Archive for January, 2008

Street Survey – Wrap Up

The street survey won’t officially wrap up of course until we have entered in all the data, run our reports, and make policy recommendations based off of the data collected. That being said – the 24 hour survey period from 8 am on Thursday until 8 am on Friday went extremely well.

We estimate that over 1400 surveys were administered to homeless and low-income persons during that time.

Many thanks go out to our over 200 volunteers who administered the survey and to those individuals who took the time to complete the survey as respondents.

The media coverage for the event was strong with a front page article being written on Saturday by Jay Tokasz of the Buffalo News. Jay and Buffalo News Photographer Sharon Cantillon went out with several of the overnight street teams and did an outstanding job of capturing our overnight survey efforts with some of the hardest to serve homeless persons.

Jim Ranney of WNED AM 970 conducted an interview with Bill O’Connell on Friday Morning that outlines some of the basics of the survey and what we expected to find.

Rich Newberg of the WIVB (channel 4) also did a great job devoting 2 and a half minutes of airtime and several hours of research to capturing the story.

Read the Buffalo News Article here….

Listen to the WNED radio 970 coverage of the survey here…

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Apparently we got some great coverage of the issue on WIVB (Channel 4 here in Buffalo). If they post the story online then we will post a link here.

Our 6 pm count is up to 625 surveys given. Of course there may be some duplicates in that number but we have some questions within the survey that will allow us to remove duplicate surveys.

We will be moving our headquarters soon to our overnight location. I’m not sure if we will have internet access there but at least our phones should work a little better. If we can possibly blog overnight then we will.

Coincidently a nice article was in today’s Buffalo News in on the editorial page. A “My View” article by Cindy Selden that mentions the Homeless Alliance.

My View Article

Many thanks to all of our volunteers and the wonderful people working at the service locations today that allowed us in. Most of all, thank you to all those who took time out of thier days today to answer some questions.

Hopefully we will have more later.

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We are in the 6th hour of the Survey; 18 more to go. So far, 381 surveys have been returned.

I went to St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy for their lunch service to administer surveys. I prefaced each survey by letting the respondents know that they didn’t have to answer any question they were not comfortable with. All were willng to answer the questions and provide stories about their experiences. One respondent added at the end of the survey that “he was glad to participate if it meant it would help others in his situation”.

A few of the respondents looked at me and asked “So, is this really going to help anything?” A perfectly reasonable question to ask, I think, particularly when a stranger is asking questions about you, your family, your home, your income, whether or not you have a mental illness, etc, and you want to know its for a good reason.

I told them “well, this information helps us know what kind of services are working and what service the community needs to improve to lift folks out of poverty and homelessness”. One man nodded thoughtfully and said “That’s good. I hope what I have to say helps.”

What he and the many others that are being surveyed today have to say is vital to the work of this community. There are some commnities that develop 10-year plans based on what lawmakers and administrators feel are the best solutions. This community is a part of a growing movement that advances its goals to end homelessness and develops programs and services from the grassroots, from the voice of low-income people. And that is why we are doing this survey today, why 200 volunteers have given their valueable time, why 70 service providers have agreed to let these volunteers administer surveys, and why so many respondents are willing to give their time and share their experiences. Because everybody wants to see a change.

Devan DeCicco, Homeless Alliance Education Coordinator

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So far so good. Of course we have had a couple of miscommunications but when you are dealing with over 70 locations and 200 volunteers you will have these kinds of hiccups. All in all, we are very pleased.

Rich Newberg from Channel 4 is supposed to be coming by our headquarters shortly to talk to Bill and Laila from the staff.

Surveys are starting to roll back in. We don’t have a total back in yet. But so far our survey numbers look good. The report back from volunteers is that the survey is going over well with respondants and that the volunteers are learning alot. Some volunteers have said that they were a little nervous about administering the survey. When they talk to homeless and at-risk persons, they realize what we say all the time, that those who are homeless and at risk are our brothers, and sisters, parents, neighbors, and friends. No different than anyone else.

We’ll blog again soon.

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The first group of surveys are out. It was exciting to see so many volunteers heading out into the community to begin the surveys.

Right now we are conducting surveys at Living Opporunities of DePaul, Cornerstone Manor, the Buffalo City Mission, AIDS Community Sevices, Buffalo General Hospital, the VA Drop in Center, the Department of Social Services, the Rental Assistance Program, the Salvation Army Shelter, and Spectrum Services. Beginning in a half hour we will begin surveying in a number of other locations.

We are operating out of our suvey headquarters at the United Way (thank you!) so our office phone is forwarded to a couple of cell phones. The phone has been ringing off the hook but our basement headquarters doesn’t have great reception so we keep having to head into the hallway to talk.

We have already had calls from volunteers asking that we bring them more surveys. That is great news!

It is great to live in such a great community with so many great volunteers and such an incredible community spirit!

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The Homeless Alliance of Western New York will be conducting a survey of homeless and at risk individuals and families in Buffalo and Erie County tomorrow beginning at 8 am. The survey will be conducted by over 200 volunteers at over 70 locations in Buffalo and Erie County including survey sites in Amherst, Hamburg, Orchard Park, East Aurora, and Springville. The Homeless Alliance expects to talk to over 1200 respondents during the 24 hour period.

This survey is a follow-up to a similar survey taken in 2004 where 165 Homeless Alliance volunteers spoke to over 1000 homeless and low-income individuals and families in an effort to gain a greater understanding of the makeup of the homeless and at-risk population as well as what services are needed in our community and how services are accessed, and delivered.

Three “street teams” made up of seasoned homeless caseworkers will talk to individuals on the street in the downtown area as well as the lower east side and west side areas overnight from 10 pm until 8 am on Friday the 25th.

Homeless Alliance staff intends to blog throughout the day on the progress of the survey so please make sure to check this space and comment if you like.

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The last major speech Dr. King delivered, four days before his assassination, was on poverty at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968. . The full text of Dr. King´s sermon entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” containing the quotes below can be read here:


“There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia.

I remember some years ago Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India. And I never will forget the experience. It was a marvelous experience to meet and talk with the great leaders of India, to meet and talk with and to speak to thousands and thousands of people all over that vast country. These experiences will remain dear to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.

But I say to you this morning, my friends, there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.

As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge-in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.” And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.

Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.

I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Whitman County, the poorest county in the United States. I tell you, I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. I saw their mothers and fathers trying to carry on a little Head Start program, but they had no money. The federal government hadn’t funded them, but they were trying to carry on. They raised a little money here and there; trying to get a little food to feed the children; trying to teach them a little something.

And I saw mothers and fathers who said to me not only were they unemployed, they didn’t get any kind of income-no old-age pension, no welfare check, no anything. I said, “How do you live?” And they say, “Well, we go around, go around to the neighbors and ask them for a little something. When the berry season comes, we pick berries. When the rabbit season comes, we hunt and catch a few rabbits. And that’s about it.”

And I was in Newark and Harlem just this week. And I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them in conditions-no, not with wall-to-wall carpet, but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. I stood in an apartment and this welfare mother said to me, “The landlord will not repair this place. I’ve been here two years and he hasn’t made a single repair.” She pointed out the walls with all the ceiling falling through. She showed me the holes where the rats came in. She said night after night we have to stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children. I said, “How much do you pay for this apartment?” She said, “a hundred and twenty-five dollars.” I looked, and I thought, and said to myself, “It isn’t worth sixty dollars.” Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.


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The National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, D.C., has released the below statistics to describe the gains made by developing Housing First models. Though those who were homeless and have been placed in these programs have benefited the most, the benefit is not limited to them: homeless service providers see a decrease in the need for emergency services; health care facilities have less visits; police see fewer arrests; and rehab facilities see fewer admissions.

Not only that but the cost to taxpayers decreases when these services are not strained and housing is permanent and stable.


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Speaking of raises …
First published: Sunday, January 13, 2008

It’ll be easy enough to be confused, if not overwhelmed, with the state Legislature back in session and the special interests descending upon lawmakers peddling causes both noble and ignoble.

There ought to be perhaps more pressure than ever to raise the pay of the state’s judges for the first time in a decade. The judges themselves are making the very persuasive case one would expect of them. Then, again, it’s a safe bet that the very legislators whose votes are needed to give those judges a raise will demand one for themselves as well — lame as that argument is, at least until they can reform the Legislature first.

But what about the poor, the people living on government subsides?

State welfare benefits haven’t been increased since 1990. What’s known as the basic welfare grant for a family of three has been stuck all those years at $291 a month. A family of three on welfare also can get up to $426 a month in food stamps and a shelter allowance of a little more than $300 a month. The specific amount of the housing subsidy varies from county to county.

It’s unconscionable that the Legislature has gone this long without adjusting basic welfare benefits.

Everyone is affected by inflation, of course, from judges and legislators to the poorest of the poor. That latter group, in fact, may well be hit all the harder since so much of the little money it has goes to the most basic of necessities.

The price of milk, for instance, has gone up by 94 percent since 1990. The price of fuel oil and natural gas are about twice as high now than they were when the subsidy for home heating costs last was adjusted in 1987. In each case, that’s much higher than the overall 55 percent increase in the rate of inflation since 1990.

New York’s courts, including the Court of Appeals, have ruled five times since 1987 that the welfare shelter allowance is illegally low. That requires welfare families to use part of their basic grant, scant as it is, to subsidize housing costs.

Even now, more than a decade after rewritten welfare laws reduced the number of New Yorkers on public assistance by 61 percent, more than 535,000 people — including more than 300,000 children — live this way. They need the Legislature’s attention as much as anyone. A cost of living adjustment in the basic welfare grant, to $475 a month for a family of three, is urgent.

The Assembly, but not the Senate, voted for a 10 percent increase in the basic welfare grant last year. This year the Democrats in the Senate are pushing for a 25 percent increase.

That money is readily available, too, despite the state’s $4.3 billion budget deficit. Federal block grants pay for the state’s welfare costs. Other states have used the block grant since 1996 to raise welfare benefits. New York, though, has invested it in so-called rainy day funds.

And now it’s raining, and raining hard, on the people who most need state government’s help.

THE ISSUE: The state’s welfare grant hasn’t be raised in years.

THE STAKES: Without an increase, inflation will erode subsistence funds even more.

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Earlier this year, we commented on a series run by MSNBC called “Gut Check America” which looked at the ways in which the “middle class” is feeling the financial strain of the rising costs of living within the United States.  A recent article in the Buffalo News explores the impact of the increasing costs locally of food products, gasoline, and extremely important here in WNY, heating homes and apartments.  Families and individuals across the socioeconomic spectrum are feeling the pinch, some more so than others, and are making lifestyle adjustments, now paying attention to those details once taken for granted.  As one respondent, John Klukowski, points out, “The rising cost of living means that after the family’s bills are paid, there’s not a lot of money left over.”


While it is clear that the “middle class” is feeling financially strained, what of those people who are precariously housed or not housed at all?  “Imagine people who do not work or who work part time or are on public assistance,” Melendez said. “I don’t know how they’re making it.” In a region that is continually noted for its lack of economic opportunity and growth and for its status as one of the poorest large cities in the country, it is imperative that we ask these questions.  As one online commenter to the story mentioned, it would be beneficial to hear from such families and individuals.

Read the article by clicking below. 

buffalo news article on the cost of living

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