Working collaboratively to remove barriers and find workable solutions to Veterans homelessness with real results was the theme of the May 14-15 Boot Camp in Orlando, hosted by the 100,000 Homes Campaign and Rapid Results Team. I was able to take part in this Boot Camp in Orlando with my fellow Regional Coordinators, who also took part in Boot Camps in Houston and San Diego. The 100,000 Homes Campaign works with communities throughout the country in order to rapidly accelerate the rate of housing placement for the most long-term and vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness in our nation — a complex and challenging mission. The Boot Camp gathered teams of community experts together to take a hard look at how to apply strategies that will make a direct impact on the speed and efficiency at which Veterans experiencing homelessness can access housing.
Through Opening Doors, federal agencies are establishing interagency partnerships, paving the way for communities to make a dramatic impact on homelessness. One example of the federal partnerships making a difference is the HUD-VASH program. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) work together to offer a program that pairs HUD Housing Choice vouchers and VA supportive services to bring affordable, supportive housing to Veterans experiencing chronic homelessness. As local communities respond to this opportunity, they have been able to aid Veterans in need of housing, but have been challenged by issues such as housing availability, outreach and awareness, collaboration with other homeless programs, and how to best leverage resources and ensure sustainability.
Organizers with the 100,000 Homes Campaign saw the opportunity and challenges of implementing the HUD-VASH program and approached the Rapid Results team about offering a platform for communities to gather and share successes, strategic plans, and program design in order to harness the true power of the VASH program. The Rapid Results team connected in this venture and brought with them a process of discovery, evaluation, and action that got everyone at the Boot Camp fired up.
To start with, teams consisting of representatives from Public Housing Authorities, Continua of Care, the local government, VA Medical Centers, and public and private service providers and stakeholders were welcomed by key leaders from the VA, HUD, and USICH. Agency leaders asked participants to lead with an open mind, share their findings so that policy and practice can be developed in order to reflect real-time need and experiences of communities, and challenged them to reduce the amount of time and barriers that Veterans experiencing homelessness face when trying to access housing and support services. Throughout the two days, federal agency staff were on hand to listen, provide information, and better understand what it takes to successfully implement a HUD-VASH program.
Once introductions were underway, the two days moved quickly and were hands-on. Initially, teams gathered around a big whiteboard and, using markers and note paper, magnets, and lively discussion, mapped out their existing process for assisting Veterans experiencing chronic homelessness. This activity helped participants truly visualize their roles and see the all of steps it took to get from homelessness to housed. It was quite eye opening—as soon as the process emerged on the whiteboards, everyone started to see areas that it could be improved, tightened, or augmented completely.
Through a series of creative conversations, games, strategy sessions, brainstorming, and resource sharing, communities were able to evaluate areas of governance, collaboration, system design, and program focus that could make a real difference. Everyone had a voice and everyone had a chance to chime in as the challenges of implementing VASH were considered, broken down, and viewed from new and different perspectives.
As the Boot Camp came to a close, themes were emerging that offered people clarity on how to build on their current HUD-VASH program and improve outcomes for Veterans in need. Out of these themes, very specific action steps for the next 100 days were developed by each community. Teams identified reasonable but aggressive goals that centered on using a Housing First methodology and system collaboration to increase the number of Veterans gaining permanent housing. Each team created their own goal, highlighted those who would be able to foster it, and how it would be measured and reported out. With these bold goals and solutions in hand, there was a sense of accomplishment and conviction that – while challenging – the next 100 days were going to bring some transformations and improvements to the way communities implement the VASH program.
Through the 100,000 Homes Campaign and Rapid Results partnership, the focus of the VA and HUD, and commitment by communities, it is hoped that the first 100 days will yield tangible results and further develop “successive waves of 100-day projects” to engage the creative energy of people at all levels. Moreover, the collaborative relationships formed and the business models altered during this process will prove go beyond the first 100 days, as participants moved with the needed sense of urgency in their work to house the community’s most vulnerable Veterans. This process kick-started the creation of alternative solutions and a pathway towards ending Veterans homelessness by 2015.
To learn more about the Rapid Results partnership and the work of USICH's Regional Coordinators in communities across the country, connect with your Regional Coordinator.