Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rare, Brief and Non-Recurring

Perhaps the most important national body in the homelessness arena is the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). USICH is an independent Federal agency. Its job is to “coordinate the Federal response to homelessness and to create a national partnership at every level of government and with the private sector to reduce and end homelessness in the nation while maximizing the effectiveness of the Federal Government in contributing to the end of homelessness.” In this capacity, in 2010, it wrote Opening Doors, a national strategic plan to end homelessness. The plan was amended and updated in 2012, updated in 2013, and has just been amended and updated once again.

Opening Doors 2015
The following is from the Opening Doors page on the USICH website. I have copied it here and put the main items and functions that MDHA and bodies like it in every community figure heavily into, in bold.

“Opening Doors presents objectives and themes that build upon the lesson that mainstream housing, health, education, and human service programs must be fully engaged and coordinated to prevent and end homelessness. These include:
  • Increasing leadership, collaboration, and civic engagement, with a focus on providing and promoting collaborative leadership at all levels of government and across all sectors, and strengthening the capacity of public and private organizations by increasing knowledge about collaboration and successful interventions to prevent and end homelessness.
  • Increasing access to stable and affordable housing, by providing affordable housing and permanent supportive housing.
  • Increasing economic security, by improving access to education and increasing meaningful and sustainable employment and improving access to mainstream programs and services to reduce financial vulnerability to homelessness.
  • Improving health and stability, by linking health care with homeless assistance programs and housing, advancing stability for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness and youth aging out of systems such as foster care and juvenile justice, and improving discharge planning for people who have frequent contact with hospitals and criminal justice systems.
  • Retooling the homeless response system, by transforming homeless services to crisis response systems that prevent homelessness and rapidly return people who experience homelessness to stable housing.”
I put the entire final point in bold text, because this is the core of where we go from here, but really where we have been headed from the start. After all, the idea of service providers working together as a homeless response system is not new to Dallas. Indeed, Dallas’ ten year plan envisioned such a system, led by MDHA: “A seamless system of care needs to be developed…” Why?  “Individuals benefit from client-centered services that place the burden of coordination on the systems that serve them.”

Laura Green Zellinger, former Executive Director of the USICH, elaborates on this important point in the national context: “With true coordination and collaboration, homeless providers and mainstream systems can work together to create a seamless response that does not expect people to navigate multiple programs in an effort to get their needs met…” This Zellinger emphasizes is the only way we can, “prevent homelessness whenever possible or otherwise ensure that homelessness is a rare, brief, and nonrecurring experience.”

Now, we have to really make this happen. That is why the 2015 amendment provides, “An operational definition for an end to homelessness... An end to homelessness means that every community will have a system in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible or is otherwise a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.” (Emphasis mine – DSG.)

This is why MDHA and the Dallas area Continuum of Care developed the Continuum of Care Strategic Work Plan (CoCSWP). It is no coincidence that the subtitle of this document that guides our work this year and next is "Building an Effective Homeless Response System". Through this plan, we are building a system that will deliver on the promise to, “prevent homelessness whenever possible or otherwise ensure that homelessness is a rare, brief, and nonrecurring experience.”

Are you with us?

No, seriously, are you with us? This is not a rhetorical question. As Opening Doors clarifies on the national level and the Continuum of Care Strategic Work Plan (CoCSWP) emphasizes on a local level, the only way we end homelessness is through community wide commitment to making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. "Community" means each and every one of us. So, review the CoCSWP, and see where you fit in, and how you can be part of the systemic solution. In other words, we humbly disagree with Pink Floyd. You are not just another brick in the wall.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


There are complicated areas, where research ends up contradicting and flying in the face of common sense. The Freakonomics books, podcasts etc. are great examples of this. This always makes news too, since man bites dog is news, while dog bites man is not.

Then there is the issue of homelessness. I am surely not the first one to observe that though research is important, it ends up backing up common sense, almost always, so much so, that it leaves you saying to yourself and others, “Duh!” Homelessness is a result of poverty? Duh! Kids that grow up homeless are more likely to be homeless as adults. Really?! We can end homelessness by (wait for it…) housing people. Who’d have thunk it?!

The importance of research in the area of homelessness is not to tell us something we don’t know. It is to remind of what we do know, prod us to stop flogging dead horses, and get on with delivering solutions that really work. Daniel Patrick Moynihan may have said that you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts, but we all know that today that seldom holds true. We need to be reminded of what the data indicates, so can get on with finishing the job of ending homelessness, instead of just managing it.

This study reported last week by the Seattle Times’ Caitlin Moran is a perfect example of this. The title is clearly in the dog bites man category, “Study finds housing vouchers best way to keep kids in same school.” The subtitle won’t make you fall off your seat either, “Students who change schools are likely to fall behind academically, and helping families get stable housing can prevent that.”

In the introduction to the study itself Katherine M. O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development & Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, says, “This report documents outcomes at 18 months, presenting striking evidence of the power of offering a permanent subsidy to a homeless family. Families who were offered a housing voucher experienced significant reductions in subsequent homelessness, mobility, child separations, adult psychological distress, experiences of intimate partner violence, school mobility among children, and food insecurity at 18 months. Moreover, the benefits of the voucher intervention were achieved at a comparable cost to rapid re-housing and emergency shelter and at a lower cost than transitional housing.”

To summarize the study, one word, “Duh!”

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Rapid Rehousing is Resting Comfortably…

Dr. Iain De Jong
I spent years teaching in various formal and informal settings, from middle school through graduate school, from sitting around a campfire with kids to sitting down with doctors and teaching them continuing medical education. I always tried to emphasize that you always need to question what you are told, what you hear, what you read. I always cautioned that you need to keep in mind that very few issues have black and white explanations or silver bullet solutions. You must read between the lines, and always question the agenda, motive and point of view of the writer or speaker.

I mention this in light of the recent reports of the supposed demise and failure of Rapid Rehousing, not in some partisan rag, but on NPR (shudder!) Well, thankfully, Dr. Iain De Jong, of OrgCode, reminds us in an excellent blog post that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of Rapid Rehousing have been greatly exaggerated. If anything, when programs work properly, the evidence points to the very opposite. Read the full blog post here: Does Rapid ReHousing Work? Well, it depends.

While there, check out this cool video, which De Jong links to in the blog post, where he walks us through “Housing First 101”. Stay tuned for more to come in August about Dr. De Jong’s visit to Dallas. We will be hosting a Hard Conversation, where he will discuss this issue, in a talk entitled, “Who Deserves Housing First?”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

9 Easy Things You Can Do Today to Really Truly Help MDHA

I know; it is mid-summer, and you are sitting there saying to yourself, “Self, how can I help MDHA?” I am glad you asked. Here is the answer (or nine answers, really):

1. Tell three people about what we do. Use www.mdhadallas.org as a cheat sheet.

2. Read our CoC Strategic Work Plan, and find an item or task you can help us and the community with to help end homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties.

3. Read our e-newsletter, forward it to others, and ask them to sign up by texting MDHA to 22828 or sending an email to david.gruber@mdhadallas.org

4. Add (something like) this to your email signature: End Homelessness – Support MDHA - www.mdhadallas.org

5. “Like” us and “invite” others to “like” us on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/MDHADallas

6. Follow our Twitter feed at https://twitter.com/MDHA2

7. Come to our next Hard Conversation

8. Become an MDHA Champion - http://mdhadallas.org/donate

9. Copy this to your calendar on September 17, 2015: North Texas Giving Day - Don’t Forget to Give to MDHA! Click here: http://northtexasgivingday.org/#npo/metro-dallas-homeless-alliance

Monday, July 6, 2015

As a Consumer – What Do I Need From the Homeless Response System?

If possible not to become homeless, by self-resolving, with the system's assistance – I need the system’s light touch;

If I am homeless, and can rapidly rehouse and get on with my life, do so quickly, efficiently and in a way that will end my homelessness – I need the system's moderate touch;

If I am homeless, especially if I am chronically homeless, and due to disability, substance abuse or other long term and entrenched challenges, cannot rapidly rehouse, be housed in permanent supportive housing, in a way that will end my homelessness – I need the system's heavy touch.

Regardless, whoever I approach should ensure I connect with a homeless response system, which views me as a distinct individual, objectively assesses my needs, and addresses them through this one lens: "What solutions does this person need to quickly and efficiently end their homelessness?"