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And NO ONE seems upset! Students are hom December 27, 2010

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And NO ONE seems upset!

Students are homeless in basically every larger community. This article from the Washington Post confirms what I’ve observed in our local youth homelessness situation in Nashville. Teenagers who deal with homelessness are a very hidden population and hard to reach.

One of the problems helping homeless teenagers who are still in school is that federal dollars given to schools for homelessness liaison programs cannot be utilized for housing. At the same time, the definition of homelessness that the Education Department goes by is much broader than the one that the Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses. HUD moneys can go toward housing, but HUD mainly views people as being homeless if they live in the streets or in shelters.
Many teenagers crash on the couches of a friend, move from location to location, stay in motels, etc. Unless they finally go to a shelter, where they are a high target population for victimization, or sleep in a a car, it is hard to find federal dollars to put them in a habitable situation.

Here is a link to a Washington Post article that explains things better

If you want to get involved locally, support Housing First. As we get more funding, we can look at expanding the programs to families and youth. But first we need the community to come together and support us. Join The Key Alliance at http://www.thekeyalliance.org


Sustainable Housing for Chronically Home December 23, 2010

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Sustainable Housing for Chronically Homeless Individuals

When communities come together and work together, when systems are examined and changed to fulfill the needs of the poorest of the poor, then we seed hope. And where plans are built on ideas that sprung out of hope, results will follow.

I just wrote a brief blog on the 100,000 Homes Campaign, of which The Key Alliance, the fundraising arm of the Metrpolitan Homelessness Commission in Nashville, is a part of. I work for that organization because I believe we can obtain solutions to homelessness. We still have ways to go, but I believe we are on the right track.
Here is a link to the blog I posted for The Key Alliance: http://wp.me/pPMtg-2E

I’m now working fulltime as communicati November 23, 2010

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I’m now working fulltime as communications coordinator for The Key Alliance, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission in Nashville, Tennessee. It is a busy and very exciting time right now.
Our goal at The Key Alliance is to end chronic homelessness and reduce overall homelessness in Nashville. To do so, we believe the entire community has to come together.
Homelessness is not a government issue. It is a community issue.
Together we can make a difference by taking one homeless person off the streets of Nashville at a time. We believe in changing lives.
As a society, we have been looking the other way for the past 20 years when it came to dealing with homelessness. But now, one by one, cities across the nation realize that it costs more to manage homelessness by providing services in an unconnected manner (one service agency at a time) than to end homelessness through Housing First. The high costs many chronically homeless individuals acrue stems from ER visits, detox and jail.
We at The Key Alliance promote Housing First, which offers permanent housing to homeless individuals coupled with intensive, individualized case management. Our case management is provided by master’s level social workers at a ratio of 1:12 (which compares to regular case management ratios that can be as high as 1:35 or more).
Our formula for success is: Housing + Case Management + Income = Reduction in Homelessness.
The Key Alliance is not a direct service provider. Instead, this non-traditional nonprofit is all about awareness and fundraising. As funding becomes available, we will contract with existing service providers to take Housing First to a larger scale. Therefore, we are not competing with existing agencies serving homelessness in our community. On the contrary, we are seeking partnerships and will re-allocate the funding we raise.
So why give to The Key Alliance instead of giving directly to a service provider agency? The Key Alliance will hold service providers accountable for the outcomes. We are seeking permanent solutions rather than band aids. If that were already the approach of all service providers, then we would not have seen stagnant and increasing homelessness numbers in our cities. In addition, The Key Alliance does not have much overhead costs. Our staff is paid for by the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission. We’re working for both organizations. Thus, every dollar raised will be utilized to go back out to the community towards solutions to homelessness and awareness to bring us together as a community to tackle homelessness.
You can make a difference today. Join The Key Alliance at http://www.thekeyalliance.org.

The Black Hawk pilots of Troop D, deploy November 22, 2010

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The Black Hawk pilots of Troop D, deployed to Iraq last year, were named “Unit of the Year”. Congrats Ricky!

Help remove barriers to housing for 100s November 22, 2010

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Help remove barriers to housing for 100s of Nashvillians. Please, volunteer on Dec. 8 @PHCNashville http://www.thekeyalliance.org/phc-volunteer.

Soldiers Returning Home March 11, 2010

Posted by tackettmedia in politics, sustainability.
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I’m a soldier’s wife.

During my husband’s deployment this past year, I have been educating myself about the status of mind I can expect him to be in upon his return from Iraq.

My husband has been back in the United States for about a month now and as expected, there are some emotional issues and sleep problems he is dealing with.

It is not hard for soldiers to return back home to their families. Ours is a stable situation. We’re both entering middle age and he has an officer status. Officers are less affected by PTSD than younger, enlisted soldiers. Still, it is not easy to re-integrate.

Having said that, I want everybody to think about how multiple deployments will affect our society in the long term. I cannot imaging how young soldiers  in their early 20s who have been doing foot patrol and have endured several tours overseas are dealing with the stress. We all are hearing reports about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, sleep disorders, and worse. But not many people talk about the sky-rocketing divorce rate.

These young people return back home to be faced with mental distress and a broken family. They are barely grown ups.

Why, I ask, is it not possible for the U.S. military to ensure that each returning soldier goes through six months of counseling?

It will not help every one, but it is a start and it is certainly better than giving them lectures for two weeks and teaching them how to drive on U.S. roads again. We are facing a crisis in this country. The poverty rates in our cities are high. Homelessness is on the rise. And now we’re conveniently forgetting about our returning soldiers. Yes, we lament and discuss, but we don’t know what to do.

The military has options and opportunities to overcome the stigma that lets soldiers shy away from seeking out the help they need. Young wives feel helpless and rather leave with their children than succumb to the additional burden of dealing with a husband who seems emotionally detached from them. These young families are left with nothing, facing financial instability, which in turn will in the long term cost us as a society.

Even for people who are dealing relatively well with the stress and adjustments a deployment brings, it can’t hurt to ensure that everyone undergoes some form of life skill treatment. Cost could be an issue. But if we cannot afford taking care of our soldiers, then how and why can we afford a war and the rebuilding of another nation?

It is up to us to start the discussion. Please join me, call on your congressional representatives and your senators. Keep bringing these issues to the forefront.

Education needs to be top priority in Afghanistan January 19, 2010

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When Pres. Obama addressed the nation announcing a troop surge in Afghanistan a few months ago, I was not surprised at all. A first-year president, regardless of his political affiliation, really had no other choice than to take the direction he did.

However, there were two topics that I missed in his speech – education and a definition of victory.

For one, it was clear to everybody listening to the President’s reasons for a troop surge, that the Obama administration has re-defined what victory in Afghanistan looks like. However, the President did not clearly state what this new definition is, which made me question whether he believes in an American victory in Afghanistan.

Secondly, education is probably the most important aspect of stabilizing a nation where a majority of the population does not remember a time without foreign occupation or civil unrest. Basically, the Afghan people do not even know the concept of government. (At least the Iraqi people know the concept of government, even though they were living under a dictatorship).

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, 44.5 percent of Afghans are 14 years of age or younger, 53 percent are 15 to 64 years old and 2.4 percent are 65 and older.

The War in Afghanistan started in 2001, nine years ago. Consequently, 45.5 percent of the population (likely more than that) grew up during this current war situation. We know that prior to that, the Afghan people were in a civil war (1996-2001) under Taliban repression. And before, there was another civil war. Then in the late 70s/early 80s the Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan.

What I’m getting at is this: we need to engage in educational outreach if we want people to understand what government means and if we want them to be able to stabilize their own country. I’m not talking of imposing democracy or any other form of government. I’m talking about basic education: reading, writing, math and providing people with the resources necessary for doing their own research. Without this, how can a people understand the purpose of government? And, what is more, how can we leave in 18 months and expect Afghans to be able to maintain internal stability?

Again, close to half of the population in Afghanistan is under 20 years of age and has never lived under a functioning government.

Sources mentioned in this blog:

The World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html

President’s speech: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-address-nation-way-forward-afghanistan-and-pakistan

The sustainability of the political use of xenophobia January 4, 2010

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Since November when the Swiss outlawed the construction of new minarets, people have asked my opinion on the issue.

Discussions still focus on the perceived or not-so-perceived xenophobia among the majority of the voting Swiss population. However, a select few, I count myself among them, see this vote as more than an outright ban on the new construction of minarets on mosques in Switzerland. I believe this was a brilliant political move from the far-right party called Swiss People’s Party.

What you need to know is that the Swiss People’s Party has been built by industrial billionaire Christoph Blocher (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3206778.stm ). At the height of his power, he was in the Federal Council* and was able to take over one party seat in the Federal Council for the Swiss People’s Party. However, in an unforeseen maneuver that showed a big division within his own party, he was ousted and the Swiss People’s Party was split in two.

During that time of turmoil the party has lost some face and direction. The November vote on the minarets has been a huge political win – reuniting followers and party members. Now the Swiss People’s Party wants to double up on its success. It is calling for a special session on the uncontrollable immigration caused by EU policies and the increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees.

Fear is the main weapon the Swiss People’s Party uses. Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that Switzerland has four minarets? Yes, that’s four (4!) in the entire country, and some of them have been there for years. In other words, it’s not as if all of a sudden minarets were popping up left and right. I bet prior to this vote, most people didn’t even know where these minarets are located. I certainly didn’t when I was still living in Switzerland.

This entire fiasco just shows the effectiveness of propaganda (the communicator in me wants to call this admiringly successful marketing). Switzerland was plastered with posters and marketing outreach from the Swiss People’s Party. The government didn’t deem it necessary to counteract, believing that the population would not buy into the fear-mongering. (Oh, how they were wrong!).

My question is, Will Switzerland be able to maintain its reputation of open-mindedness after voting so overwhelmingly against a problem that was not really a problem to begin with? In my opinion, Switzerland has lost big time. If the people don’t start checking the facts these political campaigns throw at them, the country will continue to vote on purely emotional levels.

During the past decade I’ve observed an alarming shift towards xenophobia and close-mindedness. Many in of my acquaintances do not belong to the Swiss People’s Party, but support Blocher’s ideas and rhetoric nonetheless. Unfortunately, his rhetoric is a mixture of half-truths and jumbled facts. The weakening of their own parties at the cost of the growth of the Swiss People’s Party has impressed many of the German-speaking voters. I now hear hateful phrases from people who would have been ashamed to openly utter those same words a few years ago. And as in so many parts of the world, xenophobia has become a successful, political tool.

What doesn’t make sense for this small mountain state, though, is that Switzerland has already one of the toughest immigration laws in the world. About 20 percent of the population consists of foreigners. And that’s not because they are all coming to Switzerland. No, many are born in Switzerland but do not have automatic citizenship. Besides, even if you are born in Switzerland, as long as your parents are foreigners you have to go through a burdensome immigration process before becoming Swiss.

* Switzerland is ruled by a council of seven members; presidency of the country rotates among the members of the Federal Council.

How many people struggle with homelessness in your city? May 8, 2009

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Nashville has anywhere from 10,000 to 11,500 homeless – that is the answer to the question you will have when you leave the movie The Soloist.

You may have heard about The Soloist, the movie that opened recently starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. It is based on Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez’ friendship to Nathaniel Ayers, a musically gifted, chronically homeless person. Ayers dropped out of Juilliard when he was in his early 20s because of his mental illness.

The story of the two middle-aged men’s friendship is touching and powerful. It opens viewers’ eyes to some of the complexity of homelessness.

 Lopez experienced how hard it is to help a chronically, mentally ill homeless person. I know what he encountered because when I was still in journalism school, my best friend, a Metro Police sergeant befriended a chronically homeless man in Nashville and started working to get him services he needed.

It is a full time job to deal with the complexities of a mentally disabled, chronically homeless man who is dying from lung cancer. That’s why my friend reached out to her circle of friends to help out. I remember how awkward it felt signing the lease on an apartment that financed with money from a fundraiser my friend organized for this purpose.

Taking care of a dying homeless man is not an easy feat. I don’t take credit. I only was there to support my friend who took the lead in dealing with social services, doctors, Alive Hospice, and so on.

What’s interesting though is that this experience has changed my life. For one, I met my husband who was also among the core group of people who checked on Earnest. Secondly, when I became a reporter I made it a point to regularly write about homelessness issues in this city.

I followed former Mayor Bill Purcell’s Task Force to create a 10 Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Nashville. I went to meetings of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission and regularly wrote about their progress, problems and other community groups dealing with homelessness. And now, as a freelancer, I am helping with the communications outreach effort of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission – and all because I took the time to get to know Earnest.

Was he always a nice man? No. As a matter of fact, I was thinking about giving him a piece of my mind just before he passed away because I saw how stubborn he was with my friend. Now I’m glad I didn’t actually do it.

What touched me most about The Soloist is that Steve Lopez realizes that all he can be is a friend and that being a friend sometimes has to be enough.

At the end of the movie, a number flashed upon the screen – it told people how many homeless are roaming the streets of Los Angeles. I heard a gasp in the row behind me.

That’s what made me write this column. The answer is that Nashville has between 10,000 and 11,500 homeless people. This includes subgroups of homeless people such as chronically homeless, youth, domestic violence victims, families with children, veterans, and young people aging out of homelessness.

On Feb. 9 of this year, the city conducted a homeless count where volunteers roamed the streets at night and shelters counted people sleeping there. This year’s total came to more than 2,100, but the count provides only a point-in-time number. It didn’t include people sleeping in motels or doubling up with family members or friends.

Nashville service providers estimate the real number of homeless in Nashville to be anywhere from 3,000-5,000 individuals at any given time. That number spikes up to 10,000-11,500 when you consider the unduplicated annual numbers reported by homeless service providers.

What is the solution? Getting people into supportive, permanent housing, which offer individualized case management and wrap around services. It costs the city $46.57 – $57.54 per day to keep a person in supportive housing.

In comparison, it costs the city about $80 to house a person in jail, which doesn’t include the arrest cost, public defender cost or court cost. An ER visit costs on average $1,000.

But how do we get people into housing? Through outreach work. Right now, Nashville has five outreach specialists. With a population of 11,500, that’s an outreach ratio of 1:2,300.

Yes, there are homeless people who are not ready to be helped. But with only 1 outreach worker per 2,300 people, we clearly are not reaching everybody who wants to be helped.

No one expects you to go out there and take a homeless person off the street. But you can help. First, learn about the issues surrounding homelessness. The best way to get an overall picture is by going to the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, which aims to coordinate local efforts. Visit www.nashvillesroadhome.org and sign up for the newsletter and/or volunteer opportunities.

These hard economic times have taught us that many of us are just one paycheck away from being homeless. In the end, homelessness is an issue of poverty. A rich drug addict will less likely fall homeless than a poor addict.

Or think of it another way: When you ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up, it’s very unlikely that you hear, “When I grow up, I want to be homeless.”

Smart Grid May 4, 2009

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I read about outdated infrastructures in the United States on a daily basis. When I think about infrastructure, the first thing that springs to my mind is roads and bridges and maybe also the sewer system and broadband access.

Even when I hear of news items such as the recent report that cyber spies have infiltrated the U.S. electrical grid, I still don’t think about the necessity to update our electrical grid.

Today, however, I read an interview in the German news magazine Der Spiegel (www.spiegel.de/international) about a California-based company called Silver Spring Networks (www.silverspringnetworks.com). In the interview, company heads John O’Farrell and Scott Lang, explain the importance of updating the national electrical system. Their company produces software and equipment to do just that.

You likely have heard about the Smart Grid through GE commercials (http://ge.ecomagination.com/smartgrid).  In simple terms, the Smart Grid is an updated electrical network that allows us as consumers to know where and how we spend electricity in our homes. Currently our grid is a one-way street. The electrical company sends us electricity, we use it and then we pay a monthly bill.

Especially this year, when electricity bill sky-rocketed, many of us all of a sudden realized that we don’t really know what appliances in our homes use the most electricity. In my home, we set the thermostat at 64 degrees Fahrenheit during winter. We simply cannot lower the temperature any further, so the question becomes, how and where can we be more efficient?

A Smart Grid would allow us to answer that question. It would transform our electrical grid into a two-way street. Our current, outdate electrical network loses up to 40 percent of electricity during the transportation to the consumer. An updated electrical infrastructure would constantly check the functionality of the lines, immediately finding leaks that need to be repaired. When appropriate certain electronic equipment would be able to feed electricity back into the net. It would also improve the usage of solar and wind generated energy. Consumers would even have the chance to program their household equipment according to need so that individual devices would be completely turned off and on automatically.

With all this great news, why are we not having these super-power electrical highways already? Just five years ago, even leaders in global economic matters didn’t think investing in the electrical infrastructure would yield a vast return. They are now re-thinking that approach.

And as usual, cost is a factor. But seeing that the entire overhaul of the electrical grid will create much needed long-term jobs, we, as the consumers, need to demand from our politicians that they examine and implement the possibilities to help finance the improvement of our electrical infrastructure.

What you can do: Call your U.S.  Representative and ask him or her for more information on where this issue stands at the national level and how they are involved in it.