Take Five!  Q & A with Laurence Belinsky

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Expert Q & A | August 11, 2008

Laurence Belinsky
President/CEO of HELP USA

What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
The movement toward data-driven programs and performance-based contracts. Increasingly, data on the effectiveness of particular interventions is playing an important role in shaping municipal policy and program design. Public and private funders are using this data to define target populations and establish very concrete programmatic goals, and in many cases service providers have the opportunity to earn substantial bonuses if they meet or exceed contractual targets. Not-for-profits that seek to be successful must upgrade their performance monitoring systems, closely track their outcomes, and continually adjust their service models to ensure positive results. HELP USA’s new performance management practices have resulted in shorter shelter stays and a sharp increase in housing placements.

What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
The importance of homelessness prevention, and the need for prevention programs that work in tandem with job placement and education/ GED programs. Helping keep people in housing and out of the shelter system is essential. Prevention programs like New York City’s HomeBase initiative help families and children avoid the traumatic experience of losing their housing and having to enter a shelter; they are also cost-effective ways for government and foundations to invest in programs that help stabilize high-risk households. In health care as in homelessness, prevention is always the best policy.

How did you start working in the field of homelessness (or housing)?
I have always held public service in high regard – even while working on Wall Street. Living in New York you are confronted every day with the issue of homelessness. I decided that I would use my governmental and business experience to help try and solve one of our country’s most pressing social issues. Everyone deserves a decent and affordable place to live.

Where do you draw your inspiration?
From the families and men and women that live in our shelters, and from the hope I see in the faces of the young children in our daycare classrooms. Also knowing that every day we make a real difference in the lives of people that want a better life but can’t reach their goals without our help. The long hours and hard work all pay off when our clients move into new homes or gain employment.

Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
You can’t be in this business and not have hope. My hope – and belief – is that sooner (not later) the federal government will re-enter the affordable housing market and provide the funding necessary for organizations like HELP USA to develop a significant number of new housing units throughout the country. I also think that while developing new housing is important, it is not the only factor we need to think about in relation to ending homelessness. Homeless populations need well-designed employment & training services and education programs that will increase their self-sufficiency and long-term economic prospects. At HELP, we are ending homelessness by preventing it before it occurs, and by working to stabilize families that have been through the shelter system and are now back in the community.

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