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By Jasmine Hayes, Jon Bradley, and Mary Li
Since the adoption of the Federal Framework to End Youth Homelessness in 2012, the Council’s Interagency Working Group on Ending Youth Homelessness has made progress around the two broad areas for action: 1) increasing data on youth homelessness and 2) building community capacity to respond to youth homelessness. Council agencies have supported the improvement in counting youth as part of Point-in-Time counts, initiated community planning efforts, supported pilot projects, and launched the integration of Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information System (RHYMIS) and Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data.
USICH and our Council agencies are fully committed to achieving our goal of ending youth homelessness in 2020, but we know there is a lot more work to be done. At the July 2015 Council meeting, we officially launched the second phase of work under the Framework, focusing on strategies to increase community-level capacity by developing and testing innovations in services and programs. In the coming weeks, USICH will be releasing more details on the vision for that work, with Council agencies committed to taking action to provide communities with the tools they need to advance progress.
Efforts in communities across the country to develop and test innovative approaches are inspiring and informing this next phase. During the July 2015 Council meeting, we had an opportunity to hear from Jon Bradley from Preble Street in Portland, Maine, and Mary Li from Multnomah County Department of County Human Services in Oregon regarding their local efforts to implement a more coordinated and comprehensive response to youth homelessness. Jon and Mary shared their successes, their lessons learned, and the challenges that they continue to tackle.
To accompany the release of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015, we’re taking a closer look at each of the four key updates to the document.
Spotlight on Uses of Data in Decision-Making and Performance Management
“Before Opening Doors, communities were targeting their resources inconsistently, and many weren’t sure how to do it at all. The Plan has provided a concrete framework that has helped communities match the right resources to the right populations. It has also spurred communities to adopt better ways of measuring their work. We’ve seen over a hundred communities begin to track their housing placements against monthly goals to ensure they are on track to meet the Opening Doors deadlines, a behavior we know correlates with improved local housing performance.” - Beth Sandor, Director of Zero: 2016 for Community Solutions
Data helps us to end homelessness. It allows us to understand the needs of people experiencing homelessness in our communities, put resources in the right place, and measure the results of our efforts.
That's why data takes on even more importance in the newly amended Opening Doors. We have added new strategies related to the use of data in two ways:
- Improving data collection and integration at the Federal level to increase our understanding of the full scope of and trend on homelessness
- Supporting the use of data at the community-level to improve the delivery of housing and services to people experiencing homelessness
A message from Matthew Doherty, USICH Executive Director
On behalf of the entire team at USICH, the teams at our Federal member agencies, and our many dedicated state and local partners working tirelessly to prevent and end homelessness, I am thrilled to share with you this updated version of Opening Doors, as amended in 2015.
This document is the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by countless individuals who contributed ideas and information through online forums, in meetings, and by analyzing their agencies’ programs and policies, helping to identify best practices and lessons learned from their years of experience. That collective wisdom has shaped and strengthened this amendment and its focus on objectives and strategies informed by data, research, and results.
The release of this amendment could not be more timely. We have made great strides toward the goals established in Opening Doors, but there remains a large amount of work to be done. Today, on the anniversary of the original publication, we reaffirm our commitment to achieving an end to homelessness in America, with even greater confidence in our collective ability to solve this problem.
Together, we are proving that homelessness does not have to appear in the pages of American history as a permanent fixture, but as a problem the American people overcame. It is my hope that the release of this amendment to Opening Doors will help move us closer to the lasting solutions that we can and must implement.
06/04/2015 - The Connecticut Head Start-Family Shelter Partnership: Working Together to Meet the Needs of Families and Children
By Grace Whitney, Jamie Peterson, and Susan Compton Agamy
Surprisingly, we are more likely to find ourselves in a homeless shelter at age one that at any other age in our lives. [2012 AHAR (HUD, 2012) and Census Data] This remains true through age five. Half of all children in family shelters are age five or younger. In order to address this, Head Start and family shelters in Connecticut have come together to combine resources so that they can better meet the particular needs of pregnant women, infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families.
Through a partnership that has included the Head Start State Collaboration Office (HSSCO), the state’s HUD agency, which was formerly the Department of Social Services and is now the Department of Housing, and the state’s networks of local Head Start and shelter agencies, ongoing discussions are taking place to identify opportunities to align policies and practices that can overcome the shared challenge of serving this population of families.
The goals of the effort have been simple:
- increase enrollment in Head Start,
- make family shelters more child-friendly, and
- penetrate one another’s local networks and councils to bring the children’s voice to the housing community and the housing voice to the early childhood community.
By Rudy Trinidad
Sonia Niznik (pictured right, with her Case Manager, Rudy Trinidad) was taking shelter from Arizona’s dry summer heat at a “cooling center” provided by a local church when a team of outreach workers began conducting screenings using the Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization and Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT). At the time, Sonia had been without a home for about three years.
Sonia’s interview was part of the first wave of VI-SPDAT assessments conducted for Tucson’s Coordinated Entry pilot. The Coordinated Entry system is designed to prioritize and assist Veterans and chronically homeless individuals based on their level of vulnerability and embraces a “housing first” philosophy, operating with harm reduction principles within the safe environment of a home.
Sonia was the first individual matched with housing under the new system. To date, more than 80 Veterans and chronically homeless individuals have been matched with housing and about 15 clients have been able to move into permanent housing through this system.
I, Rudy Trinidad, a Housing Navigator and Case Manager for the Pasadera Behavioral Network, met Sonia a week and a half after she filled out the VI-SPDAT. When I met her, she had a big smile on her face. She was amazed that she was contacted about permanent supportive housing (PSH) so quickly after completing the survey. I helped her prepare the documentation she needed to qualify for the Pasadera PSH program, which is funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continuum of Care. She chose a place in a recovery based living community to help her address her substance use issues, which contributed to the job loss that led to her homelessness. A few weeks later, she had her own fully furnished studio apartment.
04/23/2015 - Federal Partners Move Forward on HMIS Alignment & Integration, Announce MOU on Roles & Responsibilities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Community Planning and Development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ Veteran Health Administration have recently announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that sets forth shared understanding of each agency’s respective roles and responsibilities regarding the use of Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS).
We know that using data to make smart decisions drives improvement in results. The more effectively we can collect, analyze, share, and coordinate around a common set of data, the more effectively we can inform action to end homelessness. For most communities, Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) are the primary data systems to capture information about families, youth, and individuals experiencing homelessness as well as information about the provision of housing and services to homeless individuals and families and persons at risk of homelessness.
HMIS helps us not only understand the impact our programs are having, it helps us better understand who our programs are engaging and how effective that engagement is. Action is underway now at the Federal level to integrate and align HMIS across Federal programs, which will help break down silos between services and programs and improve the effectiveness of our services and programs.
04/02/2015 - Building Blocks to Success: Community-Wide Partnerships and Commitments Drive Success in Central Florida
By Amy Sawyer
In Central Florida, the most important building blocks to success are its people. People from all walks of life including landlords, judges, outreach workers, and faith leaders have partnered with the VA Medical Center to make a difference in the lives of Veterans experiencing homelessness and the data is showing that these strong partnerships are paying off, as the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness is decreasing in Central Florida. This past month, Federal partners from HUD, USICH, and VA joined Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to celebrate the great strides the community has taken and, even more importantly, rally the community to finish the job of ending Veteran homelessness.
Standing side by side, the Mayors addressed the crowd of a few hundred stakeholders from the community and reiterated their commitment to ensure that no Veteran should experience homelessness. They challenged the community to align resources and use what is being learned through the successes of the Mayors Challenge to inform the larger system response to all types of homelessness. The VA Medical Center Director, Timothy W. Liezert, and his staff were on hand to share the lessons learned and demonstrate the real partnerships that have emerged across the different programs and systems in the community.
Over the next several months, as the community drives toward the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, there are key strategies and approaches they’ll be leveraging to find success.
By Martha J. Kegel
Three months ago, after a campaign led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans became the first major city to effectively end Veteran homelessness. During an intense six-month campaign, community partners connected every Veteran living on the street or in emergency shelter who would accept housing with an apartment of his or her own, with supportive services scaled to the Veteran’s needs. Now we actively work every day to maintain a “functional zero” in Veteran homelessness by housing any newly homeless Veteran within an average of 30 days.
I firmly believe that every community can and should end Veteran homelessness.
Yes, New Orleans had some advantages. For one thing, the local VA and its partners had already achieved a significant reduction in Veteran homelessness before we started the final drive in June 2014. At that point, we had already driven down the number of Veterans suffering in homelessness from 660 in the January 2011 Point-in-Time (PIT) count to 193 in the March 2014 count. For another, we have a very strong visionary leader in Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who set the bold goal of ending Veteran homelessness a full year before the federal deadline, convened the key players, and recruited active duty military and Veteran groups to help with outreach.
But in other important ways we were at a distinct disadvantage: As of the 2014 PIT count, New Orleans still had one of the highest per capita rates of Veteran homelessness in the nation as compared to our general population of only 379,000 residents. We were also at a disadvantage in resources: Compared to many other cities, we have precious few ways to pay for housing and services other than federal funds. And when pushing ourselves to get to zero, we were confronting the challenge of housing those whom we had always failed to connect to housing before – those Veterans who tended to have the most complex challenges and who for the most part were not eligible for HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
By Stacey Violante Cote
If you have wondered why the goal to end youth homelessness is set for 2022 while our goals to end Veteran and chronic homelessness are set for 2015 and 2016 respectively, you’re in good company. Youth homelessness is an urgent problem with lots of costly outcomes. Addressing this is also a preventative measure to stem the tide of chronic homelessness. So why set the goal so far down the road? It’s because this population has been invisible for a long time. As a result, we haven’t had enough data and research to determine the way out. It wasn’t until 2012 that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) amended the federal plan, Opening Doors, to create a framework for ending youth homelessness. And now, Connecticut has its own statewide plan – Opening Doors-CT.
03/23/2015 - Mayor Rothschild Shares His Experience of Participating in the 2015 PIT Count with Labor Secretary Thomas Perez
By Jonathan Rothschild, Mayor of Tucson
I was happy to welcome U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to Tucson earlier this year for our annual Point In Time Count, also known as the Street Count. The Street Count helps communities determine service needs by interviewing their homeless population. That information is then forwarded to our federal partners, who use it to allocate resources. At the Street Count, volunteers and staff from government and social service agencies canvass – in Tucson’s case, the surrounding desert – as well as underpasses, culverts, shelters, soup kitchens, and other areas where folks experiencing homelessness are known to gather.
Not every mayor meets a member of the President’s cabinet wearing blue jeans and hiking boots, but then, homeless camps in the desert are a far cry from Capitol Hill. Secretary Perez arrived at our meeting place ready to work. After talking with some of the other canvassers, we headed out to a camp about 20 minutes away, on the southeast side of Tucson.