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.

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