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This blog was originally published on the Administration for Children & Families website.
By Marsha Basloe, Senior Advisor for Early Childhood Development
When my son was little, he had a favorite stuffed animal called “elephant.” Elephant went everywhere Benjy went! One of my favorite memories is standing in his bedroom doorway and watching him sleep in his “new big bed” with his arm wrapped around elephant under the covers. This memory was important to me last week as I attended the National Alliance to End Homelessness Family and Youth Conference to present on the Administration for Children and Families’ early childhood efforts to support young children experiencing homelessness.
There were multiple workshops sharing the amazing efforts of programs and communities across the country. Secretary Julian Castro spoke to a large audience about the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s work and HUD’s linking with partners including the Veterans Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. He said that people need more than just housing; families don’t live in silos and it’s why the collaboration and coordination between HUD, VA and HHS is so important – from the federal level to the local level.
The 25 Cities Effort is designed to help communities intensify and integrate their local efforts to end Veteran and chronic homelessness. Fresno launched its local 25 Cities Effort in May 2014, setting a goal to house 60 high-priority individuals. Local stakeholders, however, were in for a surprise when one activity at an introductory meeting challenged everything they thought they knew about working together to connect individuals in need with housing. Here's what they learned.
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.
More than 20 organizations joined together to create the Skid Row Coordinated Entry System, in alignment with the Home For Good campaign in Los Angeles. The goal was to make systematic changes that would foster collaboration. For the first time, a system permanent supportive housing services for chronically homeless individuals were being examined, re-imagined, and improved.