Field Notes

28th March
written by Kim Walker

Yesterday, we released our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit (also known as our Coordinated Entry/Coordinated Intake Toolkit)! It’s been a labor of love for the Center for Capacity Building, and we’re very excited to have it out on the website at last.

But…it’s not finished.

Don’t get us wrong – there’s lots of great stuff in there already. The toolkit has four sections: Planning and Assessment, Data and Implementation, Evaluation, and Community Examples and Materials. The Planning and Assessment section has materials to help get you started in thinking about what coordinated assessment is and how it could look and function in your community. Data and Implementation gives you some information on how to collect and share data in an effective way when doing intakes and assessments and making referrals. Evaluation is all about measuring and continuing your success. The Community Examples section provides materials from communities that have done this already and information on how they’ve made everything work.

But we need, and want, more. We know there a lot of communities that have started to plan for and implement this approach, and we want to share your products and lessons learned with everyone else. Send us your checklists, assessment and intake forms, policy and procedure documents, and data reports. And send us your suggestions and feedback as well. Specific information about including domestic violence survivors and youth is also coming but we would like input in these areas as well.

Just like with any other practice or intervention we use at work, the toolkit will grow and evolve. We hope you’ll keep checking in to make sure you’re getting the latest and greatest. And keep your eyes peeled for our companion toolkit on prevention and shelter diversion!


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21st March
written by Norm Suchar

And while we’re on the subject of Alameda County, one of their jurisdictions, the City of Berkeley, was kind enough to share their Substantial Amendment for ESG. [include link to document]. The document was created by the City of Berkeley and EveryOne Home, working jointly with other jurisdictions in Alameda County to develop a coordinated ESG response. They have about $81,000 to spend on their Priority Home initiative, and plan on rapidly re-housing 31 households and preventing homelessness for 5 households. I’ve excerpted sections on program design and performance measures to give a sense of how they are implementing the program, but you can check out the link for the whole thing.

Here’s part of the program design section:

Priority Home is designed on a “progressive engagement” model, intended to provide as little support as needed to divert or re-house households quickly and reserve resources as much as possible for other households, while leaving the door open for increased assistance if needed… [H]ousehold’s entering will receive either  1) deposit only 2) a full or partial  deposit and one month rent, intended for household’s with a source of income, employment or disability or retirement benefits, sufficient to cover rent after re-housing but with need for initial support to securely transition to housing, 3) full or partial  deposit and a short-term subsidy to temporarily bridge the income gap, typically restricted to six months but with  extensions permitted with authority approval; 4) services only to locate suitable housing with no or low rent. Households entering at one level needing more assistance can be transferred to a higher level or out of the program to more intensive supports.

And here’s part of the performance section:

The City of Berkeley participates in the EveryOne Home “Measuring Success and Reporting Outcomes” initiative which has established performance measures and benchmarks for all components of the homeless service system. All providers in the Priority Home Partnership will be contractually expected to meet or exceed performance Standards.

- Targeting  those who need the assistance most:  In designing Priority Home, the community has developed Targeting criteria to maximize the chances that assistance is given to those who are already homeless or most likely to become so. As all agencies must be agreed to this targeting structure to participate, this performance measure will be monitored at a program-wide level through review of HMIS data and as a compliance measure during provider monitorings.

- Reducing the number of people living on streets and in emergency shelters: Approximately 76% of those anticipated to be served in the ESG funded portion of priority Home will be homeless upon entry. The other 24% are expected to be very likely to occupy a shelter bed if it assisted. Through review of HMIS data, Priority Home will track where people enter the program from, and EveryOne Home will compare this information to point in time count data collected annually. Because the demand for shelter currently far outstrips the resources, we do not anticipate immediate reductions in those sheltered but do anticipate increased turnover in shelter beds, allowing for more people to be sheltered instead of unsheltered.

-Shortening the time people spend homeless: a primary goal of the EveryOne Home performance Standards is reducing lengths of stay in homelessness. Rapid rehousing is expected to occur within 45 days of homelessness, and prevention assistance within 14 days for households who are not moving, and 45 days, for households who are.

- Ensuring assistance provided is effective at reducing barriers: the greatest barrier to housing for most clients is lack of income. Two performance standards for programs in Alameda County address this barrier; 1) percent of households leaving with employment income and 2) percent of households entering with no income that leave with an income.  

Another demonstration of effectively having reduced housing barriers is whether people assisted later return to the system as homeless. Alameda County has a system wide goal that less than 10% of households assisted return to the homeless system within 12 months.

Good stuff!

You can find a copy of the Berkeley ESG Plan Amendment on our website.

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21st March
written by Anna Blasco

We at the Alliance spend a lot of time training communities to prepare for the HEARTH Act. We work with communities to assess performance, revamp governance structures, and facilitate community planning. What we have found may not surprise you – changing the way homelessness assistance systems work is not an easy task. Most difficult is moving beyond action plans and hypotheticals to actual, concrete changes that make a difference in how quickly and effectively programs move people into permanent housing. Last week I discussed Alameda County CA’s prizes for high performing programs. Today I look at their recently announced “EveryOne Housed Academy.”

This is how the “EveryOne Housed Academy” will work: programs send a team including executive management, middle level management, and front line staff for a two day training that enables each team to translate best practices such as housing first, harm reduction, and trauma informed services into policies and procedures that will work in their programs to permanently house people more quickly. Teams will have the opportunity to evaluate everything about their operations, including signage in program spaces, shelter rules, case management approaches, job descriptions, etc., and they will leave the Academy with rewritten policies and a plan of action.

The EveryOne Housed Academy is being developed by an eight-person design team that includes providers, consumers, funders and EveryOne Home staff.  Programs will have to apply for the Academy, with priority going to programs that serve the largest numbers.  They hope to hold the first Academy in June, the second in September and eventually work with ten different agencies.

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14th March
written by Anna Blasco

The HEARTH Act will significantly change the way the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds homelessness assistance. Communities will be expected to work towards the federal goal that no one remains homeless for longer than 30 days. Additionally, performance on new outcomes will be measured, including reducing lengths of homeless episodes, and reducing new and returning entries into homelessness.

How can your community encourage homelessness programs to perform better on these outcomes? I recently spoke with Elaine de Coligny, Executive Director of EveryOne Home in Alameda, on the unique incentive they have devised – a prize.

EveryOne Home, a community-based nonprofit that coordinates Alameda County, California’s plan to end homelessness, has recently announced the 2012 Outcomes Achievement Awards. Programs that make the most progress on key community-wide outcomes will now be rewarded with one of two prizes.

The idea for the awards came to Elaine during a Performance Improvement Clinic (formerly called the HEARTH Academy) the Alliance held with Alameda County stakeholders in June of last year.  She then approached a funder EveryOne Home had a previous relationship with, the Y&H Soda Foundation, about the idea. Elaine says the Y&H Soda Foundation was excited to support the initiative, and generously funded two achievement awards.  The first award for $10,000 will be given to the highest achieving program, and the second for $5,000 will be given to the most improved program.  Awards will be made to programs that have the highest rate of exits out of homelessness to permanent housing in the shortest time from program entry.

One of the most exciting aspects of the award is that programs do not need to fill out a single application form.  The outcome data used to determine the achievement of programs will come directly from the information they enter into HMIS.  This way, programs can concentrate on moving people to permanent housing rather than filling out paperwork.  This is possible because of the work Alameda County has done to make their HMIS system generate reports and data that they can use strategically to measure success on key outcomes.

Elaine hopes that these awards, which will be given out in early 2013, will energize the approximately 50 programs in Alameda County eligible for the awards to improve their outcomes.  If so, she says, there may be more awards available in the future.

7th March
written by Anna Blasco

Last week I discussed how Whatcom County, Washington, is preparing for the HEARTH Act by launching a coordinated entry system. The HEARTH Act aims to streamline and modernize the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants and help communities create more efficient, more effective homeless assistance systems.

Whatcom County is one community taking a few steps to move in that direction. (Go Whatcom County!)

In addition to implementing a coordinated entry system, the county is also working on a prevention targeting and diversion initiative. They’re modeling theirs after one currently in existence in Hennepin County, MN (a model the Alliance has highlighted) and the goal is of the initiative is to better target their homeless prevention resources to people most likely to become homeless.

Not only that, Whatcom County hosted one of the Alliance’s Performance Improvement Clinics (formerly called the HEARTH Academy) last year and based on what they learned, the county has added diversion assistance to their menu of homeless interventions. Diversion is a strategy that redirects people seeking shelter and helps them identify immediate, alternate housing arrangements. If necessary, diversion assistance also connects these people and families with services and financial assistance to help them return to permanent housing. Case management staff had already been providing diversion assistance informally for some time in Whatcom County, but the new diversion process has become formal and deliberate. Case managers are now trained to see friends and family members of a household as “informal landlords.”

I asked Greg Winter of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center to discuss his experience with the Alliance’s Performance Improvement Clinic and specifically, I asked him a question we receive often from communities interesting holding their own Performance Improvement Clinic: who should we invite?

Greg encouraged communities to seek a representative sample of the types of homelessness programs in their communities. Additionally, he felt that having the local housing authority, local governmental officials, or whoever is in charge of funding housing programs in the community. Whatcom also has a history of strong collaboration between housing providers and domestic violence providers, and he felt that their participation in the Performance Improvement Clinic was very important.

This makes sense. In order for interventions like coordinated entry, diversion, and prevention to be effective and efficient, the whole homeless assistance system has to be on board.  The best way to have a significant, positive impact on people experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness is to provide deliberate, concerted service as one cooperative community.

The Alliance is working with communities like Whatcom County across the country. Learn more about homeless assistance strategies and holding a Performance Improvement Clinics of your own on our website.

29th February
written by Anna Blasco

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Greg Winter of Whatcom County, Washington about how his community is preparing for the HEARTH Act. Because I discussed using an existing 211 service to start a coordinated entry system in your community last week, I wanted to contrast Whatcom’s coordinated entry process.

Whatcom has been developing a coordinated entry system since 2008, when they formed the Homeless Service Center at the Opportunity Council, the local community action agency. There, they established a coordinated entry system with five service providers in the county. The community was familiar with going to the Opportunity Council’s resource center for help, so running the coordinated entry system out of this single, physical location was a good fit for Whatcom. Additionally, other people in the community are trained to complete the intake process, including a street outreach team run by a local volunteer organization, social workers based in a local hospital, and some staff in the local jail.

In 2011 the Alliance held a  Performance Improvement Clinic (formerly called the HEARTH Academy) with Whatcom, which encouraged them to further develop their coordinated entry system.  Data sharing agreements were signed with providers to allow better coordination between agencies. They adopted a philosophy of services based on vulnerability, rather than first-come first-served. Some organizations that participate in the coordinated entry system no longer run their own waiting lists. Instead, the Homeless Service Center keeps one central “housing interest pool.” Providers have found that this lessens their administrative burden, and helps them concentrate on their housing focused services. Finally, Whatcom adopted Hennepin County, Minnesota’s prevention targeting tool (more on this next week).

The next step for Whatcom is to continue adding service providers in a gradual and deliberate way to their coordinated entry system, and to continue evaluating and improving their system.

Stephanie Reinauer from the Whatcom Homeless Service Center, recently gave a presentation at our February conference on becoming a coordinated homelessness assistance system. Find the slides from her presentation on our website. For more information on Coordinated Entry, read our brief “One Way In: The Advantages of Introducing System- Wide Coordinated Entry for Homeless Families.”

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

22nd February
written by Anna Blasco

In many communities, the best way to find help if you are experiencing a housing crisis is to start with a long list of phone numbers. You start from the top, and hope that you fit the requirements, that they have enough resources to serve you, that they are open on Tuesdays. It is exhausting work for the household and an inefficient use of resources for the providers.

Some communities have moved to centralize the process households use to access services. This is called coordinated entry, and it has many advantages, like improving the efficiency of a community’s homelessness assistance system and improving its ability to perform well on HEARTH Act outcomes. Additionally, in the interim rules for the new Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, HUD explains that it will include in an upcoming rule for the Continuum of Care program, a requirement for communities to develop and implement a coordinated entry system.

As guest blogger Iain DeJong mentioned last week, the Center for Capacity Building at the Alliance held a training during our February conference on Coordinated Entry, the materials from which are now online. During the training, a number of communities had questions about training 211 operators in their communities to handle intake, assessment, and referrals to services. This may be a good model for larger communities, or those without transit systems that make it possible for households to travel to a centralized location.

Alameda County in California is one example of a community that has used their 211 line as a part of a decentralized coordinated intake. People experiencing a housing crisis can call 211 for help, which conducts an initial screening before referring a person to one of eight Housing Resource Centers (HRCs) that can provide prevention, rapid re-housing, and other services. All HRCs use the same assessment tool, data collection methods, and targeting strategy for financial assistance, case management, prevention, rapid re-housing, and other housing services. Staff from the HRCs meet monthly for in-person meetings and also communicate online.

The slides from the coordinated entry training can be found on our website, as well as our brief about coordinated entry, “One Way In: The Advantages of Introducing System- Wide Coordinated Entry for Homeless Families.”

Is your community looking at implementing a coordinated entry system? Let us know in the comments!

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8th February
written by Anna Blasco

Last week we showed you an interview with Kay from our Center for Capacity Building about the new Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program.  The Alliance has been investigating how the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) and other initiatives were implemented in numerous communities. We recently published a brief distilling these findings into six recommendations for implementing the new ESG program.

This week we focus on two of these recommendations, which were to prioritize rapid re-housing, and target prevention assistance to people who are most likely to become homeless.

1st February
written by Anna Blasco

In response to some questions we have received recently regarding new regulations for the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, the Center for Capacity Building at the Alliance has decided to address some of these questions in video form. Today’s video features Kay Moshier McDivitt, Capacity Building Associate here at the Alliance. In this interview, Kay discusses how communities can rethink sustainability as an eligibility requirement for rapid re-housing and prevention assistance.

(In the video, Kay refers to a webinar – this is the webinar.)

For more information, you can visit our website, where the Alliance has recently posted a wealth of material on the new ESG program.

14th December
written by Kim Walker

From the Prevention Targeting 101 brief

At the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building, our job is to learn what works best in ending homelessness and share it with our community.

Our latest white paper on prevention targeting is meant to do just that. But I have a secret to share with you about prevention targeting – it’s tricky. Researchers have been looking for the keys to effective prevention targeting for years, and have certainly made progress, but have really struggled to find a key set of factors that differentiate households that become homeless and household that don’t.

Some communities have also made progress on this front – Hennepin County, MN, which is discussed a bit in our brief and who we have other materials on, is one of them – but even they have had to make adjustments and learn from their mistakes.

What it comes down to is this – we still have a lot of learning to do.

We can tell you, though, that is one main strategy that appears very promising, and, like many other strategies we talk about, is a data-based solutions. If you take nothing else away from this blog post, take this: Use the characteristics of your sheltered population as the basis for determining household eligibility for prevention funds. Prevention funds should be used to serve people at the highest risk of becoming homeless, so you should use the information you have on who is already homeless to identify the right households to serve. If you don’t have local data through your HMIS available, which is best, you can use a list of other barriers in the brief as a starting point – but make sure you start collecting data as well!

In general, it looks like helping higher barrier households and households with the most imminent housing crises is the way to go. The most important thing about doing prevention well is that you’re serving the right people –the people that are truly at highest risk.
We’ll of course produce even more materials as we learn more about this very important issue. But we think this brief is a first step in the right direction – we hope you think so as well!

For more information about the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building, please visit the website.

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