Commitment to Setting Targets, Measuring Results, and Creative Collaboration Sets Chattanooga, Tennessee Apart

Since the release of Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Blueprint to End Homelessness in 2003, and the revamped Blueprint in 2007, the area has been able to make significant gains towards their homelessness goals—both in the number of people they have been able to help initially exit homelessness and the housing retention of those individuals. According to the June 2012 Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition’s  Blueprint Analysis, 2,987 people have moved out of homelessness into housing since 2003, 90% of whom have remained housed. The period since the publishing of the 2007 Blueprint has been one of dramatic results, especially for the population in the Chattanooga region experiencing chronic homelessness. From 2007-2011, chronic homelessness declined by 89%, and overall homelessness declined by 48% according to Point In Time data. 

Chattanooga’s leadership and commitment to the smart, strategic allocation of resources that can be used in flexible and innovative ways has allowed them to align their work with the Opening Doors Across America Initiative and has generated real results. Opening Doors Across America encourages communities to move with urgency and take action.  Two of the four elements of this call to action are setting targets and measuring results, and acting strategically with pivotal partners like public housing agencies across the region.  These are two areas where Chattanooga has shown strong leadership. USICH spoke with Mary Simons, Executive Director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, about their work in these areas and how it has helped make progress.

Setting Targets and Measuring Results

To gain a better understanding of the scope of homelessness, Chattanooga’s Regional Homeless Coalition took a close look at who was experiencing homelessness and the types of housing resources they had available.  Together as a Coalition, they set a target for the Blueprint that used the Point in Time (PIT) Count data and added more housing units to account for those who were not experiencing homelessness that night but may experience homelessness at another point in the year. “Once we had PIT data, we were able to see what was needed and who was already involved in programs like the HUD/VA/HHS Collaborative Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness program which began in 2004. When you measure something, everyone wants to get on board with helping to achieve that goal,” noted Ms. Simons. “We used information and strategies from our work with the 50 participants in the Collaborative Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness and previous work with of the Department of Mental Health, and married those strategies and targets with larger federal programs to come up with strategies for all populations.” The Coalition has also benefitted from a longstanding HMIS system, established in 1998. “Even when we only had funds for 50 units, we still noted tenant’s retention rate and also who was entering shelters that we were not able to help at that time. Because we have all of this data, we could see progress from our strategies and were able to estimate the number of housing opportunities we’ll need next year.” 

While there are many targets within the Blueprint, a major sphere of focus is commitment to developing permanent supportive housing and affordable housing. In the 2003 Blueprint, the goal was to create 1400 affordable housing units in 10 years to be used by individuals experiencing homelessness through the provision of rent subsidies, new housing development, and the preservation of affordable housing stock. Between 2003-2007, Chattanooga developed 1620 affordable housing options. The 2007 revision included providing an additional 200 affordable units per year. They also exceeded this goal.  

Acting Strategically – Working with the Public Housing Authority and Supportive Service Providers

Mary Simons spoke of their very successful relationship with Public Housing Authorities in both urban and rural areas as a driver of their success.  It was important to get everyone around the table to discuss all the resources they have and the number of vouchers per program – whether Supportive Housing Program vouchers, Shelter Plus Care vouchers or Housing Choice vouchers. This required federal, state, and local involvement from multiple departments to assess both what resources were available and what resources we needed.  Continued review of successes and ongoing needs of current tenants and people experiencing homelessness during the voucher renewal process helps to determine the level of supportive service provision, financial assistance, and collaboration needed to sustain progress in Chattanooga. Once all parties with resources come together and assess their needs and resources available, the group can work together to determine how best to meet tenant’s needs. 

Mary Simons shared an example of this flexibility: 

We were able to place 50 individuals into housing with services through Collaborative Initiative to End Chronic Homelessness funding in 2003 using Shelter Plus Care Vouchers, and last winter we worked with tenants to reevaluate their needs and see if they needed the same intensity of services. We found this year after working with the case managers that many of the individuals that needed Assertive Community Treatment teams in 2004 were in recovery and were stable at the end of 2011. The individuals we placed through this program (and across all programs) had a very low turnover rate, so the housing authority is very willing to lease to these tenants using any of their voucher programs. We worked with the housing authority to move the folks who were able to remain stable without intense services to the Housing Choice Voucher program. That freed up 44 Shelter Plus Care vouchers that could be used with a supportive services team that is nearby, available as frequently as the tenants may need. Working within the rules of the Housing Authority and the supportive service providers we were able maintain housing for 50 people and get 44 more people off the streets and into housing. 

This example is just one of the many in which all stakeholders in the Blueprint have come together to ensure that the level of intervention is appropriate to the needs of individuals, putting Chattanooga in a position that is best able to maximize resources and achieve their goals. . “Working with all of those who are committed to housing people throughout the region, we’re moving in a much better direction to find what a person really needs and then a voucher or resource to fit their needs.” While the work is not over, Chattanooga has been able to work within and across systems to make progress, engaging both public and private partners. 

Chattanooga has been able to make significant progress by implementing strategies at the core of the Opening Doors Across America Initiative: they aligned their plan with Opening Doors, collaborated with multiple partners, committed to developing targets and measuring their progress, and engaged in creative problem solving to keep momentum going. Using some of the same tools and collaborations, your community can move the needle on ending all types of homelessness as well. 

Learn more about Chattanooga by reading their Blueprint Analysis

Learn more about resources and innovations in Opening Doors Across America