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09/10/2014 - How Our Shelter Began Focusing on Permanent Housing, And Started Ending Homelessness for Our Clients.
When I joined the staff of Northern Virginia Family Service (NVSF) as the program manager of the SERVE Shelter in February 2010, I had many things to learn about the 60-bed facility for singles and families located in Manassas, Va., approximately 35 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Though the beds were filled, it was evident that clients were staying for long periods of time, many up to six months or longer.
In 2012, things started to change. Our shelter went through an expansion to 92 beds, and we had the opportunity to become a Housing First Model. (It seemed fitting that a shelter should focus on housing and that its goal should be to reduce the amount of time that an individual or family experienced homelessness. However, some fairly large barriers stood in our way to implementing this model.
At an individual level, the turmoil that comes from not having a safe place that is home is a crisis. It is a crisis that without adequate resolution gets worse. Although there are programs that provide housing and services for people, we will never have an adequate response that is at the pace and scale needed as long as it depends on people in crisis being required to navigate multiple programs in an attempt to get their needs met. Responding in a person-centered way to homelessness requires that programs are operating as a system. Making this shift is not simple, but it is being done in more and more communities throughout the country, and a systems approach is essential to achieving an end to homelessness.
Like most partnerships, one of the most critical ingredients is empathy. We have to be able to understand one another's incentives and find the common ground that aligns our work together. We shouldn’t just invite our partners to our meetings. (Who has time to attend someone else’s meetings?) We need to make “my” meetings “our” meetings. To do so, we have to work to understand what is important to our partners and create a space for honest dialogue and mutual understanding about where our efforts should support one another. We have to show that this is not only a good use of their time, but that we are focused on helping our partners succeed at their mission. And that, of course, is how together we succeed at our mission.