Housing Urban Development, homelessness, baseball & the African American Museum

4 October 2016

This morning’s meeting I had been anticipating all week and was with the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD). Basically our equivalent to Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Peg and I arrived and I made friends with the security. Damn they love the accent here and before long the female security guard had introduced me to another visitor the CEO of the US Graduate School. I see some exchanges being arranged!

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Lisa and Guddy

Lisa Coffman came down to meet us, she had flown in the night before and had come in just for this meeting with me. People have been so hospitable and generous it has astounded me. Lisa explained that every year HUD give out formula grants to states which is worked out by population. They then have competitive grants and they are awarded by points that HUD set which demonstrate the performance of each project. The fund is $1,9 Billion per year and is split between 410 geographic areas. I asked Lisa how this is split between the four homeless categorise which are veterans, chronic homelessness, youth and family. Domestic abuse falls under the family category and 286 projects were funded last year out of a total of 8,000 projects to an amount of $40.8 million. This included renewing funding for 254 projects and awarding 32 new projects. I have asked Lisa for a copy of the other three groups split so I can then compare and contrast as we had a whole conversation about how money is prioritised.

I raised a couple of points on the way these grants are awarded in that it is decided at a local level by the Continuum Care Collaborative Applicant (our equivalent of commissioners) about what applications are going to be submitted to HUD for a final decision. I raised the issue that if Domestic Abuse wasn’t a priority for that area say for example if they had a perpetrator making these decisions or it was a very patriarchal area/ community perhaps this wasn’t fair. I also asked if they did any data crunching on the percentage of that population that could be experiencing domestic abuse and asked whether HUD could use this data to guide them in their decision making process. Lisa said she would take this back as currently this is not something they are doing. However another issue is that any data would be very Criminal Justice based and a lot of individual’s experiencing domestic abuse will not report to the police for reasons like in the last blog – eviction!

After this meeting Peg and I went to see Sharon MacDonald who is in charge of Family Research at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. This gave me a whole new perspective as they deal with all homelessness so we were able to talk about differing models. Their organisation is made up of 20 people and they are funded by private donors. Sharon advised of Dennis Culhane’s work in looking at different types of homelessness including temporary, episodic and long term. His research showed that not one of these groups was in need more. We then went on to talk about the focus on rapid rehousing for all types of homelessness in the US and how cost effective this is. So rather than what some people call ‘shelter being a waiting room’ the idea is to rehouse people temporarily and then get them in to more permanent housing quicker. The cost of transitional funding in the US is $32,000 (this would be considered traditional refuge) compared to rapid rehousing which is $6,000 so some argue there is an opportunity to help more people with this model and potential to free up beds for crisis situations more easily. Sharon  advised anecdotally of situations where women have got stuck in transitional housing for long periods of time (over 2 years) and the problem is moving them on and furthermore this means that it not as accessible to other women who may need it. Sharon also acknowledged the NNEDV survey that demonstrated that over 10,000 people are turned away so therefore it would be good to explore other housing models. This conversation is not without its controversy as others would argue that transitional housing is a MUST when responding to domestic abuse as it provides a supportive environment for a length of time which allows families to heal and furthermore that this is specialist work which can not and should not be run by more generic service providers. I feel this is a controversial but useful and necessary conversation to have globally in light of the housing crisis and the serious cuts to funding. I also feel that reflection and innovation are needed in ensuring that we are providing the best options for women and children and stepping back and re-evaluating this is never a bad thing. This is demonstrated most strongly for me with the use of DASH’s Social Resilient Fund (SRF) which I gave an example of in my last blog.  My visit to DC I know is only the beginning but already I can see how rich this fellowship is going to be.

So after all this and my cogs whirring out of control Peg and I went tot meet Karma Cottman the Executive Director of the DC National Coalition for a Thai lunch. What a woman! It was great to catch up on my whole trip to DC and I will remember her honesty and guidance forever.

I am now sat writing this in anticipation of my first American Baseball game. I am nervous about how to get there and do not think I have suitable clothing which means I am going to have to invest in a jumper!

Fast forward two days and reviewing this blog for publication I can tell you I needn’t had worried it was AWESOME (and the Salsa dancing and vodka after!) The African American Museum on the Saturday was amazing too. Lisa from HUD kindly gave me a ticket which is gold dust as it is totally sold out. If you are ever in DC it is a must see #blacklivesmatter.

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Gudrun Burnet
@GudrunBurnet