Sunday, November 30, 2014

Important Dallas Morning News Piece re Discharge of Persons Experiencing Homelessness from Hospitals

Check out this important piece in the Metro section:

This story, like many others, highlights the importance of all service providers operating in a system-like manner. The Dallas area Continuum of Care, and MDHA as its lead agency is actively developing a "coordinated access" system, that will enable providers to do just that.

One thing this type of system will do, is make sure that persons experiencing homelessness are never just discharged from a hospital, mental health institution, prison, jail, etc. to the street.

One of the things this article emphasizes is a point that comes up again and again in any discussion of homelessness. Obviously, we should do the right thing by our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness, because it is more humane. However, humanity aside, smarter approaches to the problem of homelessness not only don't cost more; they always end up saving tons of money!

So, why don't we do these things already? One reason is just habit and inertia. However, often, it is because the costs, benefits and savings are in different places across the system, rather than in one place.

Once again, this is the reasoning behind the legal requirement that each community have a CoC, with a lead agency, to bring all the different parties to the table. This, along with HUD requiring communities to form a coordinated access system, helps communities shake that inertia, and step up to the plate, change and operate like a system. This system not only serves end users better, but saves you and me money, as taxpayers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Housing First-Duh!

This article from the Economist, highlights what all who work on the issue of homelessness already know. The best and most cost-effective way to end homelessness, is to put people into homes, and do so as quickly as possible. This undergirds rapid rehousing, and informs how permanent supportive housing should work. The research on this is so robust, that the federal government has basically said, that in order to continue to receive funding from Uncle Sam, communities must follow this Housing First approach.

To the academic press this is old news, as the research continues to pile up in favor of this approach. It is great to see the popular press catching up, especially a publication like the Economist, which is not a fringe liberal rag, to say the least:

(Hat tip to our former chair, George Ellis, for passing this along.)

Monday, November 24, 2014

DART-MDHA Operation Lifesaver Event

Gary Thomas
Friday morning DART and MDHA held an event highlighting Operation Lifesaver's "See Tracks, Think Train" campaign. Gary Thomas, DART President and Executive Director, spoke about the importance of safety, and DART's efforts and track record in this area. Mike Faenza, MDHA President and CEO, lauded DART's efforts in increasing train safety, specifically for those experiencing homelessness, in light of how pivotal public transportation is to those experiencing homelessness. Ricky Redd, who formerly experienced homelessness, spoke about how important individual choice and responsibility was in this area. He shared some moving personal experiences, and some stories he heard, that underscore the importance of "See Tracks, Think Train". Thomas, with tears in his eyes, closed the event, with the emphatic statement, that if they save but one life in this effort, it is worth it.

Check out DART's Transit Education Program at and Operation Lifesaver at

Friday, November 21, 2014

Delaware and Dallas

This last weekend I was in Dover, Delaware, and I took the opportunity to meet with Ted Garrison, who works for the Homeless Planning Council of Delaware (HPCD). We met at the Smyrna Diner, a legendary institution and landmark in Delaware. Ted comes from the world of business analytics, primarily in the area of banking. He has served as the leader of HPCD's HMIS team for about a year and a half now, and very ably led the agency as acting executive director this summer. His no-nonsense out of the box thinking has served HPCD really well.

As a reader of this blog, you already know that every community in the country must have a CoC lead agency and an HMIS operator. In the Dallas area, MDHA serves in both of these functions. Texas has another ten communities (one such "community" is all areas outside of the metropolitan areas grouped together as one), some where one body fulfills both of these functions, and some where these responsibilities are divided between two organizations. In both models the body fulfilling it may be a government agency, of may be an independent non-profit.

Of course, Delaware is a much smaller state, and so HPCD serves the entire state. Aside from that, it is very similar to MDHA, as it serves in both of the above needed functions, and is an independent non-profit agency. The main difference between MDHA and HPCD, aside from the fact that we serve two counties of a state, and they serve an entire state, is our funding models.

MDHA is funded through a small amount of federal funding, fees paid by the agencies it serves (usually a tiny percentage of their federal grants), and contributions. Very recently, local governments have begun to fund us too. Even with the latter, philanthropy remains an essential part of our income.

HPCD does not rely at all on contributed income, and charges the agencies it serves minimal flat fees. They are able to do this since, in addition to the small amount of federal funding they receive, they receive state government and local government funding that makes up the difference.

To learn more about HPCD, check out their website:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

See Me Now in Dallas and Collin Counties

This week being National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, there were two events focusing on teen homelessness. Yesterday, the MDHA Youth Task Force, along with Promise House and other partners held the Dallas See Me Now - Teens without Homes event. Today, the Collin County Homeless Coalition, along with City House and other partners held the Collin See Me Now - Teens without Homes event. Both events were tremendously informative, featuring expert panels, and the executive directors of Promise House, Dr. Harriet Boorhem, and City House, Teresa Keenan respectively. The most meaningful part of each event was hearing from teens served by both agencies.

The Dallas event featured a transgendered teen, and through that showcased something Keenan mentioned too, that some teens are forced out of their homes due to their sexual identity. The Collin event featured Colette Williams, of Traffick 911, who highlighted an issue touched upon at the Dallas event too, that teens experiencing homelessness are at a tremendous risk of being trafficked.

At both events speakers emphasized that at the end of the day, all of the important work we are all doing in the area of homelessness is no substitute for a meaningful affordable housing and anti-poverty policy.

Happily the media is covering these events, which hopefully will lead to more awareness. Check out, for instance, this KERA piece:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

You Are Invited to a Special Meeting of the Dallas/Collin County CoC TX-600

Under U.S. Law, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds most homeless services housing providers, through local Continuum of Care (CoC) organizations, which coordinate services for those experiencing homelessness. MDHA is the designated lead agency for the CoC organization for Dallas and Collin Counties. The CoC Assembly meets every month. November and December’s meetings are combined.

This year the November-December meeting will be on December 2nd at 9am at the Center for Community Cooperation, 2900 Live Oak St., Dallas, Texas 75204. This meeting will be mostly devoted to celebrating the CoC’s achievements over the past year, thanking the outgoing CoC leadership, and installing the new CoC leadership. The CoC will also recognize Mike Faenza, MDHA President and CEO, as he prepares to retire. The proceedings will be followed by networking, and refreshments will be provided. We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dallas County Commissioners Court Resolution Honoring Michael M. Faenza

This morning it was a wonderful pleasure to attend the meeting of the Dallas County Commissioners Court, where a resolution was adopted honoring our leader and friend, President and CEO of MDHA, Michael M. Faenza. You may view video of the proceedings, once they are posted, at

Quite characteristically of Mike, when given the opportunity to speak, he spoke very little about what he did, instead highlighting the work each of the commissioners has done in areas of social justice, and thanking the staff of MDHA for their work. In the spirit of social justice, Mike mentioned that he had often been an “agitator”, to which Commissioner Price responded, to the hearty laughs of the assembled, that without an agitator the wash does not come out clean! Commissioner Price also mentioned the acceptance of the Dallas area Continuum of Care to the Zero: 2016 initiative, about which we posted last week on this blog.

Here is the text of the resolution, which Commissioner Price read aloud, and the court unanimously approved:

BE IT REMEMBERED, at a regular meeting of the Commissioners Court of Dallas County, Texas, held on the 11th day of November 2014 on motion made by John Wiley Price, Commissioner of District No. 3… the following Resolution was adopted:

Whereas Michael M. Faenza, President and CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA), and a national leader in the area of mental health for the past 35 years, will retire from MDHA effective January 1, 2015; and

Whereas MDHA is an association of organizations devoted to ending homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties, by putting people into homes, facilitating over $16,750,000 of annual federal funding, coordinating services, and driving improvement in more than 45 different transitional programs; and

Whereas Mike Faenza, a distinguished alumnus of the University of Texas at Arlington Graduate School of Social Work, was a fixture of the Dallas social service scene from 1979 to 1993. He was the first vocational coordinator for Dallas County Mental Health Mental Retardation (MHMR) Center, Executive and Clinical Director of the Letot Center for runaway youth, within the Dallas County Juvenile Department, and Executive Director of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Greater Dallas. He was then elevated to President and CEO of the National MHA in Washington, D.C., a position he served in for 14 years; and

Whereas Mike Faenza returned to Dallas in 2007 to serve as the President and CEO of MDHA. Under Faenza’s leadership, MDHA took The Bridge, Dallas’ state of the art, $28 million homeless intake and service center, from a mere idea on paper to a fully functioning institution that today serves as a model for other cities around the country; and

Whereas Working with the community to bring $17 million annually back to Dallas from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for use in providing permanent supportive housing, while creatively adding hundreds of units of housing for the homeless in partnership with the Dallas Housing Authority, Mike has distinguished himself as a fierce and innovative leader. During his tenure at MDHA, Faenza oversaw an increase in PSH units of about 350%, from 600 to 2050, a continued drop in chronic homelessness to 65% below where it was in 2004, and an improvement of more than 30% in PSH services in just the last three years; and

Whereas Through a partnership with the Dallas Housing Authority, MDHA prioritized the housing of those experiencing homelessness, and have housed more than 3400 formerly homeless individuals and families. In monetary terms, with an average rent of $700 per month, DHA’s investment tops $28,000,000 annually. This is a direct result of Mike Faenza and MDHA’s “forward thinking”; and

Whereas Mike Faenza has continuously emphasized that the fight against homelessness is just a piece of the puzzle, in the general fight against poverty. Earlier this year he stated, “Dallas still has some of the highest poverty rates in the country, affordable housing is scarce, and the mental health provider reimbursement system is dismally underfunded.” Indeed, throughout his tenure, it has been important to Faenza to remind the community that ending homelessness, will not make these larger problems go away; and

Whereas Mike Faenza will remain with MDHA in a consulting role as the agency searches for his successor and then move into a consulting practice; and

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Dallas County Commissioners Court does hereby extend sincere appreciation to Michael M. Faenza for his contribution to the homeless in our community with over 35 years of dedicated service and join MDHA and our many partners that support and provide services to the homeless, as we salute Mike’s leadership as he retires.

DONE IN OPEN COURT THIS 11th day of November 2014.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What Housing Authorities Can Do to Address Problems of Homeless People and Families

As promised, here is the handout with the main points, MaryAnn Russ, Dallas Housing Authority President and CEO, and MDHA board member, discussed during her breakout session at the annual HATS – Housing Authority Symposium Texas. Hopefully, many more housing authorities will follow her example!

1. Decide to address the problem of homelessness – this is an issue both for staff and Boards. Many homeless individuals have serious behavioral and physical health issues and PHA staff are not necessarily equipped to deal with these matters.

2. Work to build linkages with agencies that serve homeless people and people with disabilities – these alliances will be essential to succeed in this effort;

3. Understand that the issues of chronically homeless individuals and homeless families with children are often very different and respond to different solutions;

a. Homeless families with children often attempt to conceal their status because they do not want to lose their children to Child Protective Services;

b. Children “aging out of foster care” are in danger of becoming homeless;

c. A fairly high percentage of families with children become homeless due to domestic violence;

4. Consider “accrediting” agencies that work with homeless families and individuals – such accredited agencies can both verify homeless status and provide ongoing services to people the PHA houses. PHAs have something these agencies want and need – permanent housing for their clients;

5. Determine the role the PHA will play in assisting with the reduction of homelessness – is the PHA going to provide only permanent housing to people whose health issues are stabilized or is it going to provide the assistance for Permanent Supportive Housing? Both services are needed;

6. Permanent supportive housing (PSH) is housing that is linked with services so formerly homeless individuals and families can receive assistance with a range of issues in their housing;

7. Establish admissions preferences in both the public housing and housing choice voucher programs for homeless individuals and families

a. This requires amending both the ACOP and the Admin Plan as well as the Annual Plan;

b. The PHA must define what qualifies as “homelessness”. PHAs are not required to use the Hearth Act definitions;
c. Consider dialing back criminal history screening to cover just the Federally prohibited crimes (manufacturing methamphetamines in Federal housing, being subject to lifetime registration requirements as a sex offender);

8. Provide or obtain training and ongoing support to PHA staff so that the housing provided to homeless people can be preserved. Not much is accomplished by admitting homeless folks and then evicting them as soon as something goes wrong.

9. Assume that people who are working to recover from substance abuse will occasionally fall off the wagon and create safeguards so they can pick themselves back up.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sundance Award Winning Film about Homelessness, “The Overnighters”, Comes to Dallas

“The Overnighters” is a fascinating film about homelessness, and it attacks this issue from a particularly original and provocative angle. "It does amaze me that giving people floor space is provocative," muses Jay Reinke, the pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota. He knows of what he speaks – for some months now, he has been offering up his church, and car park, for down on their luck men to sleep in. He's never short of takers: the fracking rush has brought tens of thousands to North Dakota, many more than can squeeze into this small community. But Reinke soon faces an ugly backlash. With his angry congregation fleeing, local law makers are determined to legislate to protect their own, and The Williston Herald is keen to know why Reinke is housing a sex offender. In this astonishing, Sundance award-winning film, we watch Reinke fight his ground on many fronts – all the while keeping up a public persona at painful odds with the troubled private person within.

Just in time for Homeless Awareness Week, the film will be playing here in the Dallas area for at least a week starting November 14 at the West End Cinema. You can check out more info at and and on social media at and

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dallas Area Selected to Join National Campaign to End Veteran and Chronic Homelessness

Dallas, TexasThe Dallas area Continuum of Care (serving Dallas and Collin Counties) has been selected, along with 66 other U.S. communities, to participate in Zero: 2016, a national campaign to end veteran and chronic homelessness in the next two years. The Campaign is being spearheaded by Community Solutions, a national non-profit based in New York City. The organization said it would work intensively with the Dallas Continuum of Care to meet the federal goals set by President Obama to end veteran homelessness by Dec. 2015 and chronic homelessness by Dec. 2016. The initiative is a rigorous follow-on to the group’s successful 100,000 Homes Campaign, which announced in June that it had helped communities house 105,000 chronically homeless Americans in under four years.

The Dallas area Continuum of Care was selected for Zero: 2016 through a competitive, national application process. The decision to apply was made jointly by local public housing authority, Veterans Affairs, non-profit and Continuum of Care leaders. The initiative will formally launch in January of 2015 during the national 2015 Homeless Point-in-Time Count, during which local volunteers will hit area streets and shelters to enumerate the local homeless population. The Dallas area Continuum of Care is exploring the integration of an evidence-based survey into that count to identify all its homeless residents by name and determine the best available resources and housing options to end their homelessness.

“The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance Continuum of Care is excited about this opportunity to utilize nationally recognized best practices to help end Veteran and Chronic Homelessness in Dallas and surrounding communities.  We can reach this goal. Locally Zero: 2016 will change lives and allow agencies to come together to coordinate and prioritize access for the most needy,” said Traswell C. Livingston III, Chair of the Dallas area Continuum of Care, MDHA board member, and Vice President and COO of AIDS Services of Dallas.

“Chronic and Veteran homelessness are urgent, solvable problems,” said Zero: 2016 Director, Beth Sandor. “These communities represent a potential tipping point. If they can show that getting to zero is possible, we think it will become untenable for other communities not to follow suit. Zero: 2016 is about bringing shared accountability to this work. Participants are making a public commitment to get to zero on time, and they are going to use that commitment to drive measurable progress.”

Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the results of the 2014 Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, which shows that homelessness continues to decline across virtually all major categories, including chronic homelessness. Veteran homelessness was singled out by the report for its particularly steep decline-- more than 30 percent in the last four years.

The Dallas area PIT Count report showed that on a single night in January 2014, Dallas had 42 veterans living on the streets, in automobiles or in abandoned buildings.  Veterans’ homelessness decreased from the previous year from 18% to 13% of the overall homeless population.   A total of 413 people were determined chronically homeless on the night of the PIT Count. Chronic homelessness continues to decrease, as permanent supportive housing increases, resulting in a 65% decrease since 2004.  Local officials said they are committed to reducing the veteran and chronic numbers to zero.

The report on the national results also showed that communities selected to join Zero: 2016 account for a combined 31,669 chronically homeless Americans and 16,218 homeless veterans. Community Solutions said it estimates an overlap of 10,000-12,000 between these two populations.

Opening Doors, the federal plan to end homelessness in America, calls for communities to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and to end chronic homelessness one year later.

The 67 communities selected for Zero: 2016 represent 30 different states and the District of Columbia. Among them are 51 communities who also participated in the 100,000 Homes Campaign and 16 new communities. Combined, the group represents the joint, public commitment of 234 housing authorities, local government entities, non-profit organizations, and community agencies.

Sandor said Community Solutions would work with communities to accelerate their housing efforts through four focus areas: closing the research-to-practice gap, real-time data and performance management, local systems redesign, and local team and leadership development. Community Solutions will provide hands-on coaching and data tools, and will curate a national peer-to-peer learning network to accelerate innovation across communities.

Sandor added that communities would focus narrowly on data and performance management for the first 90 days of the initiative with a goal of developing clear targets for the total number of housing placements needed locally to end chronic and veteran homelessness on the federal timetable. This number will consider projected inflow and other key factors. Each community will use this number to determine the monthly housing placement rate it will need to meet in order to succeed.

Communities will learn real-time performance improvement techniques drawn from healthcare, manufacturing and other sectors to reach these ambitious monthly goals.

“To make rapid progress, communities will need to measure the size and needs of their homeless populations in real time and use monthly data to improve their housing performance,” added Sandor. “You can’t solve a problem that you only measure once a year.”

Zero: 2016 will dovetail with other large-scale initiatives working to help communities end homelessness, including the 25 Cities Initiative, led by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Mayor’s Challenge to End Homelessness, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Many communities selected to join Zero: 2016 are also participating in one or both of these initiatives, and Community Solutions has coordinated extensively with VA and other federal agencies to ensure that all three initiatives complement each other as well as possible.

In addition to the Mayor’s Challenge to End Homelessness and Zero: 2016 initiatives, the Dallas area Continuum of Care has begun implementing a “Housing First” model for permanent supportive housing. It is also scheduled to deploy a community wide coordinated assessment system for the homeless in the next few months.  All of these initiatives are interrelated and when integrated will allow more efficient and effective use of resources within the community.  Investment in these initiatives will not only end homelessness but reduce the cost along the way, while producing self-sufficient citizens within the community.

MDHA is an association of organizations devoted to ending homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties, by putting people into homes. It facilitates over $16,750,000 of annual federal funding, coordinates services, and drives improvement in more than 45 different transitional housing (TH), rapid rehousing (RRH), and permanent supportive housing (PSH) programs. Under U.S. Law, HUD does not fund service providers independently, rather mandates that they be funded through local Continuum of Care organizations, led by lead agencies, which coordinate all facets of the grant application process. MDHA is the lead agency for the Dallas area Continuum of Care, which serves Dallas and Collin Counties.
Community Solutions is a national non-profit dedicated to helping communities solve the complex social problems facing their most vulnerable residents. The organization’s work applies design thinking, quality improvement and a host of other cross-sector disciplines to issues like homelessness, unemployment, and public health. Zero: 2016 is a rigorous follow-on to the organization’s successful 100,000 Homes Campaign designed to help a select group of communities end chronic and veteran homelessness in the next two years. The initiative will formally launch in January 2015.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"Hats" off to These Folks

MaryAnn Russ, DHA President
and CEO, and MDHA Board Member
Yesterday, I attended the 2014 HATS: Housing Authorities of Texas Symposium held by MDHA Corporate Champion, Strasburger & Price.
The sessions were very informative. It was fascinating to see how many areas of extremely specialized knowledge exist in the area of housing. It was a great opportunity to educate folks about our own specialized area of expertise.

The session led by MDHA's board member and President and CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority, MaryAnn Russ, was of particular interest. She spoke on "The Power of Public Housing Authorities: How to Address Homelessness in Your Community". As a reader of this blog you already know how instrumental DHA has been in alleviating homelessness in our community.

It was great to see MaryAnn educate folks from other housing authorities on how they can follow DHA’s example. Strasburger made a $100 donation in MaryAnn's honor too! (Stay tuned for another blog post soon with MaryAnn’s tips for housing authorities on how they can help those experiencing homelessness.)

It was also great to hear first-hand from one of the speakers, Matt Marchant, how he and fellow Strasburger attorney, Monica Velasquez, won a motion in court this last Friday, on behalf of City House, in the lawsuit brought against them by a Frisco based HOA. It was an honor to meet both of these folks, who are helping the “good guys.”

The keynote was given by Vanessa Sarria, Executive Director of the Austin-based Community Advancement Network (CAN). Her address, "Our Communities are Changing. Are We?" was not only eye-opening about upward mobility or lack thereof in our communities, but also included important calls for action in this area. Like MDHA, the focus of her organization, is to encourage and spearhead systemic solutions to community challenges.

SAVE THE DATE - Dallas County Commissioners Court Resolution Honoring Mike Faenza

On Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Commissioner John Wiley Price will be sponsoring a Dallas County Commissioners Court resolution, honoring MDHA President and CEO, Michael M. Faenza, on the occasion of his upcoming retirement. The Commissioners Court meeting begins at 9:00 AM at the Dallas County Administration Building in the Allen Clemson Courtroom, 411 Elm St., Dallas, Texas 75202, and resolutions are amongst the first items on the agenda. We encourage you to attend this event, and help us honor and recognize our leader and friend.

Monday, November 3, 2014

No Better Return

The challenge for many agents of social change today is to show that what they do is not just tell a feel good story about what they do and what they want to achieve. They need to show that what they do actually works, and generates meaningful change. The fancier way of saying this is that it is "evidence based."

The next thing you need to show is that your solution is scalable. Solutions that work in only one place or situation won't do. As Mayor Mike Rawlings said recently, "A great idea, if it's not scalable, it's nothing..."

Now, let's say you have shown that what you do is evidence based and that it is scalable. Now someone has to pay for it. Let's dwell on that point for a moment. There are many ideas for which the money is just not there. Let's be honest too, this usually means there is a lack of will, not really a lack of money. And when I am talking about money, I mean A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY! Because, if it is a real problem, for which there is a real solution, you need "real money".

Happily, as mentioned in our last blog post, MDHA's cause, ending homelessness by putting people into homes, is evidence based and scalable. On top of that, Uncle Sam (the only player, who never really runs out of money) gives Dallas (through MDHA) almost $17,000,000 a year to pay for it! Uncle Sam has all the programs raise match and leverage funds of $20,500,000 in non-federal annual funding. Furthermore, MDHA has also facilitated the Dallas Housing Authority’s housing of 3400 formerly homeless individuals and families at an ongoing annual value of over $28,000,000. That's A WHOLE LOT OF REAL MONEY!

All we in Dallas have to do is invest a few hundred thousand dollars a year to sustain MDHA, and those tens of millions of dollars are ours. Can there be a better return on your charitable investment?