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21 April 2010

Modifying the Definition of Homelessness

via About Homelessness by Liz Whitehurst on 4/21/10

Today's guest post is from our Senior Policy Analyst Norm Suchar.

The definition has been a controversial issue for many years, but Congress managed to achieve enough of a compromise to pass a homelessness bill last year, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, a.k.a. the HEARTH Act. The HEARTH Act made several changes to the definition, but, as is usually the case, it left some of the operational details to HUD, and HUD published its draft of those implementing regulations for comment this week.

We're still analyzing the regulations, but on first read, they're about what we expected. Currently, HUD considers people homeless if they are in one of the following situations:

1. Their nighttime residence is an emergency shelter, transitional housing program, or a place not meant for human habitation (e.g. car, sidewalk, park).

2. They are exiting an institutional setting where they resided for up to 30 days and immediately prior to entering the institution, they were living in a place not meant for human habitation or an emergency shelter.

3. They are in housing but are being evicted within the next 7 days and have no other place to go and no resources or support networks to obtain housing.

4. They are fleeing domestic violence and have no other place to go and no resources or support networks to obtain housing.

The new definition makes a few changes.

• It extends the time a person could be living in an institutional setting (number 2 above) to 90 days,

• It extends the amount of time prior to being evicted that a person would be considered homeless (number 3) to 14 days,

• And it creates a new category of homeless families with children or unaccompanied youth who have not lived independently for more than 90 days, have moved frequently (at least 3 times in the last 90 days) and have a disability or multiple barriers to employment that make it likely that they will continue to remain in an unstable situation.

These changes are most relevant for people who will now be considered homeless who weren't before. They will be eligible for more assistance, particularly shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing programs. However, the programs will not grow in size to meet the new demand, so the overall number of people served won't change.

Providers that operate HUD funded homeless assistance programs will also be affected. More people will be eligible for their programs, and they will have to collect different types of documentation. Overall, though, the effects will be modest.

The draft regulation is open for public comment for 60 days (until June 21). HUD will then issue the final regulations.

Posted via email from jimuleda's posterous

Improve Your Writing With Word Limits

via Stepcase Lifehack by Art Carden on 4/20/10

Here’s a scenario that might sound familiar: you are listening to a speech or presentation, or perhaps you are reading an article, an essay, or a report, and it becomes clear that the writer is using words without communicating.  Some essays, articles, and books might be pleasant to read because the language is colorful, and a speaker might make pleasant, sincere-sounding noises.  No doubt some of your my writing or speaking can be described this way.  If you don’t think yours can, just wait.  As you improve, you will expect more of yourself.  One way to improve is to practice writing with word or character limits.

This matters in the idea-driven economy.  Consider George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.”  Words mean something.  Words are important.  Orwell argues that language should be “an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”  Much could be accomplished with better writing, and yet quantitative social scientists, for example, try to earn status by one-upping one another with technical and mathematical sophistication.  Humanists try to out-jargon one another.  Important ideas are obscured by the impenetrable clouds of unclarity.

What can you do about it?  Try writing with hard word limits.  Give yourself a lower word limit than you might find comfortable.  Allow yourself to write a rough draft that is as long as you want it to be.  Then, when you’re editing, try to cut it down below the maximum word count.  If you’re writing a 10,000 word article, try to cut it to 9,000 words.  If you’re writing an 800-word op-ed, aim for 700 words.  Trim an essay with a 1500 word limit to 1200 words.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, your readers’ time is valuable.  Second, it forces you to confront trade offs in every sentence.  If you’re trying to trim a 1500 word essay into a 1200 word essay, you have to ask yourself at every juncture whether you can make the point with fewer words.  You will be shocked at how much you can tighten your prose without losing anything.  Indeed, tighter, punchier prose will improve the quality of your exposition.

An exercise might help.  Consider that last sentence: “Indeed, tighter, punchier prose will improve the quality of your exposition.”  I wrote it on a plane from Omaha to Memphis while my brain was toast, and it shows.

Let’s improve it.  First, drop “Indeed” because it adds nothing.  “(I)mprove the quality of your exposition” is a long way of saying “make you write better.”  So let’s try some revisions:

“Tighter, punchier prose improves your writing.” (better)

“Tighter, punchier prose makes you write better.” (awkward and clunky—it sounds like a lesson plan for the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Want to Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too)

Perhaps this: “Punchy prose makes good writing.”

There’s no objective right answer.  You have to play around with it, but as the cliché says, easy writing makes for hard reading.

You might also want to experiment with character and syllable limits. Orwell said to avoid using big words.  In the sentence we were critiquing above, “exposition” was a clunky, four-syllable way of saying “writing.”  Always use the easier word.

To write well requires dedicated effort.  I don’t claim to have mastered it.  Approach it like topiary.  Or bonsai gardening.  Or sculpture.  Or painting.  Or whatever.  As a writer, you are a skilled artisan.  Words are your medium, and you use hem to communicate information, evoke passions, and stir the consciences of your readers.  Get to work.  Change the world.  And take heart: you’re always improving.

Image: neropercasso

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Art Carden is Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee and an Adjunct Fellow with the Oakland, California-based Independent Institute and the Auburn, Alabama-based Ludwig von Mises Institute. His research papers are available on his SSRN Author Page and at His commentaries appear regularly at and, and he is a regular contributor to Division of Labour.  His wife Shannon blogs about healthy eating for a young family at No More Nuggets.  Their son Jacob is a source of constant joy, and they look forward to the birth of their daughter Taylor Grace in July.

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Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Fun with Feminist Flickr (feminism on signs edition)

via Feministing by Jessica on 4/19/10

Woman holding sign reading: 'To me feminism means being me - and allowed to be me which is awesome'

It's been a while since I've dug around Flickr for random fun feminist stuff, so I was incredibly happy to come across this awesome project from Caseface123 - who asked people to write down what they thought about feminism (and pose!). (Shockingly, they're not all as bad-ass as this woman's.)

If you had to fit your feminism on a sign, what would it say?

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences | Supply – Demand disequilibrium

via Graphic Sociology by flaneuse on 4/20/10

Humanities and Social Science PhDs - completion failure and job market failure

Humanities and Social Science PhDs - completion failure and job market failure

What needs work

Actually, the graphics aren’t bad, but the story is depressing for someone nearing the final year of a PhD in sociology. The first one is quite good. I might have added a horizontal line under which the ‘failures’ ended up and above which the ’successes’ floated.

Many people who read this blog are academics and thus familiar with the concept that getting a tenure track job is tough. These graphics do an excellent job of contextualizing what might often seem like personal anxiety to present the problem as a mismatch between supply and demand. There are far more PhDs minted each year than we need and there would be even more if everyone who started down the PhD path actually finished. Who is to blame? For an answer to that question, link to the article (in references below).

Otherwise, just get depressed looking at the graphic story.


Cohen, P. (8 April 2010) The Long Haul Degree. In The New York Times, Education Life section.

Posted via email from jimuleda's posterous

The Most Amazing 7-Year Old Singer Ever

via Top Cultured by Oral Adams on 4/21/10

Little 7-year old, Rhema Marvanne, sings Amazing Grace better than I think I’ve ever heard it. I am constantly amazed at the talents of little kids now-a-days. If you happened to miss the best cooking show ever (and by a 3-year old) or the best rendition of Boom Boom Pow (by a 9-year old) then be sure you check them out…you won’t be disappointed. Although I must admit…they can’t all be winners.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

my hero!

How to buy a house

via Seth's Blog by Seth Godin on 4/21/10

Actually, how to think about buying a house.

You don't see a lot of ads trying to sell you on spending too much money on a house. It's more subtle than that. The marketing is all around us, and has been for years. The enormous social pressure and the expectations that come with it lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Here's my advice to someone in the market:

  1. In an era where house prices rise reliably (which was 1963 to 2007), it was almost impossible to overpay for a house. It was an efficient market, and rising prices cover many mistakes. Investing in houses in the USA was a no-brainer. More leverage and more at stake just paid off more in the end. This consistent, multi-generational rise taught us more than an ad every could: buy a lot of house  with as little downpayment as you could.
  2. A house is not just an investment, it's a place to live. This is the only significant financial investment that has two functions. Things like cars and boats always go down in value, so most of the time, if you're investing, you're doing it in something that you don't have to fix, water, fuel or live in. You shouldn't fall in love with a bond or a stock or a piece of gold, because if you do, you won't be a smart investor. The problem (as people who sell and fix and build houses understand) is that you just might fall in love with a house. What a dumb reason to make the largest financial investment of your life.
  3. The psychology of down markets is irrational. Rising house prices might be efficient (many bidders for a single item lead to higher prices), but when there aren't so many bidders, irrational sellers (see #2) don't lower their prices accordingly. So, inventories get longer and it's easy for the prospective buyer to think that a certain price is the 'right' price because so many people are offering houses at that price. Just because someone offers a price, though, doesn't mean it's fair in a given market.
  4. Along the same lines, anchoring has a huge impact on housing prices. If someone offers a house for $800,000 and you think it's worth half that, you don't offer half that. No, of course not. The price is a mental and emotional anchor, and you're likely to offer far more.
  5. The social power of a house is huge. When you buy a big house or an expensive house, you are making a statement to your in-laws, your family, your neighbors and yourself. Nothing wrong with that, but the question you must ask yourself is, "how big a statement can I afford?" How much are you willing to spend on personal marketing and temporary self-esteem?
  6. Debt is an evil plot to keep you poor. If buying a bigger house (or even a house with a living room or a garage) is going to keep you in credit card debt, you've made a huge financial error, one that could cost you millions.
  7. By the time you buy a house, you probably have a family. Which means that this is a joint decision, a group decision, a decision made under stress by at least two people, probably people that don't have a lot of practice talking rationally about significant financial decisions that also have emotional and social underpinnings. Ooph. You've been warned. Perhaps you could add some artificial rigor to the conversation so that it doesn't become a referendum on your marriage or careers and is instead about the house.
  8. If you have a steady job, matching your mortgage to your income isn't dumb. But if you are a freelancer, an entrepreneur or a big thinker, a mortgage can wipe you out. That's because the pressure to make your monthly nut is so big you won't take the risks and do the important work you need to do to actually get ahead. When you have a choice between creating a sure-thing average piece of work or a riskier breakthrough, the mortgage might be just enough to persuade you to hold back.
  9. Real estate brokers, by law, work for the seller (unless otherwise noted). And yet buyers often try to please the broker. You'll never see her again, don't worry about it. [Let me be really clear about what I wrote here, just in case you'd like to misinterpret it: When a prospect sees an ad or goes to an open house, she is about to interact with a broker. That broker, in almost every case, is hired by the seller and has a fiduciary responsibility to the seller to get the very best price for the house. There are exceptions, like buyer's brokers, but those brokers, as I said, note that they are representing the buyer--how can you represent someone without telling them? Many brokers like to pretend to themselves that they are representing both sides, and while that's a nice concept, that's not the law.]
  10. You're probably not going to be able to flip your house in nine months for a big profit. Maybe not even nine years. So revisit #2 and imagine that there is no financial investment, just a house you love. And spend accordingly.
I'm optimistic about the power of a house to change your finances, to provide a foundation for a family and our communities. I'm just not sure you should buy more house than you can afford merely because houses have such good marketing.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog

Why Talking To The Police Is Never A Good Idea

via Norm Pattis by Norm Pattis on 4/20/10

I'm a battle-hardened criminal defense lawyer, so it always surprises me how weak in the knees I get when a policeman pulls me over. The urge to confess runs rampant, even if I haven't done anything. I assume the authorities must have a reason for wanting to talk to me. What have I done?

Police prey upon our tendency to trust them. Yet confusing the sort of soul-cleansing confession one might give to a priest with the Earth-bound variety police officers ask for is playing with Hell fire. Many a man and woman sits now in a prison cell, convicted by their own words.

I pass along some general observations about cooperating with the police in the hope that it may spare you the sorrow that comes of an improvident confession to a lawman. Mind you, nothing I am writing here is meant to encourage folks to commit a crime. I am simply reminding you that however much confession may benefit the soul in some spiritual sense, the corporeal consequences of a confession could well land you in prison. And prison is not good for the soul.

So here are some common myths and misconceptions about what you must do when the police come calling.

1. The police can order me down to the station to give a statement, correct?

Wrong. The police cannot order you to come down and see them. The Fourth Amendment gives them the power to arrest if they develop probable cause to believe you have committed a crime, and they might have the authority to engage you in a brief investigatory detention. But no case stands for the proposition that you are required to come to the station for a chat. Period.

But fear undermines many folk's sense of self-interest. So does a misplaced sense of hope.

An officer may call and say he needs you to come to the station to tell your side of the story. (He may not tell you just what story that is. My favorite investigative technique? Officers show up at your door and ask: "Why do you think we want to talk to you?") The officer may say that if you don't come to the station he will seek an arrest warrant for you.

News flash: The officer is almost certainly going to seek the warrant anyhow once things have gotten to that point. What he is looking for here is a confession, to bolster the warrant and make a conviction all but a foregone conclusion.

The law does not require police officers to get your side of the story before arresting you. In rare cases only does discussing your case with the police benefit you. The only way to make an intelligent assessment of whether you should cooperate is by consulting a lawyer before you talk to the police. There are no exceptions to this rule. Don't accept the invitation for coffee and donuts at the station.

2. When the police show up at my house, I have to talk to them right?

Wrong again. The normal conventions of polite society do not apply here. The police have not come to your home to trade notes on how your respective fantasy sports teams are doing. They are investigating a crime, and you may well be a suspect. It takes perishingly little to convict of certain crimes. Minor details you give them may be used as a means of corroborating a far-fetched story told about you by others.

This is common in child sex-abuse cases. Suppose your niece or nephew now claims you abused them a decade ago. You are rattled. Shocked. The police want to ask you about the relationship. Where you saw the child. What sorts of things you did together. Why you think the child is saying these things. All of these investigative leads can be turned against you to corroborate the fact that you did, indeed, have contact with the child at certain family events. Your assessment of the child's motives will be transformed into claims that you were deceptive.

Evidence that might truly assist you, e.g., the fact that the child has made similar false or exaggerated claims, background on family conflicts that provide the child with powerful motives to lie to assure that mommy and daddy remain together, united in crisis, and other such information can be provided to the police by your lawyer.

3. If the police don't read me my rights, they can't use anything I say, right?

Wrong, unless you are in custody. The so-called Miranda warnings have become part of American folklore. Unfortunately, many people get it wrong, thanks in no small measure to television. Police are only required to advise you of your right to remain silent if you are in custody. If you appear at the station voluntarily and they tell you that you are free to leave, you almost certainly are not in custody. In these cases, courts will regard your statement as voluntary, and, Mirandized or not, you will eat your own words at trial.

If you are unsure whether you are in custody or not, and believe me, figuring that out is no easy task, simply refuse to speak to the police. Once again, don't resort to normal, polite conversational gambits. "Maybe I should talk to a lawyer" is not clear enough to satisfy a court that you were serious about wanting a lawyer present. State the following: "I DO NOT WANT TO SPEAK TO YOU WITHOUT A LAWYER PRESENT." Print it out on a three-by-five card. If you really want to short the officer's circuits, ask him to sign the card, signifying that he gets it. (He won't sign.)

This may sound cynical, but it is a conclusion I've reached after many years of head-banging: the courts are increasingly reluctant to meaningfully enforce the rights of the accused. Ask any criminal lawyer about the serious crime exception to the Bill of Rights. Don't become a victim. Call a lawyer.

Police officers are trained in the art of deception. They know how to prey on fear and uncertainty. Whether you have committed a crime or not, odds are you will be putty in their hands. There are ways to get the information important to your defense into the hands of the police, but you are not equipped to do it without a lawyer.

I have said this to folks hundreds of times. Sadly, each week I get another call from someone who has given away some significant portion of their future by talking about things they would have been better served keeping to themselves.

Posted via email from the Un-Official Southwestern PA Re-Entry Coalition Blog


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