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Recap from the 1-in-4 National Convening on Women's Homelessness at USC

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Did you know that 1-in-4 homeless adults is an unaccompanied woman?

Together, the Downtown Women’s Center and partners across the country are changing that.

We recently had the pleasure of joining with the American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness to co-host “1-in-4, the Second National Convening on Unaccompanied Homeless Women,” in partnership with the Aileen Getty Foundation, Urban Initiatives, and the USC School of Social Work.

The convening brought together over 100 researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and advocates from across the county committed to ending women's homelessness.

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Above left: Congresswoman Maxine Waters: "We are very much poised to make homelessness a top priority in 2016."
Above right: DWC CEO Anne Miskey and CPO Amy Turk lead the opening session at DWC.

We kicked off the two days with an intimate gathering of representatives from the offices of Mayor Eric Garcetti, Senator Holly Mitchell, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Councilmember José Huizar. All spoke passionately about ending homelessness, as did District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who gave rousing presentations on the need for political will and resources directed toward mental health and housing.

Convening participants took part in a morning session at DWC, learning from staff about the organization’s programs and best practice models, and hearing from community advocates Amiyoko of DWC’s Participant and Advisory Board, and Dorothy Edwards, Board Member of the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), interviewed by CSH’s Ann English.

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Above: Dorothy (left): "Unless I'm healed in here [my heart], I can't help anybody else."

Following the morning session, participants travelled to USC, where we were warmly welcomed by Philip F. Mangano and Mary Ellen Hombs of the American Round Table to Abolish Homelessness, and by Dean Marilyn Flynn of the USC School of Social Work, who announced the launch of their national call-to-action The Grand Challenge of Ending Homelessness (featuring the extraordinary work of Dr. Suzanne Wenzel and Dr. Ben Henwood)The convening program, which lasted over two days, was organized around the key 1-in-4 principles of research, best practice, resources, and advocacy. Below are highlights:

RESEARCH

Central to the 1-in-4 movement is the belief that unaccompanied homeless women (meaning women that are not accompanied by children or family members) must be recognized as a specific population deserving of unique resources and services. To start, we need more data on homeless women in order to better meet their needs and, in the long run, prevent and end homelessness.

Mary Ellen Hombs presented an essential literature review of national data on unaccompanied women (to be released this spring), while Dr. Sofia Herrera of Urban Initiatives shared extensive Point-in-Time data on unaccompanied women in San Bernardino County. Kim Albers of Flood Bakersfield Ministries shared her organization’s practical approach to using regional data to drive outreach and program design.

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Above: Kim Albers of Flood Bakersfield Ministries: "Criminalization is unacceptable. The average length of homelessness is unacceptable."

BEST PRACTICES

The convening was an opportunity for experts to share the models that have been most successful in ending homelessness. Among the discussion of best practices in the field, such as the widely-recognized models of Housing–First and Permanent Supportive Housing, Rev. Christina Rathbone of Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Boston beautifully introduced the concept of “Sense of Belonging.”

Drs. Herrera and Wenzel introduced their continuing research on what “Sense of Belonging” means in particular for unaccompanied women, sharing key indicators in measuring sense of belonging and new findings on women’s life goals before and after entering Permanent Supportive Housing.

The experience of trauma as one of the leading causes of homelessness for women came up throughout the convening, with Dr. Elise Riley of the University of California, San Francisco and Brenda Ingram of Peace Over Violence speaking to the importance of Trauma-Informed Care in conducting research and at every level of service delivery:

RESOURCES

Encouraging collaboration is also central to 1-in-4, including sharing of resources and program design. Molly Moen of Chrysalis and Joe Altepeter of DWC detailed how workforce development programs geared towards homeless individuals are critical to forging a path toward stability.

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Above: Molly Moen of Chrysalis and Joe Altepeter of DWC discuss workforce development.

Presenters also explored how the solution of housing can be scaled, with Lisa Watson, former CEO of DWC and currently at the LAPSA Center, Scripps College, Todd Lipka of Step Up in Second, and Kathy Ragner of Sarah’s Circle in Chicago reflecting on their diverse experiences in housing development, including strategies for community consensus-building and long-term planning.

ADVOCACY

Throughout the convening was a spirit of feminism and collective determination to launch a greater movement to end homelessness for women.

Speaking of his work with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Stephen Gaetz shared the collective impact model adopted by “A Way Home,” a movement to end youth homelessness, as inspiration for 1-in-4.

The role of government agencies in advocacy was also highlighted, with Amy Sawyer of the Interagency Council on Homelessness and Vince Kane of the VA sharing their commitment to working with service providers to better serve homeless women. Kane recognized the need for specialized services for women, noting that “choice and flexibility” must come first.

A rousing talk from Melissa Bird, PhD candidate at USC, urged participants to raise their voices together and take bold steps to build a national movement: 

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Lisa Watson and DWC CEO Anne Miskey brought the convening to a close with calls to action. "Open your mouths to call for change,” shared Anne. “Demand that women's lives are valued and needs addressed. Together, let us be warriors."

Thank you to all the participants that travelled far and wide to share resources, solutions, and inspiration. We are at an opportune moment in time to end homelessness for women, and the Downtown Women’s Center is excited for all that comes next for the 1-in-4 movement!


We would like to thank The American Roundtable to Abolish Homelessness; Suzanne Wenzel, Ph.D. with the USC School of Social Work; Sofia Herrera, Ph.D. with the Office for Urban Initiatives; and all of the 1-in-4 participants for their partnership in this vital work. Find more highlights and join the conversation at #1in4LA on Twitter.


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