Friday, August 21, 2015

The MDHA Flex Fund

So, here is the next thing I shared with folks I met at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’, “Chat. Connect. Repeat. Speed Networking Event.” The theme for the event was “Referral Guide: Criminal History Backgrounds”:

The Need

The question effective homeless response systems ask is: “What solutions best match the needs of this person or household, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently?"

This question leads to the most humane, most efficient, less disruptive and less costly solutions. Leading sociologist of homelessness, Dennis Culhane, states[i], “The majority of homeless households are able to resolve their housing emergencies in a relatively brief time. Given this, providing such households time limited assistance either avoids or limits the private trauma and public expense of a homeless episode.”

There are many challenges consumers deal with, that prevent them from self-resolving their housing emergencies in a relatively brief time. These include, access to critical documents (photo identifications, birth certificates, social security cards, documentation of homelessness), security deposits, transportation (bus passes or car repair), medical and dental costs (glasses, medication, medical equipment, wheelchairs), job placement, job related expenses (tools, uniforms, boots, certification, licensing), mainstream benefits (SNAP, TANF, SSI, SSDI), food assistance, legal services, basic furniture and household items. Most of these minor but impactful expenditures may not be covered through existing federal, state and local grant funds.

The Solution – the MDHA Flex Fund

During her tenure as Executive Director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC), Cindy J. Crain, current MDHA President and CEO, designed the Direct Client Services Fund (DCSF), in partnership with Directions Home Fort Worth and United Way of Tarrant County. This was designed to provide case managers with a fund of last resort to pay for expenses associated with resolving the type of challenges discussed above. Clients served must be enrolled in a program or participating in active case management, and the maximum award is $800 per annum. Case managers are required to document the need for the funds, how they will help the client self-resolve, and why the need cannot be funded through other available resources.

Kiley Gosselin[ii] cites a recently completed five year pilot program in Washington State, where flexible funding played a major role. The success of this program provides powerful evidence for the success of flex funds:

In 2009, with the financial backing of the Gates Foundation, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) launched a five year pilot program testing the success of a survivor-centered, Housing First approach to preventing homelessness for survivors of domestic violence and their families… Funding for the pilot was flexible, allowing advocates to address survivors’ self-identified needs including transportation, child care, school or employment supplies and more direct help such as rental assistance…The results of the pilot… are impressive. Of pilot participants, 96% remain stably housed after 18 months… And the cost to the participating programs… also went down - 76% of survivors received only minimal services… at minimal costs… Participating programs repeatedly cited the flexible spending and organizational change brought about by the survivor-driven approach… The ability to offer survivors the things they needed… was powerful…

Gosselin’s actual examples of how such assistance works are edifying:

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.  Another advocate echoed that the ability to buy new tires for a survivor, whose abuser had slashed hers, was a small expenditure that allowed the survivor to attend legal hearings required to maintain her housing and meet the obligations of other program services. 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 or new set of tires…

Gosselin aptly summarizes, in a statement MDHA would wholeheartedly endorse: “While few homeless service providers are lucky enough to have a Bill Gates in their backyard, the pilot highlights that the power of flexible philanthropic dollars, even in small amounts, is real and worth pursuing…

In her 2015 State of the Homeless Address, Crain called on funders to partner with MDHA in establishing such a fund for Dallas and Collin Counties. United Way of Metropolitan Dallas answered this call, and stepped forward to fund a pilot program, modeled closely on the above DCSF, to be called the MDHA Flex Fund. They have given MDHA $38,742 of seed money for this purpose. MDHA will need an estimated $250,000 annually to fully fund this program.

Interested in giving to the MDHA Flex Fund? Contact David Gruber, Development and Communications Director at 469-222-0047 or


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