Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In Dallas Everyone Counts!

We just started publicizing our need for volunteers for the upcoming Homeless Count, and we already have about 35 registered teams! The thing is, we are going to need about 200 teams.

Why is the Homeless Count so important? Well, you can't fix a problem if you don't have accurate information about it. If you do, you can not only fix it, but measure how and what solutions are working. That is why we are all about the data.

Thankfully, the media and the public is catching on to this. Listen to this short fascinating piece from Friday afternoon:

Like we said, we need about 200 teams, and more importantly, we need YOU! So, please register today. But don't stop there. Tell your friends and co-workers, and post on social media, using #dallascounts2016. All the info, a link to register, and more is on the dedicated page on our website: http://www.mdhadallas.org/2016-homeless-count/

Together, we'll make a statement on January 21, 2016 - Dallas is our home, and in Dallas everyone counts!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Are You Ready to Kick It up a Notch? In Dallas Everyone Counts! #dallascounts2016

Are you ready to show that in Dallas everyone counts?! This year MDHA is kicking its Point-In-Time Homeless Count up a notch! Here’s how:
  • We are recruiting way more volunteers. We hope to get 750 this time. With more volunteers, we can canvas more areas, and that means improved accuracy.
  • Volunteers will be counting the unsheltered homeless only. We know where the sheltered homeless are. They are sheltered, after all! Service providers will provide MDHA with an accurate count of these folks, electronically. That way our volunteers can concentrate on finding and counting the unsheltered homeless. 
  • We are using geographic information system (GIS) mapping software to plan volunteer routes. We are tiering the routes, according to the likelihood of the presence of homeless persons in any given area.
  • We are asking volunteers to register in advance as teams. This will greatly help us plan the exact routing of volunteers, streamline the Count, and better utilize volunteers’ time during the evening of the count.  
  • We are asking volunteers to collect names, contact info and pictures of those they count, with the latters’ permission. The reason for this is two-fold. First, we can’t end persons’ homelessness, if we don’t know who they are, where they stay, how we can contact them, and what they look like. Second, in order to qualify for solutions that can help folks end their homelessness, their homelessness needs to be documented. This too is easier to do for the sheltered homeless; not so much for the unsheltered homeless. The Count is a great opportunity to do just that, but once again, without getting all their info, “no can do…”
Go to http://www.mdhadallas.org/2016-homeless-count/ for all the info you need, to register, and to help us spread the word! Don’t forget to post all about it on social media, using this hashtag: #dallascounts2016

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

750 Volunteers Needed for the MDHA 2016 Point-In-Time Homeless Count

On Thursday night, January 21, 2016, 8:00pm–1:00am, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) will be conducting its annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Homeless Count. The Count, a requirement under federal law, helps communities and the nation as a whole, identify and understand the extent and nature of homelessness, changing trends in this area, and the measure of our success in ending homelessness. Results of the Count will be shared with the community during the “State of the Homeless Address” in March 2016.

That night volunteers will fan out from a number of staging areas, across Dallas County, to count the unsheltered homeless, while partner agencies will count the sheltered homeless. The volunteers will follow routes created with geographic information system (GIS) mapping software, canvassing under bridges, in parks, in cars, and in (safe to investigate) wooded areas and abandoned buildings, as well as other areas where persons may be seeking shelter from the cold.

In order to conduct a full and accurate count of the unsheltered homeless, MDHA will need 750 volunteers, registered as teams of 3-5 persons. MDHA is actively seeking the help of the community in recruiting volunteers. This event, which requires a 4-6 hour one time commitment, makes for an excellent short term service project for congregations, companies, non-profits, service organizations, and neighborhood associations. Advance online and on-site training will be provided.

For more information go to: www.mdhadallas.org/2016-homeless-count/. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Transgender Clinic at The Stewpot

What: Parkland's Homeless Outreach Medical Services (HOMES) Department has opened a new clinic to serve Homeless Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming patients. Services focus on providing gender affirming, culturally competent care to homeless or marginally housed transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, including Primary Medical Care, Mental Health, and Hormone Replacement Therapy.  

Where: The Stewpot @ 1822 Young Street, Dallas, Texas 

When: Every Tuesday - 1:00-3:30pm

The Stewpot closes early for staff meetings on Tuesdays, so please arrive before 2:00pm for access through the main entrance or call the clinic at 214-266-2884 for access through Young Street entrance. 

For an Appointment - Call: 214-590-0153

For Additional Information - Contact:

Candace Moore, M.S.
HIV/LGBT Services Program Manager


Susan Spalding, M.D.
Medical Director

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

See Me Now - Teens without Homes

Bill Zeeble of KERA
As part of the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Student Campaign against Hunger & Homelessness' National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, here in Dallas, the MDHA Youth Committee held its annual See Me Now - Teens without Homes, event to highlight youth homelessness. Bill Zeeble of KERA excelled as the keynote speaker. He highlighted the tireless work of school districts in helping the most vulnerable of those experiencing homelessness, children. Piles of the Dallas Independent School District's homeless outreach program backpacks gave the assembled a real physical representation of the way too high numbers of youth experiencing homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties.  
Our Friends Place, Resource Center Dallas, CitySquare TRAC, Viola's House, Promise House, CITY House, and Dallas ISD were all well represented at the event. It was led by MDHA Youth Committee Chair, Carla Cleeson of CitySquare TRAC, and its Vice Chair, Sue Hesseltine, of Our Friends Place. Sarah Carroll, of the City of Dallas, and a member of the committee, read an official proclamation by Mayor Mike Rawlings, designating the day of the event as Homeless Youth Awareness Day.
Carla Cleeson, Chair of the MDHA Youth Committee
The highlight of the event every year is the panel of teens, who tell their moving stories, usually still unfolding, about their struggles with homelessness. This year, the panel was particularly diverse, and even included an adult, our good friend, Paloma Belmarez, longtime employee of Promise House. She movingly recounted her journey from typical middle class child through teen experiencing homelessness to helping kids at the same program that helped her.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Invocation at the 30th National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon

Yesterday, I was honored to deliver the invocation at the 30th National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon, at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, presented by Greater Dallas Chapter AFP and KERA. Here it is:
Thank you for the honor of offering the invocation today. One of the best things about Jewish blessings associated with food consumption is that they are very short, and very inclusive. That makes me really popular at events like these. The usual blessing offered before a meal is the blessing over bread, bread being the historic staple of ancient meals and ceremonies. In this blessing we praise God for bringing forth bread from the earth. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me these slices of bread don’t look like they came directly from the earth. So why do we use that phraseology? I believe it is to acknowledge those who bridge the gap between the earth, from which the wheat is harvested, and the table upon which the bread is served. Many unseen people were involved in the effort of turning that plant into this bread. We must be thankful to them. Without them, there is no bread. 

The people sitting here today represent many wonderful causes, and most of the time they and their work are unseen. The formerly homeless neighbor living in permanent supportive housing might not know who I, the development professional, am. The person lying in a hospital bed may not ever meet the hospital’s volunteer fundraiser. The person, enjoying a museum’s latest exhibit, will seldom interact with its philanthropic benefactor. 

And yet, without the tireless work of development professionals, volunteer fundraisers and philanthropists, there is no permanent supportive housing, there are no hospital beds, there are no museum exhibits. It is the work of these people that we acknowledge today, as I recite the traditional blessing over bread and over this wonderful meal, in Hebrew and in English:
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Not So Fast - The Final Part of Our Series on Source of Income Discrimination

As we discussed in the last posting in this series, there remain tremendous challenges in resolving the macro issue that inhibits those with little means from renting apartments – the lack of adequate affordable housing stock. However, it would seem that the micro challenge – allowing landlords to discriminate against low income renters, based on the source of their rental payments – could be and was on its way to being resolved in one if not two major Texas cities. Austin had passed an ordinance prohibiting such discrimination, and Dallas had committed to considering such an ordinance.

One of the principals of American government is that, generally, federal legislation preempts and overrides state legislation. State legislation, in turn, perhaps without need for the “generally” caveat in the previous sentence, preempts and overrides local government legislation. This last legislative session, with regard to this very issue, the legislature stepped in and legislated in this very area in SB 267. The operative section of this legislation had three paragraphs (Once again, any interpretation should be taken with the obvious disclaimer that I am not an attorney, certainly not one licensed in Texas, and this is my simple lay explanation):

Section 1 (a) prohibits local governments from prohibiting source of income discrimination, in general: “A municipality or county may not adopt or enforce an ordinance or regulation that prohibits an owner, lessee, sublessee, assignee, managing agent, or other person having the right to lease, sublease, or rent a housing accommodation from refusing to lease or rent the housing accommodation to a person because the person's lawful source of income to pay rent includes funding from a federal housing assistance program.” The “double negative” can be confusing – the state prohibits prohibiting. Basically, landlords may discriminate against those holding vouchers, and local governments cannot stop them from doing so. 

Section 1 (b) allows local governments to prohibit source of income discrimination, if the renter is a veteran: “This section does not affect an ordinance or regulation that prohibits the refusal to lease or rent a housing accommodation to a military veteran because of the veteran's lawful source of income to pay rent.”

Section 1(c) allows local governments to incentivize and encourage landlords to voluntarily accept housing vouchers: “This section does not affect any authority of a municipality or county or decree to create or implement an incentive, contract commitment, density bonus, or other voluntary program designed to encourage the acceptance of a housing voucher directly or indirectly funded by the federal government, including a federal housing choice voucher.”

With this new law in place, Austin could not enforce its ordinance, and Dallas certainly could still consider such an ordinance, but could not meaningfully address this issue, with regard to non-veterans. What can local governments, particularly in our geographical area of concern, Greater Dallas, still do? It would seem that they are left with two main options for veterans and non-veterans respectively.

First, local governments could pass ordinances prohibiting source of income discrimination in the case of veterans. As we heard from Shavon Moore, MDHA Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Coordinator, at the last regular CoC Assembly meeting, currently 120(!) veterans experiencing homelessness have housing vouchers, but not even one of them find housing. Most likely, many and perhaps most of these veterans, could be housed quickly, if landlords could no longer discriminate against them, refusing to accept their vouchers.   
Second, local governments could create programs to educate landlords about the positives and dispel myths and preconceptions about the negatives of accepting renters holding housing vouchers. To complement this education, local governments could grant incentives, perhaps through actual expenditures or tax expenditures to encourage landlords to accept vouchers.
Isabelle Headrick, Executive Director of Accessible Housing Austin
(Courtesy of Accessible Housing Austin)
With such education, landlords could arrive at the realization voiced by Isabelle Headrick, Executive Director of Accessible Housing Austin, “As someone who has leased properties to voucher holders for twelve years, I have found that Section 8 and other voucher programs make my job substantially easier, not harder… these are actually very well-run programs that put money into my organization’s bank account like clockwork every month and allow me to serve tenants who are very stable and stay for years.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

Much More Than a Pair of Boots – Back to Work for Just $69.78

One of the important new tools we use in helping individuals, who are experiencing homelessness, is the MDHA Flex Fund. The Flex Fund is designed to pay for minor, but impactful expenses, that help clients resolve their housing emergencies. We have written about this on our website, and in a number of instances on this blog, most recently in a posting titled, Not without Simon – Another Happy Flex Fund Story. Also, Courtney Collins interviewed Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO about this: Losing An Apartment Because You Can’t Pay The $45 Application Fee. The initial funding ($38,742) for the MDHA Flex Fund was generously given by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.  

Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots (Courtesy of Walmart)
In that interview, Cindy mentioned steel toe work boots as an example of an MDHA Flex Fund expense. In the article cited on our website, Kiley Gosselin tells us about a Gates Foundation supported five year pilot at the Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence, that used a flexible funding mechanism. She also gives a steel toe work boot example:

One advocate cited an instance where a survivor had obtained a new job and spent her own funds for a new apartment and security deposits, but was told on her first day of work she needed to purchase steel-toed boots at a cost of $100 in order to keep the job. Just $100 of the pilot program funds allowed for the purchase of the boots, supporting her ability to maintain employment – critical to her ability to maintain stable housing. Without the flexibility to cover these minor but impactful expenditures, advocates are often challenged with having to identify new housing options for the survivor – a much more difficult and costly endeavor than a pair of boots. (Emphasis mine – DSG)

I was therefore excited when our Vice President, Rebecca Cox, walked in today, and shared our first very own steel toe work boot story!

One of the best things about the Flex Fund, is that it empowers arguably the most important persons working for non-profits – case managers. These frontline workers are the “tip of the spear” in the fight to end homelessness. This last Monday, Walter*, a case manager at Austin Street Center, was happy to hear from his client, Paul, that he had found a job, with a start date of the following Monday. However, Paul was required to show up on day one with Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots (cost - $69.78). Fortunately, unlike the program Gosselin mentions, at least they told him in advance! Paul told Walter, what Walter, as his case manager, knew already – Paul could not afford this expense. Walter also knew that Austin Street Center could pay for only certain things with the tight funding streams available to them. They could not pay for this type of expense.  

Walter spoke to Linda, his supervisor, and she suggested that the MDHA Flex Fund might be a good tool to use in this case. Linda reminded Walter, that they both would need to sign off not only on the well evident fact that this minor, but impactful expense, was vital to Paul’s path to resolving his housing emergency. They would also have to affirm that they knew of no other resource in the community, that could directly supply or pay for steel toe work boots. With some quick research, Walter and Linda discovered, what they had suspected already – that was indeed the case. The only quick and readily available resource for this type of minor, but impactful expense, was the MDHA Flex Fund. Walter and Linda filled out the simple one page Flex Fund request form, where they documented all of this, and sent it in to Rebecca. Paul had told them that the Herman Survivor Men's Bison Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boots were available at Walmart. Walter called Walmart, and asked them to put a pair on hold. Rebecca went to Walmart, paid for the boots out of the MDHA Flex Fund, and delivered them to Austin Street Center.

Paul is overjoyed with his new pair of boots, but what really makes him happy is the fact that he is on the road to self-sufficiency. With his new job, he will be able to get his life back on track. His already existing faith in Walter has grown even more, since he was able to help him get what he needed to begin new employment. He knows that with Walter’s help, he can achieve housing too. All of that – for just $69.78. Not a bad return on investment…  
* Names of the client, case manager and supervisor have been changed. Boots are actually named Herman…


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Collective Impact, Backbone Organizations and System Leadership

This last week, on October 29, 2015, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and Social Venture Partners Dallas, held their yearly bigBANG! This conference, "serves the citizens of Dallas by convening national and local experts to share ideas in innovation and social impact. These ideas spark into action, thus making 'doing good' better." It was held, once again, at Paul Quinn College, headed by the innovative Michael Sorrell. 

Michael Sorrell
(Courtesy of BigBANG!)
The conference featured so many great thinkers and great ideas, as it does every year. What stood out to me is that they really shined a spotlight on a concept we at MDHA talk about a lot, Collective Impact. It even featured the "father" of Collective Impact, Dr. John Kania. He spoke to the entire conference, and he also led a breakout session. We encourage you to educate yourself about this important concept, which there is no way to do justice to in a short piece. In a nutshell, what Collective Impact tells us is that real change does not come from the work of one more organization, with one more great idea. Real change comes out of organizations working together in a methodical fashion, following five essential concepts. One of these concepts is that the Collective Impact needs to be supported by a Backbone Organization.

John Kania
(Courtesy of BigBANG!)
Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness, which we have highlighted here before, adopted these ideas, recognizing that making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, will not happen if organizations work on their own. It won't even happen through superficial collaboration, which is NOT the same thing as Collective Impact. And, it won't happen without each community transforming the role of its Continuum of Care into an engine of Collective Impact, with its lead organization (here in Dallas - MDHA) into a true Backbone Organization.

Kania's breakout session introduced the new building block that sits atop the structure of Collective Impact, which he, Dr. Hal Hamilton and Dr. Peter Senge highlighted in a recent article. This concept is
System Leadership. What Kania first colorfully demonstrated in this fascinating session was what it is NOT. System Leadership is not about top down and/or centralized management. Instead, it is about bottom up and diffuse action throughout the system. It is key to the success of Collective Impact, and fits with the pithy observation about Collective Impact, that it is all about silver buckshot, not a silver bullet.

We encourage you to take a moment, and click through the links above to learn more about Collective Impact, Backbone Organizations, and System Leadership. Then click through to our
CoC Strategic Work Plan, and ask yourself, how can you support our Collective Impact, right here in Dallas and Collin Counties, to operationalize ending homelessness. You too can be part of what Kania, Hamilton and Senge call "co-creating the future." 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Macro and Micro Solutions for Affordable Housing in Dallas

As we established in the first two parts of this series, there are really two challenges that inhibit those with little means, from renting housing units – one macro and one micro. There is a general lack of adequate affordable housing – macro. Landlords are free to discriminate against low income renters, based on the source of their rental payments – micro.

Cindy J. Crain, in her first editorial opinion column in the Dallas Morning News, as President and CEO of MDHA, Cindy J. Crain: An effective homeless response system requires affordable housing, primarily discussed the I-45 tent city and the changes we need to make in developing an effective homeless response system. However, in the title, as well as in the final words of the piece, she reminded the community of the macro issue: “The cost of housing exceeds the incomes of thousands of households. The lack of safe, quality, affordable housing is the most daunting challenge to making homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring in Dallas and Collin counties.” And in the penultimate paragraph she pointed out the micro issue: “The pool of landlords willing to work with case managers and their clients who require subsidy and support shrinks as rental properties can secure higher rents from tenants who do not have the same degree of barriers. There are over 200 homeless veterans today who cannot find rental properties willing to accept their housing vouchers.”

As with most macro issues, a quick fix does not seem to be in the offing. These things take time, and necessitate buy-in and action from many different parties. Indeed, Steve Brown and the Dallas Morning News editorial staff pointed out a few months ago in Affordable-housing proposals have Dallas developers scrambling for bigger say, and Editorial: Dallas needs more affordable housing, just not like this, that though there seems to be unanimity in acknowledging the macro challenge, there is significant disagreement on how to solve it. The micro issue is easier to solve. So, while a recent agreement between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the City of Dallas does contain specific general steps that Dallas agreed to take with regard to the macro issue, its most concrete solution was in regard to the micro issue: “The City Manager and City Attorney will formally introduce to the Dallas city council for a public meeting and adoption an ordinance prohibiting source of income discrimination, including discrimination against Housing Choice Voucher holders.” At the time (early November 2014), Austin was well on its way to adopting such an ordinance, which it formally adopted unanimously, just five weeks later. With that, the micro issue in Austin seemed solved, and Dallas had a clear example of how to quickly resolve the micro issue, while methodically attacking the macro issue. What happened next, which we will address in the final post of this series, threw a wrench into that solution too.    

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Rent is Too Damn High or What is the Meaning of “Best”? (Part II of the Series That Began with Rents Rise)

If the near past and the present were not depressing enough for renters of lesser means, the Atlantic in a recent darkly named article, A Bleak Future for Renters talks about what is next to come. The author Gillian B. White, cites a study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and Enterprise Community Partners, which predicts a rise of 4 million people in the renting population, and a total of 13 million people being severely rent-burdened (i.e. spending 50% or more of their income on rent) by 2025. The study’s researchers also predict that due to multiple factors, including but not limited to: stagnant wages, low vacancy rates, limited rental housing stock, and decreased rates of homeownership, minorities, Millennials, and the elderly will be hardest hit.
Dr. Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Harvard Joint Center
(Courtesy of the Harvard Joint Center)
Digging deeper, specifically here in Dallas, limited single family housing stock may be the cause for the decreased rates of homeownership. Earlier this month in D Magazine’s D CEO, in an article titled, The Year's Best Real Estate Projects, Christine Perez, cited a shortage of construction workers and those who could manage them, as the drivers of this shortage. The former, an executive she interviews says, may due to the Great Recession have pushed into different lines of work, or have returned to Mexico, while the latter have opted for office jobs in place of the trades. The economic slowdown seems too have also trimmed government apparatuses devoted to project approvals, which puts a further crimp on the number of projects getting through the pipeline.

Though Perez cites these reasons as those behind the shortage of single family housing stock, one might surmise that these could have an effect on multifamily housing construction too. Regardless, Perez does say that this shortage itself puts more pressure on the multifamily housing market. She quotes Steve Bancroft, of Trammel Crow Residential, who says, “By most accounts, this is the best multifamily market that Dallas-Fort Worth has ever seen.” Perez fails to mention that, of course, the word “best”, used here and in the title of the article, is from the developers’ point of view. This situation is not exactly the “best” for those in the market for a rental unit, especially if they are struggling. And so unsurprisingly, Perez admits that, “Ongoing (rent) increases likely will compel renters to begin considering other options,” even, she says, “doubling with a roommate.”

Speaking with The Washington Post’s Emily Badger, two of the above Harvard study’s authors are ready to sound the alarm, even if D CEO is not. The effect, they say, will cascade from renters to others they interact with. “Money pooled in the hands of landlords, doesn't circulate through the economy with the same impact as money spent at local retailers and grocery stores,” one says, while the other, “suggests there may be serious health costs associated with a population that has to sacrifice health spending to pay the rent.” And so, Badger ends her piece with an ominous warning from one of the scholars, “In certain places, we’re probably getting close to the breaking point for a lot of folks, and I don’t know how that plays out."
Earnest Burke, Plano Housing Authority
(Courtesy of WFAA)
With all of this in the background nationally and locally, should we really be surprised with the Kafkaesque story of Navy veteran, Jermaine Williams? If all you read was the title of the WFAA report, you would be forgiven for thinking that a junior editor forgot to fix a typo: Navy vet gets to use housing assistance, after 70 tries. If only. The piece by Jobin Panicker tells the story of Williams, who after a long episode of homelessness received a voucher from the Plano Housing Authority, only to find that a housing voucher did not equal housing. Panicker quotes Earnest Burke, with the Plano Housing Authority, who blames the over-saturation of the rental housing market throughout North Texas for Williams’ woes. Out of the 15 vouchers he gave out, only three veterans actually landed housing*, as “apartments are filling up and becoming more selective of potential tenants.” More selective means, that landlords can (legally), and indeed do refuse to rent an apartment to someone like Williams, due to the source of that rent money, Uncle Sam. In the next installment of this series, we will discuss how government could save people like Williams from the trials and travails of searching for months, spending hundreds of dollars in application fees, just to find an apartment.  

* I reached out to Burke, for an update on how many additional veterans have been housed in the four weeks since September 30, 2015, the date of the WFAA story, but have yet to hear back. I will update on the blog, when I do hear back.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dallas-Collin Continuum of Care Enters Final and Critical Stages in Adopting Pieces Iris™ as its Single Homeless Management Information System

The Dallas-Collin Continuum of Care (CoC) manages the community’s response to the experience and risk of homelessness. One of its most important roles in this capacity is to operate a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to collect critical data and drive improvement in homeless services. In its CoC Strategic Work Plan – Building an Effective Homeless Response System, the CoC sets as of its most important goals the development of a single HMIS system, into which all homeless service providers, including shelters and outreach street teams, would consistently enter their data. After all, we, as a community, can’t know anything meaningful about the true nature of homelessness if we don’t have unsheltered and emergency sheltered data in one data collection system.

As the CoC leadership surveyed the landscape, one obvious partner stood out in the need to take its HMIS to the next level, PCCI, a non-profit born out of the Parkland Health and Hospital System. PCCI founded DallasPCCI Information Exchange Portal (IEP). It describes this initiative on its website as follows:

Different providers in the healthcare system and across community-based organizations have limited means of communication, causing vital patient information to slip through the cracks, information that is essential to providing excellent healthcare or even saving a life. The Dallas Information Exchange Portal (IEP) will create a secure seamless system that connects healthcare and community-based organizations in the Dallas region, allowing for smart sharing of information that makes a tangible difference in the lives of first thousands but, ultimately, we hope millions of people.

Integrating information from social and healthcare organizations will provide quality and safe healthcare for the broadest range of citizens in our community. The IEP will provide a higher, more consistent level of healthcare to all members of the community, especially the most vulnerable populations, resulting in more efficient, cost-effective use of resources and, most importantly, lives saved.

Ruben Amarasingham
PCCI President and CEO
PCCI built their Pieces Iris™ software solution to HMIS specifications, and they knew they needed the CoC for the system to truly work. The CoC recognized that Pieces Iris™ is designed as a cut above all other HMIS systems in existence today. It represents the only known effort of building a new HMIS, case management, coordinated access and resource inventory on a new platform. PCCI’s Dallas IEP and the CoC see this as a symbiotic relationship. The Dallas IEP needs the cohort of persons experiencing homelessness within their integrated system as they represent some of the community’s highest risk and most costly patients. They need the homeless service providers’ network to extend the continuity of care for these patients. For the last few months PCCI and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA), the CoC’s lead agency, have been working together on a process of discovery to figure out if such a partnership was feasible, and building out the system, per MDHA’s client specifications and preferences.

Significant progress has been made in the development of the HMIS template within the Pieces Iris™ software. MDHA’s HMIS team worked with the PCCI development team to combine the HMIS data collection and reporting system required of multiple federal and state funding authorities with enhanced interface, functionality and reporting innovations. All CoC stakeholders from leadership to end users have been reviewing the application in meetings and demonstrations, before the MDHA board considers a resolution to select Pieces Iris™ as the next single HMIS software solution for the community at its board meeting on November 12th.

As we enter the final and critical stage of this process, there remain three key events:
  • 10/30/15 – 9am-noon – Pieces Iris™ as HMIS Play Day Hands on demonstrations for end users on Pieces Iris™ software (PCCI Offices - 8435 N. Stemmons Freeway, Ste 1150, Dallas)
  • 11/6/15 – 9-11am - Demonstration and Public Hearing of Pieces Iris™ as the new HMIS software solution (Center for Community Cooperation, Oak Corner Room, 2900 Live Oak St. , Dallas)
  • 11/12/15 – 9-11am – MDHA Board of Directors meeting - resolution to select Pieces Iris™ as the next single HMIS software solution for the community to be considered
Dr. Ruben Amarasingham, Founder, President and CEO of PCCI and the co-inventor of the Pieces IRIS™ software system will join us for the final two events. Amarasingham is a noted expert in the development and evaluation of health information technology, the application of informatics concepts in healthcare, and the use of innovative care models to reduce disparities, improve quality, and lower costs. The CoC leadership and MDHA Board of Directors and staff, as well as PCCI’s leadership, encourage community stakeholders to join us and participate in all three of these important events.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rents Rise

One would think that ending one’s homelessness would be fairly quick and easy, once one had a housing voucher, provided by a government program. Over the course of the next few blog posts, we will explore this proposition, why in fact this might not be the case, possible solutions, and what stands in the way of these solutions. Along the way, we will touch on the state of the housing rental market, in general, and how the lack of affordable housing can contribute to homelessness.

Jonathan Chew titles a recent article in Fortune quite straightforwardly, Why rents could rise by 8% in 2016, citing a survey representing hundreds of thousands of units. No need for an advanced degree in economics to figure out why.  As, Chew says, “The reasons are manifold, but 64% of landlords surveyed identified two main factors: the twin pressures of increased demand for units and low inventory.” High demand, plus low supply, regardless of the widget being demanded and supplied, equals higher prices.

One reason this problem might be exacerbated in Dallas, could have to do with the age old dilemma, for those with the means to make a choice, of renting vs. buying. Three Florida based scholars Drs. Eli Beracha, William G. Hardin and Ken H. Johnson, have developed the eponymously named “BH&J Buy vs Rent Index”. As they describe on the Index website, it is “designed to signal whether current market conditions favor buying or renting a home in terms of wealth creation over a fixed holding period in a particular market relative to historical market conditions and alternative investment opportunities.” Right now, the index indication for Dallas, unlike for most of the country, is clear: Rent; don’t buy.

The numbers are pretty. As the site Rent Jungle tells us, “As of August 2015, average apartment rent within 10 miles of Dallas, TX is $1502. One bedroom apartments in Dallas rent for $1263 a month on average and two bedroom apartment rents average $1796.” For comparison, according to the site, as recently as January 2012, these numbers stood at $967, $977 and $894 respectively.
In fact, according to Steve Brown in the Dallas Morning News in his recent article, Soaring Dallas apartment costs haven’t put a dent in rentals, there could be a more permanent and fundamental shift at work here, then just renting until it makes more sense to buy. As he says of a recent trend in a growing number of Downtown and Uptown rental properties, “Most of their new renters — a combination of young professionals and affluent empty nesters — could save money buying a house in the suburbs.” These people are instead choosing lifestyle and proximity to downtown, over homeownership, Brown says. He quotes “Dallas developer Lucy Billingsley,” who says, “We know we have lifetime renters who will be with us now.” As Brown emphasizes, “A generation ago, apartments in Dallas were the waiting rooms for homeownership. That’s not the case anymore.”

At the same time, Brown also points out that some of the pressure comes from rental customers coming to Dallas, because in comparison to other cities on the coasts, and even Chicago, Denver, Atlanta and Minneapolis, Dallas is still a bargain. Therefore, not surprisingly, according to Bloomberg News, as cited in Finance and Commerce, “U.S. commercial real estate investors are looking inland. The Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas, prized for its diverse job market and success luring companies that are relocating, ranked as the top area for commercial-property investment in a survey of almost 1,500 real estate executives, according to a report Wednesday by the Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP... while the big coastal cities of New York, San Francisco and Boston, traditional magnets for buyers, were deemed less attractive.” It goes without saying, that this competition coming in can make things more difficult for those already here with less mean, less skills, and less mobile lives. And all of these developments lead to an obvious problem, which we will delve deeper into in our next post, “The Rent is Too Damn High!”

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Why, the How, and the What of the Dallas Homeless Response System

What is MDHA?
The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) is a non-profit organization leading the development of an effective homeless response system that will make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring.

How do you do that?
Research shows that the only way to make real progress is through collective impact – many organizations working together to achieve common goals. Research further shows that you need a strong backbone organization, like MDHA, to lead the collective impact, in order for it to work. MDHA brings together more than 85 shelter, housing and supportive services programs in retooling homeless services into a crisis response system.

What does that really mean?
It means that we ask one question about each individual requiring our help: “What solutions best match the needs of this person or household, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently?” We then ensure that we, as a system, deliver those solutions.

Why you?
Federal regulations (codified into law in 2009) have long mandated that each community have a Continuum of Care (CoC) organization, led by a lead agency, to facilitate funding and coordinate services for housing programs for the homeless. Most federally funded programs must report into a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), to drive program improvement.  MDHA is the CoC lead agency and HMIS administrator for Dallas and Collin Counties. Under the 2009 HEARTH Act and Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness, CoCs were imbued with an enhanced role: Transforming homeless services into crisis response systems that prevent homelessness and rapidly return people who experience homelessness to stable housing.

How does that work?
Building an effective homeless response system involves many different moving parts. We suggest checking Opening Doors and our CoC Strategic Workplan to get the full picture. Here are just two examples of how we are building that homeless response system:

Coordinated Access System (CAS) – In an uncoordinated environment, every service provider asks, "Will this person be successful in our program?" Assessment is diverse as service providers are, and less vulnerable persons with less severe needs are often served first. The most vulnerable with the greatest needs, are often turned away, and may fall through the cracks. In CAS, the system asks, “What solutions best match the needs of this person or household, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently?" CAS assesses each person using a uniform evidence based tool, and every person is scored, ranked and prioritized for service, based on their level of vulnerability and specific needs. CAS then matches each person with the solutions that are the best fit for them, and ensures that those solutions are delivered, according the established prioritization. MDHA is in the process of implementing a CAS for Dallas and Collin Counties.

Flex Fund – The answer to that simple question: “What solutions best match the needs of this person, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently," is often, “Really easy solutions!” Many persons experiencing homelessness could quickly self-resolve their housing emergencies. The only thing holding them back is that they need a photo ID, a bus pass or their medication. Or maybe, they just need a quick car repair, a few household furnishings or some work related items. These needs are often not covered by existing programs, and though they might only cost a little money, these persons cannot pay for them. A Flex Fund is designed to fund exactly these types of minor but impactful expenses. MDHA is currently piloting the new MDHA Flex Fund.

Where do we go from here?
Opening Doors clarifies that ending homelessness does not mean no one will ever experience homelessness. It means that we, and every other community around the country, will have a systematic response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible or is otherwise a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience. It sets four key goals for each community and the nation as a whole: (1) Prevent and end homelessness among Veterans in 2015; (2) Finish the job of ending chronic homelessness in 2017; (3) Prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children in 2020; and (4) Set a path to end all types of homelessness.