Field Notes: Incorporating Consumers

written by Kim Walker
March 13, 2013

So far in our series on how programs can best implement the HEARTH Act, we've talked about the importance of a permanent housing focus, performance measurement, and building systems-level cooperation. Our final topic today is consumer involvement.

A consumer presence on the new Continuum of Care (CoC) board, as well as the boards of all CoC-funded recipients and subrecipients, is now mandated by the interim CoC regulations. The intent of the new regulations is to improve the way we serve consumers - without their feedback, it is impossible to keep track of their needs and how well homeless assistance programs and systems are meeting those needs. Here are some questions you should ask about your program to determine how well you are incorporating consumer input into your program’s design and operations:

  • Does your program incorporate consumer choice and decision-making into the services it provides to consumers? It's important that, throughout the process of serving a client, program staff identify each client's individual housing needs, barriers, and strengths and constantly check in on each consumer's progress, well-being, and comfort with the program and the services it offers. Often consumers can identify what they need to solve a housing crisis on their own, and staff may simply need to empower them to meet those needs, or help them connect with the appropriate resources.
    • What consumers want and need should drive the direction of case management plans, inform identify service priorities, etc. As part of the housing search process in rapid re-housing programs, for example, consumers should be identifying places they want to live that fit their budgets, and case managers should be scheduling home visits based on the consumers’ availability.
  • Does your program have a formalized process for evaluating consumer satisfaction? Many programs collect anecdotes from their consumers for funders or for their promotional materials, but programs should have a consistent process in place to collect feedback about consumer satisfaction as well.
    • Program staff should gather feedback from consumers once they are no longer experiencing a crisis, perhaps after they have been stabilized in housing, and the feedback should address the accessibility of the program, as well as its overall quality and the appropriateness of its services. Staff should ask consumers how helpful the program was in helping them end their housing crises, and, additionally, staff should give the consumer the opportunity to provide open-ended feedback about whatever other aspects of the program they wish to comment on.
  • Does your program make changes or adjustments according to consumer feedback? Listening to consumers involves not just gathering feedback but using it.
    • It may not make sense to change the program based on each and every consumer request, but you should be keeping track of trends in consumer comments and presenting them as issues to be addressed to your program staff and board. Consumer input, in addition to program outcome data, should be shared at the systems level so that programs across the system that may be serving similar consumers are aware of their concerns. Service delivery should be based primarily on the needs and wants of consumers, not the strengths of providers.

For help and tools on incorporating consumer feedback into your program, see our: