An Increase in Homeless Students = an Increase in Homeless Families


(October 10, 2014 – Los Angeles, CA) It has been many months since I last posted commentary on this website. This is not because I do not have a lot to say. To the contrary, it is because there is far too much information that needs to be shared than I could possibly do justice to. During this past few months, instead I have been engaging in evaluation, dialogue and a planning process with our Board of Directors, National Advisory Board and other valued colleagues across the country. As a result, Partnering for Change is currently undergoing a major transformation that will soon be evidenced through one key initiative that will hopefully help to bridge the gap between silos of services provision for vulnerable families and children experiencing housing distress. Please check back with us for updates in the coming months.

Meanwhile, I would like to share the following article by Cara BaldariSenior Policy Director, Family Economics and Legal Counsel at the First Focus Campaign for Children:

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014, Public Schools Continue to See an Increase of Homeless Students - Last week we learned that child poverty in the U.S. is decreasing for the first time since 2000.  While that news is encouraging, it doesn’t tell us the whole picture of how children are faring.

Monday the U.S. Department of Education reported that there were 1,258,182 homeless students enrolled by U.S. preschools and K-12 schools in the 2012-2013 school year, which is a 8 percent increase from the previous year.

Contrary to what you might think, most homeless students do not live in shelters. Instead, they stay in hidden, precarious situations – such as in motels, or living with others temporarily because there is nowhere else to go. This is because often there is no family or youth shelter in their community, shelters are full, or shelter policies exclude them. These situations are chaotic, unstable, overcrowded, and often dangerous, resulting in negative emotional and health outcomes for children and youth, as well as putting them at risk of physical and sexual abuse and trafficking.

The good news is that under the McKinney Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program, reauthorized in January 2002 as Title X, Part C, of the No Child Left Behind Act, requires school districts to immediately enroll homeless children and youth.  The law also requires that, when in their best interest, schools ensure that homeless students can stay in the same school, and receive transportation. Every school must also designate a homeless student liaison to provide assistance and referrals.

This program is critical to the well being of homeless students, but unfortunately, homeless liaisons often face barriers to fully serving homeless students.  First, the program is severely underfunded.  It has never been allocated more than $75 million, and for the past several years it has remained flat at $65 million.  Many school districts do not receive any funds to implement this program, and in 2012-2013 more than 800,000 homeless students were enrolled in school districts that did not receive a McKinney Vento subgrant.

Additionally, in a recent report the Government Accountability Office (GAO), homeless student liaisons reported that the differing definitions of homelessness used by the Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development posed a barrier to serving homeless students. This difference in definitions often prevented liaisons from collaborating with other service providers to address student needs and any obstacles they face.

Due to HUD’s narrower definition of homelessness, homeless students are often not able to access HUD services such as transitional housing and other wraparound services because HUD’s current definition of homelessness excludes children, youth, and families who are living in motels or temporarily with others because they have nowhere else to go.

Congress is attempting to address this issue through legislation.  The Homeless Children and Youth Act (HR 5186/S 2653) would amend the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness to include unaccompanied youth and homeless families who are certified by HUD Homeless Assistance Programs or public housing authorities as lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, including those temporarily sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason, or staying in a hotel or motel.

It would also include unaccompanied youth and families who are certified as homeless by the program director or designee under the following federal statutes: Runaway and Homeless Youth Act; Violence Against Women Act; Health Care for the Homeless Program; Education for Homeless Children and Youth program (McKinney-Vento education subtitle); Higher Education Act; Head Start Act, and Child Nutrition Act.

First Focus Campaign for Children, along with the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) and a coalition of other national, state, and local advocates, have been working hard to build support for the Homeless Children and Youth Act.  

You can read more on these issues at

Tanya Tull, President/CEO – Partnering for Change


A Job Seeker’s Desperate Choice!


Los Angeles, CA (June 25, 2014) – I have two stories to tell, both about single mothers living in deep poverty and raising children alone – without even the most basic of support systems that none of us could do without…The first story made the national news; the second story came to me via a phone call from the mother herself.

Story #1: A Job Seeker’s Desperate Choice! - By SHAILA DEWAN, NY TIMES - 

On the morning of March 20, Shanesha Taylor had a job interview. It was for a good job, one that could support her three children, unlike the many positions she’d applied for that paid only $10 an hour. The interview, at an insurance agency in Scottsdale, Ariz., went well. “Walking out of the office, you know that little skip thing people do?” she said, clicking her heels together in a corny expression of glee. “I wanted to do that.”

But as she left the building and walked through the parking lot, she saw police officers surrounding her car, its doors flung open and a crime-scene van parked nearby. All the triumphant buoyancy of the moment vanished, replaced by a hard, sudden knot of panic. Hours later, Ms. Taylor was posing for a mug shot, her face somber and composed, a rivulet of tears falling from each eye. A subsequent headline in The Huffington Post said it all: “Shanesha Taylor, Homeless Single Mom, Arrested After Leaving Kids in Car While on Job Interview.”

The article ricocheted across the Internet. Many viewed her story — that she, unable to find child care, had left her two sons, aged 6 months and 2 years, in her 2006 Dodge Durango while she went to a 70-minute job interview — as emblematic of the harsh realities of today’s economy, where jobs are scarce and well-paid ones even scarcer, and where desperate choices have become common. Certainly, many people could identify with the cruel math of Ms. Taylor’s pretrial report, which put her monthly income at $1,232 (including food stamps), while her monthly expenses totaled $1,274.

Ms. Taylor, 35, was charged with two counts of felony child abuse, and soon became the subject of syndicated columns calling her the “true face of poverty,” petitions asking the prosecutor to drop charges and a crowd-sourced fund-raising campaign that gathered $115,000. After 10 days in jail, she was freed after strangers paid her $9,000 bail……. 


Story #2:   A Desperate Mother’s Poor Choice!

This is a much shorter story – and there is no good ending here. A month ago, I received a phone call from a distraught woman in a California coastal town begging me for help. Homeless, she had been living in a Motel 6 with her 10-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, barely surviving on a TANF grant and Food Stamps, but was also quite ill. While her daughter was in school, she had been seeking healthcare at a local clinic, taking her young son with her. She said that the staff and nurses were often angry at her for bringing the squirming little boy along, where he had to endure long waits and disturbed the other patients. She was finally scheduled for some tests that required her to come alone – and so she left her two-year-old in the motel room in the care of her school-age daughter. She knew this was a poor choice but felt like she had no other! Needless to say, the little boy was found alone in the motel parking lot, the authorities were called, and the children were removed from their mother into foster care.  The children are separated, she has not seen them in six months, and she said that she “can’t move, can’t make choices, can’t go on with her life” until she has her children back. In fact, her parental rights were soon to be terminated! Granted I don’t know the whole story, but the similarities between the two stories were too great to ignore. Any thoughts on this?

Tanya Tull, ScD – President/CEO, Partnering for Change



May 9, 2014 – If you read my posts, or are new to this website and plan to review current and past posts, you will notice that I have been silent over the past two months. This does not mean I have been lazy; it means that I have been consumed by the diverse issues that are the current focus of Partnering for Change. Although there has been a great deal in the news during this time about family homelessness and other related issues that I have felt were important enough to share, it was difficult to pull myself away from the work in order to do so. However, the following blog from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that came across my desk yesterday is too important not to pass on. Please take the time to read it and consider the vital importance of safe, decent and affordable housing in the lives of mothers and their children –  and yet we continue to deny the broad-based evidence of its impact on every aspect of their lives.

Tanya Tull, ScD – President/CEO, Partnering for Change

A Million Things That Housing Vouchers Are Doing for Mothers on Their Day”  (May 8, 2014 – by Douglas Rice)

With Mother’s Day approaching — and the House considering cutting funding for housing assistance — we’d like to celebrate that roughly 1 million mothers use housing vouchers to help them keep a roof over their kids’ heads.  But many more mothers (and other low-income people) who are in great need of housing assistance don’t receive it due to scarce funding, as these state-by-state data show.  And the proposed cuts would make things worse.

Vouchers, the main form of federal housing assistance, help pay for housing that low-income families rent in the private market.  Studies show that vouchers sharply reduce homelessness, lift more than a million people out of poverty, and enable many families to move to safer, less poor neighborhoods.

These gains, in turn, promote educational, developmental, and health benefits among children that help them succeed over the long term.

Vouchers are especially important to mothers.  Nine in ten households with children receiving vouchers are headed by women.  Here are just a few examples of how vouchers have helped mothers improve their families’ lives:

  • In Maryland, a single mother who had lived in a high-poverty, high-crime area since she was a teenager used a voucher to move herself and her daughter to a safer neighborhood with more opportunities.  The daughter, who previously couldn’t attend a better school because it was too dangerous to walk there, loves her new school.  The move also enabled the mother to take in her elderly father, who otherwise might have needed to go to a nursing home.
  • In Maine, a mother of three who was working in a factory received a voucher about 20 years ago.  The stability it gave her and her family enabled her to go to college, from which she graduated with highest honors, without worrying about how to keep a roof over her children’s heads.  She earned a law degree and founded her own law firm, which has enabled her to become a financially independent homeowner.
  • In California, a single mother living with her 6-year-old son in temporary housing for formerly homeless families received a voucher last year and used it to move them into permanent housing.  She has since enrolled in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, which helps families earn more and rely less on government assistance.  She is also continuing her recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and is training to become an addictions counselor herself.  She plans to enroll in community college this fall.

As we’ve explained, the House’s proposed funding bill for 2015 likely provides too little money to renew all of the vouchers in use this year — let alone restore the 40,000 vouchers that were cut last year due to sequestration and not funded this year.

At a minimum, Congress should provide enough funding to continue all of the vouchers in use and avoid reducing further the number of families receiving housing assistance.  But, given the program’s proven success and the large and growing need for help, a better approach would be to expand assistance to more mothers and other vulnerable families, first by restoring the vouchers cut under sequestration.



Homelessness Prevention starts with “early intervention”!


March 8, 2014 – Los Angeles, CA:  My last post was in early January, so it has been at least two months since I felt motivated to sit down and share some thoughts. Basically, it has been a non-stop marathon of media articles about “the homeless,” either good news or bad news, depending upon which homeless populations you are rooting for, so-to-speak. In other words, veteran homelessness and chronic homelessness appear to be decreasing in many communities, i.e., efforts across the country to get chronically homeless individuals and vets and their families into housing at rents they can afford appear to be seeing some successful outcomes. Alternatively, family homelessness is “up” and continues to rise in some communities, particularly in large urban areas such as New York City and Los Angeles County. But small towns and cities are affected too, as funding for family shelters is decreased or even terminated in poorly throught-out efforts to adapt rapid-rehousing strategies into existing Continuums of Care.

The news articles and Op Ed pieces have been almost non-stop, as I read both the NY Times and LA Times daily – and then the Huffington Post. Having been one of the leading strategists (read “social innovators”) in efforts to end homelessness in Amercia for over 30 years now, I can only deplore the deep mess that we have gotten ourselves into. My efforts have primarily targeted homeless families (Beyond Shelter), but also individuals and the chronically homeless (A Community of Friends - the first permanent  supportive housing intiative in the country).

As evidenced by national initiatives that have been promoted by prime movers in the field (I include myself here), we often know what we are doing. But sometimes even we can get confused. I am going to say loud and clear here, for anyone who reads this, that strategies to address chronic homelessness are NOT the same strategies you apply to successfully decrease and hopefully to end  family homelessness. Just this week, I was reviewing some assessment tools adapted from screening for chronic homeless populations  and was literally taken aback at the language used and questions posed for an adult head-of-household in a homeless family with children. I repeat, THE STRATEGIES ARE NOT THE SAME! But that is for another blog, coming soon, I promise.

This particular blog is to share my thoughts about the article today in the L.A. Times,  L.A. & Orange counties are an epicenter of overcrowding - Emily Alpert Reyes & Ryan Menezes [March 8, 2014]. The article caught my attention and motivated me to share my thoughts because the focus of my work over the past two years has been on the prevention of family homelessness through “early intervention” and appropriate and timely responses to housing problems of low-income families.

One of the primary indicators of housing instability is overcrowded living conditions – and the majority of families who seek homeless services from government-funded Continuums of Care and other homeless services providers are leaving overcrowded conditions in which family members or friends were “helping them out during a housing crisis.” Rather than wait until a family is “eligible” for homelesness prevention services or family shelters and rapid rehousing programs, mainstream systems who serve them (Head Start, public schools, family service agencies, child welfare programs, health clinics and hospitals, workforce development centers, community college systems, etc.) should be providing that service, or group of services, that help families with children address crises related to their housing condition before they escalate!

Meanwhile, please read an excerpt from the L.A. Times article and then the entire article, if you believe, as I do, that we are maybe attacking the problem from the wrong end of the continuum:

Southern California is an epicenter for crowded housing: Out of the most  heavily crowded 1% of census tracts across the country, more than half are in  Los Angeles and Orange counties, a Times  statistical analysis found. They are sprinkled throughout areas such as  Westlake and Huntington Park around Los Angeles, and Santa Ana and Anaheim in  Orange County.

From the outside looking in, it is a largely invisible phenomenon. Places  such as Maywood and Huntington Park, south of Los Angeles, look little like the  high-rises of Chicago or Boston. Yet behind the closed doors of small bungalows  or squat apartment buildings, they are home to thousands more people per square  mile than those large cities.

“This is an example of poverty that can go unseen in our communities,” said  Jason Mandell, United Way of Greater Los Angeles spokesman. “It’s easy to miss  if you’re not paying attention.”,0,6827011.story#ixzz2vO3xrwpl

If you are interested in learning more about the Partnering for Change National Housing Stability Assessment Initiative, please contact us. And don’t think the problem is too great to successfully address! It is that kind of thinking that gets us nowhere…

Tanya Tull, President/CEO – Partnering for Change

Homeless problem bigger than our leaders think!


January 17, 2014: I have been planning a first post for the new year, but have been overwhelmed by the plethora of news reports and commentary about cuts in services and resources across the board, so-to-speak – and all of this in the midst of enduring and entrenched poverty in America. I am extremely motivated, however, to post this commentary by Maria Foscarinis of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, contradicting recent reports by the Federal government on the decrease in homeless numbers nationally.  Many of us who work in the field continue to be astounded at the inaccurate and erroneous reporting on the issue and applaud Maria’s willingness, as always, to step forward. Here is her commentary in its entirety – and I sincerely hope that you will read it:

Report misleads on those without shelter.

The Great Recession is causing continued hardship for many Americans. Yet a recent report found that homelessness is down.  I wish that were true. The research, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says homelessness decreased by nearly 4% over the past year. But it doesn’t actually measure homelessness.

Instead, it looks at  people who are in shelters or transitional housing and the number of people who are outside on a single January night. Not included are those doubled up or couch surfing  because they can’t afford their own place. Neither are people in hospitals, mental health or substance abuse centers, jails or prisons with nowhere to go upon release.

One night?

The problem isn’t just the count’s narrow scope; its methods are flawed. For the count of people in shelters and transitional housing, service providers report their numbers on the designated night. But this just measures capacity. If the number goes down, this could mean either fewer homeless or fewer beds for them. The “street” part of the count tries to measure unmet need by counting people in places “not meant for human habitation,” such as streets, parks, alleys, subway tunnels, all-night movie theaters, abandoned buildings, roofs, stairwells, caves, campgrounds and vehicles.

HUD sets the guidelines, but communities have discretion in how they count. A few use sophisticated statistical methods. Most simply organize volunteers to fan out and make judgments about who is homeless, avoiding locations where they feel unsafe. How even the best prepared volunteers can cover large expanses in a few hours is anyone’s guess. Local policies can also affect the count. For example, cities are increasingly making it a crime to sleep in public places. If the street count goes down, is it because need is down or because there is greater cause to fear arrest, driving people further into hiding?

Punishing the homeless

Similarly, in some cities, families seeking shelter can be threatened with removal of their children; families living outside have extra incentive to avoid detection.

To its credit, the Obama administration has made a commitment to ending homelessness and, to measure progress, it needs data. Methods pioneered in New York City that statistically adjust for the built-in inaccuracies of the “street” count could significantly improve it. But the data must not only be accurate; they must also be the right data, and that’s the larger issue. Homelessness happens over time, not on a single night — and it reflects a deeper crisis.

According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, low-income households suffer an unprecedented housing cost burden, forcing many to choose between rent and food. Too often, homelessness is the result. Another reason to doubt HUD’s reporting: On Thursday,  the Department of Veterans Affairs released statistics showing that homelessness among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans is sharply rising despite new efforts to help them.

Ending homelessness requires closing the gap between the need for housing and its availability. It requires recognizing housing as a basic human right, and enacting policies to ensure it is available.

Homelessness can and must be ended. But it won’t be if our leaders report that there is no crisis. Maria Foscarinis


Please share this post. Here is the link: It is vital that the public is educated and informed! Thank you.

Tanya Tull, President/CEO – Partnering for Change

Two Americas….even during this Holiday season


December 8, 2013: I was planning on posting about my recent visit to Salem, Oregon, to speak at a public forum convened in response to the loss of family shelter units during this cold winter season. Watching the concern of the citizens of this capital city of Oregon gave me hope for the future. Imagine if - city by city, town by town, community by community – we all began to stand together in solidarity to say, “That’s enough! We will not stand idly by while other members of our community are smashed slowly but systematically into the ground, left without help, without hope that their lives can get better!”

And I will write about my experience in Salem and how their efforts have energized me to keep going later on. But first, I must share an impromptu but deeply thought-provoking speech about the divide between rich and poor in America given at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, Australia, by David Simon, creator of “The Wire.”  His presentation has diverted my feelings of hope in the future back to feelings of frustration and despair. And while it would be nice to simply enjoy the stories in the news media during this Holiday season about people reaching out to share with those in need – these caring but seasonal efforts are simply not enough! They may help one feel good for awhile, but the needs of the poor in our country continue when the Holiday season ends – and those needs often worsen as the days go by.

Please take the time to read this edited extract of his argument that capitalism in this country has lost sight of its social compact. And please share it with your village and community.

Tanya Tull, President/CEO – Partnering for Change

Poverty in America Is Mainstream…


November 3, 2013: I had not planned on putting up a new blog today – but after reading this piece in the New York Times “Week in Review” section this morning by Mark R. Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University, I wanted to share it. The article basically takes on the myths associated with poverty, concluding that “Poverty is ultimately a result of failings at economic and political levels rather than individual shortcomings.” Here is just a sampling:

Few topics in American society have more myths and stereotypes surrounding them than poverty, misconceptions that distort both our politics and our domestic policy making…. They include the notion that poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans, that the poor are impoverished for years at a time, that most of those in poverty live in inner cities, that too much welfare assistance is provided and that poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough. Although pervasive, each assumption is flat-out wrong….

Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high. My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line). Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events.

I get what the author is trying to say, and in many ways I have to agree (please read full article: link above). It also seems that empathy for the poor might depend upon one’s own experiences of poverty. While this is certainly not true of the philanthropists who give because they care, I think that much work must be be done by those who have kept silent while the “criminalization of poverty” continues to escalate across the country.  Please consider your own experiences through life – or those of family and friends – and then try to answer this question: How do we help bridge the gap between the false perceptions of poverty even of the most liberal among us - and the reality of rungs on the ladder that differ based on one’s race and class?

Tanya Tull, President/CEO – Partnering for Change

Family Homelessness & the Human Right to Housing


The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Governments have the responsibility to enact systems and controls that promote the progressive realization of these human rights – and that do not impede the progressive realization of human rights.

Homelessness and housing policymakers, practitioners, and advocates are using the human rights commitments made by the U.S. government to reframe the domestic policy conversation around homelessness. From federal reports recognizing criminalization of homelessness as a human rights treaty violation to local ordinances recognizing housing as a human right to international critiques by human rights monitors, there are many ways to participate in this movement for human rights.

On Wednesday, October 9, we conducted a new webinar on “Family Homelessness & the Human Right to Housing,” which will be repeated this Winter. The goal is to help advocates and practitioners in child and family services to better understand the connection between their work and that of human rights advocacy, and particularly the right to adequate housing.

Guest Presenter Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, provided an overview of successes achieved through the right to housing movement internationally and a review of efforts in the United States. We presented some examples of local advocacy and made the link between Housing First and Rapid Rehousing initiatives and the “progressive realization of the human right to housing.”

Child and family services organizations, in addition to homelessness and housing policymakers, practitioners, and advocates, should become knowledgeable about human rights commitments made by the U.S. government through international treaties – and use that knowledge to support their efforts.

Tanya Tull – President/CEO, Partnering for Change

UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik, with Tanya Tull, speaking to a young mother with baby in her arms who pays $450 monthly for a bunkbed in a small room shared with other families in an illegal “shelter” in South Central L.A. that has since been closed down. (Inspection in U.S. in November 2009)

Better Late than Never!


August 31, 2013: Two articles this morning, the first in the L.A. Times and the second in the N.Y. Times, lend credibility to two of the key initiatives promoted by Partnering for Change. Links to each article are posted below:

Poverty can lower IQ (L.A. Times, August 31, 2013) New research lends support to the idea that many behaviors linked to being poor — using less preventive healthcare, having higher obesity rates, being less attentive parents and making poor financial decisions — may be caused by poverty rather than the other way around.  The findings, published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, indicate that an urgent need — making rent, getting money for food — tugs at the attention so much that it can reduce the brainpower of anyone who experiences it, regardless of innate intelligence or personality. As a result, many social welfare programs set up to help the poor could backfire by adding more complexity to their lives….”I think it’s a game changer,” said Kathleen Vohs, a behavioral scientist at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, who wasn’t involved with the study….There’s a widespread tendency to assume that poor people don’t have money because they are lazy, unmotivated or just not that sharp, said study coauthor Sendhil Mullainathan, a behavioral economist at Harvard University….. Last year, he and his colleagues published work in Science showing that when people are forced to focus on a pressing financial problem like a looming utility bill, they develop tunnel vision and ignore their long-term goals.

Partnering for Change: These findings mirror what practitioners of “housing first” for families have experienced for years: Housing first motivates and engages previously immobilized and depressed parents – providing the first rungs on a ladder that can help families climb out of poverty. Please see PFC’s initiative:  Housing First for Families

Making the Safety Net More Visible (N.Y. Times, August 31, 2013) is subtitled: Philadelphia Tries to Put Services Within Reach of Those in Need. This article describes how in North Philadelphia, one of the poorest sections of the city, as many as 65 percent of individuals in some neighborhoods meet the guidelines for the Community Services Block Grant, a federal program that funds local agencies providing services to low-income communities, according to 2010 census data. But with an array of public and private agencies providing different services in different locations, many poor people here are not getting the assistance available to them that could help them find work or qualify for benefits. In response, Philadelphia initiated an effort this summer that offers “one-stop shopping” in local outreach centers to help people get all the assistance they need — with food, housing, job training, financial counseling, child care and other services — in one place.

Partnering for Change: Please see PFC’s initiative: Neighborhood-based Services Coordination.

For maximum social impact, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel each time, perhaps translating the key components of people-centered practices into a common language can help localities to adapt their current systems to those that have been proven to work. After all, it’s not rocket science.

Tanya Tull, ScD – Partnering for Change


Sleeping on the streets in Philadelphia…


About 12 people sleep outside a Philadelphia housing office. (credit: Jim Melwert)Homeless Mothers, Children Sleep Outside Philly Housing Office

(August 21, 2013) Families on the streets of our grand cities should not come as a surprise. Families forced to sleep on the streets of New York made the news last Spring….and homeless families hide on the  streets of Los Angeles every night.

Families with children are “the hidden homeless” and our social policies continue to fail them. It must seem somewhat confusing to the public at-large that homeless families are forced to “make a stand” to bring attention to their plight. Most people believe that our government has “programs to help” and if you engage them in discussion about poverty, low incomes, and the high cost of rent, they still believe deep in their hearts that it is “personal failure” that causes poverty, with some people just destined to be poor. It’s difficult to convince them that homeless families represent just the “tip of the iceberg” of entrenched poverty and suffering for increasing numbers of families in America – caused by a civil society that has chosen to “ignore” them in the hopes that they will keep quiet and eventually go away.

And so I praise these mothers for sharing their desperation by coming out into the glare of publicity as they have. Rental housing that is affordable  provides the vital base that enables parents to make the right decisions, to care properly for their children, to make plans for the future, to help a child with homework, to prepare healthy food for her family, to keep seeking that elusive job…. Our government could easily remedy this situation by expanding access to rent subsidizes, at least while a family gets back on their feet. Current poorly-funded programs have demonstrated that this works, but the majority of families who might qualify cannot access this support. If our government does not want to recognize the man-made disaster in front of them, then they must repair the tattered “safety net” dismantled in the 1990′s through Welfare Reform.  When their incomes are too low to afford the rent, when paychecks barely cover food and child care, when no matter how loud you cry for help, no one hears you and no one cares…then you should probably sleep on the streets and make the rest of us your voice!  Kudos!!!

Link to CBS coverage:

Tanya Tull, ScD – Partnering for Change

Poverty Alleviation: The Key to Ending Homelessness in America


August 19, 2013: There is yet another article on the federal government’s new focus on Rapid Rehousing, and it’s an article that requires a careful reading between the lines: Rapid Rehousing: A New Way to Head Off Homelessness. The article personalizes the experience of a formerly homeless mother in Washington, D.C. who has been assisted in relocating her family from shelter to a rental apartment, with a time-limited rent subsidy as part of the program. In order to break the “cycle of dependency,” the rent subsidy ends after a to-be-determined period of time (often just months, dependent upon a variety of factors), and the family  then takes on full rent themselves. The expectation is that participants in Rapid Rehousing programs can find work if they would just try harder – and that a long-term rent subsidy breeds dependency and inaction. Considering the rental market in most big cities today and continuing high unemployment rates (which often result in periods of homelessness for families that had previously been fairly stable), this scenario, while seemingly quite reasonable for perhaps the majority of families, is in reality for many others quite Kafka-esque.

But this is the sentence that stands out for me the most, a quote from David A. Berns, the director of the District’s Department of Human Services: “The program is about ending homelessness, not solving the problems of poverty.” That statement sounds good on the surface – and in fact I have made similar statements in presentations around the country for years – but it no longer stands up under scrutiny, not in today’s environment. I have also said for many years, however, that “homelessness is but the most visible sign of increasing poverty in America.”

Let me just state this fact: In order to end homelessness, we must focus at the same time on ending poverty! These are tightly linked issues – and cannot be separated. In other words, if you expect someone to have enough money to pay their own rent, then you better ensure that they have access to employment at a living wage, transportation, childcare, and opportunity to move forward with a quality of life – and all of this from a stable housing base!

As the original visionary behind the Housing First approach to ending family homelessness (the model that led eventually to the Rapid Rehousing program described above), I stand firmly behind that statement because I believe that you cannot do the first without a concerted focus on the second. My entire 30-year career has been based on two firm premises: (1) Housing is a basic human right (not just for those who have the ability to pay for it) and (2) stable housing provides the base for successful outcomes in all other areas of human effort. In other words, stable housing provides the base for improved outcomes of services delivery within all other systems – those same systems that help pull people up from poverty! Studies have shown that housing instability can negatively impact successful outcomes in schools, of health care treatment (including mental health treatment and addiction recovery programs), of child welfare services, of child and family services programs, of job training programs and workforce development, and of a wide array of diverse specialized services operating in communities to help improve the social and economic well-being of residents of a community.

And so for me the game is on….Will you join me? Tanya Tull, ScD – Partnering for Change

Poverty as a Childhood Disease


August 6, 2013: Although these problems are not new, it seems that I have been reading weekly in the news about increasing poverty in America among families with children….I’m sure that if I listed links to recent articles just over the past few months here that it would astonish most readers when seeing them en masse. One would be tempted to believe, in fact, that the issue of childhood poverty and its impacts on society would be at the forefront of public debate. . . but the opposite is true.

The issue is not at the forefront of public debate. Instead, we are outraged and offended by daily acts of violence reported by news media, often with the question “Why?” We blame adults for their behavior and we blame young adults too, when their behaviors simply personify the poor outcomes of negligent social policies. The results could easily have been anticipated; research has been tracking these issues for years. Instead of asking “Why?”, what I would  like to see instead is more attention paid to the research – more media articles that link the failures of our society to provide adequate supports to families raising children in increasingly difficult economic times to the adults their children sometimes become, who make the news due to anti-social, dysfunctional, or criminal behavior.

There is a multitude of well-researched studies linking adult behavior to diverse impacts of our emotional, nutritional, and physical environments from birth through early adulthood. Why do we continue to be outraged and offended by the actions of adults whom we failed when they were helpless children? We should instead blame the voting public and political leadership that valued big business over children, lobbyists over homeless advocates, the rich over the poor, the educated over the uneducated, white over black. . .I will be adding more links as they come across my desk….                Tanya Tull, ScD – Partnering for Change

Poverty as a childhood disease - Perri Klass, M.D. (May 13, 2013) NY Times

America squanders its human capital - Susan Ochshorn (August 5, 2013) LA Times

‘Town Without Pity’ – Poverty Blame Game - Charles M. Blow (August 10, 2013) NY Times

Losing Ground: Tucson Kids Pay Poverty’s High Price – Stephanie Innes (August 4, 2013) Arizona Daily Star

Homeless Mothers, Children Sleep Outside Philly Housing Office - Denise Nakano & David Change (August 21, 2013) NBC10 Philadelphia


“Fresh ideas on the homeless….”


July 11, 2013: After 30 years in the field of family homelessness, working continuously both locally and nationally, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to read newspaper and other online media reports such as this one posted recently in the Los Angeles Times: Fresh ideas to help the homeless (Editorial – July 5, 2013). While the vast majority of readers will glance at the editorial and agree whole-heartedly with its content, this reader instead just feels sad…. These ideas are not NEW! They are NEW only to people who have paid little or no attention to the issue of homelessness as an entrenched social problem in the U.S. for 30 years! Many of us have been addressing the issue on a daily basis for more than two decades thus far, promoting these “fresh ideas” – and this includes not only the dedicated and committed advocates and activists, but also the thousands of ”first responders” who work directly with the men, women and children “on the streets” of our rich country every day.

So of course I am sad. I am sad and angry at the same time – because these solutions that we know work, i.e. housing that is affordable to individuals and families at the lower levels of the socio-economic scale and community safety-nets to catch people in crisis before they fall deeper into the pit we have dug for them – are elusive and out-of-reach to the very people we write about. They are out of reach because of the lack of leadership at the highest levels, political will and partisan fighting. Add to this subtle but entrenched racism and classism and what you have as a result is “increasing homelessness in America” and editorials insisting that what we need are “fresh ideas.”

Of course, while the focus of the news articles is often on “the homeless,” which in itself does a great disservice to educated readers who can’t help but think immediately of the homeless men (and some women) we all see each day on the streets of our big cities, it seems that few editorials are willing to address the greater issue: that of increasing family homelessness (read “infants, toddlers, school-age children, adolescents, and primarily their single mothers trying desperately to raise their children alone”). It would be nice to see an educated and truthful editorial or Op-Ed article about the true tragedy of homelessness in America – that the needs of families with children have been over-ridden by the issue of “chronic homelessness” = i.e. “the homeless” we think of immediately when the subject comes up. I’m not advocating that we choose one group over the other….Instead, I am angry that we have.

Tanya Tull, ScD, President/CEO – Partnering for Change

Housing First for Families in Barcelona, Spain


May 26, 2013: Partnering for Change presented the following Power Point presentations on Housing First for Families in Barcelona, Spain this month – with a focus on adapting the model to marginally-housed and homeless single parent families there.

Housing First for Families  (English language version – short)

En la Familia la Vivienda es lo Primero (Spanish tranlation)

Just weeks ago, we also participated in a series of spirited strategic planning meetings with NGO’s in New York City; Baltimore, MD; and Norfolk, VA – all struggling to decrease the numbers of homeless families in their communities and prevent additional families from entering their ranks.

There is no question that unstable housing during early childhood and school-age years can have far-reaching detrimental impacts long after housing has been stabilized. Unfortunately, access to safe, adequate, and affordable housing continues to elude low-income families both in this country and abroad. We understand the slums and poor housing conditions in many Third World countries, and tend to downplay and minimize their existence in our more “civil societies.”

Sadly, the majority of homeless and marginally-housed families continue to be single female-headed households. I can’t help but wonder how much the “criminalization of poverty” and the continued second-class status of women in this country (and globally), woven together beneath the surface with sometimes blatant racism and an enduring classism that rears its ugly face in different ways, contribute to this ongoing and seemingly entrenchable dilemma.

But there IS hope and a renewed commitment to work together and share ideas on a global scale. Partnering for Change will be focusing on these issues in the coming months – through partnerships and collaborations both in the U.S. and internationally.

Tanya Tull, ScD – Partnering for Change

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