Opening Doors Connecticut

Opening Doors Connecticut

Connecticut recently became the first state in the country to develop a state plan to end homelessness that is fully aligned with our national plan, Opening Doors. USICH discussed the development of Opening Doors Connecticut with Carol Walter, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, and staff from the Partnership for Strong Communities.

Benefits of Aligning a State Plan

Since the effects of homelessness are individual, personal, and local, there can be a tendency for states to expect local communities to do their own planning without providing the comprehensive leadership of a state strategic plan. This misses a great opportunity that can benefit the state, the communities, and people experiencing homelessness in the state. Connecticut has found that a strong state plan aligned with Opening Doors provides a framework for a comprehensive statewide approach to homelessness that helps:

  • Improves access to interventions for people experiencing housing crises by streamlining collaboration at all levels of government and across jurisdictions. When everyone working on homelessness in the state shares the same goals and speaks with a unified voice, collaboration becomes easier and more effective.
  • Encourage uniform use of best practices. The process to develop the federal plan was thorough and relied on the input of leaders in homeless services from every corner of the country. “The strategies that are in the plan are the best we have as a nation. If these strategies are used uniformly in my state, then I know we are moving toward our goals more effectively. There is no need to reinvent the wheel,” said Carol Walter.
  • Coordinate outcome measures, ensuring all communities are truly measuring progress and that measurements are comparable. In order to use resources wisely, local communities need to be able to assess what programs are working. They cannot do this without using reliable measurements that are comparable with other communities.
  • Access federal resources and ease federal reporting requirements. Walter explained, “All federal homeless programs are coordinated through Opening Doors, it can make life easier as a state or a community when your program dollars are aligned in the same way. This will become especially true when new HEARTH regulations take effect. High performing communities will be eligible for additional resources and it is much easier to be high performing and to demonstrate that performance, if you are using the same measuring stick that the federal government uses.”
  • Save state dollars by reducing the burden on public systems and by increasing efficiency of state distributed resources. People experiencing homelessness - especially people experiencing chronic homelessness - are often high-cost users of public systems. State courts, prisons, and hospitals can reduce the strain on their systems if solutions to homelessness are in place. In addition, states are charged with distributing many resources related to homeless services. To make the most of these resources, states should be putting them into systems that are coordinated and using best practices.

Connecticut’s Process of Alignment

In Connecticut, the process of developing the new state plan was spearheaded by a small group of non-profit and advocacy organizations including the Partnership for Stronger Communities, the Connecticut Housing Coalition, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, the Connecticut Aids Resource Coalition, the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. The effort has been guided by the Reaching Home Campaign, supported by the Melville Charitable Trust. Partnership for Strong Communities has provided the staff support needed to move the project forward. This initial small group of organizations realized the importance of a state plan, but they also realized the importance of welcoming many voices to the table.  “Housing loss is intertwined with the issues of income, health, safety, and social and family supports, among others," said Howard Rifkin the Executive Director of Partnership for Stronger Communities. "To develop a state plan that coordinates across these fields and uses the best practices they have to offer, we needed to bring in a broader range of partners that included healthcare systems, workforce development, education, the business community, municipalities and the faith community.”

In order to obtain as much feedback as possible from those working in the field, they identified six topics that were especially relevant to the needs in Connecticut and hosted listening sessions on these topics: housing; health; criminal justice; family, youth, and children; crisis response; and community planning and sustainability. These sessions brought in feedback from many sectors including representatives from state-level agencies (see the table below). An outside observer was tasked with tying all of the feedback together and gaining consensus on a plan aligned with Opening Doors that meets the unique needs of Connecticut.

Ensuring a plan that was implementable was a critical piece of the thought process. “A plan without implementation does not get us closer to our goals, to do the work ahead we kept plan implementation in our sights from the beginning by delineating a structure to guide the implementation,” said Rifkin. Plan implementation is being overseen by a steering committee made up of a broad-based coalition of more than 50 community stakeholders. This steering committee oversees progress from four implementation working groups on retooling crisis response, healthcare and housing stability, economic security, and affordable and supportive housing which guide action on the strategies laid out in Opening Doors Connecticut.

Listening Session Topic
Participating Groups
Housing
Connecticut Housing Coalition, public housing agencies, housing developers, Connecticut Housing and Finance Authority, Department of Economic and Community Development, Partnership for Strong Communities, Governor’s office, Melville Charitable Trust, workforce investment boards, permanent supportive housing providers, legal rights services, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Agency, philanthropy
Health care
hospital staff, behavioral health providers, federally qualified community health centers, health department staff, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Agency, health advocates, AIDS advocates, Department of Public Health, Department of Social Services, state healthcare advocates, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, State of Connecticut Child Advocates
Criminal Justice
Department of Corrections, Court Support Services Division, the VA-Connecticut Healthcare System, state budget office, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Agency, Department of Social Services, community service providers, re-entry coordinators, Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement, Central Connecticut State University, philanthropy, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Partnership for Stronger Communities, state legislators
Family, Youth, and Children
children’s advocacy and legal rights groups, Youth Continuum, Youth and Family Services, magnet schools, permanent supportive housing providers, Department of Children and Families, workforce investment boards, Department of Social Services, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Agency, domestic violence advocacy, Department of Education
Crisis Response
permanent supportive housing providers, shelters, social services agencies, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Agency, State Budget Office, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, Department of Social Services, Partnership for Stronger Communities, United Way of Greater New Haven
 
Community Planning and Sustainability
Community colleges, Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, USICH, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Agency, the VA-Connecticut Healthcare System, Department of Economic and Community Development, Department of Social Services, philanthropy, state legislators

 

Five things you can do now to work toward an aligned plan in your state:

1. Determine a lead for the development of a state plan.  Consider state coordinating bodies or organizations that could convene participants around the development of a state plan. Some examples include a state interagency council on homelessness, state coalition on homelessness, state housing agency, and philanthropic organizations.

2. Convene meetings with a broad spectrum of representatives who work day-to-day in homeless services. Get everyone in the same room to talk about what is needed, what the benefits would be, and determine a course of action, that includes concrete steps, accountability for actions, and a timeline.

3. Connect with people experiencing homelessness and who are working on the ground (working case managers, people who run shelters, and others) and discuss the following questions:

  • What do best practices look like on the ground?
  • How do different practices work together?
  • How would we bring them to scale?

4. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Share your own experiences and what you know about how different models work in the real world. Consider solutions that are working in other states, and applicable strategies outlined in Opening Doors. Use the framework of population goals, a clear timeline, and five themes to frame your plan.

5. Be prepared to open your mind.

In relation to this last point, Walter shared this advice for our readers:

Be prepared to open your mind. In order to end homelessness, some things will have to change. Whether that is giving up on a model you have used for a long time or working with partners that you haven’t gotten along with in the past, some uncomfortable changes are inevitable. If you are in a leadership position, make sure others in your organization understand the why behind these sometimes difficult changes. Putting yourself in a silo and immersing yourself in the work of saving people is understandable, but in order to end homelessness and stop just managing it we all need to take a step back and realize where these silos and blinders are holding us back. As an individual or an organization you can begin to do this work and begin to think more openly. As a state you can take leadership and push the whole field toward the use of best practices and a more efficient system.