Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Coordinated Access in Dallas

One of the most exciting programs MDHA is working on is Coordinated Access. What is it all about?


Research shows what solutions will prevent and end homelessness: diversion services (that help persons address their needs, while remaining housed), rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing. Research further indicates that the availability of these solutions alone is not enough; communities need systems to coordinate delivery. This is why the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandates that each community have a Coordinated Access system.


In an uncoordinated environment, every service provider, "Will this person be successful in our program?" Assessment is diverse as service providers are, and persons with less severe needs/at less severe risk are often served first. Those with the greatest needs/at most risk, are turned away, and may fall through the cracks.

In Coordinated Access, the system asks, “What solutions best match the needs of this person?" Assessment is uniform, and person-centered data is collected. Coordinated Access scores, ranks and prioritizes persons for service, based on their levels of need/risk. It matches each person with the solutions that are the best fit for that person’s needs, and electronically refers them to service providers that deliver those solutions. It follows up to ensure that those solutions are delivered, and that persons with the greatest needs/at most risk, are served first.

How It Works in Dallas

Persons in need of assistance approach any system service provider. An Intake professional interviews the person using the Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT), which is built into the system. The system itself scores (the higher the score the greater the need/risk), ranks and matches the person with real-time available and appropriate resources, that can deliver the most appropriate solutions for that person. The intake professional, in consultation with the person, electronically refers him/her to service providers, who deliver those solutions. All collected data, scoring, matching and referrals are available to service providers on the system. Coordinated Access staff follows up to ensure that those solutions are delivered, and that those with the highest scores are served first, whenever possible.

Coordinated Access staff offers ongoing support and training, and monitors compliance and report generation. They pay close attention to patterns of need arising across the system, as well as provider–specific patterns. These create feedback loops for learning and improvement. Coordinated Access serves service providers in the homelessness arena, and will help the community meet HUD targets to end veteran, chronic and family homelessness in 2015, 2016, and 2020. The Dallas area CoC and MDHA envision a day, when many more service providers will be part of Coordinated Access, functioning as one, in the homelessness arena and beyond, delivering solutions that match each person’s needs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Housing Movements – Large and Small

Over the weekend I noticed two great pieces on housing movements, one in the Huffington Post and one on NPR.

The Huffington Post highlights a phenomenon that most people working in the housing space are well familiar with, “Affordable Housing Initiative Demands Action for Historic Rental Crisis We Can't Ignore”. Check the full article here: www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/14/home-matters-campaign_n_6678274.html. They specifically cite Home Matters, which you can check out at www.homemattersamerica.com. Home Matters points out that, “There’s a housing crisis in the United States. More than half a million people in the United States do not have a home – a quarter of these individuals are children. And over half of all Americans have had to make at least one sacrifice in order to pay their rent or mortgage. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of neighborhoods in the country lack simple services, such as afterschool programs for children, affordable cultural activities, sufficient legal enforcement and other amenities that make a stable, safe living environment in which individuals and their families and friends can thrive. Home Matters is a national movement that’s redefining the American Dream and Home. We believe the New American Dream is one where every American lives in a safe, nurturing environment with access to quality education, healthcare, public spaces and community services.”

NPR highlights co-housing in Europe, specifically in Spain and the United Kingdom, in an article titled, “Not A Group House, Not A Commune: Europe Experiments With Co-Housing”. Check the full article here: www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2015/02/16/385528919/not-a-group-house-not-a-commune-europe-experiments-with-co-housing. The first thing I saw in the comments section online was that this idea is one that exists here in the United States too. Check out www.cohousing.org, which is a national organization that promotes this idea. The latter site explains that these arrangements typically have some common facilities, are managed by residents, feature a participatory non-hierarchal structure and method of decision making. The community typically shares some meals together, and members serve the community and are served by it. It sounds very similar to the more modern iteration of the Israeli Kibbutz.

The HuffPo piece highlights the broad nature of the problems we face in housing, and how solving this problem demands action across our country. The NPR piece reminds us that there are original ideas out there, beyond the standard solutions we often hear about.  Together, they serve to remind us that while we at MDHA and the Dallas area CoC concentrate on ending homelessness, this is no substitute for a deliberate and concerted affordable housing policy and practice here in the Dallas area and across the nation.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

State of the Homeless in Tarrant County + MDHA Wants You!

Cindy Crain, Incoming MDHA President and CEO
As we recently announced, Cindy Crain, Executive Director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC), will be moving over to this side of the Metroplex to become new President and CEO. She just delivered the TCHC State of the Homeless Address. To learn more about the important work in our sister community, under the leadership of our incoming leader, click here: http://www.ahomewithhope.org/wp-content/uploads/SOHA2015x.pdf

As you know, the evening of January 22, 2015, a few hundred volunteers helped us count those in our community who are experiencing homelessness. The Point-In-Time (PIT) Homeless Count is a requirement under U.S. Law. Having collected vital data in the PIT, Shavon Moore, our CoC Program Coordinator, now orchestrates a huge task. A few thousand surveys must be manually entered into our computer system. The more volunteers we get, the quicker this can be done. So, we need your help! 

For questions, contact Shavon Moore, at shavon.moore@mdhadallas.org or 972.638.5627

Once that is done, Shavon and our CoC Director, Paula Maroney, will produce a comprehensive report and brief for Dallas County, as the Collin County Homeless Coalition will produce a similar report for Collin County. Governments, foundations, and non-profits will use this data to aid and track our community's progress towards local and nationwide goals in preventing and ending homelessness. So, your help will really make a difference.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Dehumanization and Humanization

We look back at past times and ask "How Could They?!" Often, we feel a mixture of disgust and smug satisfaction that WE do not practice slavery or segregation, that we have outlawed child labor, that we do not see the possession of make genitalia as a prerequisite to voting or getting paid the same.

We forget that perhaps it might be more important to reflect on what might our descendants think about us, and what practices we might change to get ahead of the game. Think on KERA had a fabulous eye-opening program about this aptly titled "How Could They?" Check it out via their podcast:

The key, it seems, is to look at present practices, and see which of those involves dehumanization of groups or individuals. The podcast specifically cites the treatment of undocumented immigrants as such a practice. As I am currently reading "Hand to Mouth" by Linda Tirado, another example I thought of is the poor. Tirado poignantly asks, "How can the rest of the country live knowing that so many of us have to live like this?" A specific rising star in politics, stating that a large number of persons receiving Social Security disability payments are frauds, is yet another example.

Obviously, if you are reading this blog, those experiencing homelessness are on your mind. The snarky Dallas Morning News Letter to the Editor we addressed two or three months ago, questioning why persons experiencing homelessness need cellphones, was an example of such dehumanization.

The antidote to this is to humanize those who are being dehumanized. One of the best ways to do this is to interact with and facilitate interaction with dehumanized persons. The podcast taught me that the LGBT community has a name for this, "the Portman affect," named for Republican Senator Rob Portman. Portman stands out in his party for his wholehearted support of gay marriage. The reason for his stance? His son is gay. Likewise, if you show up regularly at the MDHA Alliance Homeless Forum, listen to and get to know persons experiencing homelessness, you to can experience, "the Portman affect" too.

Another way is to read and educate yourself about what and how our society dehumanizes persons, and how policy changes addressing this might humanize them. I am finding Tirado's book tremendously helpful in this regard, as is our good friend and MDHA board member, Larry James' book, "The Wealth of the Poor." (It might be said that James' book is the softer New Testament version to Tirado's justifiably more angry Hebrew Scripture prophetic admonishment.)

It is important to make sure that the solutions we offer in these areas are humanizing. This means making sure that all programs are person-centered. When we are approached for help, the question should not be, "Will this person be successful in our 'one size fits all' program?" The question must be, "What solutions will help this person address his or her own unique set of challenges?" In a blog post in the very near future, we will address how our new Coordinated Access system will help with just that.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New PSH Project for Women with Children

Check out this really great piece by Roy Appleton in the Dallas Morning News:


As a reader of this blog, you no doubt know already that permanent supportive housing (PSH) has been shown to be the best solution to end chronic homelessness. Most persons experiencing chronic homelessness are single men, so naturally most PSH projects focus on men. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has instructed communities not to lose sight of family chronic homelessness. Much of the latter cases involve single women with children.

MDHA was instrumental in pioneering PSH specifically for single women with children, when it brought together the Dallas Housing Authority and Lifenet Texas to form the Pebbles community a few years ago. The new community, discussed in the article by Appleton, would be the third such project that MDHA and specifically, MDHA Vice President of Programs, shepherded.

Not at all incidentally, ABC is headed up by Myrl Humphrey, outgoing Dallas area Continuum of Care Vice Chair and MDHA board member. Both Myrl and Charles are two of the most passionate and caring folks I know in the fight to end homelessness. Interestingly, one of the fascinating facts that Charles shared with me about this project is that it is part of a larger affordable housing development for folks who qualify as "low income." The idea is to integrate those in PSH units into the general community.

I love the Mayor's words that close the article:

“We cannot be a great city and just go make a bunch of money and leave the homeless, the mothers and children … on the side of the road,” he said. “That’s not the way the Good Samaritan does it, and we’re a Good Samaritan city.”