cleanup or repair.

For far more cities than just Boston, street congestion—and the air pollution, noise, and headaches that come with it—is a central concern. Even barring the psychological toll of a taxing commute, the cost of traffic is immense, amounting in the U.S. to roughly $100 billion every year in wasted fuel, excess carbon emissions, and lost productivity.

Luckily, because transportation of people and goods is so fundamental to city life and because the traffic problem is so ubiquitous, many governments are looking for solutions, many of which hinge on how data can drive efficiencies in transportation infrastructure.

While many urban centers are incorporating data into certain aspects of that infrastructure, though, the ultimate goal is one that cities such as Los Angeles and even entire states like New Jersey are pursuing, often working in tandem with companies like Xerox or Inrix.

By combining various sets of public data—mass transit statistics, GPS and mobile information, toll routes, traffic sensors, weather data, and more—into a central hub, these cities will be able to paint constantly evolving pictures of what a region’s transportation landscape looks like at any given time. With this information in tow, administrators will be equipped to create dynamic pricing schedules for toll lanes based on real-time traffic, develop more intelligent stoplights, create apps that automatically guide drivers toward alternate routes when accidents are detected, and much more.

Of course, when it gets really bad out there, those systems might also give you another option as well: When to just take your bike.

Cities Make Progress Toward Ending Veteran Homelessness; More Cities Join the Effort

Last week in Los Angeles, the 100,000 Homes Campaign sponsored the latest Veteran’s Boot Camp that brought together stakeholders from communities in Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and California. The event comes in the wake of progress being reported by cities who participated in an earlier boot camp held in Tampa, Florida in April.

This latest “Veteran’s Boot Camp” included representatives from Portland, OR; Tucson, AZ; Seattle/King County; and California communities including Riverside; San Francisco; San Bernardino; Orange County; and Sonoma County. One of the first steps these communities took was to assess the number of veterans they need to place in housing to end veteran homelessness by December 2015. This process included reviewing data from multiple sources. The participants worked together to agree upon an estimate since none of the sources provide identical figures.

Recognizing the challenges that come from starting with imperfect data, Melanie Zamora from The Road Home in Salt Lake City, Utah spoke at the Boot Camp about what their community has done. “We weren’t willing to let our inability to reconcile our data get in the way of our work to identify those in need and prioritize them for services,” said Ms. Zamora. To overcome this, the partners in Salt Lake City began regular meetings to identify the clients in need, come to agreement about what clients should be prioritized, and determine what resources were available in the community to meet the clients’ needs.

After figuring out how to work with imperfect data, identifying and knowing their homeless population by name, and establishing regular meetings, city, county, and state officials worked to create a uniform reporting process for organizations using federal Emergency Shelter Grant resources. These resources were primarily being used to fund rapid re-housing efforts, and the uniform reporting reduced administrative time and costs associated with their use. As a result, since February, Salt Lake City has been placing the homeless into housing at a rate that puts the city on a path to end veteran and chronic homelessness by the end of 2015.

In April, communities in Texas and Florida came together to develop action plans for ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.  Many of the communities that participated in the first Veteran’s Boot Camp in Tampa have made progress, including:

  • In Houston/Harris County, TX, over 100 people have housing vouchers in-hand and are actively searching for housing. They also had a successful registry event to get to know homeless individuals by name, and are working to combine data lists to clarify numbers across the community.
  • In Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, the Dallas Housing Authority made 47 HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers available to veterans. In addition, the team will hold a media event on June 20 to kick-off a campaign to raise $100,000.
  • In the central Texas region around Austin and Waco, stakeholders are working to implement a coordinated assessment and create a better process between the VA and housing providers. The VA is working to decrease length of time it takes for veterans to get into housing using HUD-VASH vouchers.
  • In Lee County, Florida, 20 veterans have been housed, and five of those housed have increased their income. In addition, the Public Housing Authority has formed a committee to grow the number of landlords they are working with.
  • In Sarasota/Manatee, Florida, the team has added seven new landlords to their list for a total of 25 participating landlords. The team is also working with VetCorp to reach the goal of ending homelessness.
  • In Tampa, Florida, they are streamlining their eligibility screening process for various programs by stationing an outreach person at the local health clinic. In addition, the Housing Authority has also pre-inspected 30 units to streamline the lease-up and move-in process.

Overall, the 100,000 Homes Campaign has a goal of housing 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless, and in the last month the campaign formally crossed the halfway point. To date, teams in 196 communities have successfully housed 51,438 of the most vulnerable homeless, including 15,679 veterans.

In cities across the country, progress is being made by stakeholders who have come together to end the national tragedy of veteran homelessness. Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Richard Berry has called this work “the smart way to do the right thing.” Local leaders can use their platform to raise the profile of this work in their community, forge partnerships with other municipalities and levels of government to better leverage resources, help bring missing stakeholders to the table, and more. In many cities, the involvement of local leaders makes the difference between some success and great success. Ending homelessness among veterans is an issue that should unite everyone. Our veterans deserve no less.

To learn how NLC can support work in your community to end veteran homelessness, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine, NLC’s Senior Housing Associate at harig-blaine@nlc.org.

Night Time is the Right Time for Mobile Vending in Philadelphia

This blog post is part of a series on mobile vending, and is based on a presentation to NLC’s Big Ideas for Small Business Peer Network on Philadelphia’s Night Market. Thank you to Diana LuDirector of Partnerships and Outreach for the 10,000 Small Businesses Program, Philadelphia Department of Commercefor assistance with this blog post. 

In spring 2013, Masters of Public Policy students at The George Washington University conducted research on local policy options for food truck regulations for NLC. This report will be made available to NLC members as a policy toolkit in the coming months.

Philadelphia is a “city of neighborhoods,” and a city with a diverse, local food scene. To highlight both of these attributes, the city worked with the Philadelphia-based nationally recognized non-profit The Food Trust to create Night Market Philadelphia.

The Night Market is a traveling food event highlighting Philadelphia’s premier ethnic and regional restaurants and food trucks. It’s also a citywide economic development and community engagement initiative that could serve as a model for other cities that want to use mobile vending to bring greater visibility to their local food scene and showcase their neighborhoods as hotbeds of cultural and social activity.  Night Market events are generally a mix – about half and half – of food trucks and tent vendors.

Beginning in 2010, Night Market Philadelphia has grown from a modest street food festival with 4,000 attendees and 18 mobile vendors to an immensely popular event with over 55 vendors that attracts upwards of 20,000 people to each of its neighborhood locations. Participating neighborhoods include those in close proximity to or directly in the central business district, such as Chinatown, University City and Northern Liberties, and neighborhoods that are more removed from the city’s core such as Mt. Airy.

The benefits to the mobile vendors in participating in Night Market Philadelphia are obvious – increased patronage and greater visibility of both their product and brand. But there are also tangible benefits for neighborhood brick and mortar restaurants.

In addition to the opportunity to increase their customer base, Night Markets give restaurants the opportunity to dip their toes in the mobile vending waters, so to speak, and experiment with expanding their reach through the mobile vending marketplace. Brick and mortar businesses can do a “pop-up” mobile shop (vending under a tent) for the event by obtaining a special event permit. Restaurants can also participate by staying open later and/or debuting special menus for the occasion.

The Night Market empowers small business owners with skills, resources and entrepreneurial opportunities that extend well beyond the event. For mobile vending first-timers, The Food Trust has offered workshops on best practices that include recommendations for how many staff to have on hand, how many portions to plan for, etc. The Food Trust also recommends that individual items be priced at $5 or less to give people more incentive to sample different types of cuisines.

Host neighborhoods also realize benefits from the Night Market. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, but it can be difficult to get visitors to venture out of the core downtown districts. Night Market Philadelphia provides that opportunity. The events have a great deal of marketing power for neighborhoods, and allow them to showcase their best assets.

Going Mobile at Night: Lessons Learned

For other cities that may want to try their hand at doing something similar to Night Market Philadelphia, the big takeaway (surprise, surprise) is that planning is key. Crowd control, traffic management, trash pick-up and having enough volunteers on-hand are key components of successfully pulling off an event of this scale and scope. Neighborhood buy-in is another key strategy for success. For each Night Market event, The Food Trust works with neighborhood community development corporations in the planning process, and reaches out to non-participating businesses in the area to make sure they are aware of the event.

Is your city planning something similar to Night Market Philadelphia, or perhaps already doing it? We’d love to hear from you! Share your experiences and your general thoughts on the pros and cons of food trucks in cities in the Comments section or email Pickren@nlc.org.  

 

Dropout Reengagement Surges in Washington State

With a May 20 statewide meeting among representatives of 88 school districts, community colleges, community-based organization partners, and the City of Seattle, Washington State surged into new prominence in the national dropout reengagement field. In one way, Washington stands in a place of its own, since the passage of Washington House Bill 1418 and the establishment of the Open Doors Youth Reengagement system in state policy.

In a manner similar to the presence of multiple city- and district-wide reengagement programs in Colorado and New Jersey, Open Doors launched its first three local programs in 2012-13, and each is generating successes for local youth and lessons for other aspiring programs. May 20 meeting attendees gleaned those lessons and met in teams to consider the opportunity to join the statewide program network.

Notably, and somewhat distinct from dropout reengagement approaches in other states, Washington State’s Open Doors programs combine the dropout outreach and assessment functions with alternative education on site.  Open Doors programs must offer academic instruction, case management, counseling, resource and referral services, and the opportunity to enroll in college courses tuition-free if the program provider is a college.  Sue Furth, program coordinator, noted that financial motivation can match the drive for youth development: a state cost study found $250 million savings to public coffers, per 600 reengaged former dropouts.  With more than 30,000 students coded as dropped out over the past three years, statewide, the total savings from effective, scaled-up reengagement could become huge.

The three initial Open Doors Reengagement Programs differ in their sponsorship, consistent with the policy framework, which allows school districts to enter into interlocal agreements with a qualifying organization.

  • GRAVITY High School operated by Education Service District 113 represents a consortium model involving 25 school districts and more than 220 students in a large region southwest of Seattle.
  • The Kent School District operates iGRAD in partnership with Green River Community College, in the South Puget Sound area.  iGRAD offers three high school diploma options — students can earn a diploma from the Kent district, the state, or a GED — at its convenient location in a shopping mall.  Green River CC professors teach GED courses four days per week.  iGRAD offers classes in three different segments during the day — morning, afternoon, and evening, and also offers classes online.  Currently iGRAD serves 500 students, plans call for the program to double in size soon.
  • The Gateway to College program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology also qualified as one of the first three Open Doors programs, the only one directly operated by a technical college.  The Institute has developed interlocal agreements with 23 school districts to operate as what Washington State calls an accredited special purpose high school. Some 200 on-track students may enroll in the Institute directly.  Another 200 start in Gateway to College.  Regardless, students experience hands-on technical training, and dual credit earning opportunities. Gateway students receive more intensive case management. Students may earn one of three types of diplomas – a regular high school diploma, an adult high school diploma, or a diploma simultaneous with an Associate’s Degree (via Washington HB 1758).  To date, the Institute is seeing 60% fall-to-fall persistence.

The first three programs – which Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction hopes will soon be joined by others — also exemplify a comment that state superintendent Randy Dorn made at the meeting.  Noting that the statewide extended graduation rate (4-, 5-, and 6-year graduations) is 80%, “the next 5% will cost more, and will require a relationship.”