Posts Tagged ‘Guest Blog’

29th August
2012
written by naehblog

In today’s guest blog Iain De Jong discusses ways communities might begin to plan coordinated assessment processes. De Jong is President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting, an international consulting firm focused on ending homelessness, driving change to promote community prosperity and challenging the status quo. 

As regulations change for Continuums of Care (CoC) and Emergency Solution Grant (ESG) recipients through the HEARTH Act, communities need to focus their attention on acting like a system – not a collection of independently operating projects. In a lot of instances, this means that the way which most CoCs and service providers operate must change.

The ESG Regulations, released in December of 2011, include a requirement for communities to develop and implement a centralized assessment system. All ESG recipients are required to participate in the community’s coordinated assessment system to initially assess the needs of each household seeking prevention or homelessness assistance.

The CoC Regulations, released in July of this year, also indicate that a centralized or coordinated process must be implemented to handle program intake, assessment, and referrals. The coordinated assessment process has to cover the CoC’s geographic area; it has to be easily accessible by households seeking housing or services; it has to be well advertised; it has to use a comprehensive and standardized assessment tool; it must respond to local needs and conditions; and, it needs to cover all ESG and CoC programs.

Simply put, coordinated assessment allows for the most efficient use of resources while improving consumer access to housing and supports. Coordinated assessment leverages the strengths of individual service providers. It makes the system much easier to navigate for households experiencing homelessness. And it reinforces the core concept that homelessness programs fundamentally exist to end homelessness.

Depending on your community’s terrain of local providers, geography, and available resources, different models should be considered. For example, if you are a small to mid-sized community that has good public transit, maybe a central location would be a good fit. If your CoC covers a large area or a large city you may consider a computer-based system, or using an existing 2-1-1, or establishing regional hubs throughout the area. Some communities are also using mobile assessment teams, which are in essence a group of specialized intake workers that go to where homeless individuals and families are rather than expecting the individual or family to go to them.

Coordinated assessment is NOT business as usual for most communities. The level of coordination in the referral process and the formal steps to ensure its success removes ad hoc approaches to getting consumers to the right program. Standardized forms and assessment tools used in a community can unsettle some service providers, but at the same time ensure greater consistency in service for people experiencing homelessness. The decision to focus services on the housing needs of specific individuals (rather than the more common program-centric approach) is a sea change in some communities.

For coordinated assessment to work, service providers across the CoC need to be fully aware of the extent of the changes, the regulatory requirements, and what it will mean for them and the people they serve. If there are funding implications related to involvement, these also need to be made transparent.

There are various steps involved in the creation of a coordinated assessment process.

One of the first, fundamental steps is to shift the service mentality amongst service providers in the community. This new arrangement of services can be seen as threatening by service providers – as if their autonomy is being taken away. While a natural reaction, the conversation must be about leveraging the strength(s) of each provider in the CoC. “Embracing the Freak Out” is helpful, and service providers should be encouraged to constructively put their concerns out on the table so each one can be addressed. Some providers will be more vocal than others; others may be passive aggressive. Others still will be encouraged by what the opportunity of common assessment and coordinated access represents, but will remain concerned about how they will keep beds filled or ensure there are a set number of people in programs to make operations viable.

As a part of this first step, education about the possible models, guiding principles, and assessment tools becomes important. Service providers need to understand that no longer will there be “side doors.” Coordinated assessment means people experiencing homelessness are assigned to programs through a collaborative approach, and are not made through individual provider’s decisions. Relinquishing the manner with which people experiencing homelessness access services that end their homelessness is deliberate and demanding.

The next step is to create a complete inventory of services and eligibility criteria. While most communities have this or something in the early stages of it, what is often the case is that what service providers write down on paper and whom they actually serve can be slightly different. Or in other instances, a service provider may consider an exception to their service population in certain circumstances – but the criteria for the exception is not made public. All that services are able to provide and whom they are able to serve must be made completely transparent.

Then, analysis and in-depth consultation can begin on which model would be a good fit for your community. Once a model shows promise it is usually tested in a smaller scale, or by using a beta version of the assessment tool chosen. Given the recent emphasis on ending chronic homelessness as a national priority, the assessment tool chosen is one that should allow for continuity and provide direction to case management services after the initial assessment. The assessment tool must be grounded in evidence and proven to work rather than being an assortment of ideas put together by a group of well-intentioned social workers on the back of a napkin.

Next, the coordinated assessment process the business process is documented, the assessment tool manual is finalized, and the training for providers is conducted. The training is a documented process outlining the rationale and approach from a client, service provider, and system perspective. Film this training, as it can be helpful for ensuring consistency when there is staff turnover.

The journey towards common assessment and coordinated access is not an easy one. But if we truly want to see every community function as a homeless and housing service system rather than a collection of projects, it is absolutely critical.

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28th August
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog is by Daniel Kelly, an MSW student at the University of Michigan and Intern for the Corporation for Supportive Housing Michigan Program.

2012 was my first year at the National Alliance Conference on Ending Homelessness. I’ve been involved in homeless services since after my undergraduate in 2006, but I hadn’t been able to make the trip until this year when I interned with the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Unfortunately, I had a full class load the first two days of the conference. In fact, Tuesday was the final exam for one of my classes! My plan was to leave straight from class in Ann Arbor, Mich., and make the drive out to Washington D.C. for the conference. In preparation, my excited Mother took my car into the shop to ensure it was ready for the road. Everything checked out, so after I turned in my exam at about noon, I got in my already packed car and began the nine-hour journey to the Capitol.

The experience was inspiring. At the conference, being surrounded by so many people committed to ending homelessness got me fired up. This feeling of inspiration continued during our Michigan Capitol Hill Day visits. I was fortunate to meet with Congresspersons Gary Peters and Hansen Clarke, who were both very receptive to the messages we brought to them about the negative effects of sequestration efforts. After the conference, this inspiration lasted through my next two days in D.C. as I toured the museums and memorials while staying with my Uncle who lives in the area.

After a few days of sightseeing, I left for home early Friday evening. It was raining heavily during the first few hours of the trip. As I drove through the windy mountains of Pennsylvania, the worst thing happened – my car began to sputter, eventually stalling out on the side of the road. Luckily, in some strange coincidence (or was it irony?), right before the trip, my Grandma had added me to her AAA emergency auto coverage. At the time, I didn’t see the need and told her I was “OK,” but she insisted. Boy was I was happy she signed me up!

With the newly added coverage, I called AAA and was picked up and towed to the local shop in Johnstown, PA. I waited there until Saturday morning when the owner was able to look at my car. The diagnosis: a blown fuel pump. The shop had to order the part so they wouldn’t be able to finish the repair until at least Monday. Because I had to be back in Michigan by that Monday for work, I called my brother who drove more than five hours to pick me up.

The experience was extremely frustrating, and at the time it deflated the inspiration and passion I took from my time in D.C. Looking back, though, the supports of my family along the way helped to blunt the frustration of this experience and maintain my passionate spirit. It could have been way worse without their support!

The people we serve, the individuals and families experiencing homelessness throughout the nation, may not have the same support I did during their own difficult situations. They may not be able to lean on their family or friends when their car breaks down, or even worse, they may have been laid off from their job, or fleeing domestic violence, or dealing with a mental health issue.

This is why we do the work we do – to support people through their difficult times. This way they can, like me, continue to maintain passion and inspiration in their lives.

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6th July
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s post was written by Tessa Knight, West Point Fellow with the Alliance.

There’s this idea in my mind that someday I want to be part of changing lives, and I really can’t think of a better way to directly influence people than by housing and clothing them. So when West Point offered this three week summer academic enrichment opportunity at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, I jumped at it.

At the Alliance, I got  a comprehensive view of the problem of homelessness in the United States as well as its potential solutions. The multiple meetings, conference calls, webinars and seminars that I sat through only helped to reinforce the notion that so many people (and more than a few organizations nationwide) are working to ending this epidemic. This is exciting.

Working with Ian Lisman, the veteran’s policy analyst, gave me insight into how government organizations work with one another. I was constantly looking for the biggest factors and reflecting on how I could make an impact someday. Ian allowed me to develop a research and project plan, and answered all of my questions fully and effectively – so well, in fact, that I think I may now actually have an idea of what all these acronyms mean…

The substance of my project consisted of interviewing and analyzing the responses of recipients of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Grant (SSVF), a new grant awarded last year by Veterans Affairs to 85 programs nationwide. I found that, by encouraging collaboration between organizations with different services to offer, this specific grant has been rather effective in serving homeless veteran families. And I was impressed with the degree of passion there is out there to help homeless veterans—passion that, with proper funding, could be turned into action.

Soon I hope to get my boots dirty, so to speak, by serving on the streets and gaining a deeper understanding of homelessness. My current knowledge of government organizations, nonprofits, the lawmaking process, and homelessness is not something I could have gained at the Academy, because there is nothing like a cultural immersion. I will take these skills back to the classroom, and eventually into my future career. The Alliance does quality work, and you can be sure I will be using them as a resource in whatever path I choose.

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24th May
2012
written by naehblog

Iain De Jong

Today’s blog was written by Iain De Jong, President & CEO of OrgCode Consulting.

Over almost a decade, attendance at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness put on by the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, DC each year has changed my experience in working in homeless programs and services for the better. In this guest blog for the Alliance, I thought I’d tell you all the reasons why you should go…

Why You Should Go to the Summer Alliance Conference on Ending Homelessness

You Are Not Alone – meet other people that do the same thing you do day in and day out. Realizing you are not alone is a good feeling and it can be empowering.

Smart People – I don’t know how they do it, but the Alliance does an amazing job attracting really smart people and speakers year after year.

Realizing You Are Part of A Movement Bigger Than Yourself – maybe where you live people cock their head sideways and think you have completely lost it when you speak of ending homelessness. The people at the conference? They get it.

Agenda is Content Richhave you seen the agenda for the conference? You won’t find that much amazing content at any other homeless conferences.

DC Is a Great Place for a Conference – with all of the museums, great nightlife, and other sights to see, you’ll find your time pre- and post- conference well spent…and perhaps at the end of each conference day too.

Who Should Go

Smart People – come share your brilliance with others and participate in discussions that are defining effective practices.

Newbies – if you are new to the field you won’t get an introduction like this one anywhere else. Deciding which sessions to attend will be the hardest part for you.

Seasoned Vets – stay fresh by opening yourself up to learning, and stay relevant by sharing your experience with people newer to the field. Open your mind to other ways of thinking about and practicing techniques that end homelessness.

Board Members – one of the best ways to find out if your organization is moving in the direction aligned with the greatest likelihood of success in service delivery can be found by attending the conference.

Elected Officials – learn the difference between which services in your community are best aligned with evidence and which ones could be improved where taxpayer dollars are concerned.

Frontline Staff – not only do you get to catch your breath from day to day service delivery, you’ll learn how to be better at your job.

Executive Directors – if knowledge is power, then the conference provides you the knowledge to lead a powerful organization committed to ending homelessness.

Policy Wonks – the bigger picture questions get their time and attention at the conference, working towards amending and shaping policy in the present and future.

Researcher Types – because where else will you find this many people that may open their organizations to have you do research with them? Plus there are sessions about sharing new research too.

Bureaucrats of All Stripes – if ever you have wondered if all you do behind the scenes to make public investment in services to end homelessness is worth it, you will find the answers at the conference.

Advocates – if you want to influence decision-makers, get the best ammunition to do so and chat with like-minded people to advance a unified position to impact change.

Past and Current Clients – every year there are some folks with lived experience that attend the conference and provide an important perspective in the workshops.

Is It Worth The Time & Money?

Renewal is Priceless – sometimes we need to go slower to go faster and the Alliance conferences sets up an environment for that to occur effectively.

Investing in Future Improvement – time and money spent at the conference now can save your organization, branch of government, foundation, etc. money in the future.

If They Put All This in a Book it Would be a Zillion Dollars – okay, so a zillion may be a stretch, but I don’t know how you quantify the value of not just the conference sessions but the networking, keynotes and pre-conference opportunities.

The Cost of Doing Nothing? – to me, not learning how to improve practice is again to investing the same time and money over and over again and expecting different results.

Are the Presenters Any Good?

World Leaders – one of the strengths about the Alliance Conference is that they attract the best and brightest speakers who are leaders in what they do.

Share and Post Presentations – almost all of the presenters make their materials available on the Alliance website after the conference, and a lot of them pass out materials during their sessions. Save room in your luggage to take a whack of paper back with you.

Dynamic – because the speakers are super-passionate about what they do, chances are you will be moved and anything but bored.

Pragmatic – one of the great things about the presenters is that you will actually gain very practical things that you can take back to your community and apply, rather than the learning just being conceptual or theoretical.

Evaluated – at the end of the conference you’ll have the chance to provide input on which speakers were the best and who should be invited back again.

Is It Different than Other Conferences on Homelessness?

Scale – the conference is HUGE.

Top-Shelf Organization – the conference tends to be impeccably well organized.

Best Pollination of Ideas – this conference shares ideas that transcend city, county, state and even country boundaries.

Main Currents of Thought and Practice – the material discussed and presented is in tune with the most current thoughts on ending homelessness and practices to achieve results.

Who Can I Expect to Meet?

Kindred Spirits – meet people who share your passion for ending homelessness and want to network with you regardless of where you are from to share ideas and practices. Do yourself a favor and make an effort to share a table at plenary sessions with people that you don’t normally work with.

Alliance Staff they are the crème de la crème when it comes to subject matter expertise, facilitating networking, advancing good ideas, understanding policy, practicing advocacy and putting together a phenomenal conference.

USICH Folksthere is a very positive relationship between the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, so you can expect many of the pivotal leaders from the USICH to be in attendance at the conference.

Giants in the Field – from the leading researchers (folks like Dennis Culhane) to national movements focusing on ending homelessness (the amazing Community Solutions) to pioneers of practices that are proven to end homelessness (Sam Tsemberis has been known to be in attendance) to seasoned practitioners that have made a lasting difference in their community, this conference attracts them all.

Technical Advisors that Know Their Stuff – I’ve been to conferences where TA folks are trying to set their targets on new business, and it can feel a bit icky. The TA people that attend the Alliance conferences tend to do so because they have knowledge and strategies to share from their time helping other communities and organizations in the field.

What Are the Telltale Signs Someone Has Been to An Alliance Conference?

Improved Advocacy – expect to have new data and strategies for advocating with the right people to advance the agenda of ending homelessness.

Smarter – you’ll have way more information than before you went to the conference.

Inspired – feeling part of a bigger movement and connected to people who share their passion for ending homelessness, you’ll feel inspired to do even better when you return home.

Improved Critical Analysis – it has been my experience that attendees of the conference are better able to review their own programs relative to the new information and examples they become privy to at the conference.

Renewed – there is a certain amount of renewal that comes from a few days away from the day to day grind.

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 

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8th May
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog is from Maddison Bruer, who we will be hearing from periodically on our blog this summer as she updates us on her work with Bridges of Norman. 

Hello everybody! My name is Maddison Bruer and I’ve been given the opportunity this summer to share a little bit about myself and a project I am working on this summer with you on the Alliance’s blog.

First, a bit about myself: I am finishing up my first year at The George Washington University studying International Affairs and Psychology. Home for me is Norman, Oklahoma. When I was in first grade my class had “career day” where every first grader wrote a story about what he or she wanted to be when they were all grown up. I said police officer. Those dreams of serving in the public sector have followed me into my adulthood as I take steps to one day work for the CIA or State Department. If I fail at said aspirations, I’ve vowed that I will move to Miami and join the police academy. I love the heat anyway. Right now, I’m living part of my dream by interning for the Peace Corps and working with a committee to revamp the Volunteer application and delivery system. After months of living and breathing Peace Corps, I’m realizing the vast opportunities that could come from continuing that relationship as a Volunteer myself, after college of course.

Getting to where I am now, however, was not a path without trolls, slimy slugs, and mountains to overcome. After raising me as a single parent, my mother fell into a relationship that led her to become entangled in a situation full of illegal activities. Such a lifestyle landed her in jail and me without a home. I couch surfed for a few months before landing in an abandon trailer trying to support myself and make it to school. After my school counselor noticed a shift in my home life, she offered me information on a youth homeless shelter called Bridges of Norman where I found myself living for three years before coming to college in DC. Bridges offered me experiences and support I will never be able to repay. I’m a strong believer in the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. My entire community helped me raise myself by my bootstraps and fulfill my dream of higher education.

Recently I won the 2012 J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Public Service Award that awards $5,500 for tuition to a student who proposes a quality internship undertaking and demonstrates a passion for public service. In a way to give back to my community, I have decided to become an intern for Bridges conducting research on graduates of the program. Thus, hopefully I will be able to get an insight on students’ success in the long run after enduring such conditions. In addition, I hope that my presence will be a positive influence for those students currently in the program and enable to help the Bridges staff, my community, and other students with stories similar to my own.

Until next time,

Maddison

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13th April
2012
written by naehblog

Today’s blog comes from Jennifer Ho, Deputy Director at the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.  She writes today about USICH’s initiative to update the Federal Strategic Plan to include further content on youth experiencing homelessness and educational outcomes of homeless or at-risk youth.

Secretary Sebelius

Almost two years have passed since we launched Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. With the help and support from thousands of stakeholders across the United States we have made progress against the bold goals of the Plan by increasing investment in solutions, adopting proven tools to prevent and end homelessness, breaking down silos, and improving data collection, analysis, and reporting. We remain committed to the goals of Opening Doors and to the comprehensive approach described in the Plan.

For this year’s update to Opening Doors, we are responding to requests that additional content and clarity would be helpful in two key areas: early childhood learning and educational outcomes for youth and children experiencing homelessness; and broad strategies on unaccompanied youth up through age 24.

Barbara Poppe and I have toured many youth-serving programs across America since the release of Opening Doors. We have talked with many youth, as well as leadership from providers and advocacy groups. We have also convened an interagency dialogue across the many federal agencies that have youth-specific responsibilities. We have been focused on what is known about the magnitude of the problem and what interventions work best for which groups of youth. We have also been talking with education liaisons for children who are experiencing homelessness and advocates with expertise on early child development, early childhood education, and education generally to understand what is needed to improve educational outcomes for all children and youth experiencing homelessness.

In December 2011, our Council held the first USICH meeting devoted exclusively to homeless youth. A robust conversation led by Commissioner Bryan Samuels from the Administration on Families, Youth, and Children with four Secretaries from Labor, VA, HUD, and HHS made our charge clear. Homelessness for young adults is unacceptable. And while we have a lot to learn about the size of the problem and what works best for whom, we must take urgent action to improve support for youth experiencing homelessness.

Just last month, I had the privilege of joining USICH Chair and HHS Secretary Sebelius in Cincinnati, Ohio where we toured Lighthouse, one of the leading youth homelessness providers in the nation. Secretary Sebelius spoke with Lighthouse’s leader, Bob Mecum, as well as executive directors from youth providers in Seattle, Chicago, and Pinellas Park, Florida. The Secretary also spent time talking with youth who were living at one of Lighthouse’s shelters and in its brand new supportive housing. Hearing from youth directly has been critical in shaping a federal framework for ending youth homelessness.

Similar to the original development of Opening Doors, USICH has developed an interactive forum for our stakeholders to provide feedback into this process. The links below enable stakeholders to enter this forum and share their ideas and input in these areas by April 30:

  1. Help us improve early childhood learning and educational outcomes for youth, and children experiencing homelessness.
  2. Help us end youth homelessness

Feedback from this forum, combined with guidance USICH has received from youth and other experts in the field, will help USICH create:

  • A set of actionable steps that states and communities can take to improve educational supports for homeless youth and children.
  • A strong framework for preventing and ending youth homelessness that will set us on a path to reaching our 2020 goal.
  • A focused set of priorities USICH and our federal partners will pursue in both the short -and long-term.

We are excited to see your creative ideas, which will help us continue to make progress towards our vision that no one should experience homelessness—no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.

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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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30th November
2011
written by naehblog

Today’s guest blog comes to the Alliance from Iain  DeJong.

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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28th July
2011
written by Catherine An

Today’s post comes to us from Donna Gallup, MSW, LSW, and Executive Director of Lamp Community in Los Angeles, CA.

Recent homeless counts have found that nearly 50,000 homeless individuals and families live in Los Angeles County on any given night. Chronically homeless individuals – homeless for a year or more and coping with one or more serious health, mental health and addiction problems – account for nearly 12,000 of that total; 6,000 newly homeless veterans also live in L.A.

Last November, an extraordinary report called Home For Good laid out a blueprint to end chronic and veteran homelessness in L.A. County by 2016. Lamp Community is proud to support the plan, based on 10 months of work by the Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness, a group of 22 organizations assembled by the United Way and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce. Home For Good’s goal is not only to find permanent housing for chronically homeless individuals, but also to provide intensive supportive services and treatment to help them regain their physical and mental health and self-esteem, and to help them reintegrate into the community. This is the work that Lamp Community has done for more than 25 years in L.A.’s Skid Row, which has the highest concentration of homelessness in Los Angeles. We at Lamp are happy to see the movement toward permanent supportive housing as a best practice for ending homelessness.

Think about what it would mean to end chronic and veteran homelessness in L.A. County – not to merely manage it, but to eradicate it with substantial long-term assistance that addresses the root causes of chronic homelessness. It costs the public “$875 million each year to manage homelessness in our region rather than end it,” including “use of emergency rooms, jails, shelters, and other crisis services,” Home For Good notes. Further, one quarter of the homeless population uses an estimated three quarters of the total resources addressing homelessness – approximately $650 million. Two recent studies cited in the report show permanent supportive housing lowers public costs by more than 40 percent.

At Lamp, we’ve known this for years.  While it can cost taxpayers up to $65,000 to keep a single homeless individual living on the streets for a year, permanent supportive housing at Lamp – with its bevy of wrap-around services – costs only $12,000 to $14,000 per year, per person. More than 85% of those housed through Lamp maintain their housing for a year or more. Most are never homeless again and have the chance to become a part of their community.

Homelessness is a deeply complex issue, and hundreds of area organizations do important work helping people survive and move past a life on the streets. But service providers remain a house divided. We have to do better in Los Angeles, and that means working together on a cohesive plan like that laid out by Home For Good.

Home For Good’s goals are ambitious. But Los Angeles can no longer tolerate the ineffective status quo. We can only strengthen our local continuum of care by direct and regular collaboration among service and housing providers in conjunction with public and private partners. We urge our friends and allies to join this initiative and come together to end homelessness permanently in Los Angeles.

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18th May
2011
written by naehblog

Today’s guest post comes to us from Aaron Bowen, Chief Operating Officer at the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties.

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.”

In the Oscar award-winning, Sidney Lumet-directed film “Network,” protagonist Howard Beale is just fed up – and I think many of us in the homeless assistance community can sympathize with his frustration.

Here in Lincoln, Nebraska, just over 830 people in a city of around 250,000 were identified as homeless during our January 26, 2011 Point in Time count. Though our overall homeless count dipped slightly from last year—thanks to a very well-run Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program—we remain worked up knowing that so many people still are homeless in Lincoln.

The trouble is, every group, task force, or coalition that does get together enters the strange and often frightening world of “planning” which can sap the life out of groups attempting to tackle the issue that matters to them most. But, like holding a magnifying glass at just the right angle to gather sunlight to its hottest point, planning is necesary in order to focus that “mad as hell” moment into a powerful force for change.

In Lincoln, that’s just what our Continuum of Care did—we planned! Partnering with experts from the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s Center for Capacity Building, we laid Lincoln’s homelessness services system on the table for dissection. We talked candidly about what we believe we do well and where we continue to stumble.

Through this work, we zeroed in on four main objectives:

  • To assess and get folks appropriately housed as quickly as possible;
  • to increase employment options for our consumers;
  • to tackle youth homelessness; and
  • to build more effective partnerships with landlords and realtors who may house the people we serve.

This resulting plan is something we’re proud of, but it’s the planning itself that produced something even more important. The process brought that magnifying focus to our work, helping us to find clarity in the midst of the million things we know must be done or changed to get and keep everyone housed, healthy, and safe.

We’re getting somewhere more quickly than we would have otherwise. We’re developing a shared housing assessment for local HMIS users. An initiative to make sure kids graduate is in the works. Landlords have assisted in drafting partnership agreements, and we’re focusing more on building and showcasing the employability of our consumers rather than on combating the barriers that stand between them and a good job.

My message to other communities out there: Your planning might not be perfect or all that pretty. Goals may shrink, go dark, and then resurface. People might not be as committed once they have to commit. But you’ll get better each time you try it. New people will listen and want a piece of the plan. You’ll find new purpose and perhaps new support, and you’ll likely lead some other coalition or continuum to planning.

Best of all, through it all, you can still be mad as hell.

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