Thursday, June 30, 2016

Learning and Practice (the NOFA is here!)

Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives
Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives.
At MDHA we strive to be a learning organization internally, and we see one of our most important fields of activity in enhancing the knowledge and performance of our grantees and partners through a variety of learning, training, networking and development opportunities. Our President and CEO, Cindy J. Crain, even shares her reading list, as part of the State of the Homeless Address.

Perhaps one of the most important books in our field just came out earlier this year,
Housing First: Ending Homelessness, Transforming Systems, and Changing Lives. This book, written by the people who first developed the Housing First model, is eminently readable, as well as well-sourced. We are reading it, and we recommend you do too. We are even posting choice quotes on our social media. We are also brushing up on Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness. We will be regularly posting key ideas from this document that guides our work, and the work of our counterparts in every American community, on our social media.

This learning will be tremendously helpful, as we enter the busiest, most critical time of the year for any CoC, the
Continuum of Care (CoC) Program Competition. The Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) just came out, and we don't have much time! We have created a dedicated page on our website for the local competition, to help our grantees and potential grantees, which you can bookmark. We will be putting out regular notices on that page, through our CoC listserv, the Constant Contact list, and on our social media. Good luck!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Building Dallas’ Homeless Response System - Where We Are and Where We Are Going

Where We Are:

  • Established a community strategic work plan, to build an effective homeless response system for Dallas, aligned with Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness.
  • Laid the groundwork for a Coordinated Access (or Assessment) System - CAS, a system where 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.  
  • As Dallas awaits federal funding necessary to fully deploy its CAS, it has already deployed the core of the system, the housing priority list, actively managed by a dedicated expert. Once a person is assessed and has all documentation needed to be housed, they go on to this dynamic list. Housing programs populate their housing units exclusively from that list, as quickly as possible, in order of priority.
  • Developed a partnership with PCCI for an HMIS customized to Dallas, rolling out in the second half of 2016, to get much higher quality and quantity of data necessary to better track performance and drive improvement in programs serving more than 8,800 clients annually.
  • Brought Austin Street Center into HMIS, growing shelter coverage from 3% to 25%.
  • Marshaled 600-700 volunteers for Dallas’ most comprehensive Homeless Count to date.
  • Instituted new learning, training and development opportunities for homeless providers.
  • Founded the MDHA Flex Fund, to pay for minor but impactful expenses that can help individuals resolve their homelessness.
  • Led the peaceful and housing-oriented clearing of Tent City, housing as many residents as possible, facilitating the sheltering of many who could not yet be housed, and creating a name by name list to follow up with everyone to ensure they are eventually housed.

Where We Are Going:

  • The Dallas Commission on Homelessness is marshalling the support of the community for building out an effective homeless response system.
  • Build an updated 2016-2017 strategic work plan, building on the lessons of the last 15 months, and the existing strategic work plan.
  • Fully build out and deploy Dallas’ Coordinated Access (or Assessment) System - CAS
  • Roll out the new PCCI HMIS, to achieve higher quality and quantity of data necessary to better track performance and drive improvement in programs serving the homeless.
  • Bring all shelters and other service providers into HMIS, growing shelter coverage, as close as possible to 100%.
  • Marshal 1,000 volunteers for Dallas’ most comprehensive Homeless Count to date in January 2017.
  • Continue to enhance knowledge and performance of homeless providers through learning, training and development opportunities.
  • Grow MDHA Flex Fund, to pay for minor but impactful expenses that can help individuals resolve their homelessness.
  • Build robust street outreach, to proactively engage, shelter and house unsheltered individuals through MDHA’s CAS.
  • Facilitate action by the City of Dallas and other related entities creating more permanent supportive housing and affordable housing.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Building Dallas’ Homeless Response System - A Glossary of Basic Terms[i]

Homeless and Chronically Homeless
The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009, generally defines an individual or family as homeless if that individual/family, “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” or “has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation,” or lives, “in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including hotels and motels paid for by Federal, State or local government programs for low-income individuals or by charitable organizations, congregate shelters, and transitional housing)…” The same act generally defines[i] a homeless individual or family as chronically homeless if that individual/family, “has been homeless… continuously for at least 1 year or on at least 4 separate occasions in the last 3 years,” and that individual or family’s head of household has a disability.

Emergency Shelter
The modern fight against homelessness can be traced to the landmark McKinney-Vento Act of 1987. The focus at the time was on responding to homelessness as a short term crisis through the use of emergency shelters. Today, the ideal shelter is oriented towards housing, and serves a vital, quite distinct role from the role envisioned in 1987. They provide temporary shelter, with the constant expectation that they move their clients into housing as soon as possible.

Housing First vs. Treatment First/Housing Readiness
In the Treatment First/Housing Readiness approach (which was prevalent in the 1990s and early 2000s) the focus is on managing homelessness, linearly and methodically making people “housing ready” and only then permanently housing them. This approach usually requires the attainment of milestones prior to a person being provided permanent housing (e.g. taking classes, saving a certain amount of money, maintaining sobriety, finding employment). Housing First, a robust, evidence based alternative to housing readiness emerged in the early 2000s. This approach argues that homelessness is a housing crisis, that everyone is housing ready, and that homelessness is best solved by the provision of housing, with supports and services tailored to the needs and preferences of persons experiencing homelessness. This approach usually requires only two conditions: Clients abide by the terms of their leases, and meet with their case managers on a regular basis. Due to the fact, that Housing First works for 85% of clients and above, the consensus of scholars (and hence) the policy of the Federal Government, is that all programs should follow this method.

Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)
Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is a nationally recognized, proven and cost-effective solution to the needs of vulnerable people with disabilities who are homeless, institutionalized, or at greatest risk of these conditions. The PSH approach integrates permanent, affordable rental housing with the best practice community-based supportive services needed to help people who are homeless and/or have serious and long-term disabilities - such as mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, substance use disorders, and chronic health conditions - access and maintain stable housing in the community[ii].

Rapid Rehousing (RRH)
This model first gained prominence during the Great Recession. Non-chronically homeless individuals are quickly housed, and offered intense wrap around services for a limited time, so they can get back on their feet and move on in 90-180 days.

Transitional Housing (TH)
The HEARTH Act of 2009 defines this as, “Housing the purpose of which is to facilitate the movement of individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing within 24 months…” These more traditional programs have historically followed the Treatment First/Housing Readiness approach. The Federal Government has encouraged communities to gradually move away from these programs due their lower success rate and higher cost, in comparison to PSH and RRH.

Continuum of Care(CoC)
A Continuum of Care (CoC) is a geographically based group of representatives that carries out the planning responsibilities [related to housing programs and services for the homeless, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD]… These representatives come from organizations that provide services to persons experiencing homelessness, or represent the interests of the homeless or formerly homeless.” (HEARTH Act Interim Rule, page 45423) The CoC is required to designate a collaborative applicant to apply to HUD for CoC funding on behalf of all of the local applicants as well as designate a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) administrator. The local CoC (for Dallas and Collin Counties) has designated the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) as the collaborative applicant and HMIS administrator.

Homeless Management Information System (HMIS)
The HEARTH Act mandates that federally funded homeless service providers (CoC programs and others) report on their performance through a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), to track performance and drive improvement of each individual program and the community as a whole.

Homeless Response Systems
The HEARTH Act of 2009, imbued CoCs with an enhanced role. It envisioned CoCs and their lead agencies creating comprehensive homeless response systems that, using a Housing First approach, would efficiently and effectively, coordinate and deliver evidence based solutions that would prevent and end homelessness. The HEARTH Act tasked the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), an independent federal agency, which brings together 19 different federal entities, with writing a national strategic plan to end homelessness. The plan titled “Opening Doors” was presented to the President and Congress in 2010, and has been updated and revised a number of times, most recently in June 2015. The revised Opening Doors plan calls for 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.
[i] Many parts of this glossary draw their language from Opening Doors, as amended in 2015. See

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ending Homelessness, Homeless Response Systems and MDHA – a Link “Primer”

Would you like to learn more about ending homelessness, homeless response systems and MDHA? We recently compiled this handy link “primer” to help you out with just that. Happy learning!

Opening Doors – the National Strategic Plan to End Homelessness:

About MDHA:

MDHA in Depth:

Homelessness in Dallas:

2015-2016 Continuum of Care Strategic Work Plan – Building an Effective Homeless Response System:

Housing First Efficacy:

MDHA Flex Fund:

Building an Effective Homeless Response System:

Coordinated Access Blog Post Series:

Tent City Closure:

MDHA Partnership with PCCI: