Working to End Homelessness

Today’s guest blogger is Ali Ryder, a Planner with OrgCode Consulting.

This week, I had the privilege of being invited by the fine folks at Heartland Alliance to act as a coach at their Working to End Homelessness Innovation Workshop, part of their Connections Project.  It was a fantastic opportunity to meet with great people from across the country, who were all excited to try new innovative approaches to connect homeless people with employment!  I learned so much, but here are my top takeaways:

1. Everyone wants to break silos, but no one is 100% sure how to do it

A lot of project teams said that there were great housing programs in their community, and great employment programs in their community, but since they had different goals and funding streams, it was always identified as a challenge to get these programs to work together.

2. There are a lot more federal programs than people know about

Did you know that you can use Medicaid to help fund Permanent Supportive Housing?  Did you know that people on disability can work and still receive their benefits?  Did you know that there’s a program called the Family Self-Sufficiency program, operated by HUD that incentivizes low income families in RGI to increase their income without being penalized on rent, and that any housing providers (not just a housing authority) can implement the same program for their tenants?  Did you know that there’s a new HUD program called Jobs-Plus?  Or that there’s funding to help youth to expunge or seal their criminal records?  Or that HUD has a $15 million annual budget to provide technical assistance for communities?  I’m willing to bet you knew some of those, but not all!

3. “Collective Impact” is the new buzzword

Collective Impact is the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem, using a structured form of collaboration (definition from Wikipedia).” Okay, maybe it’s not so new, but isn’t getting everyone to work together a good thing?

4. There’s a lot of talent out there

The Innovation Workshop was just the top 10 teams from across the country, and they all had great ideas!  I’m sure not jealous of the team at Heartland Alliance that has to figure out which ones are the best of the best.

5. Engaging the business sector can be done, but it requires thinking a certain way

If you’re trying to engage regular business people with your program, you need to make sure you speak their language.  Instead of asking them for a favor (“please, just give this guy/gal a chance!”), turn the tables.  How are you helping them?  Maybe they’re a landlord or employer with a high turnover rate, and they don’t want to go through yet another hunt for a new tenant/employee.  Tell them how you are helping them save time and effort.  And then follow through – it doesn’t work if you make a promise and don’t deliver.

6. The ending homelessness realm is actually pretty progressive

You might not believe me, but think about this.  There was a way we used to do things, and then a couple people started trying to do things differently.  They called it Housing First.  It worked really well.  Other people tried it.  It caught on.  The federal government is behind it.  There’s funding changes that support evidence-based and evidence-informed best practices.  The HEARTH act is referred to as a “game-changer.”  We know things about how you can get the biggest impact by focusing on persons with the highest needs.  We have assessment tools that efficiently help case managers know exactly what kind of intervention would be best for an individual.

In contrast, what is there for trying to connect a similar population for employment?  The very same innovators that attended this Workshop (who were more knowledgeable about employment programs than me) said that the system was backwards, encouraging programs to help people who were “job-ready” and easy to help.  And for those with higher needs, there was no tool to help service providers identify whether they would be good candidates for supported employment, job training, or something else entirely.

7. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is an opportunity

It’s a new piece of legislation that, among other things, requires states to develop new strategies, and look at the barriers of individual job seekers.  This is an opportunity for CoC leaders to get involved in the planning process, and have input on how to make better connections to employment programs.

8. There’s a lot of interest in a tool like the SPDAT, but with an employment focus

Maybe it’s something we should work on in the future.  What do you think?

3 Responses to “Working to End Homelessness”

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  1. Ben says:

    Yes, please (to #8)! I think the same kinds of anecdotes and misinformation that are so prevalent about who is or is not “housing ready” are out there regarding who is or is not “job ready.” The SPDAT did (does!) a beautiful job of pulling together the reams of data that are out there debunking some of these myths and making them easy for the general social worker to understand, providing encouragement to support a person even in the face of barriers that may seem insurmountable. A SPDAT that focuses on what kind of employment program might best suit an individual would be an amazing tool!

  2. SPDAT could also be an excellent tool for communities and neighbourhoods. The practice of community development very much needs rigor, accountability and data standards beyond reports to funders.

  3. I like #5. That’s a good reminder that we have value to offer when we’re in those discussions.

    Your point on siloing (#1) has been something I’ve been thinking about and working on a lot recently. Siloing is definitely a challenge. It almost goes without saying that our impact can be so much greater when our community works collaboratively. Here are two quick examples of how we’re starting to break silos in Charleston, South Carolina:

    #1 Our state is interconnected on the same HMIS platform. This has helped improve our ability to communicate and share information. In the past, an organization or the Continuum of Care (CoC) could pull data to measure performance at their respective levels. But trying to get a decent picture of how we’re collectively doing as a state was arduous (to put it mildly).

    Being interconnected allows our CoC and state leaders to easily access this data. Being on the same system allows us to use same data fields. This means we’re talking the same language which is tremendously helpful on the reporting end.

    Now we can realistically assess where we’ve been successful and where we’re falling short – be it at the organizational level or as part of broader regional and statewide efforts.

    #2 My organization and our CoC have embraced SPDAT. Our outreach teams complete a VI-SPDAT with people in the community. Our staff completes a VI-SPDAT with new guests entering our shelter.

    We use the VI-SPDAT as a prioritization tool. They’re entered into HMIS. Using the HMIS data, we have created a report listing all the individuals in need of assistance (all of our VI-SPDAT people who have yet to be served). The report lists VI-SPDAT scores and other relevant bits of information.

    Our CoC has organized a team of key players from our community. This team is comprised of people/agencies providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, rapid re-housing programs, permanent supportive housing, an organization that provides representative payee services, the head of our local VA’s homeless Veterans program, and various community leaders interested in helping people who are homeless and/or military veterans.

    The team meets to review our current priority list. A person is “matched” with appropriate organizations. This ensures that people receive the right level of service.

    We’ll just in the early stages of this collaborative work. And there are clearly ways we can improve our processes. But it’s exciting to be a part of it, to see agencies come to the table that weren’t before, and to think about how well this collaborative effort can serve people in our community.

    Thanks for letting me share. Sorry that this became so long-winded.