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31st August
2012
written by naehblog

We are excited to announce that over the Labor Day weekend, the Alliance’s website, www.endhomelessness.org, will re-launch with a number of new features and navigation updates designed to improve our the user experience and provide more detailed information about upcoming events.

Users will notice new drop-down navigation on the primary search menu and a new calendar feature with upcoming event details. Additionally, the Alliance blog will now be hosted on our website under News and Events.

Please update your bookmarks and subscriptions to ensure you are linked to the right pages and getting the most up-to-date information. If you are having trouble reaching the right page or experiencing other technical issues, you might want to try refreshing your cache.

We are optimistic about upgrading our website and excited about the new functionality it will offer users. However, we know that web sites are complicated things and that, in the transition, some disruptions or glitches may be inevitable.

If you notice a page taking a bit longer than usual to load, or you stumble upon a broken link, please know that we already have a team working on it.

Thank you for your patience!

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27th August
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern, Amanda Jensen, Federal Policy intern, and Maulin Shaw, Federal Advocacy Intern.

Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern

This summer I had the immense privilege to be a Federal Policy Intern at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Though I arrived at the Alliance with some independent research on homelessness under my belt (with projekt UDENFOR in Copenhagen, Denmark), I didn’t know that much about homelessness in the States. I came to the Alliance hoping to learn a lot more about the American homeless service system and homelessness in general. From my first week to my last day, I’ve learned more than I ever could have imagined when I started. If I were to make a list, it would go on forever, so I’ve distilled my experience into a few key points:

Numbers are important. I remember writing in my first college research paper on homelessness that “counting” homeless people was “slightly irrelevant.” Boy have I been proven wrong this summer! Not only do numbers matter to direct service organizations (how else would they be able to figure out demographics, gauge area need, or measure institutional progress?), but numbers are the driving force behind political advocacy and policymaking on issues surrounding homelessness.

The solution to homelessness is housing! In the back of my head, I knew this was true, but I couldn’t help thinking it had to be more complicated than that. Surprisingly, it’s actually that simple. Of course, there is a whole lot of other stuff going on, like mental and physical health issues, drug abuse, and other social issues, but generally speaking, we’ve seen the most success in ending homelessness through housing.

The Alliance and its staff are awesome. Seriously. From planning an annual 1,500 person conference and being committed to high quality research, to helping local organizations and agencies implement effective strategies to end homelessness, and doing (and teaching others how to do) effective advocacy, including Hill Day 2012 and the Site Visit Campaign, the Alliance does it all.

Amanda Jensen, Federal Policy Intern

My time at the Alliance was a tremendous and invaluable learning experience. The most significant thing I learned in my time here is the extent of the immense dedication of those who advocate on behalf of people experiencing homelessness. Advocates and others working in the homeless assistance field are extremely helpful and passionate, and I feel fortunate that I was able to work with them during my time at the Alliance.

Another valuable lesson I will take away from the internship is the importance of advocacy and public education with regard to issues involving homelessness. When people have the right information they are much more willing to act and better able to produce results. Finally, the Alliance provided me with greater understanding of the issues that plague people experiencing homelessness. Different people require different forms of assistance. There is no single, universal solution for all.

Overall I feel I have learned a great deal in my time at the Alliance, and I am truly appreciative of the opportunity.

Maulin Shah, Federal Advocacy Intern

Even though I was at the Alliance only for a little while, I still managed to learn plenty. It’s hard to spend a summer at the Alliance and leave without picking up a few things.

The one I want to highlight took me the longest to learn, right up until my last week at the Alliance, in fact. From the name of the organization, to the website, and even to the shirts the phrase “end homelessness” is everywhere. As someone new to the field, that notion took a long time to sink in.

I saw plans, I saw progress, but for some reason I still glossed over that idea every time I saw it. My outside perspective caused me to assume not that progress couldn’t be made, but that some problems are truly perennial, and that “end homelessness” just meant changing the size of the problem significantly.

Then, in my last week at the Alliance, I was informed that homelessness has not been the perennial problem that I thought it to be, and that perspective was shattered. In fact, the problem of widespread homelessness is a relatively recent one.

Aside from making me realize that the phrase “end homelessness” truly means what it says, it completely changed my understanding of homelessness. My understanding as a layperson had led me to discount what could be done to end homelessness, something I’m sure is not unique to just me or the issue.

Realizing this, I’ve decided that, if I have to choose one thing to take away from my time at the Alliance, it will be that there doesn’t have to be such a thing as a perennial issue.

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9th August
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s blog is from Jeni Gamble, the Alliance’s Director of Development and Communications.

As a new member of the Alliance team, and someone who is relatively new to the housing first movement, I wanted to get a better understanding of what advances advocates believe have had the greatest impact in our fight to end homelessness. Last month, I sent out a short survey to the 2012 Annual conference presenters and scholarship recipients, more than 200 individuals in total. The survey was designed to garner qualitative responses regarding the improvements and changes we are seeing in housing and homelessness, and to help us learn what these leaders in the field saw as being essential to our progress.

Like many of you, I entered this field somewhat by accident. I started in an emergency shelter in the late 1990s where I worked with domestic violence survivors and their families. Often a client would spend months in an emergency shelter before moving on to transitional housing, where she would stay for nearly a year, and only then, after months of appointments, applications and interviews, would she receive a voucher for housing assistance. Needless to say, Housing First was not the approach we used back then.

I am only beginning to review the 44 unduplicated responses and identify themes, but one thing is clear, the use of data in decision-making is one of the most significant advances in the field.

So, if you have ever felt overwhelmed by reporting requirements, frustrated by HMIS or a database, or disheartened by the numbers, take comfort in knowing that the data being generated is in helping  shape solutions and drive advocacy efforts, and that the people like you, who are capturing and analyzing the data, are doing crucial work.

I will continue to review the responses and share the themes as they are uncovered. Until then, here are a few raw, unedited responses from the survey.

Survey Question: What are the most significant improvements you have seen in this field?

“The shift from managing homelessness to overcoming and ending homelessness.  Huge increase in data, data analysis and use of data to help determine successful programming.” – 16 years in the field.

“Focusing on strategies that work — following the lead of research.” – 22 years in the field.

“The most significant improvement has been the use of data to establish evidenced-based practices and provide measurable client-based outcomes to assist in determining whether our clients are better off because of the services we are paying for.” – 14 years in the field.

“Reliance on data, willingness to question sacred cows, focus on outcomes, solutions-orientation.” – 14 years in the field.

“The advent of research for this field, documentation of best practices, documented evidence based practices, HPRP, and cost analysis of specific housing and service interventions.  The above noted items helped start shift, but some other significant improvements are happening but less publicized or accessible, such as tracking cost per permanent housing outcome, tracking one time homeless vs multiple users, dissecting the use patterns of the homeless population, and models for transition of program models.” – 22 years in the field.

“A cost benefit analyses, HMIS, clearer best practices.” – 16 years in the field.

“Increased openness to new models, and acceptance that we need to focus on performance outcomes in order to keep up support for homelessness programs.” – 10 years in the field.

“Data and leadership.” – 17 years in the field.

“An increased focus on data and evidence based solutions.” – 2 years in the field.

To all of our readers, I would like to now pose the question to you. What are your thoughts about data as an improvement in the field? How has data in housing changed our work? We would love to hear your thoughts and encourage our readers to submit comments through this blog post.

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3rd August
2012
written by Emanuel Cavallaro

Here at the Alliance we have a lot of multimedia sent to us all the time – music, films, artwork – all of it in support of our mission of ending homelessness. It’s heartening to us that people feel strongly enough about the issue of homelessness to make it the subject of their art, and that they have a high enough opinion of our organization to want to share it with us.

So now we’d like to share with you a few items that have recently come to our attention: two videos and a song.

The first was brought to us by John McGah, a presenter at our July conference who has also written guest pieces for the blog you’re reading right now. He directs the Give US Your Poor initiative and is a Senior Associate at the National Center on Family Homelessness.

This is the music video for the song “Poorhouse” by Great American Taxi.

You can see Vince Herman, singer-songwriter of Great American Taxi, talk about his own brush with homelessness here.

The second song is called “Housing First.” It’s hard to imagine someone taking a concept like housing-first and turning it into a catchy, slickly produced folk-rock song, but that’s exactly what singer-songwriter Daniel Paul Nelson did.

Click here to listen to it on Soundcloud.

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1st August
2012
written by Norm Suchar

At our recent annual conference, we held a workshop on the topic of allocating resources. One of the presentations in that session included some data and suggestions that are worth sharing again, particularly as we turn to the new HEARTH CoC regulations and the next NOFA.

You can see the slides here from the presentation by Katharine Gale, one of our close partners who has assembled a lot of the data that’s been collected about cost-effectiveness and outcomes.

Pay special attention to slides 4, 5, 7, and 14, which present the aggregated data from numerous communities.

I’ve had a chance to look at a lot of data from different communities very closely. One thing that stands out is that there tends to be a lot of variation between the average cost and outcomes of different programs within communities, far more than the variation between different communities.

In other words, the difference in average cost and outcomes, for instance, between an urban area with a high cost of living, and a rural area with a lower cost of living, isn’t that dramatic. However, the difference in cost and outcomes between two programs in a particular community can be very large.

This presentation does a nice job of summarizing that data and also identifying some of the key questions that community leaders and homeless assistance providers should be asking themselves as they implement the new CoC regulations and make their homeless assistance more efficient and effective.

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3rd July
2012
written by Emanuel Cavallaro

The Alliance recently welcomed two new members to its Washington, DC, office. Both hail from the Midwest and are heading up Alliance’s communications team. As such, they will be playing integral roles in determining Alliance messaging, online media presence and fund development activities. You will likely run into them at the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, so be sure to say ‘Hi!’ Here’s a little introduction to them, in their own words.

Jeni Gamble, Director of Development and Communications: I am originally from Louisville, KY and have always had a passion for nonprofit work and housing advocacy. After graduating from the University of Kentucky (Go Big Blue! 2012 NCAA Champs!), I started working for a domestic violence/sexual assault emergency shelter facility, and never really looked back. At the Alliance, I am excited to step into a new role and oversee our development and communication activities. Messaging and supporter engagement are key components to our mission in ending homelessness, and lucky for me, I love doing them! Close to fifteen years later, I continue to work for safe and affordable housing and count those memories of helping someone move into their own permanent housing as some of the most important in my career. In my free time I run, cook, and will start training for my sixth marathon next week!  I love living and working in DC and, since I’m a bit of a southerner and used to the heat, it felt like home as soon as I arrived!

Emanuel Cavallaro, Communications Associate: My background is in print journalism. In my years as a reporter in Ohio, I engaged in the typical breaking news and metro coverage that is the standard fare of most newspaper reporters, but I made sure to sneak in a little advocacy journalism whenever I could on issues that spoke to me on a personal level, covering things like services for migrant workers and the War on Drugs. As a teenager I briefly experienced homelessness, and that experience was a formative one. So it is perhaps no surprise that my first article ever published was about people experiencing homelessness in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. I am very excited about my new position with the Alliance. I am relishing this opportunity to continue the work I started with that first article, in the company of a bunch of really smart people who know about as much about this issue as there is to know.

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15th June
2012
written by Kate Seif

Every summer, the Alliance gets a big boost of help – our summer interns! They’re here to help with the conference, assist the policy team, and generally make the Alliance offices an even livelier place. Today, we introduce our summer crew and provide a little information on why they’re here, what they’re doing, and their thoughts on their summer home! They hail from all over the country and have already made big contributions. We look forward to working with them this summer, and we hope you get a chance to meet and interact with them throughout the summer and at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness. And without further ado….

Christian Brandt, Federal Policy Intern
My name is Christian Brandt, and I’m from the illustriously un-illustrious town of Moscow, Idaho and just graduated from Dartmouth College in June with a Bachelor’s in Anthropology.  I am currently working at the Alliance as a Federal Policy Intern doing various things for various people on the Program and Policy team.  I wanted to intern at the Alliance because of its emphasis on policy and research, a duo that I haven’t really combined in my previous experiences with homelessness and housing.  I hope to greatly expand my knowledge of legislation and policy regarding those two issues (got a leg up with the Research Council Meeting; talk about Baptism of Fire! Check out my recap blog next week.), and to hone my research skills in both areas.  DC has been great so far (especially the concerts in the sculpture garden!).  Except for the humidity – that I could do without!  And the heat.  Too. Much.

Nichole Friday, Meetings & Events Intern
My name is Nichole Friday, a rising senior at Louisiana State University down in the good ole bayou. I am the Meetings & Events Intern here at the Alliance and I am working with D’Arcy on the National Conference on Ending Homelessness that will be taking place in July. In particular, I will be working closely with the volunteers as well as the scholarship recipients. I hope to learn more about the meetings and events side of a nonprofit organization while I work at the Alliance this summer. I also hope to learn more about policy and other issues that surround the homelessness problems we are experiencing in the US. I am from the Washington, DC area and continue to expand my love for the city the older I get (being a new 21-year-old sure helps to expand my options!) and look forward to what the rest of the summer has in store for me here!

Amanda Jensen, Federal Policy Intern
My name is Amanda Jensen and I hail from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (the steel/Christmas city). I am a rising senior at American University, and hope to graduate by December. I am a federal policy intern at the Alliance and while here, I hope to generally gain experience working in a nonprofit through the internship experience. More specifically, I am interested in expanding my knowledge on legislation vital to ending homelessness and I also hope to see the impact of the Alliance’s policy work on federal legislation through my time here.  The best thing about DC would have to be the endless opportunities to acquire free food, and the worst part is undoubtedly the constantly out-of-service Metro escalators. I was just not meant to walk that much.

Tessa Knight, West Point Fellow
My name is Tessa Knight and I’m from Boise, Idaho. I am second-year cadet (sophomore) attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. I applied for this academic trip with the intent of learning as much as I can about the situation of homelessness, an issue that really speaks to me as a national priority. As one who has never participated in either government/nongovernment organizations, I seek to understand and define my future role in the system. Working with the Alliance fits with how I think I personally might “change the world,” for I always go back to the basics: feeding the hungry, taking care of the poor, housing the homeless, etc. While I’m at the Alliance, I hope to undertake a lot of research and perhaps create some sort of synopsis on the effectiveness of certain veterans’ programs for the future use of the Alliance. As far as being in Washington DC, well, there are a lot of cool things to do, but people really need to smile more. In Boise, everybody smiles! If you’re in DC reading this, please work on that.

Eduardo SanFilippo, Youth Policy Fellow
Hola, me llamo Ed, and I’m this summer’s Youth Policy Fellow. I was born in California but spent nearly my entire childhood in the Canadian Prairies. I returned to CA for my undergrad at San Diego State University (Aztec for Life!) and completed degrees in Religious Studies and Political Science. In the fall, I’ll be starting my last year of law school at the University of Pittsburgh, where my focus is on how the structure of law/legal structures can be used to advance social change. I promise this is a lot more exciting (and fulfilling) than it sounds. I’m excited to work with the Alliance because I was homeless for a short time and view this as a terrific opportunity to give back and help those still struggling. My big projects for the summer focus on LGBTQ and rural youth and I look forward to contributing to the wellbeing of these populations. I previously did homeless outreach with the Hot Metal Faith Community in Pittsburgh and I’m sure I’ll find similar organizations here. DC is my favorite American city so I’m excited to actually spend some time here and see the sites. The humidity leaves a lot to be desired (especially for a kid from Canada) but that’s a fairly nominal complaint. I hope to spend the summer working and checking out the whole region on my bike.

Maulin Shah, Federal Advocacy Intern
Hi! My name is Maulin Shah, and I’m this summer’s Federal Advocacy Intern at the Alliance working on Capitol Hill Day. While originally from Nashville, TN, I’m currently a rising junior at Birmingham Southern College studying Math and Chemistry. The opportunity to work at the Alliance appealed to me for several reasons: the most prominent being that it gave me an opportunity to ground myself in the context of what homelessness is. Sometimes it becomes hard to fathom that you can deal with issues like homelessness when confronted with the somewhat overwhelming size and scope of those issues. Working at the Alliance gives me a chance to try and begin to understand the structural aspects of the issue which in turn changes it from being an impossible series of numbers to a focused set of strategies. By working here, I’m not trying to just put one issue in context, but rather I hope to gain a greater understanding for the process by which you assess and create when addressing problems of seemingly insurmountable scope. I can’t say getting to try and do so in DC isn’t a really big perk, though. Thus far, my favorite part about the city is the food trucks. The only thing that could make them better is if there were any 24-hour ones. If you know of any please feel free to contact me.

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10th April
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s blog post is a question and answer with Ross Raisin, a British author, most recently of Waterline, a story of man’s descent into homelessness. This Q&A takes a look at his work and homelessness and perceptions of homelessness in the United Kingdom.

Q: Waterline tells the story of Mick Little, an ordinary man who, after a tragedy, slips into under-employment, then unemployment, then eventually homelessness. What drew you to the topic of homelessness?

A: I was interested in the idea of how a person – any person – could disappear, could fall off the map, even though most people would view his life heretofore as one of security, economic and familial.  I was especially interested to make the connection between homelessness and de-industrialization – to think about the long-term (governmental) effects of taking away the heartbeat of a community, where that community has been built around heavy industry such as Mick’s community in Glasgow.  What happens to the way people interact with each other, indeed even to the way in which they judge and value themselves, when they are told that their way of life, and the way of life of their ancestors, is worthless?  There is of course not a direct correlation between these things and homelessness, but Mick is in many senses a very ‘normal’ homeless person, and these things are part of the fabric of his life, and his detachment from society.

Q: During his time on the streets, Mick has to survive not only the pressing concerns of where to sleep and what to eat, but also how to survive the mind-numbing monotony of days without structure. What sort of research did you do into the lives of the homeless?

I have never experienced homelessness myself, and so have been very careful never to express the idea, either in my writing or my talking about my writing, that I am giving voice to people who have experienced homelessness.  It’s surprising how often you get asked it in interviews.  The problem with such an attitude is that it immediately places the subject, the homeless person, as not having a voice that is as important as my published author voice, and this is of course wrong and unhelpful.  If I am giving voice to anyone, it is to a character, a person, who I have imagined with the same care and thoroughness as I would any of my fictional characters.  So I didn’t try to pretend that I could research homelessness.  I did though feel a responsibility to be involved in the homelessness charity sector, and to talk to, and get to know people who have known homelessness.  This is something that I have been doing for a number of years now, in running a writing group in a hostel.  Never for research, or material, but for the enjoyment of it, as much as anything else.

Q: Do you think homelessness is viewed the same way in the UK, where you live, as it is in the US?

A: Certainly homelessness is cracked down on even harder in the US than it is in the UK.  Because it is illegal in most American towns and cities to urinate in a public space (even though public toilets don’t seem too common in most places I’ve been to), to sit, lie down, or sleep in public – all of this means that to be homeless is effectively illegal.  The dehumanization of the homeless by law must surely have a knock-on effect in how the public at large view such people.  And especially when part of the practical effect of harassing individuals is to make them group together – so it is my understanding that in America there are more tent cities than in the UK.

Q: Can you talk about Missing People and your work with them?

A: Missing People got in touch with me after the book was published, to ask if I could be involved with them, helping to promote their work.  The main thrust of this is to raise public awareness of their Missing Rights campaign, which aims to improve the rights of families whose loved ones go missing.  In the UK, if your house is burgled, you automatically get signposted to emotional and practical support; if your mother, or son, or whoever, go missing, you don’t.  So the campaign is for such things as: that family members get directed to Missing People; that a single point of contact within the police force is set up for each family; that bodies of the deceased get automatically cross-referenced with missing people files.  One big strand of the campaign looks like it’s having an effect – as the government has announced that it is to change the law regarding the Presumption of Death Act in England and Wales, something that previously has been a huge problem for the families of missing people presumed dead but not in life insurance, or mortgage, terms.

Q: What about your work with Unite, the UK trade union working for improved rights for workers in the restaurant industry? Do you see a connection between homelessness and workers’ rights?

Of course.  Many people in the restaurant industry get given a very tough time by their employers.  I have been working with Unite on a long-running Fair Tips campaign, which has had the aim of making sure that restaurants give service charge and tips to the waiters, rather than find ways of retaining it for themselves.  Hotels, such as the one that Mick finds himself in, can often be places that a person can lose him or herself in, and lose a sense of what their rights are, and that they are being paid under the Minimum Wage.  Divide and Rule tactics help some employers to keep their staff disconnected, from each other, and from an awareness of their rights.  Obviously this can play into homelessness, both practically, and also as a mindset or, at worst, an acceptance that you have no rights.

Q: To what extent does bereavement play a part in Mick becoming homeless?

First and foremost, I see this as a novel about grief.  As with a lot of people who become homeless, there are often several factors at work which combine to create a tipping point, a moment of crisis.  So it is often not simply one big life event – like bereavement, but it might be bereavement together with a historical background of family instability (either recent or far back), institutionalization, physical or mental illness, or substance use or reliance, or any other myriad combined factors.

In Mick’s case, the catalyst is bereavement – with, in the background, a more subtle, social bereavement of de-industrialization.  That – the effect of the decline of shipbuilding – is quite explicitly suggested in the novel – but as for other things that have occurred in the character’s past, those things are more for the reader to infer and imagine for themselves.

Q: What impact is the current economic climate having on homelessness?

Even official figures show that street homelessness has gone up by over 20% over the last year [in the UK]; the number of families put up by councils in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation has gone up by a third; and none of the figures even begin to address the hugely increased numbers of hidden homeless, who are squatting or sofa-surfing.  Pretty much all homelessness services have reported turning away increased numbers of people because of a lack of bed spaces.  Cuts to these services, at the very same time as the government is also making massive cuts to housing benefit, disability allowance, child benefit, public sector jobs, the National Health System, mean that the increased number of homeless are meeting with a decreased capacity for aiding them.  Young people are being affected especially, partly because of changes to the age threshold of single housing benefit, that mean that thousands are starting to lose their accommodation.  It is a bleak picture, looking even worse after the recent budget announcements.

 

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19th March
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s blog is a re-run of a guest blog from Iain  DeJong. This post was among the top 10 most popular in 2011.

Iain DeJong

Iain DeJong presenting at the 2010 National Conference on Ending Homelessness.

I have the great privilege of working with communities and organizations across North America that are dedicated to ending homelessness. Being the nerd that I am, I feel passionate about using real-time information to link the right intervention to the people who need that intervention. This seems to make sense to a lot of people, but the unfortunate reality is that this is not how many organizations or communities work.

Imagine you have a heart attack. You are rushed to the hospital by paramedics. I now want to give you a choice: you can be seen by a cardiologist or an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN). Which one do you choose? The cardiologist, of course. Are cardiologists successful with heart attack victims 100 percent of the time? Nope. But that doesn’t prevent us from seeking out cardiologists when we experience a heart attack. They’re heart experts after all.

Here is another choice for you: again, you’ve had a heart attack. The cardiologist and OB/GYN choices remain, but this time I want to add a third choice: an acquaintance who watches a lot of House on TV. Oh, and he used to watch ER, dabbles in Grey’s Anatomy, and loves MASH re-runs. Who do you choose this time? My money is still on the cardiologist.

Here is your final choice: again, you’ve had a heart attack. All the cardiologists are not available. Why? Because they are too busy seeing people with common colds. Now your choice is limited to the OB/GYN or the acquaintance who watches House. I’m guessing you would choose the OB/GYN. It may not be their field of expertise – and your heart condition may have complexities that are outside their field of knowledge – but they likely still have a better chance of keeping you alive until the cardiologist is available than the acquaintance who watches House.

What are the lessons here for homelessness and housing service systems?

The first lesson: Perform common assessment to determine where (which organization) and how (which type of service) assistance should be provided.

I have seen the value of standardized assessment tools (or like this one) used across communities or a coordinated entry process, where the standardization takes much of the guess work out of determining where and how people can be served.

The second lesson: Prioritize highest need cases first.

Services should not be first come, first served. Can you imagine if people who experienced heart attacks were left to wallow in waiting areas? I suspect a lot more people would die waiting for the services they need, when the resources to help exist.

Communities that are serious about ending homelessness have methods for determining which individual/family should be served when and why. It isn’t random. It isn’t luck. It is informed decision-making that matches information gleaned from the assessment with the best available resources.

The third lesson: Capitalize on experts and their expertise.

Homelessness organizations cannot be all things to all people. We don’t want cardiologists to be inundated with people with common colds much like we wouldn’t want Assertive Community Treatment teams or Intensive Case Managers overloaded by people with lower acuity needs.

Oh…and don’t think words like “expert”, “professional” and “expertise” are accidental. Ending homelessness is professional work that draws upon a body of evidence, research, and proven methods. Simply being well-intentioned – without expertise – is code for being ill-prepared or improperly trained which can result in more harm than good. It is analogous to your acquaintance, the House fan, treating heart attacks.

The fourth lesson: Work cooperatively as a homeless assistance system.

The paramedics actually took the heart attack victim to the hospital – it wasn’t a blind referral, it was a warm transfer. In other words, once the paramedics arrived on scene they didn’t just tell the person where the hospital was and hope the person would get there while they moved onto the next heart attack victim. That’s not how paramedics work. They revive. They stabilize. They take people to the location with the expertise to meet their needs. They communicate with the hospital in advance of showing up to make sure that they know they are coming, which also gives the hospital the chance to say they are full or have no cardiologists available. At the hospital the paramedics remain until they directly pass the patient off to the next professional. They also pass every tidbit of information onto that other professional. And they document all that they did.

The fifth lesson: Ask the right questions at the right time.

We need to orient our information gathering towards matching people to the right housing intervention to meet their needs. Once they are involved in the program best designed to meet their needs, more pertinent information can always be collected. A mistake in homeless services that I have seen repeatedly is inundating people with questions to populate databases at the wrong time. Housing is the only known cure to homelessness. Shouldn’t we be orienting our questions towards a housing solution? Asking someone “How can I help you?” allows the conversation to go to any one of a number of different directions, most often related to their present survival needs. Asking someone “How can I help you get housing?” provides a very clear scope and direction and places the individual asking the question at the center of the discussion, which reinforces accountability.

My final point is that people who experience heart attacks are not kept in the hospital indefinitely. When the time is right – based upon professional opinion and further assessment – the person who had the heart attack is discharged from the hospital. The person in many instances is going to be connected to other community resources to help them get healthier and stronger while back in the community.

As we look at HEARTH indicators, we know that a system-wide approach to service delivery – rather than a collection of programs – demands that we think critically and strategically about how to get the right information that allows us to get the right individual/family to the right service. This system-based, strategic approach improves coverage of services, reduces length-of-time experiencing homelessness, and reduces recidivism. It also provides terrific opportunities for diversion.

So, let’s help people who are homeless with really complex needs access the resources best able to help them. Instead of just any organization, let’s help them get to the organization with the expertise and resources to have the greatest likelihood of success. Let’s focus on quality interventions rather than a quantity of interventions.

Let’s help people who are homeless with moderate needs access the resources best able to help them. Let us respect and value that not every individual is going to have really acute needs and let us also appreciate that some organizations do phenomenal work at effectively serving people with moderate needs.

Let’s do this across our entire systems of care and across all program areas. And let’s do our best to help people of all presenting needs and acuities access the housing they need.

Iain De Jong is one of the Managing Partners of OrgCode Consulting, Inc. and a long-time – and popular – presenter at Alliance Conferences. He has worked in the non-profit, non-governmental, private and public sectors, from policy development to direct service delivery and program design and evaluation. His work has generated a number of awards for innovation, affordable housing, impact on public policy and service quality. In addition to his work at OrgCode, Iain teaches in the Graduate Planning Programme at York University. If you are interested in learning more about his work or perspectives on ending homelessness, check out Iain’s Blog on the OrgCode website www.orgcode.com , Like OrgCode Consulting on Facebook or follow @orgcode on Twitter.

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17th February
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Mike Shore.

As communities redouble their efforts to achieve the goals of Opening Doors, one thing is abundantly clear: we need all hands on deck to truly end homelessness in this country.

This includes our partners at public housing agencies (PHAs) both as providers of mainstream housing resources and as key collaborators within our existing systems of care.  As we continue to focus on permanent solutions like permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing strategies, we must expand the tools and resources available to support these efforts.  This includes broadening and deepening our connections with our PHA partners.

This past week’s National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness saw some of the most exciting and influential thinkers in the field come together in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) convened public housing agencies and Continuums of Care (CoCs) from targeted communities for a special pre-conference session to highlight the ways in which communities have successfully worked across HUD programs to create more opportunities for housing and services targeted towards persons experiencing homelessness.

The session began with a roster of terrific speakers. USICH Director Barb Poppe reminded us that while we have seen progress in reducing overall homelessness, especially among the chronic and veteran populations, additional collaboration and new partnerships are needed to significantly move the needle to meet the goals of Opening Doors.

Sandra Henriquez, Assistant Secretary for HUD’s division of Public and Indian Housing, reminded us that while the targeted McKinney Vento homeless programs provide significant solutions, they do not represent the entire solution.  Sandra strongly encouraged PHAs to examine their current operations in both the Housing Choice Voucher and conventional public housing programs to determine how they can further increase access and expand opportunities for those experiencing homelessness in these mainstream housing programs.  Finally, we were incredibly fortunate to have Estelle Richman, Acting Deputy Secretary for HUD, echo this encouragement.  Estelle brings a tremendous breadth of knowledge and experience in the public health and social services arena for vulnerable populations to HUD.  She passionately spoke of the importance of housing as a stabilizing force for individuals and families facing challenges with chronic health conditions and mental health needs on their path to recovery and economic self-sufficiency.

After a rousing kick-off from our partners at the federal level, panelists from two bright spot communities, Salt Lake City and Fresno, provided some examination of innovative PHA activities in their communities.  The Housing Authority of the County of Salt Lake has been instrumental in the creation of permanent supportive housing by project-basing significant numbers of Housing Choice Vouchers and Shelter Plus Care rental assistance for new developments for homeless individuals and families in their community.  The Fresno Housing Authority has created set-asides of vouchers for homeless individuals and families in their community through the establishment of local preferences in their Housing Choice Voucher program. The Fresno Housing Authority also cited their leadership role in their local 100,000 Homes Campaign initiative, Project P4: People, Place, Public Partnerships, as an excellent example of how to effectively target those in their community with the most severe housing needs.  Both of these PHAs are actively involved in their local CoCs, a point that has clearly been essential to their success in tackling homelessness.

Following the panel, staff from USICH, HUD, the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and Community Solutions facilitated small group discussions around topics related to PHAs effectively serving households experiencing homelessness.  Topics included:

  • PHA administrative policies (admissions and occupancy) as they relate to homeless/vulnerable households
  • Creating and operationalizing local preferences
  • Project-basing Section 8
  • Building/service provider partnerships
  • Strategies for using public housing
  • Serving homeless families
  • Serving chronically homeless
  • PHA participation in CoC activities and programs

These discussions provided an excellent opportunity for practitioners and policy makers from communities throughout the country to share and learn from one another.  Challenges were acknowledged, but the focus of these breakout sessions truly centered on solutions and opportunities to explore new strategies.  Many committed to exploring these solutions upon their return to their communities, and plans are underway to form several new affinity groups and learning communities.

In her remarks to the group, Sandra Henriquez acknowledged that her plea for further collaboration and partnership for many in attendance was a little like singing to choir.  She implored us, though, to lift our collective voices so that they rippled beyond the choir and throughout the land. Together, she insisted, our voices could transform this country’s response to homelessness.  I like the sound of that music.

Mike Shore is the Western U.S. Field Organizer for the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a national movement of change agents working together to house 100,000 vulnerable and chronically homeless individuals and families by July of 2014. Mike also leads HOM, Inc., a leader in permanent supportive housing and innovative solutions to end homelessness for individuals and families in Maricopa County, Arizona.

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