Field Notes: Mastering the Retooling Dance

written by Kay Moshier McDivitt
April 17, 2013

To improve homeless assistance, many providers and community leaders are exploring options for retooling transitional housing programs to models that help people move more quickly into permanent housing, while providing the support they need to remain stably housed. This process can be at times arduous and overwhelming, especially for programs with a long history in a particular transitional housing model.

Perhaps, if we start to think about the planning and implementation of a new model as taking “dance lessons,” it may reframe the retooling journey as an opportunity to learn a new dance with some great new steps for a successful retooling process. Those of use with two left feet take dance lessons to learn from others with experience and skill, and we realize that it takes determination, some stumbling, lots of practice, and following the direction of others who have mastered the art of dance.

During our 2013 conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Seattle, community leaders and providers had the opportunity to take a “lesson” on retooling from Kimberly Tucker, Flagler Family and Community Services in Richmond, Virginia during the “Retooling Transitional Housing I: Getting Started” workshop. Kimberly led the workshop attendees through some of the steps her organization took to retool their transitional housing program to a rapid rehousing approach during her presentation. The first two steps that her organization identified as critical to their retooling “dance” included:

Step One: Flagler Home developed a plan to shift the organizational culture, and then identified the vision and core values that drove the retooling of their former transitional housing model to a rapid rehousing model. This included outreach, training and education on the rapid rehousing model for the board of directors, staff, and donors. The plan identified all of the necessary changes to implement the model.

The key to this step is to include the staff in early discussions to identify the core values and vision of the organizational shift for the new model. For Flagler Home, the staff identified “client self-determination” as the vision that would guide the shift in their organizational culture toward the new rapid rehousing model.

Step Two: Flagler Home spent significant time identifying the necessary staff positions and training for the new model. Senior staff developed and shared the new staffing pattern internally with current staff five months prior to the official transition date.

This step took more time as the result was a re-write of every job description to reflect the staff positions and skills for implementing a rapid rehousing model. All current staff had to “apply” for a new position that best met their expertise. While all but one of the new job positions were filled by existing staff, a 90 day “new employee” evaluation was conducted for each new position based on performance on the new job descriptions.

An extensive staff training plan was developed that included staff connections with Rapid Rehousing programs, more involvement in the local continuum of care meetings, and a weeklong staff planning retreat off site.

Kimberly described the planning retreat as “a turning point for us.” During that week, the staff focused on the new values, outcomes, and policies and procedures to implement the new program model.

The new program model rolled out on July 1, 2012. It is a work in progress. Flagler Home continues to evaluate and tweak the model as they move along. Learning any new dance takes time, effort, practice and perseverance.  

As one presenter shared in another workshop on retooling transitional housing, it’s “a bit like doing the cha-cha. One step forward and 3 steps backwards.” As you prepare to retool your transitional housing program, get out your dance shoes and embrace the journey as a new dance that you are learning, practicing and performing