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.

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