Field Notes: Performance Improvement Clinic Delivers More than Numbers

written by naehblog
May 15, 2013

Today’s guest blog is by Jill Fox is the Director of Programs and Evaluation for the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness. Jill writes about her experience attending a Performance Improvement Clinic conducted by the Alliance.

Capacity Building Associate Kim Walker speaks at a performance improvement clinic in Howard County, MD, November 2011.

I entered the Pine Camp Arts and Community Center in the north side of Richmond eager to discuss the Richmond metro area’s homeless response system’s performance data. I was expecting a presentation filled with charts and graphs showing exits to permanent housing, costs per exits, returns to homelessness, lengths of homelessness, and other data to demonstrate the region’s performance towards reducing homelessness . These expectations were met  – but the most important thing I learned from the “Performance Improvement Clinic,” conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) and sponsored by Homeward and the City of Richmond, doesn’t fit into a bar graph . I learned that, if we are to end homelessness, we need a collective, honest, and courageous community response. 

Everyone at the table

The room was filled  with leaders from private, public, and faith organizations from across the homeless assistance spectrum. Leaders from local government, Departments of Social Services, mental health and substance abuse services, school based service organizations, housing developers, and homeless service providers  all came ready to discuss homelessness in the region. Organizations specializing in populations including victims of domestic violence, veterans, children, and families  all had a seat at the table. A collective response requires participation and coordination  from all groups and institutions that serve people experiencing homelessness.  When we recognize that no one organization can end a person’s homelessness, we understand that achieving our organizational missions depends on how effectively we work together.  Look around the room at your next community meeting. Is everyone who has a stake in solving homelessness at the table? If not, how can we  - as community leaders - get them to pull up a chair?

An honest look at what is happening

This is where the charts and graphs come in. Intuition, although integral to our thinking,  can sometimes be very wrong. The NAEH’s presentation of local data and national research on homelessness illustrated this point throughout the two day clinic. The current shelter and temporary housing system  was built around the concept of housing readiness. Intuitively it  makes sense: it takes a lot for most of us to maintain our housing. We have to make enough money, pay our rent or mortgages on time – all the while taking care of ourselves and our families. Why would we set people up in the middle of their housing crisis to take on all of that responsibility?  However, research shows that meeting the physical and emotional needs of yourself and your family while trying to get a job is much easier when you have a home you can call your own.  So, when I think about it, this “Housing First” approach intuitively makes sense as well . The data presented for the Richmond region suggested that programs with a housing first approach achieved better permanent housing outcomes and cost less than traditional shelter. When our intuition and the data align , we know we are on the right track to solving homelessness.

Courage to transform together

One of the small group exercises was a “Homeless System Simulation.” Beads representing people experiencing homelessness were placed on boards representing different interventions and programs. Each round of game play represented individuals coming into the system, being placed in different interventions, and then moving into permanent housing, staying in shelter, or going back on the streets.  As expected , when we tallied each group’s final score of unsheltered persons, groups that made changes based on the interventions that worked best had less unsheltered persons. The groups that performed the best operated with a sense of urgency -- quickly looking at what was going on, identifying what was working, and making the decision together to change . We all know that in real life this type of community transformation is much more complicated, sometimes overwhelmingly complicated. Having the courage to engage with each other and make the necessary and difficult decisions is imperative to achieving our collective mission to end homelessness in our communities.

Collectively, honestly, courageously

The Performance Improvement Clinic seemed to reenergize the Richmond region’s bold pursuits to address and end homelessness. This type of forum that brings leaders together to take a hard and honest look at their performance, share successes, identify areas of struggle, and renew a collective sense of responsibility  is exactly what communities need to commit to long term solutions to end homelessness.

In the above Alliance photo Alliance Capacity Building Associate Kim Walker speaks at a performance improvement clinic in Howard County, MD, November 2011.