As you know, 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 rare, brief, and
non-recurring. It serves as the local Continuum of Care (CoC) lead agency,
through which Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funded service
providers are funded, and it administrates the local Homeless Management
Information System (HMIS), that tracks performance and drives improvement of
service providers. Under the national strategic plan to end homelessness, Opening Doors, it is charged with transforming
homeless services into a crisis response system that prevents homelessness and
rapidly returns people who experience homelessness to stable housing. Collin
(Courtesy of the
In this capacity, HUD has tasked each CoC with building a Coordinated Access System (CAS), at the heart of their homeless response systems. In CAS, 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. Wherever possible, persons are diverted from the system, by identifying means through which they can self-resolve, and where necessary connect to services outside of the homeless response system. Persons for whom this does not suffice, are placed on a housing priority list, and then matched with the programs that best fit their level of vulnerability and need. Housing programs populate their housing units exclusively from that list.
The results of asking this very different question, which follow a philosophy called progressive engagement, lead to more humane, more efficient, less disruptive and less costly solutions. Leading sociologist of homelessness, Dennis Culhane, states, “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.” This also allows the system to concentrate most of its costlier investments in time and money, in descending order, permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, emergency shelter, etc., on those individuals and families who really need them.
(Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania)
For such a transformation to occur, much less to succeed, requires in Culhane’s words, “a new multi-agency commitment.” CoCs and their lead agencies on the local level and USICH on the national level do not have the power to force individual programs to take the necessary steps, and make the requisite changes to align themselves to a homeless response system. Even if they did, no meaningful change on this scale occurs by fiat. If this is true regarding programs funded through the CoC process and/or required to report into the HMIS system, where there are “levers” that can be “pulled” in the areas of funding and regulatory compliance, this is even truer regarding programs such as shelters that are not funded through this process, particularly those that do not receive any government funding. Such programs can only be brought on board through the recognition that it is in the best interest of their clients that they become part of a unified, effective homeless response system. CoCs and their lead agencies must guide them through that journey, and help them reach that destination.