Ending Homelessness Today — Field Notes
Field Notes: The Performance Improvement Clinic from a Trainer’s Perspective
May 02, 2012
On our new weekly blog series, Field Notes, we have talked about the experiences of Alameda County and Whatcom County with our Performance Improvement Clinics (previously called the HEARTH Implementation Clinic). Today I wanted to share the experiences of the people who conduct these Clinics. Katharine Gale, an independent consultant from Berkeley, California with 20 years experience in the fields of homelessness and special needs housing, helped design the Performance Improvement Clinic and has presented at a number of clinics in communities large and small. Below are Katharine’s words about why she enjoys being a part of these clinics.
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Field Notes: Introducing the Prevention and Diversion Toolkit
April 26, 2012
Last month, the Center for Capacity Building brought you the Coordinated Assessment Toolkit to help you design, implement, and evaluate an efficient coordinated process at the front door of your system. But, as many successful communities and a few Alliance staff members will tell you, the best coordinated assessment processes incorporate prevention and diversion at their assessment points by screening for eligibility for these strategies and providing the associated services before admitting a household to a shelter, transitional housing, or rapid re-housing program.
This initial screening process can help people salvage housing situations without having to enter shelter, or provide viable temporary housing options outside shelter. Prevention and diversion, in many cases, do not require a major investment of money or resources (and in some cases, as we often hear, require no financial assistance at all), and are therefore quite cost effective compared to an avoidable shelter entry, even more so when you consider that prevention means avoiding robbing another person of a bed that they desperately need.
That’s why we published our Prevention and Diversion Toolkit yesterday.
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Field Notes: The Performance Improvement Clinic
April 18, 2012
Over the past year, the Alliance has been presenting an intensive one-and-a-half day clinic to help communities prepare for changes made by the HEARTH Act. The clinic focuses on improving community performance by analyzing community data and shifting to strategies that better achieve the HEARTH Act’s performance expectations.
We will continue to offer these clinics, although we’re changing the name to the Performance Improvement Clinic (we used to call them HEARTH Implementation Clinics). The name change reflects the fact that the clinic mostly focuses on the performance aspects of the HEARTH Act and also to distinguish it from the many other types of HEARTH Act assistance that will be available from HUD and other organizations over the coming months.
The Performance Improvement Clinic will continue to include group discussions, system design and modification planning sessions, and presentations on best practices. Clinic participants will also receive hands-on technical assistance with data analysis and system assessment in preparation for the Clinic and follow-up support. While the overall goals and structure of the clinic are the same, it is constantly updated with new information and customized to the conditions in each community.
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Field Notes: Reducing Length of Homeless Episodes in Richmond
April 11, 2012
The Center of Capacity Building is always looking for data about successful efforts to reduce homelessness, and here’s one from Richmond, Virginia. Homeward, an organization that works to prevent and end homelessness in the Richmond area, has been working on incorporating rapid re-housing into Richmond’s homeless assistance for several years. In early 2010, they started a rapid re-housing initiative with many private and public partners that re-housed 30 families over the course of a year that significantly reduced the average length of time families were homeless. This summary comes by way of Homeward’s Erika Jones-Haskins:
With the 2009 Community Foundation grant of $100,000, we invested approximately $80,000 in short-term rental and other financial assistance for families. The remaining $20,000 was used to pay for Homeward’s introduction of this concept to our public and private providers, the development of revised intake processes and case management procedures and data collection and outcomes measurement.
Here are the highlights:
30 families with a total of 97 individuals were served.
The average cost per family was $2,666, compared to approximately $3,900 for a month of shelter for a mother with 2 children.
For the 20 families we were able to track, the median length of homelessness was 25.5 days. This is a significant decrease from our community median length of homelessness for families at 45 days. (Which is, again, a 50% decrease from the 2009 median length of family homelessness of 90 days!)
This is especially relevant, given that reducing the length of homeless episodes is one of the new... Read More »
Field Notes: Coordinated Assessment Gets Results
April 04, 2012
Last week, we released our Coordinated Assessment/Coordinated Entry Toolkit. In it, we provide tools to help communities plan, implement, and evaluate a coordinated entry system. We're going to continue to build on the toolkit, adding to it and updating it as new information comes in. And remember - we want you to be a part of that, so keep sending suggestions and feedback to me at email@example.com.
The reason we're excited about this tool is that we know that coordinated assessment is something that gets results. The perfect example of this is in Dayton/Montgomery County, OH. Though they switched over to a coordinated assessment approach somewhat recently - August 2010 - they have already seen major results. These are just a few of them:
18% of families over the past 7 months have been diverted from entering shelter. The vast majority of these families are being diverted without receiving any financial assistance - many of them are able to secure housing outside of shelter with the help of a case manager mediating on their behalf.
Emergency shelters that had up to 40 families a night last summer now have 7 families per night.
There were 12% fewer families who had a night of shelter in 2011 than in 2010.
We've seen similar results in other communities that are adopting this approach. By using a consistent assessment and referral process with a permanent housing focus, people are entering the system less, moving around within it less,... Read More »
Field Notes: Coordinated Assessment Toolkit
March 28, 2012
Yesterday, we released our Coordinated Assessment Toolkit (also known as our Coordinated Entry/Coordinated Intake Toolkit)! It’s been a labor of love for the Center for Capacity Building, and we’re very excited to have it out on the website at last.
But…it’s not finished.
Don’t get us wrong – there’s lots of great stuff in there already. The toolkit has four sections: Planning and Assessment, Data and Implementation, Evaluation, and Community Examples and Materials. The Planning and Assessment section has materials to help get you started in thinking about what coordinated assessment is and how it could look and function in your community. Data and Implementation gives you some information on how to collect and share data in an effective way when doing intakes and assessments and making referrals. Evaluation is all about measuring and continuing your success. The Community Examples section provides materials from communities that have done this already and information on how they’ve made everything work.
But we need, and want, more. We know there a lot of communities that have started to plan for and implement this approach, and we want to share your products and lessons learned with everyone else. Send us your checklists, assessment and intake forms, policy and procedure documents, and data reports. And send us your suggestions and feedback as well. Specific information about including domestic violence survivors and youth is also coming but we would like input in t... Read More »
Field Notes: Incentivizing Performance - Improving the Homeless Assistance System
March 14, 2012
The HEARTH Act will significantly change the way the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds homelessness assistance. Communities will be expected to work towards the federal goal that no one remains homeless for longer than 30 days. Additionally, performance on new outcomes will be measured, including reducing lengths of homeless episodes, and reducing new and returning entries into homelessness.
How can your community encourage homelessness programs to perform better on these outcomes? I recently spoke with Elaine de Coligny, Executive Director of EveryOne Home in Alameda, on the unique incentive they have devised – a prize.
EveryOne Home, a community-based nonprofit that coordinates Alameda County, California’s plan to end homelessness, has recently announced the 2012 Outcomes Achievement Awards. Programs that make the most progress on key community-wide outcomes will now be rewarded with one of two prizes.
The idea for the awards came to Elaine during a Performance Improvement Clinic (formerly called the HEARTH Academy) the Alliance held with Alameda County stakeholders in June of last year. She then approached a funder EveryOne Home had a previous relationship with, the Y&H Soda Foundation, about the idea. Elaine says the Y&H Soda Foundation was excited to support the initiative, and generously funded two achievement awards. The first award for $10,000 will be given to the highest achieving program, and the second for $5,000 will be given to the most improved program. Awards will be made to programs that hav... Read More »
Field Notes: Preparing for the HEARTH Act - Whatcom County, WA, Part II
March 07, 2012
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 “informa... Read More »
Field Notes: Preparing for the HEARTH Act – Whatcom County, WA – Part I
February 29, 2012
Last week I had the opportunity to interview Greg Winter of Whatcom County, Washington about how his community is preparing for the HEARTH Act. Because I discussed using an existing 211 service to start a coordinated entry system in your community last week, I wanted to contrast Whatcom’s coordinated entry process.
Whatcom has been developing a coordinated entry system since 2008, when they formed the Homeless Service Center at the Opportunity Council, the local community action agency. There, they established a coordinated entry system with five service providers in the county. The community was familiar with going to the Opportunity Council’s resource center for help, so running the coordinated entry system out of this single, physical location was a good fit for Whatcom. Additionally, other people in the community are trained to complete the intake process, including a street outreach team run by a local volunteer organization, social workers based in a local hospital, and some staff in the local jail.
In 2011 the Alliance held a Performance Improvement Clinic (formerly called the HEARTH Academy) with Whatcom, which encouraged them to further develop their coordinated entry system. Data sharing agreements were signed with providers to allow better coordination between agencies. They adopted a philosophy of services based on vulnerability, rather than first-come first-served. Some organizations that participate in the coordinated entry system no longer run their own waiting lists. Instead, the Homeless Service Center keeps one central “housing interest pool.” Providers have found th... Read More »
Field Notes: Using 211 for Coordinated Entry
February 22, 2012
In many communities, the best way to find help if you are experiencing a housing crisis is to start with a long list of phone numbers. You start from the top, and hope that you fit the requirements, that they have enough resources to serve you, that they are open on Tuesdays. It is exhausting work for the household and an inefficient use of resources for the providers.
Some communities have moved to centralize the process households use to access services. This is called coordinated entry, and it has many advantages, like improving the efficiency of a community’s homelessness assistance system and improving its ability to perform well on HEARTH Act outcomes. Additionally, in the interim rules for the new Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, HUD explains that it will include in an upcoming rule for the Continuum of Care program, a requirement for communities to develop and implement a coordinated entry system.
As guest blogger Iain DeJong mentioned last week, the Center for Capacity Building at the Alliance held a training during our February conference on Coordinated Entry, the materials from which are now online. During the training, a number of communities had questions about training 211 operators in their communities to handle intake, assessment, and referrals to services. This may be a good model for larger communities, or those without transit systems that make it possible for households to travel to a centralized location.
Alameda County in California i... Read More »
Field Notes: The Emergency Solutions Grant, Recommendations From The Alliance
February 08, 2012
In response to some questions we have received recently regarding new regulations for the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program, the Center for Capacity Building at the Alliance has decided to address some of these questions in video form. Today’s video features Kay Moshier McDivitt, Capacity Building Associate here at the Alliance. In this interview, Kay discusses how communities can rethink sustainability as an eligibility requirement for rapid re-housing and prevention assistance.
(In the video, Kay refers to a webinar - this is the webinar.)
For more information, you can visit our website, where the Alliance has recently posted a wealth of material on the new ESG program.... Read More »
Retooling the Homeless Crisis Response System
September 20, 2011
Today's post comes to us - once again! - from the Director of the Center for Capacity Building, Norm Suchar.
USICH and the Alliance will be hosting a webinar on reallocation and the HUD CoC competition this Thursday, Sept. 22 – and you should be on the call.
When the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, one of the key themes was to “Retool the Homeless Crisis Response System.” A retooled homeless crisis response prevents homelessness when possible, and when that’s not possible, provides safe shelter and helps people exit homelessness quickly, primarily through rapid re-housing.
One of the obstacles to achieving this kind of crisis response system is that a lot of the homeless assistance programs do great things, but aren’t really focused on helping people exit homelessness quickly. This is mainly an issue for transitional housing programs, but it affects services programs, shelters, and other programs as well. In a lot of cases, this lack of focus is built into their Continuum of Care grants.
That brings us to this webinar, which will describe how Continuum of Care funded programs can change.
The webinar will cover the reasons for change, different options for changing grants, program model options, and provide examples of how the process has played out in several communities. It will cover both what can be done this year and what communities should be doing to ... Read More »
September 14, 2011
This post is part of a series of blogs from the Alliance staff. Each day a different expert is taking the reins of our blog, Facebook and twitter accounts to share with you their perspectives and knowledge on ending homelessness. For more information, see this introductory post. Today's post comes from Norm Suchar, Director of Center for Capacity Building.
I have to confess that I love data and outcomes, and like many people, I think those are vital parts of any strategy to end homelessness. So it’s great to see communities embracing data and outcome measures to help reduce homelessness. One such effort comes from Alameda County, CA. Alameda is home to Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, and a host of other cities. Everyone Home is the organization that leads the effort to end homelessness there, and they’ve recently published their 2010 Progress Report on Ending Homelessness.
The report shows performance on a few key performance measures, like rates of exit to permanent housing, increased income, and rates of return to homelessness. Some of the measures are broken out by provider using anonymous identifiers. Although reports like these take a lot of work, they can paint a very clear picture of what is working in a community and what needs improvement. More importantly, they shift the focus of the system to achieving better outcomes.
... Read More »
How Coordinated Entry Works
May 25, 2011
Today's post comes to us from Kim Walker, capacity building associate at the Alliance.
The Center for Capacity Building just released our paper on developing a coordinated intake system for homeless families!
We’re so excited because we’ve gotten so many requests for more information on this approach from participants in our HEARTH Academies and other providers across the country. (Need a refresher on what coordinated entry is? Check out this blog post from Norm from a few months back.)
So, what kinds of things do we cover in this paper? Answers to questions like:
What are the different types of coordinated entry models?
How are other communities doing coordinated entry?
What changes will my system have to make in order to adopt coordinated entry?
How will I be able to tell if our coordinated entry system is functioning properly?
Not enough coordinated entry content for you?
Lucky for you, we have two webinars on coordinated entry in June.
On June 9 at 2 p.m. ET, we’ll host a webinar with Joyce Probst MacAlpine from Dayton/Montgomery County, OH, who just completed a six-month review of their brand new coordinated intake process. You can register for that webinar here.
Toward the end of June (date and time TBD), we will highlight the coordinated entry model in Columbus, OH and provide insight into their systems for singles and for families.
Still not enough? No worries – we’ll be rolling out more and mo... Read More »
Notes from the Field: A look into tribal homelessness
March 31, 2011
Today's post comes to us from Alliance Center for Capacity Building Associate Kim Walker.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work with a group of seven different Chippewa bands located in northern Minnesota on developing ten year plans to end homelessness.
It was remarkable to learn about the struggles that many tribal nations face in defining, preventing, and ending homelessness. Tribal leaders share many of the challenges that rural areas face, like serving people spread over a large land area, finding adequate funding, and providing shelter amid a startling lack of housing infrastructure.
But beyond that, tribal homelessness is still unique.
Because tribes are officially considered sovereign nations, funding can become complicated or come with limitations that may prove difficult to overcome (i.e., some funding may be unavailable to tribes unless they are able to become an incorporated non-profit).
Additionally, homelessness, or near homelessness, on a reservation looks different than what people might expect. The Wilder Survey, one of the most comprehensive surveys of tribal homelessness, found that many Native Americans living on reservations are doubled up for long periods of time, often moving from one doubled up situation to another as long as that’s sustainable. Street homelessness is less common, meaning homelessness is less visible. Even the term “homeless” can cause confusion on a reservation, as the land itself is often considered a “home” for all tribal members.
Tribes may also struggle in gaining attention for this ... Read More »
Field Notes: Coordinated Intake
March 22, 2011
Our own Center for Capacity Building is the on-the-ground arm of the Alliance. They travel from place to place helping communities craft strategies and implement practices to help turn their best intentions into real results. Starting today, the Center will share their notes from the field, offering thoughts on the best methods, tools, and ideas they're using to end homelessness one place at a time. Stay tuned!
One of the strategies that we’re paying a lot of attention to these days is coordinated or centralized intake. It seems that a lot of the communities that have successfully reduced homelessness, especially among families, have started by reforming their intake systems. The key it seems is not the centralization, but better coordination of resources. That’s one of the reasons we like to describe it as coordinated intake rather than centralized intake.
In a community without a coordinated intake process, a person who needs assistance goes to various programs seeking help, and each program makes a determination about what kinds of assistance the person is eligible for. Most types of assistance are scarce, and so there’s some method for prioritizing, usually first come, first served. Let’s look at an example of permanent supportive housing. A homeless person residing in a shelter might get a list of programs that they are eligible for, including a permanent supportive housing program. The person will apply, and typically be placed on a waiting list. W... Read More »
Fun with the System Evaluator
March 15, 2011
Today's post come to us from Norm Suchar, director of the Alliance's Center for Capacity Building.
A couple months ago, we published a new tool that we’re calling the Homeless System Evaluator. Using the Evaluator, you can put in homelessness data and it will provide you with charts and graphs that help you see what parts of you homeless assistance system are working better than others. It’s a great tool for looking at the big picture.
So how does it work?
Here’s a small example, but if you want to see more, you should check it out on our website.
The chart below combines HMIS data regarding last place of residence for single individuals entering shelter and for those being served with HPRP prevention assistance. (Although I cut out some of the categories so it would fit better on this page.) It shows that a large percentage of the singles are coming from institutional settings, while most of the prevention resources are targeted to people coming from unsubsidized housing they rent. This kind of data can begin a conversation in your community about how resources are utilized, and it’s precisely the kind of thing the Evaluator was designed for.
Have questions? Send the Capacity Building Center an email.... Read More »
Check out the Alliance's Columbus Model
November 30, 2010
The Alliance just put out a huge (seriously, it’s hefty) toolkit – what we’re calling the Columbus Model.
So here's the thing: Columbus, OH is really good at ending homelessness. Really, they've done all the right things: focused on prevention, implemented rapid re-housing techniques, encouraged excellent data collecting - all the things that make a program measurably successful. They're so good, in fact, that we published a community snapshot on their 46 percent decrease in homelessness a few years ago.
And they're still at it! With laser-focus on performance measurement and performance evaluation of both their community-wide homeless assistance system and their individual programs, Columbus has managed to really focus on improving assistance and reducing homelessness.
Lucky for you, we've distilled the lessons learned in this community and we're sharing them with you so that you can implement them in yours! Our four-part profile of the Columbus Model includes:
Becoming a Data Driven System,
Performance Measurement and Evaluation,
Quality Improvment, and
We've also included tools and samples that you can download and adapt for your own community.
Why do you care? You care because next year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is going to get serious about the outcomes laid out in the HEARTH Act (that's the reauthorization of the McKinney Vento Grants) - and communities everywhere are going to have to shape up to meet those outcomes. One of the great things about the Columbus Model... Read More »
Encouraging community investment in Lincoln NE
October 07, 2010
Today's guest post is the next - and last! - installment of our Nebraska series from Kim Walker of our Center for Capacity Building. For more about the Center for Capacity Building and the services they offer, check on the Training section of our website.
Believe it or not, our time in Lincoln is at an end!
This last visited was from September 29 – October 1. The bulk of this last visit was a presentation to the larger Lincoln community, particularly targeting those whose work touches homeless individuals and have not been present for our meetings thus far. It’s about rallying community support and understanding that in order to make big change, we have to all be willing to invest in that change.
For our piece, we’ll review the process we’ve gone through with the Lincoln Homeless Coalition, including the data we collected through our survey and data analysis. Then we’ll turn things over to the Coalition members, who will talk in-depth about each of the goals they have for Lincoln’s system and invite the audience to become involved. This is where, if all goes well, we’ll see our hard work turn to into collective action as the larger community takes ownership of the work ahead.
In addition to presenting, we’ll be visiting the Coalition’s Project Homeless Connect event. Like other communities across the country, Lincoln puts on this one-day event that brings together different service... Read More »
More dispatches from Nebraska
September 09, 2010
You may remember that Kim Walker of the Alliance’s Center for Capacity Building is launching a new tool to end homelessness in Nebraska. Today – while she and our colleague Sam are en route to the Lincoln, she shares thoughts for their next trip!
It’s back to Lincoln tomorrow – and this time, my fellow Capacity Building Associate, Samantha Batko, will be joining me! Our mission for the visit is to finalize the plan that Lincoln started the first time around. This will entail doing some refining of the Lincoln Homeless Coalition members’ initial ideas, particularly the five goals they chose as the most important in helping them shift their system in the direction of ending family homelessness. Last time around, there were a lot of different strategies and resources suggested to help Lincoln accomplish their goals, but now it’s time to decide which strategies and resources are the best and most promising ones. Completing a workable timeline is also of the utmost importance with this visit.
Beyond just finishing up the plan – which is no small feat – we also hope to get the group jump-started with implementation. We are hoping to get the ball rolling so by our next visit, Lincoln will be able to report some progress on each of the five goals they’ve selected. While we at the Alliance our big plans of comprehensive and thoughtful planning, what we are really after is successful implementation that gets positiv... Read More »