Refreshing local Plans to end homelessness can be re-invigorating because our communities, and we as service providers and practitioners, have changed over time. We have more collective experience under our belts—we know more about what works and what we’d like to try.This eagerness to make a deeper impact is the fuel that powers the Plans. So how do we get the most mileage from it?
Here are a few insights I gained while assisting in the development of the federal Opening Doors plan and its first state-level adaptations in Connecticut and Rhode Island:
- Take time to listen. The most informative and inspiring moments in the (re)development of a plan can come from “listening sessions.” These are facilitated, roundtable conversations among a small group of experienced practitioners and consumers in the field about what works, how to use resources more effectively, and what’s needed to make change. The “listeners” are policy makers, advocates, and funders. Listening sessions offer a rare opportunity for everyone to step back and critically assess what needs attention. They are also a highly effective means of engaging people in sectors beyond homeless services, such as housing, health, criminal justice, employment, and education.
- Be inspired by what others have done. While many communities can point to local programs that have been highly effective in addressing homelessness, the truth is we are most often inspired by efforts outside our own borders. Hearing a first-hand account of how a community succeeded in tackling a problem can spark openness to change and enthusiasm for trying it locally. Connecticut pursued this tactic by holding a series of Opening Doors public policy forums on innovations in ending homelessness featuring accomplished practitioners from a variety of states and disciplines.
- Realistically assess housing assistance needs. With improvements in data systems and collection methods, HMIS annual and point-in-time data can now be used to project the number of families, Veterans, andchronically homeless adults who will need different types of housing assistance over the timeframe of the Plan. These estimates can then be used to create a shared understanding of the scale of “what it would take” to solve the problem, and serve as a gauge to assess the reach ofindividual strategies. Rhode Island took it one step further by calculating the costs of providing the needed housing assistance – a tactic that could prove useful in advocating for resources.
- Take a deep dive into a few core areas. Because homelessness is such a complex issue, Plans invariably include a lot of strategies - but the“overwhelm” of trying to implement all of them at once can quickly lead to inertia. To get things moving from the start, both the Federal and Rhode Island plans designated a short list of strategies as “signature initiatives.” These are high-profile, targeted efforts intended to both solve a significant aspect of homelessness and to demonstrate measurable success within a relatively short period of time.
- Prepare for implementation. A well-crafted design for orchestrating the Plan’s implementation can sustain enthusiasm and momentum. Connecticut developed a three tiered structure,forming a large statewide Steering Committeeto provide leadership and policy guidance; a small Coordinating Committee to provide overall coordination of the process; and four mid-size working committees to deviseand pursue strategies. The glue that holds all of this together is staff support provided by a lead intermediary (Partnership for Strong Communities) and its partners.
Janice Elliott is President of InSite Housing Solutions, a professional consulting firm that helps communities plan and create affordable and supportive housing.