Field Notes

13th June
2012
written by naehblog

The following was originally posted by The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. We have reprinted it here with their permission. You can find the original blog here. Katharine Gale is a frequent trainer at the Alliance’s Performance Improvement Clinics.

Three Key Things with Katharine Gale

Key steps for making the transformation to a housing crisis resolution system.

Commit to using local data for change. Use information from HMIS and from grant and program budgets to understand system performance and cost. We need to learn what outcomes we are buying with our current mix of funding and programs and ask how we can more closely match our collective resources to the unmet need. While our efforts would certainly benefit from increased funding, the greatest resources our communities are likely to be able to direct to the problem soon are the ones we already have. Making sure that the data we have to work with is of high quality so we can trust it to inform our decision-making is everyone’s responsibility. (It also better positions us to expand our resource base in the future as more funders ask us to demonstrate return on their investment.)

Expand the range of reality-based housing solutions. Look at the lives of our clients, what their realistic housing options are and where they go when they leave us.  Most of the people our system works with do not escape being low-income through our efforts, even when we invest significantly in them at the expense of others we do not serve. Most can, however, regain housing with our help, even if deep subsidies are in short supply. We can rehouse more people, and continue to assist them with other resources, or connect them to other services (if they want them) that support further progress, by focusing our rehousing efforts on the right next step that resolves this housing crisis, instead of the forever solution. We shouldn’t stop advocating for long-term affordability, but we must also recognize that it is not reality now for many people who are just like the households we serve, but who have housing.

Work as a system with shared responsibility. Everyone should be clear (clients, providers and funders) about how people can access help from the programs that make up our system. If we currently distribute most of our support based on luck or persistence, we need to fix that; if there are people who no program will take we need to fix that. In setting up a coordinated front door, our responsibility is not just to make sure that agencies get the clients they will serve, it’s to get clients the support they need. Knowing who gets in and who goes unserved will help us refine programs and services to better meet the combined need. The importance of working more collaboratively to increase impact applies to funders as much as to programs. As one director I know puts it “we need to fix our relationships for the sake of our clients.”

Katharine Gale is an independent consultant from Berkeley, California with 20 years experience in the fields of homelessness and special needs housing.  She provides services to public and non-profit agencies including community-wide planning, new program development, data analysis, research and evaluation. Ms. Gale helped design and delivers the Alliance’s Performance Improvement Clinics. In 2011, she co-founded Focus Strategies, a joint venture dedicated to helping communities use local homeless data to prepare for HEARTH and make effective system change. Prior to consulting, she worked for seven years as a manager and Deputy Director for Alameda County Housing and Community Development Department. 

5th June
2012
written by naehblog

Today we bring you another voice of a Performance Improvement Clinic (an intensive one-and-a-half day clinic that helps communities prepare for changes made by the HEARTH Act ) trainer, Iain De Jong. We ask Iain the question: Why should my community conduct a Performance Improvement Clinic?

The plural of “anecdote” is not – and never has been – “data.” Each community has a narrative to pull together on the great work that they are doing to end homelessness. But we need to move beyond samples sizes of one, good stories and intuition to prove to policy makers, funders and the general public that what we do makes a difference. In an era of limited resources, we also need to be sure that we are investing our precious time and money into those interventions that improve the system as a whole, not just a particular project.

While the HEARTH era expects communities to work as systems rather than a collection of projects, making the shift to do so has greater benefits than just meeting requirements of HEARTH. It makes good sense and it is in the best interests of the people we serve. A Performance Improvement Clinic provides the right forum to assist communities in taking increased strides towards a system-based approach to service delivery. This type of thinking helps ensure that the right person gets to the right organization for the right type of intervention at the right time. It leverages the strengths across the entire community.

With increased attention paid to data and performance in the delivery of human services, both “data” and “performance” are dirty words to some. Some well-intentioned people have overly complicated both rather than making them easily understood and useful in operations and decision-making from the frontline level right on up to management. We need to reclaim “data” and “performance” as a reflection of our efforts and hard work. We need to make them meaningful to everyone in an organization and across the entire community. And we need to know how to make the right decisions from the information to better serve homeless people by helping them access and maintain housing.

Simply put, what gets measured gets done. A community that conducts a Performance Improvement Clinic can count on having the tools in place to more easily understand and improve performance in an ongoing and sustainable way, making the best possible choices and investments for the people within their community, and explaining to one and all – including the end users of services – why performance matters.

Iain De Jong is the President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting and a long-time conference presenter at National Alliance Conferences. He will be making at least two presentations at the conference, and looking forward to learning much more from the other presenters and attendees. You can learn more about Iain at www.orgcode.com or www.facebook.com/orgcode or follow him on Twitter @orgcode.

If your community would like to learn more about the Performance Improvement Clinic, contact us at thecenter@naeh.org.

30th May
2012
written by Kay Moshier McDivitt

By Nicolas NovaAs Continuum of Cares (CoCs) begin to coordinate the network of homeless service providers in their communities in preparation for the HEARTH Act, many continue to look for ways to engage all providers, particularly those who receive no federal funding. Here at the Center for Capacity Building, we talk to numerous communities and help them improve their performance as a system. We often find that in many communities, some providers have not “come to the table” due to their concern that their participation with the CoC may compromise their organizational missions.

Communities that have successfully engaged all providers, including those who are not federally funded, have one thing in common: their community leaders actively worked to build relationships with those providers.  While it may seem as though there are vast philosophical divides, when folks sit down together to learn about each other’s work and begin to build a relationship, we often find we have a lot more in common.

I believe most of us work to end homelessness because we care. On the deepest level, what we as community leaders and providers strive for is to make sure that folks in our community don’t experience homelessness.

We need to take that first, huge step of taking time to listen to each other, learn from each other, and focus on our shared thoughts and ideas instead of our differences. Even when individual providers continue to have different visions, by shifting the focus to the shared goal of ending homelessness, communities can connect with reluctant providers and bring them to the table.

In the end, it is all about relationships. Recognizing our differences, while focusing on our commonalities, and knowing that when a community works together, everyone benefits, is what matters. It matters for our community, it matters for our organizations, and most of all it matters for those experiencing homelessness.  Being creative in breaking down silos and learning to work as one CoC takes time, it takes energy, and it can be frustrating, but it matters and in the end it is well worth the effort.

Image courtesy of nicolasnova

23rd May
2012
written by Kim Walker

At the Alliance, we’re always looking for ways to help people learn more about best practices as quickly as possible.  We know that the more good information you have at your disposal, the more likely it is that you’ll be able you are to get results in your communities when it comes to adopting strategies that really work. However, we also realize that, as providers in the field, you don’t always have the time or energy to read through long reports or other documents to get to the good stuff. Rapid re-housing is a great and very important strategy, and though we already have in-depth guides, online trainings, webinars, and PowerPoints to teach you about it, we also wanted to provide you with something short, sweet, and to the point. That’s why we’ve begun developing and releasing our Rapid Re-housing Training Modules, which are 10-15 minute narrated PowerPoints on the most important elements of a successful rapid re-housing program: a housing barriers assessment process, housing location and developing landlord relationships, subsidies, voluntary service provision, and outcome measurement. We introduced the first of these modules on housing barriers assessment last week (narrated by yours truly), and will be releasing the next four over the coming weeks. Included with the slides are some interactive activities we’ve used when doing in-person rapid re-housing trainings, for those of you who learn best by doing. The modules are great for people that are new to rapid re-housing who want to begin to understand the basic concepts, as well as those who would like to brush up on specific topics. As usual, let us know how you feel about these new modules, and if you’d like to see more on other topics!

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2nd May
2012
written by naehblog

On our new weekly blog series, Field Notes, we have talked about the experiences of Alameda County and Whatcom County with our Performance Improvement Clinics (previously called the HEARTH Implementation Clinic). Today I wanted to share the experiences of the people who conduct these Clinics. Katharine Gale, an independent consultant from Berkeley, California with 20 years experience in the fields of homelessness and special needs housing, helped design the Performance Improvement Clinic and has presented at a number of clinics in communities large and small. Below are Katharine’s words about why she enjoys being a part of these clinics.

I enjoy being part of the Performance Improvement Clinic team because the give and take is always so great and I learn so much.  The Clinic helps communities grapple with the importance of a performance measurement perspective, and it supports them to make concrete plans to work together to improve outcomes across the system. Some of this work is a little scary because it’s a different framework than most of us are used to — one in which we are holding ourselves and each other accountable for our combined impact on the problem. But I find that everyone is pretty excited and willing to engage in lively debate! 

Working with communities across the country has given me a great opportunity to see what we all share and where we face different challenges. It’s interesting to me how often people think their community has so much less housing than anywhere else or much more troubled people. That feeling seems to be universal – which makes me glad that we are learning how to rehouse people quickly and securely without having to wait for permanent subsidies for most of them. On the other hand, communities face unique realities around funding, politics and historic relationships which mean each place has different potential paths to improvement. Communities that make progress identify where they have inroads to build on: some have developed strong relationships with mental health services, some with their public housing authority, some with the education system. They see that to transform to a housing crisis resolution system means lightening our touch and relying more on other systems of care to do their jobs.

I think our field is at an important crossroads – we have much better information about what works and we finally have the local data to begin to ask what outcomes we are achieving and how can we deploy available resources to improve them. But we also have existing infrastructure, agencies, programs and experience and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater!  Identifying how to use our data, our existing resources and our historic infrastructure strategically is what is going to move us all forward. Everywhere I go I find amazing local players who are quietly doing what it takes to change their organizations and their systems, and I am fortunate to get to go and share their stories with others.

26th April
2012
written by Kim Walker

Last month, the Center for Capacity Building brought you the Coordinated Assessment Toolkit to help you design, implement, and evaluate an efficient coordinated process at the front door of your system. But, as many successful communities and a few Alliance staff members will tell you, the best coordinated assessment processes incorporate prevention and diversion at their assessment points by screening for eligibility for these strategies and providing the associated services before admitting a household to a shelter, transitional housing, or rapid re-housing program.

This initial screening process can help people salvage housing situations without having to enter shelter, or provide viable temporary housing options outside shelter. Prevention and diversion, in many cases, do not require a major investment of money or resources (and in some cases, as we often hear, require no financial assistance at all), and are therefore quite cost effective compared to an avoidable shelter entry, even more so when you consider that prevention means avoiding robbing another person of a bed that they desperately need.

That’s why we published our Prevention and Diversion Toolkit yesterday, which we hope communities will use in tandem with the Coordinated Assessment one to develop the most comprehensive and effective front door process they can. As with the Coordinated Assessment Toolkit, we’ll be updating this over time as we learn more and gather more information. The reason we’re able to bring you these resources is that we are able to learn from and connect with communities across the country, so please continue to send us things! We take questions, comments, and feedback as well – please send any of the above to kwalker@naeh.org. Please keep learning and sharing with us!

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20th April
2012
written by Norm Suchar

We trade a lot of ideas and information with our Canadian partners. One thing the Calgary Homeless Foundation recently shared with us is a case management accreditation process that they’ve developed. I know of a few other communities that have developed case management standards, but nothing quite this detailed. You can download the PDF here.

The first part deals with the accreditation process, so you may want to skip to page 59 where the case management Standards of Practice section begins. If you have similar documents or manuals to share with us, please email them to us at thecenter@naeh.org.

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18th April
2012
written by Anna Blasco

Kim Walker Presenting at a Performance Improvement ClinicOver the past year, the Alliance has been presenting an intensive one-and-a-half day clinic to help communities prepare for changes made by the HEARTH Act. The clinic focuses on improving community performance by analyzing community data and shifting to strategies that better achieve the HEARTH Act’s performance expectations.

We will continue to offer these clinics, although we’re changing the name to the Performance Improvement Clinic (we used to call them HEARTH Implementation Clinics). The name change reflects the fact that the clinic mostly focuses on the performance aspects of the HEARTH Act and also to distinguish it from the many other types of HEARTH Act assistance that will be available from HUD and other organizations over the coming months.

The Performance Improvement Clinic will continue to include group discussions, system design and modification planning sessions, and presentations on best practices. Clinic participants will also receive hands-on technical assistance with data analysis and system assessment in preparation for the Clinic and follow-up support. While the overall goals and structure of the clinic are the same, it is constantly updated with new information and customized to the conditions in each community.

On our weekly blog series, Field Notes, we have talked about the experiences of Alameda County and Whatcom County with the clinics, and the work they are doing to improve their homelessness assistance system as a community. In the next few weeks we will continue to bring you their stories and lessons learned, as well as the voices of our staff and consultants who have conducted clinics. For more information about the Performance Improvement Clinics in the meantime, please email the Center for Capacity Building at thecenter@naeh.org.

11th April
2012
written by Norm Suchar

The Center of Capacity Building is always looking for data about successful efforts to reduce homelessness, and here’s one from Richmond, Virginia. Homeward, an organization that works to prevent and end homelessness in the Richmond area, has been working on incorporating rapid re-housing into Richmond’s homeless assistance for several years. In early 2010, they started a rapid re-housing initiative with many private and public partners that re-housed 30 families over the course of a year that significantly reduced the average length of time families were homeless. This summary comes by way of Homeward’s Erika Jones-Haskins:

With the 2009 Community Foundation grant of $100,000, we invested approximately $80,000 in short-term rental and other financial assistance for families. The remaining $20,000 was used to pay for Homeward’s introduction of this concept to our public and private providers, the development of revised intake processes and case management procedures and data collection and outcomes measurement.

Here are the highlights:

  • 30 families with a total of 97 individuals were served.
  • The average cost per family was $2,666, compared to approximately $3,900 for a month of shelter for a mother with 2 children.
  • For the 20 families we were able to track, the median length of homelessness was 25.5 days. This is a significant decrease from our community median length of homelessness for families at 45 days. (Which is, again, a 50% decrease from the 2009 median length of family homelessness of 90 days!)

This is especially relevant, given that reducing the length of homeless episodes is one of the new measures that communities will be working to achieve as part of the HEARTH Act. By the looks of it, Richmond is off to a strong start.

Image courtesy of  taberandrew.

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4th April
2012
written by Kim Walker

Last week, we released our Coordinated Assessment/Coordinated Entry Toolkit. In it, we provide tools to help communities plan, implement, and evaluate a coordinated entry system. We’re going to continue to build on the toolkit, adding to it and updating it as new information comes in. And remember – we want you to be a part of that, so keep sending suggestions and feedback to me at kwalker@naeh.org.

The reason we’re excited about this tool is that we know that coordinated assessment is something that gets results. The perfect example of this is in Dayton/Montgomery County, OH. Though they switched over to a coordinated assessment approach somewhat recently – August 2010 – they have already seen major results. These are just a few of them:

  • 18% of families over the past 7 months have been diverted from entering shelter. The vast majority of these families are being diverted without receiving any financial assistance – many of them are able to secure housing outside of shelter with the help of a case manager mediating on their behalf.
  • Emergency shelters that had up to 40 families a night last summer now have 7 families per night.
  • There were 12% fewer families who had a night of shelter in 2011 than in 2010.

We’ve seen similar results in other communities that are adopting this approach. By using a consistent assessment and referral process with a permanent housing focus, people are entering the system less, moving around within it less, and getting to the program that is best fit to serve and re-house them more quickly. And it’s not just communities that are seeing results – consumers have also reported that the coordinated assessment approach makes things much easier for them, too. Our promise to is that we’ll keep giving you news about interventions that, based on data, are effective for preventing and ending homelessness as long as you keep sharing your successes with us!

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