Monday, March 14, 2016

Dallas Commits to Building an Effective Homeless Response System

Edd Eason, CoC Chair
In 2015, the MDHA team, led by President and CEO, Cindy J. Crain, made great progress in laying the foundation for an effective homeless response system. They built a close alliance with the CoC Assembly Chair, Edd Eason, and Vice Chair, Dustin Perkins, so the CoC Assembly leadership and MDHA could work in concert and speak in one voice. Together, they introduced the annual State of the Homeless Address, as part of an effort to publicly dialogue with all communal stakeholders about the state of homelessness and the gaps and needs in Dallas' homeless response. As part of this process, they facilitated building a strategic work plan, through which the community is transforming homeless services into a unified effective crisis response system.

The most recent HUD CoC grant cycle proved to be a challenge for many communities around the country, as it came with a new set of funding guidelines and corresponding scoring system. The MDHA team responded by carefully educating its grantees, and creating a highly transparent and responsive local grant competition process, to maximize the scoring of each program, and the CoC as a whole. With the help of a reinvigorated Independent Review Committee, the CoC Assembly leadership and the MDHA Board of Directors, Crain and her team were able to submit a strong CoC grant application, which will hopefully lead to over $18 million for high performing programs in the local CoC.

They developed an innovative 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 HMIS, customized to the needs of the Dallas community. This represents the first known instance that an HMIS is being built, from the ground up, tailored to the needs of a community.

The MDHA team developed another critical partnership, with United Way of Metropolitan Dallas (UWMD), and succeeded in receiving MDHA’s first ever United Way funding. With this funding they launched the MDHA Flex Fund. This fund pays for minor but impactful expenses that can help individuals resolve their homelessness. This program has been up and running since August 2015, and has already been of great assistance to clients. As these client needs cannot be paid for with federal funding, MDHA will continue to meet this ongoing need through United Way and other non-government funding sources.
Daniel Roby at Austin Street Center
(Courtesy of Austin Street Center)
In a move that has set the stage to revolutionize the way shelters will fit into Dallas’ homeless response system, they brought Austin Street Center (ASC), headed by Daniel Roby, one of the largest shelters in Dallas into the HMIS system. This led to a dramatic increase in HMIS coverage of the Dallas shelter population from 3% to 25%, and created a pathway for prioritization for housing and services for persons sheltered at ASC. Indirectly, this will encourage the other shelters in Dallas to join the HMIS system too, so their clients may benefit from services too.

For the annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count, an annual federal requirement, they marshaled a veritable army of roughly 600 volunteers in Dallas alone, armed with GIS mapping software generated routes to count and survey the unsheltered homeless. Volunteers were able to conduct Dallas’ most comprehensive census of these individuals to date.

Crain and her team instituted new learning, training and development opportunities to enhance the knowledge and performance of homeless provider professionals, including a monthly case worker round table, and a series of “Hard Conversations” on critical issues in the homelessness arena. Crucially, the team engaged internationally renowned expert on ending homelessness, Dr. Iain De Jong, to come to Dallas for three separate visits and train numerous practitioners, program managers, agency executives and policy makers on best practices in building all of the components necessary for an effective homeless response system.

As this is being written in March 2016, the work of the backbone organization has anything but let up. MDHA’s leadership in continuing to build Dallas’ homeless response system is being sought at every level, from front line case workers to the Mayor’s office, from program managers to state level officials, from local service provider CEOs to HUD personnel in the nation’s capital.

In the next few blog posts, we will elaborate specifically on what is at the heart of every effective homeless response system, a Coordinated Access System, or CAS, and how our iteration of CAS is shaping up, as we speak. It is going to be a true game changer.

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