Archive for December, 2007


On January 24th, 2008, the Homeless Alliance of Western New York will conduct our 2008 Street Survey. This effort is a large-scale event to collect information from low-income and homeless persons in our community. A similar survey was conducted in 2004 and the information collected was used to create our PRISM plan, which is a ten-year plan to end homelessness in Buffalo and Erie County. In 2004, 165 volunteers surveyed close to 1,000 people at over 35 locations throughout the area.

The Street Survey is an unparalleled opportunity to gather valuable information about our low-income population who may be at risk of becoming homeless and those who currently experience homelessness. This type of analysis helps us to assess problems in our community. For example, in the 2004 survey, transportation was cited as one of the greatest needs. This led to a follow-up survey done on barriers to access, affordability and safety of transportation throughout the region.

Not only will the Street Survey yield a wealth of information, but it is also an exciting opportunity to join forces with our community members and raise public awareness of poverty and how it affects our area’s population. There is much work to be done and we need your help.

Please contact the Homeless Alliance to volunteer at (716) 853-1101.

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Buffalo and Chicago have a lot in common…

Homeless man asks for only one thing

By Phil Kadner

Southtowns Star, a Member of the the Sun-Times Group

December 16, 2007

His winter coat is a size too small, and his athletic shoes two sizes too large.

But Doug Skrobuton, who turns 46 on Thursday, mentions these things only when asked and quickly adds that he’s grateful for what he has.

That’s not much.

He is one of the homeless people who live in the south suburbs. He grew up in Oak Lawn and graduated from Brother Rice High School.

When he first found himself on the streets nearly three years ago, Skrobuton confesses he didn’t have a clue about how the homeless lived.

He found his way to a shelter in Chicago. He didn’t feel safe. Someone at the shelter told him about “the deal” at Wrigley Field.

“I spent most of the summer sleeping there,” Skrobuton said. “The homeless sleep outside the stadium, against the wall. The ticket scalpers pay you $10 to wait in line to purchase tickets.”

A couple of other homeless fellows took Skrobuton under their wing.

“If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have survived,” he said. “One was a scrapper; he gathered up scrap metal and sold the stuff. I helped him out.”

Skrobuton had a car for a time. With a car, he said, you can get to job interviews. With a car, you can get to work. If you have a car, you have a place to sleep and store your belongings. Without a car, well, you have nothing.

His car failed to pass a vehicle emissions test. The license plate sticker had to be renewed. Skrobuton didn’t have any money to fix the car or pay for the sticker.

“I sold the car for $75,” he said.

He tried sleeping in el cars. He couldn’t.

“Maybe it was the motion. I don’t know. I just couldn’t sleep,” he said.

Another homeless man told him about a place in the south suburbs, a forest preserve, where the homeless often gather at night.

He admits to being afraid. Of the sounds. Of the dark. Of the bugs. Of the things that go bump in the night.

“The one thing this experience gives you is, well, you overcome your fears, or you die,” Skrobuton said. “Having survived this, I feel like I can do anything. I go to church more than I used to.” (more…)

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CBS News Documents Success of Housing First Programs

Click logo to see video

How To End Homelessness? Provide Homes

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2007

(CBS) Imagine your best day ever, and you’ll understand what Doretha Cotton is feeling, holding the keys to her first apartment in 20 years.”This is the key to my new mansion,” says Cotton.Until now, Cotton was homeless on the streets of Washington, mentally ill and alcoholic, and part of America’s unsolvable problem.Unsolvable, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews, until Sam Tsemberis turned the approach to homelessness upside down with his “housing first” approach.

Instead of the old way, which required the homeless to get clean or sober first, before getting an apartment, Tsemberis starts with the apartment.

“The treatment for homelessness is housing, so we are simply (saying), ‘here is an apartment'”, says Tsemberis. “Housing is the cure for homelessness. It’s that simple.”

Cotton says she feels that having an apartment does change her in some way. “It makes me feel… that I can be independent and responsible, that I can be a good neighbor.”

Housing first also involves intensive in-home visits. Cotton will see nurses, social workers and drug counselors. They come with the apartment.

Tsemberis brushes off criticism that he’s made it too easy on the homeless. He argues that housing first works – for less. Chronically homeless people now cost taxpayers $40,000 a year each for shelters, jail time and emergency room visits. He says doing it his way costs just more than half that amount.

“Here’s a program for $22,000 that gives a person housing and services that end their homelessness and puts them on their way to getting better,” says Tsemberis.

Housing first has documented an 85 percent success rate, and is now the official policy in more than 150 cities, including the nation’s capital.

“It’s actually cheaper than it is to run the shelter system, and a lot better for the people who are in it,” says Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty.

“I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to solicit, panhandle,” says Cotton. “I don’t have to do those things anymore.”

When we left Cotton, her counselor was teaching her to use the intercom.

**Special thanks to The Homeless Guy and his Blog for the heads up on this piece.

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HANNYS Postcard

Its hard to believe it has been since 1990 that the basic welfare grant has been raised. This basic safety net for children and families needs to be raised .

Homeless Alliance research has shown that there is a preventative effect that accompanies the receipt of mainstream benefits like TANF, Food Stamps, and other income enhancing programs.

The basic TANF grant, which has not been increased by lawmakers since 1990, has fallen to less than 50% of the federal poverty level and is a significant factor in the high rate of poverty in Erie County. An entire generation of children has grown up since the last increase in the basic grant was approved as part of the state budget 18 years ago.

The basic welfare grant is now $291 a month for a family of three. Advocates are asking for the grant to be increased to $475 to reflect inflation of more than 60% since 1990 and then to have a commission examine how to raise the grant to a reasonable level in the future. The federal poverty level for a family of 3 is $17,170; for a family of 4, it is 20,650.

As representatives of homeless service providers from across Erie County, we are deeply concerned about the devastating impact that inadequate State funding for the basic Public Assistance (welfare) grant is having on families in Buffalo and Erie County. Today, after set-asides for landlords and utilities, many families have little or no money left to meet expenses for clothing, food, school supplies and other necessities.

The flip side of the holiday card is below.

hannys postcard flip

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Homeless Memorial flyer

Join the Western New York Coalition for the Homeless, Friends of Night People, and the Homeless Alliance of Western New York as we stand in solidarity with all those who have suffered or died as a result of their homelessness. Come to Friends Of Night People at 394 Hudson Street in Buffalo at 4 pm to join in the memorial service.

White ribbons will be sold for $2.00 to help fund a homeless awareness campaign in Western New York.

Post Event Note – please read the Buffalo News Article covering the event here. (more…)

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SHNNY logo

Special thanks to the Supportive Housing Network for the following.

This week (December 17th-19th), the House and Senate passed an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that increases McKinney-Vento funds by 10%, restores proposed cuts to the 811 and 202 programs, and provides 14,300 new Section 8 vouchers for families and veterans. All New York State representatives (excepting Senator Clinton, who was out stumping) voted in favor of this compromise spending bill. This bill is expected to be signed by the president.

Highlights of the bill are:

  • A total appropriation of $37.6 billion for HUD, which is $1.4 billion, or 4 percent more than FY 2007, and $2 billion, or 6 percent more than the President requested.
  • $1.586 billion for the McKinney-Vento homeless assistance program – an increase of approximately 10 percent over 2007.
  • $16.4 billion for the Section 8 Tenant-Based Rental Assistance program, which will allow for an additional 14,300 new vouchers for Family Reunification, Disabled Housing and Veterans Administration Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers.
  • Housing for disabled individuals (HUD 811) and seniors (HUD 202) funding has been restored to FY2007. The President’s budget proposed major cuts to these programs.
  • HOPWA is funded at $300 Million, a $14 Million increase
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s (SAMHSA) contains a $9 Million increase in funding for services programs in supportive housing.

For updated information, visit the Supportive Housing Network website: www.shnny.org

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Washington Park in Cincinatti

After a long fight with a chronic health condition, Jimmy Heath, a Cincinnati homeless activist and photojournalist has passed away. Jimmy was the editor of the Streetvibes street newspaper in Cincinnati. He was previously a Congressional Hunger Fellow at the National Coalition for the Homeless. Jimmy loved bringing dignity to homeless people and loved the street newspaper movement. He edited the street newspaper in Cincinnati for seven years and was a member of the North American Street Newspaper Association. The Cincinnati Enquirer recently wrote a profile of him and his experiences finding his way off the Cincinnati streets. Jimmy Heath Article

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Jimmy Heath. An incredible photojournalist, Jimmy held a gallery showing here in Buffalo as part of Homeless Awareness Week. Jimmy came to Buffalo at the urging of his friend Katie McHugh Connolly who after befriending Jimmy during her days working in shelters in Cincinnati had come to Buffalo and become the Alliance’s Program Director. The things that I remember of Jimmy was his humility and the way he captured the dignity of the poor and disenfranchised who were so often the subject of his photographs. The stories told though his photographs could tell someone about the poor and disenfranchised in a way that words cannot express.

Although I did not know Mr. Heath very well, every time I look at the photo of Cincinnati park benches that hangs in my kitchen I am reminded of why what we do here at the Alliance is so important.

Thank you Jimmy.


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The U.S Conference of Mayors recently released a report on Hunger and Homelessness across the Country by looking at 23 key cities. There is not much new in the study and there are disappointingly no policy recommendations. Still, the fact that the Conference considers the issues of Hunger and Homelessness important enough to do a study – is significant.

You can find a copy of the full report by clicking on the report cover below.

USCOF cover 07

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Our first blog post back in July commented on the rise of street homelessness in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

This video by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights illustrates how the gutting of public housing by Hurricane Katrina – as well as massive rise in rents and evictions – led to a homelessness crisis in the Gulf Coast 8 months after the Hurricane hit.

This video demonstrates once again how the argument that “homelessness is a choice” doesn’t really hold water, nor does it capture the big picture. In this instance, homelessness was the result of a natural disaster, followed by poor government response, followed by unlawful and unjust evictions. It wasn’t a lack of “personal responsibility”, nor “laziness”, nor “drug addiction”, nor “mental illness”. It was a lack of justice.

When you shop online – visit the Homeless Alliance at www.wnyhomeless.org to give 5-10% of your purchase price at sites like Amazon and Macy’s.com to help the homeless in Buffalo and Erie County.

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Homelessness, an issue that is often swept under the rug by many including the national media, was front and center on NPR’s Talk of the Nation last Thursday as the question: “Can we end homelessness?” was addressed. In this discussion, many key issues were raised regarding root causes of homelessness, strategies and best practices for serving the homeless population and common (mis)perceptions regarding the homeless population.

The program’s guests spent much time addressing, among other topics, the problem of securing affordable housing, particularly in urban cities.  Even for those individuals with a job and/or disposable income, it is often difficult to locate housing that is both affordable and conveniently located.  As such, the guests spoke of the advantages of establishing Housing First programs, which provide the homeless, specifically the chronically homeless, with a place of their own immediately.  Once the person is settled in housing, customized services are developed to best serve the needs of that person (numerous studies have even spoken to the cost effectiveness of such programs, see Denver’s 2006 Study results). 

Housing First programs are integral components of 10-year plans to end homelessness.  All three of the guests were directly involved in the planning and implementation of 10-year programs to end homelessness in their respective cities.  Buffalo, too, has a 10-year plan known as PRISM and the Homeless Alliance of WNY was intimately involved in its creation.  To learn more about PRISM, read here.

One other noteworthy point addressed in this NPR segment relates to the perceptions of homelessness and how homelessness/homeless folks are often thought of and discussed.  All of the guests pointed out the need to recognize that homelessness is NOT a choice and there is a pressing need to move away from the blame the victim mantra, which holds homeless folks as solely responsible for their plight, a view that so often dominates the public discourse.  Rather, it is important to acknowledge that structural causes contribute greatly in creating the circumstances that allow for the existence of homelessness. 

One guest, Jennifer Friedenbach makes this abundantly clear when discussing the conscious and continuous dismantling of governmental support networks that were put in place during and immediately after the Great Depression, a support system that had successfully mitigated the extent of homelessness. With this in mind, we close with Fridenbach’s opening statement. Citing the work of a noted scholar, she emphasizes that the only difference between homeless folks and poor individuals who have housing is that the latter group has access to networks, resources and services that the homeless do not.  In society’s attempt to often pathologize the homeless, it is important to keep this in mind.

To listen to this segment, visit the link below:


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