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07/08/2015 - A Closer Look: Opening Doors, As Amended in 2015 - Spotlight on Use of Data

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



05/01/2015 - Coordinated Entry System to End Veteran and Chronic Homelessness in Tucson

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.



03/30/2015 - The New Orleans Model for Ending Veteran Homelessness

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.



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.



03/19/2015 - Count Us In – A Look at Youth Counts in Seattle and Portland

By Katy Miller

In cities across the country there was great energy and collaboration around strengthening the count of youth experiencing homelessness as part of the 2015 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point-in-Time (PIT) count. From Miami to Seattle, providers created new partnerships and shared innovative methods to get to a better count. This was driven by a deep desire to generate more accurate demographic data of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and ultimately to target resources towards interventions that are the most effective for the population.

Recognizing that youth are undercounted in the homeless street count that typically happens in the middle of the night, youth providers partnered with their local Continuum of Care (CoC) leads to expand the hours for when young people can be counted. Since most youth have hunkered down and are hidden away to stay safe by the time the street count starts, concerted efforts to conduct outreach to the youth and young adults prior to the count was key. Many communities also expanded survey questions to help get to a better understanding of where young people are staying, how long they have been experiencing homelessness, and what their unique needs and characteristics are.

While only those youth that are sleeping outside on the night of the unsheltered count are reported to HUD, expanding outreach to young people that may be staying night to night with friends and family helps providers and planners get a better picture of the youth that are in and out of shelters and frequent drop-in centers and meal programs during the day.



02/27/2015 - Data Drives Results: Take Down Targets Help Communities Zero in on Ending Homelessness

By Matthew Doherty and Beth Sandor


In our shared mission to end homelessness, we know that data drives results. It drives the strategies and implementation of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, a framework for action for partners at every level of government and the private and nonprofit sectors. It drives tools and practices of the Zero: 2016 effort to help 71 communities do whatever it takes to end Veteran homelessness this year and chronic homelessness by the end of 2016. And it drives the day-to-day efforts of people across the country working tirelessly to assist each and every person experiencing homelessness in their communities to achieve their goals of permanent housing. Data is at the very core of creating a housing system built for zero and achieving an end to homelessness.

Today, Zero: 2016 communities are confirming and committing to one of the most integral pieces of data in their efforts to end homelessness - their Veteran and chronic homelessness Take Down Targets. These Take Down Targets represent the total number of Veterans experiencing homelessness who will need to be connected to permanent housing in order to end Veteran homelessness by the end of this year, and the total number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness who need to be connected to permanent housing in order to end chronic homelessness in these communities by the end of 2016.



02/25/2015 - Positive Outcomes for Victims of Domestic Violence and Families through Housing First Pilot Program

By Kiley Gosselin

The link between domestic violence and homelessness is well-documented. Regardless of whether survivors seek help through homelessness services, housing assistance, or domestic violence programs, research shows a strong correlation between domestic violence and homelessness. A Department of Justice study found that at least one in four women were homeless as a result of domestic violence and a Massachusetts study found that a staggering 92% of homeless women experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives. Often, it is not only the victim, but the children of domestic violence victims that suffer as a result of abuse. Domestic violence is a leading cause of family homelessness in the United States.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made ending family homelessness in Washington a focus of their state efforts starting with the launch of the Sound Families Initiative in 2000. The Foundation has helped fund thousands of new housing units for families experiencing homelessness and is investing in approaches that are aligned with the strategies identified by USICH’s Family Connection resource, including coordinated entry and rapid housing.

In 2009, with the financial backing of the Gates Foundation, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) launched a five year pilot program testing the success of a survivor-centered, Housing First approach to preventing homelessness for survivors of domestic violence and their families. The pilot worked with 13 existing programs in 13 urban, rural and tribal areas across the state and the findings demonstrate positive outcomes across all sites. 



02/10/2015 - At White House, Mayors Strategize on Efforts to End Veteran Homelessness

By Mary Owens

On January 23, the White House hosted over 240 mayors during the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) Winter Meeting.  During the event, mayors took part in a breakout session with Administration officials including Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, Assistant to the President & Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementation Kristie Canegallo, Special Assistant to the President Luke Tate, and USICH Interim Executive Director Matthew Doherty, to discuss ensuring access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans and ending Veteran homelessness.  The breakout session also provided an opportunity for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to discuss best practices on how mayors can accomplish the goal of ending Veteran homelessness. Through the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, local leaders across the country are ending Veteran homelessness in their communities. Mayor Landrieu was one of the first Mayors to sign on to the Mayors Challenge and on January 7, 2015, New Orleans became the first major U.S. city to achieve the goal.