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7th March
2012
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.

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