The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness recently held its first statewide conference in Albuquerque on ending homelessness in their state. I had the honor of delivering a keynote to stakeholders from across the state at the conference and was joined by leaders such as Linda Couch of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (on the right in the photo). The energy, enthusiasm, and true passion for the cause of ending homelessness among service providers, advocates, and government officials was inspirational.
The challenge for this group now is figuring out how to harness that energy and deploy it in a careful and coordinated way to move from planning to action This challenge is not unique to New Mexico nor is the major elements of their strategy to end homelessness very different from other states. However, the specific activities to support the strategy will need to be tailored to the population of individuals and families experiencing homelessness specifically in New Mexico. Using Opening Doors as a guide, New Mexico can create a framework for state- level efforts that can be replicated and adapted by the diverse communities throughout the state. Utah is a great example of this.
As those of you who have read Opening Doors or listened to our speeches know, underlying the four goals in the Plan are ten objectives and 52 strategies, all which can be summarized in five themes:
- Increase leadership, collaboration, and civic engagement
- Increase access to stable and affordable housing
- Increase economic security
- Improve health and stability
- Retool the homeless crisis response system
Asking the right questions in these five areas and fleshing out a clear set of strategies for each can be a logical place to start for both rural communities and cities. Meaningfully involving government and private partners from the start can help channel the compassion and energy of coalition members into a strategic set of actions that has the potential to make that vision a reality.
We all know that developing a plan to end homelessness does not equate to doing it. Planning is a process that we undertake to create a path for achieving our goals. For the plan to be more than a document a community can point to in demonstrating its commitment to ending homelessness, it has to result in action.
What is different in communities that have plans that lead to reductions in homelessness from those that have plans on the shelf? Here are my unscientific observations:
- Ownership. Someone, either in the government or in a community organization, has accepted the charge of ensuring plan implementation and is accountable to the community for action.
- Buy-in. Plans that are developed with broad stakeholder input and in partnership with those who make funding and policy decisions are more likely to be implemented.
- Public messaging. When efforts to end homelessness are talked about, shared, and part of the dialogue and fabric of the community they will have staying power. This of course helps with buy-in.
- Measurable goals, a system for using data to track progress against goals, and transparent reporting on progress. This provides the opportunity for honest dialogue and to rethink what isn’t working after some time of implementation. This data can help leaders alter and change course when needed.
Consider the team at USICH your partners as you plan your efforts and move toward implementation. Explore the resources that are available to you. Reach out to your Regional Coordinator if you get stuck along the way, and participate with us in reaching our national goals to end homelessness.