At the end of September, over 400 people from the Southeast and throughout the country joined together in Clearwater, Florida for the 2012 Southeast Institute on Homelessness. The Institute, supported by the Florida departments of Children & Families and Education, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and Wells Fargo, is an example of the type of government, nonprofit and public sector partnerships that breed success in ending homelessness.
The focus of the institute was Building Successful Communities. Sessions, presentations, and dialogue groups asked participants to think about what is new, what is working, and what’s next in their community’s efforts to end homelessness. Keynote speakers, including USICH, invited participants into a dialogue about collaborative partnerships, creative planning, thinking “outside the box”, right-sizing and targeting resources, measuring success, and connecting with mainstream resources. No matter what stage of development communities were in when they got to the Southeast Institute on Homelessness, this event helped create a pathway for moving forward with people, groups, and partners looking to make changes in their programs for the better.
Throughout the week, people were talking about how to get creative with their existing resources to meet their community’s goals. Many service and housing providers were on hand at the conference to share their expertise, helping explain how they developed funding packages and programs that built a system designed to ensure the right intervention at the right time, allowing resources go further while improving outcomes. Conversations about the transition in place model, aligning services with health care, and connecting with mainstream or community-wide resources such as education and job training took place throughout the Institute. A spirit of collaboration and innovation towards real solutions permeated the atmosphere.
This spirit was illuminated by the Department of Children and Families, which parlayed community interest from a news report to host a state-wide fundraising and awareness campaign that brought in a variety of individuals and groups to this Institute, including one faith group that raised $5 million for family homelessness programs. It was also modeled during a session where leaders from HUD and the VA joined a public housing representative, leaders from community homeless initiatives, and leaders from housing support agencies to think through how to make the best use of subsidized housing resources. Florida’s Brevard United Way and Continuum of Care leads from across the state convened to understand and think through available resources, showing how partnering during a time of scarce funding can strengthen a community’s response. All of these conversations are pivotal to achieving Objective 10 in Opening Doors, retooling the homeless crisis response system, which focuses on ways communities can move from a disjointed and siloed system of assistance to a comprehensive response to the crisis of homelessness.
A key to a comprehensive response is to develop intake and assessments that look at screening people in not out. Communities are moving away from programs that ask: “Should we accept this household into our program?” to supporting programs in a larger system that asks “Of the resources available, which housing and services assistance strategy is best for each household that is experiencing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness?” The communities achieving the best results are focusing on:
- Housing stabilization, including rapid re-housing, affordable housing and permanent supportive options matched to the needs of individuals and families;
- A housing crisis response system that is based on shared protocols and assessments, including a system of coordinated, centralized intake;
- A strategic matching of resources to needs across the whole system, which includes engaging mainstream resources as well as targeting specific resources for high-needs individuals;
- Measuring results of programs and initiatives so they can be reported out and responded to by everyone involved in the mission to end homelessness.
With a supportive community and a flexible system that is responsive to the needs of individuals in a housing crisis in a comprehensive way, communities can make marked progress towards their goals. To learn more about retooling the crisis response system, visit USICH toolkit resources on Retooling Crisis Response: http://usich.gov/usich_resources/toolkits_for_local_action
Throughout this event, there was a true sense of inquiry that inspired and energized participants. As everyone joined together for dinner to talk about the ideas and models they had learned about over breakfast, in sessions, and during coffee breaks, it was clear that that the strategies of Opening Doors are being investigated, applied, and making a difference on outcomes throughout the Southeast. All hands are on deck and poised to complete the job of ending homelessness.