Thursday, September 14, 2017

CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic - Increase Access to Affordable Housing - The MDHA Flex Fund

Read the first blog post in our CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic series, Rapidly House Youth, here. Each post drills down into another aspect of the plan, to encourage you to get involved, and help us make measurable progress in ending homelessness. To maximize your learning and your ability to make an impact, we recommend you carefully read the entire first page now. Then review the entire page or pages that the individual blog post pertains to, as you read each post.

This time we focus on Goal I on page 2: Increase Access to Affordable Housing. The only thing that truly ends homelessness is housing. However, like any other scarce resource, you need a delivery system to ensure that this resource is deployed in the most efficient manner. This delivery system is made up of all of the different entities who are working together in our community to end homelessness. Our role is to serve as the backbone organization that brings these partners together, and turns them into a unified homeless response system. This is systems thinking at its best.

Now, proper systems thinking entails, at its very basic level, figuring out what input is needed to arrive at the optimal output. Our homeless response system is a leader in recognizing that one of the most important inputs in such a system, is a flexible assistance fund, like the MDHA Flex Fund. This is why one of the action items under this goal is to raise money for this fund. Since its founding by MDHA and United Way of Metropolitan Dallas in late August 2015, it has proven to be one of the most powerful weapons we wield in the fight to end homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties.

The idea behind the MDHA Flex Fund is simple: A minor but impactful expenditure inhibits a person from ending his or her homelessness. The MDHA Flex Fund pays that expenditure, and the person can make progress in ending his or her homelessness, if not end it altogether, in short order.

Much of what we do is, well, complicated. I usually say that if you need our elevator speech, we better be going up to the top floor of a very tall building! This why we have a Strategic Work Plan and a Playbook. In that context, one of the most beautiful things about the MDHA Flex Fund is its simplicity. In fact, we can even tell stories about it backwards, starting from the end, and as long as we include a link, you not only understand what it’s all about, but probably need a tissue to dab your eyes:

  • $103.53. $103.53 allowed Jonathan to reconnect his electricity, and avoid a return to homelessness (and a miserable Christmas).
  • $120.75. $120.75 allowed Daniel and Karla to remain housed, Abraham to pursue a job, and Richard to become eligible for a housing voucher. No, not $120.75 each; $120.75 total.
  • $95, $149, $200. $95, $149, $200, respectively, allowed Kisha, Sarah and Laura to move from shelter into housing.
Recently, as a requirement of our United Way funding, we were asked to submit a detailed report on the MDHA Flex Fund’s impact for July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017. A few months ago, I wrote about how I love site visits, and I equally love having to report on our performance. A report, when done well, forces you to take a step back, reflect on how you are doing, learn what is working well and what is not, and move forward with renewed vigor and purpose. This is why we actually chose, in the site visit and in our reporting, to go a few steps farther than what United Way requires, and report on the MDHA Flex Fund in a more granular manner. We broke down the solutions provided by the MDHA Flex Fund into 17 categories:

Even a cursory observation of these numbers tells you a number of interesting things. Most of us don’t realize how important critical documents are in escaping homelessness, yet this category is the top category in sheer numbers, while not being that high in cost.  If you took the statement we opened with, “The only thing that truly ends homelessness is housing,” too simplistically, you might not realize the importance of basic furniture in ending homelessness. This is the fifth highest category in sheer numbers and the fourth highest in cost. And, not surprisingly, almost $30,000 was spent on categories that have the word “rent” in them.

These numbers remind us, when we dig a little deeper, that this program is fully dependent on the folks we call our “unsung heroes,” case managers, whom we celebrate in just a few days. The MDHA Flex Fund is an important tool in their hands, and any tool is only as good as the person wielding it. They also remind us that our system is most powerful when partners join hands to work together, be it these case managers, utilizing the MDHA Flex Fund, be it the MDHA Flex Fund and the Dallas Furniture Bank, be it MDHA and DART.

Based on the numbers we reported, here is our current estimate for MDHA Flex Fund expenditures for July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018:

This is why it remains vital, as this action item states, to continue to raise funds for this important and vital tool: the MDHA Flex Fund. Through adept use of this tool, we can and will increase access to affordable housing for our homeless friends.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sneak Preview of the Case Manager of the Year Award Luncheon

We wanted to give you a sneak preview of our preparations for our first annual...

September 19, 2017, 11.30am-1.30pm
J. Erik Jonsson Central Library - O'Hara Hall (7th floor)

While some luncheons feature a keynote speaker, our luncheon is a little different. You will get to hear two-three minute testimonials of clients of our nominees, as they share what a difference these professionals made in their lives
Kayla Modesto, Nominee
This last Friday, we spent all day recording interviews with these clients, to capture these testimonials. I wasn't in the room, but Rebecca Cox, our Vice President, who conducted them, kept asking for more tissues to dry her eyes, for some reason...
Tiffany Price, Nominee
We also conducted interviews with a few of the nominees themselves, of which we will share two-three minute highlights. I was personally struck not only by how impressive each and every one of these individuals is, but how humble they are.
Benjamin Bailey, Nominee
We are so lucky to have such people in our community, working day in and day out, with our homeless friends! Don't miss out on the chance to join us in honoring them.

Get your tickets today, for just $25 a piece, by
clicking here or on one of the nominees' pictures, or just copy this link into your browser:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

This is Why We Do What We Do...

Yesterday, we had the honor of helping our grantee and partner, Housing Crisis Center, move Mr. Coleman into his new home. Mr. Coleman, a veteran of our armed forces has experienced years of unsheltered homelessness.

Rebecca Cox, Vice President, and Shavon Moore, Director, Coordinated Access and Assessment, even baked cookies with Mr. Coleman, and left a batch of cookie dough, so he can bake more.

Thank you, Housing Crisis Center, for your work. Thank you, Mr. Coleman, for your service, and for your patience. Days like yesterday remind us why we do what we do.

We will not rest until we house each and every one of our homeless friends, because housing is the only solution for homelessness. Also, we really love any excuse to bake cookies...

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic Rapidly House Youth

Have you had a chance to review our Continuum of Care Strategic Work Plan? If you want to be part of the solution, in making homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring in Dallas and Collin Counties, we encourage you to carefully review the plan. Whether you are a professional or lay leader, a case manager or a volunteer, a program director or an advocate, there is bound to be something you can help with.

Over the next few weeks, we will be posting a series of blog posts, which we are calling the CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic. Each post will drill down into another aspect of the plan, to encourage you to get involved, and help us make measurable progress in ending homelessness. To maximize your learning and your ability to make an impact, we recommend you carefully read the entire first page now. Then review the entire page or pages that the individual blog post pertains to, as you read each post.
We will start with Goal V on page 6: Rapidly House Youth. We have already made great progress on the first action item: Develop youth housing and services resource guide/web based/smart device application. Our Resource Development VISTA, Victoria Jackson, completed our Youth Services Directory, we posted it on our website, and she sent a hard copy to each middle and high school in Dallas and Collin Counties. She is currently working on the web based version.
Victoria Jackson
MDHA’s Resource Development VISTA
We are already planning for how we can make progress on the seventh action item: Develop more accurate methods to conduct census of homeless youth. Stay tuned over the next few months, especially during our See Me Now event, which focuses on youth homelessness, for more information on how you can help us with just that.

One of the most important things to remember about this specific item, the entire goal, and Goal IV on page 5, is that homelessness, specifically when it refers to youth and children, has more than one meaning. Therefore, counting youth and children experiencing homelessness will produce more than one number.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness more narrowly, while the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) defines homelessness more expansively. HUD’s more narrow definition is due to the legislators’ desire to more carefully target scarce funding for homeless housing programs. DOE’s more expansive definition is due to the legislators’ desire to err on the side of caution and provide services in the educational environment to a broader set of students.

The method of counting itself is also different, for much the same rationales, under each definition. We conduct an annual homeless count, and track numbers throughout the year through our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), to arrive at the most accurate numbers we can, under the HUD definition. School districts ask families to self-report whether they are homeless, typically during school registration, and by aggregating these self-reports, school districts arrive at the numbers under the DOE definition. 
Mark Pierce
 Dallas ISD District Homeless Liaison (Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News)
Therefore, it is quite normal to see school district numbers, such as those discussed by Mark Pierce, Dallas ISD District Homeless Liaison and MDHA board member, in this excellent article from earlier this year, that dwarf the numbers we report. It’s not because we disagree; it’s because we are talking about different definitions. Indeed, that is why, once again, this action item, this entire goal and Goal IV are so important. Along with our counterparts in other American communities, our CoC is committed, to continuing to build and develop a homeless response system that serves the unique and different needs of homeless youth and children, whatever definition they fall under.

To that end, among other things, we, as a community, must do what is called for in the fourth, fifth and sixth action items under this goal, namely, gather and report ISD homeless youth data, expand youth drop-in centers, and link these to the rest of the homeless response system. This way, working hand in hand with our partners, area school districts, family and youth homeless services and shelters, as well as mainstream services, we can and will strike a blow against family and youth homelessness, in all its manifestations.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

And the Nominees for Case Manager of the Year Are

The linchpin of our homeless response system is not the board chair, the executive, or the program manager; it is the case manager. To pay tribute to these professionals, MDHA will be holding its first:

And the nominees are...
Lisa Stephenson of the Housing Crisis Center! Gina Norman, who nominated Lisa, emphasizes her profound and deep sense of empathy, so central to case management. She tells us that Lisa lives by the quote, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
Monica McGee of Austin Street Center! Dustin Perkins, who nominated Monica, marvels at her leadership skills. He tells us that Monica, "has been so effective at developing partnerships that the word has passed beyond the walls of Austin Street, increasing awareness about the problem of homelessness in Dallas."

Tiffany Price of the  VA North Texas Health Care System! Natalie Qualls, who nominated Tiffany, is impressed by her passion and resilience. She tells us that Tiffany, "comes to work with a positive attitude and a desire to serve, which is important given that she spends most of her days outside the comfort of an office building, and in the streets and encampments," with some of the most vulnerable of our veterans.

Kayla Modesto of Hope's Door New Beginning Center! Isabel Camacho, who nominated Kayla, admires her adept deployment of the tools in her case management "toolbox". She says that Kayla, "practices active listening," "empowers her clients," and helps them, "become self-sufficient," using a, "Trauma Informed Care approach and motivational interviewing." 
Brandy Stockton of The Samaritan Inn! Heather Molsbee, who nominated Brandy, loves how she fights for those in need. She says that their clients, "have often given up before they meet us. Brandy is their greatest asset... Always a champion of the underdog, Brandy will push for what is right, with a smile on her face and the tenacity of a bulldog."  

David Swain of The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center! Andrew Lomax, who nominated David, emphasizes how David meets clients where they are in the physical sense, but much much more too. "He might be seen talking with a guest on the sidewalk on St. Paul St., or at an encampment... ultimately he is engaging, hat turned backward, making sure a... guest is all right... exploring who they are at that moment... to figure out the next steps."

Cindy Bailey of The Stewpot! Laura Westerlage, who nominated Cindy, tells us that, actually, it was a unanimous decision of their entire team to nominate her! Laura, who supervises Cindy, reminds us that in our work, leadership is about much more than titles, "Cindy... is the person our small team always leans on and looks to for help and advice... Cindy has been my mentor and sounding board... She is very much the silent and humble leader... who unites us."
Erica Pouncie of the Salvation Army Carr P. Collins Social Service Center! Michael Allen, who nominated Erica, highlights her ongoing learning, so critical tosuccessful case management. He tells us that she is currently working on her PhD, and that shares her learning with her entire team, bringing to them new ideas for training, as well as new clinical solutions to client challenges, that can benefit not only her clients, but their clients too.   

Beatriz Martinez of CitySquare! Joshua Tomko, who nominated Beatriz, talks about her powerful impact on clients, as well as team members. He tells us that multiple supervisors find themselves "tearing up," at, "the power of the impact," Beatriz can have on a client. He explains that, "she can pull someone's dreams out of them, and inspire them to pursue things they never thought possible."

Luis Moreno of Prism Health North Texas! Ben Callaway, who nominated Luis, loves how empathetic, caring and non-judgmental he is. He says that Luis' "sense of social justice, patience, compassion and empathy enable his clients to return even after they relapse, because they are confident that Luis will... help them restart their journey... focusing on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses.

Benjamin Bailey of Metrocare Services! Benjamin was nominated by a client, who speaks movingly about how much he helped her, her husband, her sixteen-year-old son and her four-year-old daughter, who lives with autism. She tells us that when she was consumed with, "fear and hopelessness," Benjamin was there to give her, "hope and courage," taking her to her appointments, making sure her son made it to school and her daughter received the assistance she needed. "I wish there were more Benjamin Baileys," she concludes. 

Don't wait! Buy your tickets now! Just click here or on the image above
or copy this link into your browser:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Who Cares How Many People Experience Homelessness in Dallas?

It’s a purposefully provocative question, but you must admit that not everyone does. Back in February, we articulated very clearly why our values dictated that we count each and every person experiencing homelessness. However, counting these individuals and doing so accurately, is not just about valuing each individual, it is about problem solving. The only way we can solve a problem is if we know its nature and its scope. Certainly, the only way we can know if we are making progress in solving that problem, is through continuous, careful and evidence based measurement.

Now, absolute accuracy is usually theoretical, even when measuring objects scientifically, however to dismiss the importance of trying to reach results as accurately as we can because of this, would be nihilistic. Instead, we measure as accurately as we can, and we acknowledge our limitations, up front, before we even start to measure. If we properly minimize our limitations, as much as we can, we can reach valid numbers.
Indeed, this is why we have always been very public about the measure of accuracy that can be achieved, the need to improve our count, and how we have done just that since 2015. This is also why more than a fifth of the State of the Homeless Address, this past March, was devoted to the intricacies of scientific mapping and resulting count methodology for our annual Homeless Count.

So, how many people do experience homelessness in Dallas? In our playbook, we talk about two important numbers we always keep in mind, “the number of those experiencing homelessness at any one time, about 3,800 in our last count, and the number of those who experience homelessness throughout the year. The annual Homeless Count, conducted every year around the same time, gives us the first number, and throughout the year, we use our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to track the second number, which is around 9,750. Obviously, the second number is always going to be larger than the first one, since the second number includes anyone who was homeless throughout the 365 days of the year.

It is important to keep in mind the difference between the two numbers, because we have seen some confusion in this area. In fact, a claim that comes up again and again is that there are about 10,000 people in Dallas and Collin Counties who are experiencing homelessness, in the present tense. Though we are not totally sure where that number came from, those who originated it, were probably confusing the two very different numbers. There simply are not 10,000 people experiencing homelessness, currently, in our two counties. The data, i.e. factual reality, does not support such a number. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Hard, Ongoing and Critical Conversation

On June 28, 2017 for the latest installment of our Hard Conversations series, MDHA, CitySquare, and the Dallas Public Library presented a book synopsis of Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future. 

The book synopsis was led by Randy Mayeux, renowned scholar and longtime book reviewer at CitySquare's Urban Engagement Book Club. Our good friends, Larry James and Rev. Dr. Michael Waters, joined Randy for the Q&A part of this exciting event, and expounded on how the lessons of Toxic Inequality can be applied to race, poverty and homelessness in Dallas.
This Hard Conversation was part of our ongoing effort to address Racism and Homelessness in Dallas, as part of our SPARC Dallas program, in partnership with the Center for Social Innovation, and with the support of United Way of Metropolitan DallasUnite Dallas Relief Fund.

The importance of this effort was underlined by the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ invitation to Jeff Olivet and Marc Dones, of the Center for Social Innovation, to speak about this program, at the plenary on the second day of its recent annual conference, following an address by the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson.

Jeff and Marc also led a standing room only session at the conference, where they delved into the program in depth, and held a meeting, where we got to meet with those running the program in other cities. We have been meeting, in an online virtual learning community for a few months now, but this was the first chance we had to meet in person.

Out of recognition of the importance of combating Racism and Homelessness, the seventh goal of our CoC Strategic Work Plan is devoted to this. We look forward to continuing to make progress on this front.