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19th September
written by Norm Suchar

In another great blog from the Center for Capacity Building, Norm Suchar shares his discoveries from his recent trip to Columbus, Ohio.

Although Columbus, Ohio gets a lot of attention for their innovative strategies to reduce homelessness, they will be the first to admit that they haven’t figured it all out yet. One of the challenges they’re facing is their single adult shelter system, and they’ve embarked on a process of restructuring that system.

The motivation for the change comes from two sources. One is that the redesign of their family system achieved impressive results. Families who have a housing crisis come to a single location that tries to prevent their homelessness, and if that’s not possible, quickly places them on the path to permanent housing. These changes resulted in a doubling of successful housing placements. For the short period they are homeless, families stay at a very well-run family shelter. Average shelter stays for families were 52 days in 2010, and are dropping, and rates of return to homelessness are very low.

The other motivation for change is the impending loss of funding. In Columbus, HPRP funding was used to help re-housing single adults. With the loss of that funding and other resource constraints, there will be fewer pathways out of homelessness and the number of homeless adults could rise significantly.

To get the change process started, the Community Shelter Board—the organization that coordinates Columbus’s homelessness efforts—organized a change lab with providers, local government officials, business and foundation leaders, and a few national experts (including me). Everyone learned about the issues facing the system and began modeling what a new system would look like.

What were some of the features that people modeled? One was a focus on prevention in mainstream systems. When a person is being served by a mental health, corrections, or similar agency, they could receive a housing stability assessment that would identify who is at risk of homelessness, and then that agency could take steps to mitigate the risk. Coordinated entry was a major theme with suggestions ranging from a virtual point of access to a single point of entry. There was a lot of consensus on the need to have a robust diversion system to help address housing problems without the need to come to shelter. And there were some creative ideas about case management and other services such as creating system navigators and co-locating services in housing resource centers.

Modeling these strategies is just the first step in this process, and the Community Shelter Board and other partners will be pulling together these various ideas into an implementable strategy. I’ll be keeping an eye on their progress and share their experience as the process unfolds.

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