Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO Delivers State of the Homeless Address 2016

Yesterday, Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Cindy J. Crain, President and CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) delivered her second annual State of the Homeless Address, with more than 300 people in attendance, at Goodwill Industries of Dallas. MDHA leads the development of the homeless response system that, in accordance with Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness, will make homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief and nonrecurring.

Crain was introduced by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, the city’s former “homeless czar”, who shared remarks and pledged his support in word and deed to support MDHA’s efforts to end homelessness. Crain called on MDHA Board Member and homeless advocate, Ricky Redd to share some of his knowledge gained through lived experience as a person experiencing homelessness. Redd elicited tears as well as laughter, as he movingly spoke of what he learned and what are the most pressing needs of those experiencing homelessness. Crain’s address was followed by public comments and questions.
Ricky Redd
Crain opened with the purpose of the address: To review what we know, and how this will influence our decisions, to be honest about the challenges we deal with, and to welcome insights from the community on how we can make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring.  The numbers she shared were sobering. The 2016 Point–in-Time Homeless Count conducted in late January, indicated an increase of 24% in the homeless population in Dallas and Collin Counties over the 2015 Count, going from 3,141 to 3,904 individuals. The number of chronically homeless individuals, i.e. those that have been homeless for 12 months and have a disability did not see significant change, dropping from 615 to 597. She presented elaborate graphs and charts, drilling down into this data by age, gender, race, ethnicity, sheltered vs. unsheltered and more.

Some of the most interesting data collected during the Count was from surveys, which the more than 700 volunteers in both counties administered to those they counted. One of the more sobering statistics was that of 358 unsheltered persons who were willing to share if they had experience in the criminal justice system, 75% had answered yes. This enforces the idea that with mass incarceration, we are creating a “prison to poverty and homelessness pipeline”. Of the 387 responses regarding health, 48% reported significant health conditions.
Cindy Crain
Crain discussed the lessons MDHA has accumulated from working with the residents of the Tent City under the I-45 Bridge, specifically highlighting the importance of increased professional street outreach and interagency collaboration, to help house as many people as possible.

Crain highlighted the tension between short term needs and long term housing solutions. She emphasized that the question, “What is your housing plan?” must become a mantra that pushes everyone towards housing, with services that support smooth transition and permanence in housing. She also reminded the assembled that true solutions lie in systemic and systematic changes, like Coordinated Assessment, a system through which all persons are assessed, using a common, uniform, objective and evidence based assessment tool, so they may be prioritized for service and matched with the services that will best help end their homelessness as quickly as possible. (MDHA is currently running a blog post series that explains how this federally required system will help end homelessness.)

In this context, Crain referenced MDHA’s partnership with PCCI, a nationally recognized leader in creating information systems that connect community based organizations with healthcare organizations to create an integrated community wide system of care. Together, MDHA and PCCI are creating a new Homeless Management Information System, customized to the needs of the Dallas community. With this new system, the community will have a far clearer picture of the nature and extent of homelessness and have the data necessary to optimize housing and services to make the experience of homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring.

Crain ended her address emphasizing the need for all members of the community to work together. Without collaboration, cooperation and coordination of information and services, she stressed, we will keep more people homeless longer. By working together we, as a community, and each of us individually, can and must do better.

Crain’s PowerPoint presentation is available on the State of the Homeless Address 2016 page on MDHA website, and a full video recording of the proceedings will be available there later this week.

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