Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Solomon’s Ticket out of Homelessness

(Image taken by Kevin B., a Wikipedia contributor)
As we have mentioned, on the virtual pages of the MDHA blog, Ending Homelessness, former Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), Laura Zeilinger, argues that the essence of transforming homeless services into an effective unified homeless response system may be summed up in the right entity asking the right question: An effective homeless response system is one where individual programs no longer ask, "Will this person be successful in our program?" Rather, the system as a whole asks, “What solutions best match the needs of this person or household, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently?"

In asking this very different open-ended question, we acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach is never the right one. Instead, solutions must match the needs of the person, more than one solution might be needed, and a progressively “lighter touch”, should be preferred wherever possible. This not only allows clients to get the precise help they need; it also allows the system to concentrate, better target, and more efficiently deploy 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.

Solomon’s* case is illustrative of just this idea. He was living in Tent City, since late November 2015. In a handwritten letter, he explained that he was originally from Camden, New Jersey, and had lived in Dallas for years, working for Campbell Soup, Pepsi and Lockheed Martin, as well for a local food pantry. At 67, he was still eager to work, but could not find a job. He was living off of a meager $600 a month in Social Security benefits, and in the meantime was helping out two different friends at Tent City, with the challenges they were dealing with.

In the same letter, Solomon explained that he had a sister back in Camden, who had invited him to live with her. This would end his homelessness quickly and permanently, and as a bonus, reunite him with the granddaughter he had not seen in two years. In essence, what Solomon was telling us was that he could self-resolve his homelessness. In this sense, Solomon is not the exception in the world of homelessness, but the rule. Experts estimate that as many as 70% of those who experience homelessness, experience it once, for a very short time and never again. They actually never “show up on the radar” of homeless service agencies! They self-resolve.

If you think about it, this makes sense. As Cindy Crain mentioned in the State of the Homeless Address 2016, most of us are not really “one paycheck away” from homelessness. Most of us have (if not financial, at least) social reserves we can take advantage of. We have a social network of family and friends we can call on in a time of need. Homelessness, especially ongoing homelessness, and particularly unsheltered homelessness, occur when poverty and financial crisis “crash into” the lack of that social network. When one can no longer utilize social reserves, when one’s social network has disintegrated, one can end up homeless. Now, Solomon still had that social network. The only problem was the social reserve he was invited to utilize was about 1,470 miles away! If only there was some way he could utilize this far off reserve…

Fortunately, last year, we founded the MDHA Flex Fund, with the generous support of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, who seeded the fund with $38,742. This fund is designed to cover these minor but impactful expenditures, that can help clients resolve their homelessness. Shavon Moore, our Continuum of Care Program Coordinator, had interviewed Solomon, had ensured he was in active case management, and that he had been accurately assessed and documented as homeless. She then completed the MDHA Flex Fund one-page form, documenting the specific need, and how filling it would help Solomon resolve his homelessness. She went online, and found that a Greyhound bus ticket from Dallas to Camden would cost a little more than $200. She added this to the form, and verified that this need could not be funded through other available resources. With the quote from the Greyhound website, she submitted the form to Rebecca Cox, our Vice President, who approved the request. Wayne Waslien, our CFO purchased the bus ticket online for Solomon. With that they ended his homelessness quickly and permanently. That bus ticket was quite literally Solomon’s ticket out of homelessness! 

Since the initial funding from United Way, we have received funding from the Dallas Baptist Association ($5,000), the Graham & Carolyn Holloway Family Foundation ($5,000), the Hillcrest Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee ($12,000), the M.B. and Edna Zale Foundation ($15,000), and the Wells Fargo Foundation ($5,000). We are also heartened by the fact that Mayor Mike Rawlings recently publicly called for contributions to the MDHA Flex Fund. We hope you too will get on board, and contribute. With your help, the MDHA Flex Fund will continue to provide literal and figurative tickets out of homelessness to many more folks, just like it did for Solomon. 

* Name changed to preserve the client’s privacy.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Coordinated Access in Action in Dallas and Collin Counties

The MDHA team, under Crain’s leadership sought to replicate what the TCHC team did in Tarrant County on this side of the Metroplex in the area of Coordinated Access specifically and the development of an effective homeless response system, in general. Fortuitously, HUD, which had expected up until recently for communities to foot the bill for Coordinated Access, agreed to pay for these systems through the CoC grant process. (TCHC had received the first federal grant for CAS in the State of Texas.) Crain and her new team drew up a detailed plan to replicate the above Coordinated Access System on a scale that fit Dallas, based on the process and job descriptions in the Tarrant County CAS.

The Dallas plan would also include two additional contracted positions. One of these persons would help Collin County, with its unique needs, develop and manage the necessary systems to fully take advantage of the Coordinated Access System. Another would be devoted to helping persons experiencing homelessness obtain social security income, which for many would mean that they can then transition from a shelter or unsheltered living situation, into housing.

The CoC and the MDHA Board (which serves as the former’s board of directors) approved the plan, and it was submitted to HUD, which approved the funding. (Parts of the CAS have already been implemented with previously available funding.) Once this HUD funding arrives in May, the full CAS will be implemented. Here are some specific metrics that MDHA will be tracking:

Quantifiable Metric
Data to be Gathered
Specific Measure
Data Collection Procedure
Data Source
Assess 8 persons or more per day in the CAS
Total persons assessed every day
Did MDHA assess 8 persons or more per day?
Obtain number of those assessed every day
DOPS Coordinator
Decrease the amount of time between assessment and client going on to the housing priority list to 3 business days
Number of business days between assessment and client going on to housing the priority list
Is the number of business days between assessment and going on to the housing priority list, 3 business days or less?
Obtain dates of assessment and going on to housing list for all those assessed, and subtract the former from the latter
Housing Priority List,
DOPS Coordinator
Decrease the number of days any client is on the housing priority list prior to housing to 90 days or less
Number of days each person is on housing priority
Is the average number of days of persons on the housing priority list 90 or less?
Obtain dates of DOPS of each person going on to housing priority list and housing, and subtract the former from the latter
Housing Priority List
HIC Specialist
Raise the occupancy rates in all CoC programs to 98%
Number of beds in CoC programs vs. number of persons enrolled in the programs
Is the number of persons divided by the number of beds equal to or greater than 0.98?
Obtain the number of beds and number of persons in CoC programs, and divide the former by the latter
HIC Specialist

We look forward to keeping you up to date on how we are doing!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Coordinated Access in Action in Tarrant County – Pulling It All Together

As stated, the roles of the DOPS Coordinator and HIC Specialist are distinct. However for the process to work, someone needs to manage not only these vital employees, but to pull the whole process together in a systematic manner, aligning supply with demand, persons with units. This person would also work with the HMIS team to make sure that all information in the DOPS Matrix and the DOPS HIC properly line up with the information in HMIS reporting. This person would work with shelters and programs serving the unsheltered to align them within the existing system of care, rather than operating beside it. This person would also manage the relationships with service providers and housing providers in coordination with TCHC leadership. Hence the TCHC team established the role of the Coordinated Access System (CAS) Manager to carry out these functions.

Though HUD has been urging communities to “get going” in establishing Coordinated Access Systems, some have made more progress than others. Many around the country have cited TCHC’s work on implementing a Coordinated Access System, as an example for other communities. When one examines the reduction in a few short months in real time homelessness of the chronically homeless in Tarrant County, one understands why. Within four months of adoption, the TCHC team was able to house a full third of the chronically homeless population!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Coordinated Access in Action in Tarrant County – Housing Inventory

This week we are publishing the remaining three blog posts in our Coordinated Access series. For the full picture, go back and read the first three, if you have not done so yet:

The counterpart of supply is demand. It does no good to streamline your supply (of persons), if the demand (housing units) side of the equation is not systematized. The TCHC team realized that this supply needed to be carefully managed in real time, as does any housing market. However, this task was much greater given the different types of housing stock, with different requirements and stipulations. Some housing is permanent supportive housing, some is transitional housing, and some is rapid rehousing. Some is for veterans and some is for persons with HIV/AIDS. Some is for single men and women and some is for families. And that accounts just for housing with formal programs for the homeless. Outside of this, there are housing units of public housing authorities, tax credit rental properties, second chance rental housing and more. Therefore, the TCHC created the Priority Status – Housing Inventory Chart (the DOPS HIC) to manage the supply, and know the real time status of each and every unit in the system, i.e. available, committed or filled. A full time Housing Inventory Specialist or HIC Specialist was designated to manage the chart, with all the nuances and requirements of the different types of units in it, and to make sure that units were filled quickly once vacated. However, as above, this was only part of that employee’s task. This person was also to find and manage units for those who did not have room in or did not qualify for units within the homeless response system. As a correlate to that, this person would also work on a “ready to rent” program for individuals who do not belong in the system itself, who can be certified through 18 hours of training, as “ready to rent” making them more attractive to landlords.
The TCHC version of the DOPS HIC:


Friday, May 6, 2016

How Do We Make Homelessness Rare, Brief and Nonrecurring?
Opening Doors, the National Strategic Plan to
End Homelessness (Courtesy of USICH)
When reflecting on the second to last blog post, and the happenings in Tent City, it is important to remember what three scholars recently wrote in the UT News, Closing a "Tent City" is Not a Solution to Homelessness.

So, how do we make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring? The fact is, unlike some of the other challenges our nation is dealing with, we actually know the answer. We house the homeless, because once a person is housed, they are no longer homeless! Now, obviously, every person's needs differ. Some people need some extra help, and other people need a lot of extra help. This why the
consensus of researchers and policy makers calls for Housing First, i.e. housing with adequate supports, not Housing Only, for those that need that support. The fundamental fact remains - we make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring through housing the homeless.

In order to house the homeless, research shows that a community needs to develop an efficient and effective homeless response system. This is why the U.S. Government, through the national strategic plan to end homelessness,
Opening Doors, has charged MDHA and its counterparts in every American community, with retooling the homeless response system, by transforming homeless services into crisis response systems that prevent homelessness and rapidly return people who experience homelessness to stable housing.

How this is done, on the community level, may differ from community to community, which is why our community is guided by the
2015-2016 Continuum of Care Strategic Work Plan - Building an Effective Homeless Response System, which is based on Opening Doors. As we mentioned in the last e-news, we are already in the process of building our 2016-2017 plan, and we welcome your ideas, each and every one of you, regarding actions, goals, objectives and measures that should go into this follow up plan, and how you can do your part in helping bring these to fruition.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The MDHA Flex Fund

State of the Homeless Address 2016
A little more than a month ago, during the State of the Homeless Address 2016, Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO, emphasized the importance of the MDHA Flex Fund. What is the MDHA Flex Fund?

An effective homeless response system asks, "What solutions best match the needs of this person or household, and will end their homelessness quickly and permanently?" These needs (beyond the basic needs of housing, shelter and supportive services) 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, and therefore cannot be addressed through existing programs.

The MDHA Flex Fund pays for these needs, in a timely and efficient manner. How does the Flex Fund work? The only way a client can access the MDHA Flex Fund is through their case manager. This not only ensures that every client helped is already enrolled in active management, and is being aided by an effective homeless response system in ending his or her homelessness quickly and permanently, but strengthens the case manager-client relationship, which is vital to this overarching client goal.

The client's case manager first ensures that the client is in active case management, has been accurately assessed, has an accurate income assessment and documentation of homelessness. The case manager completes a simple one-page form, attaches all necessary documentation, and submits it to MDHA via email. The form asks for basic client info, the solution needed, including cost and vendor, how this will help the client resolve their homelessness, and an explanation of why other resources cannot provide this solution. MDHA approves and provides payment directly to the vendor.

The MDHA Flex Fund has been up and running since August 2015, and has already been instrumental in helping those experiencing homelessness. Its need has been underscored recently by the realities on the ground in resettling the residents of the Tent City under the I-45 Bridge, which prompted Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings himself to publicly call for contributions to the MDHA Flex Fund. For an example of how the Flex Fund has helped an actual client, read Much More Than a Pair of Boots - Back to Work for Just $69.78. You can also listen to Courtney Collins' interview with Cindy Crain - Losing An Apartment Because You Can't Pay The $45 Application Fee. 

Interested in giving to the MDHA Flex Fund? Contact me, David Gruber, Development and Communications Director at 469-222-0047 or Interested in learning more about the background of and research behind the MDHA Flex Fund, check the MDHA Flex Fund page on our website. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Tent City

Cindy Crain and Rebecca Cox at work in Tent City
(Courtesy of G.J. McCarthy, Dallas Morning News)
As you probably know, the City of Dallas has been working with MDHA and partner agencies to close down the Tent City encampment under the I-45 Bridge. This is being done primarily in the interest of the health and safety of the those experiencing homelessness, as our board member, CEO of CitySquare, Larry James, aptly writes. The aim has been to get as many of the Tent City residents, as possible, directly into housing, and make shelter available to those who cannot be housed before this week’s final closure date. You can check out the detailed I-45 Encampment Closure Plan, and read an exclusive about it by our good friend, Tasha Tsiaperas, Exclusive: Dallas plans to close Tent City permanently by May 4.

Tent City has received extensive coverage in the media. Tasha followed up on that exclusive with comprehensive, candid and compassionate pieces
here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Eric Nicholson, of the Dallas Observer, wrote a fascinating and humanizing long form article, Love and Murder in Tent City. And KERA's Stephanie Kuo shared two heartfelt back to back pieces, As Tent City Closes, The Homeless Prepare For Life From Under The Highway, and Once Out Of Tent City, Dallas' Homeless Struggle To Find A Place To Live. We try to post everything that comes out on our social media, so make sure you follow us on Facebook and Twitter.