Tuesday, November 28, 2017

1,500 Needed for the 2018 Homeless Count!

When: Thursday night, January 25, 2018, 7:00pm–Midnight
What: The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance annual Homeless Count Night.
Why: It helps communities understand the extent of homelessness, changing trends, and the measure of their success in making homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring.
Who: We need 1,500 volunteers, in teams of 3-5 persons. Please register your team, and help spread the word!

Where: Dallas and Collin Counties. Launch sites vary by city.


Friday, November 17, 2017

MDHA Homeless Response System Community Dashboard and CoC Strategic Work Plan Progress Report Dashboard

We are pleased to present you with these two data rich documents:

The MDHA Homeless Response System Community Dashboard 3Q July-September 2017, tracks our community's progress in making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring in Dallas and Collin Counties, in the third quarter of 2017. The Homeless Response System Community Dashboard provides a snapshot of the core system metrics that inform us on achievements in moving individuals to permanent housing. The current iteration of the Dashboard includes the current Housing Priority List Tracker (pictured).

The Continuum of Care Strategic Work Plan (CoCSWP) 2017-2018 Progress Report Dashboard - November 15, 2017 tracks the progress of the CoC in completing the 60 action items in support of the seven goals of the CoCSWP 2017-2018 approved in July.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What is it that you do, again?

It’s National Hunger and Homelessness Week, which is the perfect time to revisit a question we get every now and then, “What is it that you do, again?” So, here goes:

The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance (MDHA) leads the development of an effective homeless response system that will make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring.

That language is very precise. It is based on Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness, commissioned by Congress and the President under the 2009 Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act. MDHA’s statutory authority and five main statutory roles are derived from the Act.
Opening Doors
the national strategic plan to end homelessness
We are often asked different variants of the question with which we began, the most common being:

  • Do you do ______________ (fill in the blank)?
  • Why don’t you ______________ (fill in the blank)?

We always answer the question with a question: Will ______________ (fill in the blank) enhance the development of an effective homeless response system that will make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring? If so, count us in. If not, we will have to pass. Now, that doesn’t mean ______________ (fill in the blank) is not important or worthy or vital; often it is. It just means that it is not our role to do it.

Now, that does not mean we won’t discuss those issues. We don’t care how hard or controversial they are, either. We don’t call our ongoing popular learning series Hard Conversations for nothing. However, our angle, every time we pick up a pen or a microphone, always goes back to a variant of that original question: How does discussing and understanding ______________ (fill in the blank) enhance our ability to develop an effective homeless response system that will make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring?

Sometimes the answer may be self-evident; that many of us have misconceptions about those experiencing homelessness being a prime example. Other times, we might think it is self-evident, and discover through discussion, that we need to look at the issue in an entirely different light; what really causes homelessness, being a prime example. And other times still, we might not even see the direct connection at first, but the discussion will reveal an important and vital connection; racism and homelessness being a prime example.

This is precisely why we continue to engage in ongoing study. As a learning organization, we are constantly looking at best practices, up to date research, and evidence based solutions. We view everything we come across with a critical eye, as we constantly ask ourselves:


It would be easy to say yes every time we ask these questions. If we are to fulfill our mission, however, we must answer these questions with this question: If we take ______________ (fill in the blank) on, will that action enhance our ability to develop an effective homeless response system that will make the experience of homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties rare, brief, and non-recurring? We must be consistently and ruthlessly honest in our answer, and always act accordingly.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Our Sin of Exclusion

On Sunday, I had the great privilege of participating in First United Methodist Church Dallasannual Service of Light and Remembrance, for the very first time. This moving event, led by Dr. Andrew Stoker, Senior Minister, is devoted to remembering our homeless friends who have passed during the preceding year.         

Dr. Andrew Stoker
(Courtesy of FUMC Dallas)
The event is held every All Saints Sunday, and is fashioned as an interfaith service, with ministers of other congregations and other faiths joining in offering prayers during the proceedings. One of the highlights of the event is the participation of the youth choir, who introduced the idea of this annual event to the congregation, having seen a similar event on a trip to Chicago a few years back.
The focal point of the service is the reading of the names of the departed by about twenty clergy and nonprofit leaders. After reading these names, we lit candles from a large candle held by Dr. Stoker, and walked through the pews lighting others’ candles from ours.
The language used in the service was deliberate. Reverend Andria Davis, of the Cathedral of Hope, led us in a confession: “We confess that the circle of love is repeatedly broken, because of our sin of exclusion… whenever there is insensitivity or a hardening of heart… whenever we allow inequality, whenever we permit inequity…”

Rev. Andria Davis
(Courtesy of COH)
Interestingly, this is reminiscent of a fascinating biblical passage and its subsequent rabbinic interpretation. Deuteronomy 21 prescribes as follows:

“If… someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known… The elders of the town nearest to the corpse… shall make this declaration: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Absolve, O Lord, Your people Israel whom You redeemed, and do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel.’”
The Ancient Rabbis ask what might seem like an obvious question: “Can it enter our minds that the elders… are shedders of blood?! [The meaning of their statement is], however, ‘[The man found dead] did not come to us [for help] and we dismissed him without supplying him with food, we did not see him and let him go without escort.’”
If we translate this into modern terms, what the elders are saying is that they, as leaders of the community, have set up a system of care, to ensure that everyone’s needs, regardless of their station in society, are taken care of.
The implication of this is obvious. If we take this interpretation at face value, the Deuteronomist is taking it as a given that the elders have done this work; they have set up this system of care. For if not so, how can they make that declaration?  

Indeed, the Ancient Rabbis clarify just this with a few haunting words, later in the text, “When murderers multiplied, the ceremony… was discontinued.” Once the system of care has broken down, the elders cannot claim innocence anymore. 

There is an underlying assumption, on the part of the Deuteronomist, that is worth dwelling on: The community is responsible for what happens in its midst. It is unacceptable for them to turn a blind eye, to avert their gaze from what is happening in their midst. It is unacceptable for them to disclaim responsibility and blame the powerless for their plight, regardless of how or why they think the powerless arrived at their station. It is even unacceptable for them to wait for the powerless to ask for help or just help them on an ad hoc basis.
They must set up a system of care, they must seek out those who need help, and they must proactively engage them. And even if they do all of this, if someone slips through the cracks, they must confess, they must take responsibility.
This is what the Deuteronomist reminds us. This is what Rev. Davis reminds us. This is what First United Methodist Church Dallas reminds us. Let us hope we will heed their message.

Monday, November 6, 2017

How Do We Know What We Know? - The Final Installment of the CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic

In this final installment of our Continuum of Care Strategic Work Plan, we touch on Goal V: Drive Decision-making with HMIS Data, zeroing in on Objective VIIII: Increase Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) participation rates to no less than 86% of all beds and housing types.
In a recent blog post we talked about the idea of ending veteran homelessness, and how more than fifty communities have achieved just that. Now, you might ask: Are you trying to say that there are no homeless veterans in any of those communities? Well, no, that is not what we are trying to say. Indeed, the quote from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) in that blog post talks about those communities bringing down the number of veterans experiencing homelessness not to zero, but as close as possible to zero. So, what is it? What do we mean by ending veteran homelessness?
USICH helpfully defines this for us in a document that is worth reading in full. Basically, it means that all veterans experiencing homelessness are and continue to be identified, that shelter is provided immediately to all who request it, that traditional transitional housing is rarely used, and instead all are offered and provided with permanent housing, as swiftly as possible. Most importantly, that community must not have done all of this on an ad hoc basis, but show that it, “has resources, plans, partnerships, and system capacity in place should any Veteran become homeless or be at risk of homelessness in the future.”

Governor Dan Malloy, of Connecticut,
discussing his state being the second to end veteran homelessness
(Courtesy of WNPR)
The importance of knowing that more than fifty communities have done this is, as we pointed out in that previous blog post, that this is doable. We often assume that what is, always was, and will always continue to be. Perhaps this is a result of our evolution, which before modern times granted us extremely short life spans. Indeed, the forty years of the modern homelessness crisis is longer than the life expectancy of our prehistorical ancestors roaming the African savannah. That is just it, though, this crisis is a new phenomenon in American Life.

What we aim to return to, through the development of effective homeless response systems across the country, is not full housing, with no one ever becoming homeless. What we aim to return to is a reality that existed in our country prior to the mid-seventies of the last century, when homelessness was rare, brief and nonrecurring. And so, when we speak of ending homelessness, what we really mean is bringing about an end to the modern homelessness crisis.

(Parenthetically, this is not to say that full housing is not a desirable outcome. As Dr. Barbara DiPietro pointed out in her visit mid-October, it is extremely desirable, and it too is very doable. However, this would require a realignment of resources, across our society on a much broader level. At the minimum, it would likely require that housing vouchers be made available to all who qualify for them, and that refusing to accept them as payment be outlawed across the land.)

But, how will we know when we get there? This might seem like a simple question. If only. In fact, one might ask a broader philosophical question, How do we know what we know?” The study of how we know what we know, epistemology, has become extremely important, as our society further fractures and sources of information multiply. We are forced to ask ourselves, “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?”

This is especially true regarding homelessness, where,our failures are the most visible and our successes the most hidden." In this type of environment, it becomes difficult not to fall into the trap of assuming that data is just the plural of anecdote, and that the latest sensational headline negates evidence based practices.

The only hope for truly knowing what we know is the painstaking continuous and relentless collection and analysis of data in one shared open system, which everyone reports into. That word everyone is the crux of this proposition. As we mentioned in a previous post on this blog, “In early 2015, only 3%(!) of the shelter beds available to Dallas’ homeless population were reported into the (homeless management information) system… It was… analogous to Schrödinger’s Cat… the cat was 97% sealed within the box.”

We have come a long way since that 3% mark in 2015, partnering with PCCI and now Pieces Tech to develop and over the last few months implement, that single open state-of-the-art HMIS for Dallas, gradually and continuously increasing the number of beds in the system. We are determined under this plan to break that 86% mark, the minimum acceptable to the Federal Government, and keep on pushing until we get as close as possible to 100%. That alone is bringing us that much closer to achieving an end to not only veteran homelessness, but all types of homelessness, making this societal ill, once again, rare, brief and nonrecurring, and keeping it that way.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and the Annual Homeless Count

We are a proud partner in National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, taking place this year November 11-19, 2017. This is a chance to educate our community, draw attention to the problem of homelessness, and recruit new volunteers and supporters for local anti-poverty agencies.
During that week, we will launch recruitment for the annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count, which will be on the night of January 25, 2018. Stay tuned, since we will need 1,500(!) volunteers. That means you!   
As part of the City of Dallas' annual It's My Park on Nov 4, 2017, the Elmwood Neighborhood Association is endeavoring to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness. The event starts at 9am at the park on Elmwood between Mountain Creek Lake and Elmwood/Rugged. For more info and/or to volunteer, contact Janet Smith, 214-543-5847, jsmith@aidsdallas.org.
Bedstart deliver beds and furnishings to households coming out of crisis. They meet every Saturday morning at 7:45am and are typically done noon. They would love to have new volunteers join the effort. The Bedstart shed is located in the overflow parking lot directly across the street from Custer Road UMC, 6601 Custer Road, Plano, TX, 75023. For more info, contact Doug Nickols, director@bedstart.org.
The annual Promise House Sleep Out - A Night Under the Stars is a longstanding and excellent event. This year, it will be held the night of November 9, 2017. Click through for more details.
City House will be holding a donation drive on November 11, 2017. Check their Facebook page for details.
The City of Dallas Office of Homeless Solutions is holding a Welcome Basket Drive for folks moving into housing. They will be collecting items to build the baskets, November 8-December 8, 2017. Contact Mariah Cross, mariah.cross@dallascityhall.com, for more details.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hard Conversations: Housing First Works… Just Look at Me!

What: Hear Joyce Grangent’s journey from homelessness to supportive housing to home ownership; from unemployment to employment to self-employment; from experiencing homelessness to becoming a nationally recognized expert on how to break the cycle of homelessness through supportive housing.
Who: Joyce Grangent is noted for her ability to help supportive housing providers expand and increase their program effectiveness and operational outcomes by enhancing individual and team leadership capacity among their staff. She gained her expertise, through both lived experience and professional experience over the last fifteen years. As such she brings a unique perspective to the fight to make homelessness, rare, brief and nonrecurring.                            
When and Where: Thursday, December 7, 2017, 12.30-2.00pm, J. Erik Jonsson Central Library (Auditorium – 1st Floor), 1515 Young St., Dallas, Texas 75201. Follow signs to underground parking on Wood St. Coffee and water provided. Attendees may bring a brown-bag lunch. Co-sponsored by the Dallas Public Library.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic - End Chronic, Veteran and Elderly Homelessness

Why does our CoC Strategic Work Plan have an entirely separate goal for these populations? On one level the answer is rather simple: Opening Doors, the national strategic plan to end homelessness and the HEARTH Act of 2009 prioritize these (at least, the first two, explicitly). However, that doesn’t really answer the question, because then the question is, why did Congress, expressing the will of the nation, as a whole, prioritize these groups?
Cindy J. Crain, MDHA President and CEO, with Dennis Culhane
Prioritizing these groups follows an idea called progressive engagement. Dennis Culhane, one of the leading scholars of the modern homelessness crisis, and his colleagues discuss this at length. This graph, from their article, is very helpful in understanding what this approach is all about:

(Courtesy of Culhane, Metraux and Byrne)
As we explain in our playbook, before the HEARTH Act, the experimentation with Rapid Rehousing during the Great Recession, and the advent of the Housing First movement, Continua of Care and their grantees often served clients on a “first come, first served” basis, using a “one-size fits all” approach. This often meant that we served those who figured out how to best access the system, not those who needed the most help, and that we made everyone we served go through the exact same programs. This left our services, for everyone, lacking.
Using a progressive engagement approach, we serve each person, according to their needs, prioritizing those who need the most help. Not surprisingly, most people don’t need a huge amount of help, and those who do, vary by their level of vulnerability and scope of need. The greater the vulnerability and scope of need, the greater and more urgent the need for help is, and the greater the cost of that help.
Typically, the chronically homeless, veterans and the elderly will fall into those groups that are on right hand side of the graph. This does not always mean that that more intensive investment will come from the core of the homeless response system. As Culhane and his colleagues explain, and as the graph itself indicates, these may be provided by mainstream services aligned with the homeless response system. This is what this goal in our plan emphasizes too, particularly in action items 4, 7 and 10.
Prioritizing veterans also makes sense from an ethical standpoint. Veterans have given, of themselves, to our nation. We, as a nation, recognize that we have a heightened obligation to them, and so allowing veteran homelessness to continue would be a moral failure.

(Courtesy of USICH)
As a nation, we have proved up to the task. As the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) tells us: “A growing list of 50 communities, including the entire states of Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia, have proven that ending Veteran homelessness is possible and sustainable… (C)ommunities across 26 different states have proven that we can drive down the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness to as close to zero as possible… The national data tell the same story… We've reduced Veteran homelessness by 47% in this country between 2011 and 2016—including a remarkable 17% reduction during 2015 alone—and achieved a 56% reduction in Veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness.”
Congress had an additional reason to prioritize veterans. They recognized that the movement to end all homelessness would be met with skepticism. And, so, what if we could demonstrate that we could end the homelessness of a specific group? Would that not go a long way to proving that ending all homelessness was not a pipe dream?

And so, by making such strides towards ending veteran homelessness, we have shown, as a nation, that ending homelessness is a realistic goal, if evidence-based best practices and systems thinking are applied to the problem. Now that we have proven it possible, the moral imperative of our nation’s social contract compels us to apply these to all types of homelessness. All that separates us from this goal, of ending chronic, veteran and elderly homelessness, and the general goal of making all homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring, is the will to do it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic - Improve Access and Coordination of Services and Emergency Housing and Rapidly House Family Households with Children

Some of the most important systems change work in our Continuum of Care (CoC) is done on the committee level. The Family and Domestic Violence Services Committee’s work over the last few months is a great example of this. Back in August, the two committee co-chairs, Ellen Magnis, CEO of Family Gateway and Blake Fetterman, Executive Director of the Salvation Army Carr P. Collins Social Service Center, treated us, at the CoC General Assembly, to a fascinating progress report on how they are working through various elements of Goals III and IV of the CoC Strategic Work Plan.
In this installment of the CoC Strategic Work Plan Online Learning Clinic, we will zero in on specific points they discussed in this presentation. We encourage you to carefully review the entire PowerPoint presentation from Ellen and Blake’s progress report, as well as Goals III and IV, to understand the full context of the discussion.
Ellen Magnis
The first part of the presentation focuses on system mapping and alignment of rules and procedures of different shelters. Why is it important to map a system of care, especially to the level of specificity that Ellen and Blake exhibit on page 2 of their presentation? Why is it important to align the rules of different shelters? Simple: Without doing this work, there is no system; there is only an uncoordinated environment. That hurts those experiencing homelessness, and hampers the work of those trying to help them.

In an uncoordinated environment, the National Alliance to End Homelessness explains, “families with housing crises may end up going to multiple agencies that cannot serve them before they get to the one most appropriate for their needs.” And when each agency has different rules and procedures, this ends up, “slowing down families’ receipt of assistance.” Furthermore, “extra staff, time, and money are spent doing intake and assessment, taking time away from other, more housing-focused tasks, such as case management, housing location, and landlord negotiation.” This type of environment is detrimental to those who need our help the most, as, “research suggests that, in many systems, resources are being conferred on a small subset of families whose needs may primarily be economic, while those with more significant challenges (co-occurring disorders, complete lack of a social support system, etc.) are falling through the cracks.”

Laura Zeilinger
Indeed, as we have shared before, former Executive Director of USICH, Laura Zeilinger, argues that the essence of transforming homeless services into an effective 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?"  
This focus on solutions rather than programs is what drives another important idea Ellen and Blake reiterate, the cardinal importance of diversion. As we explain in our playbook (pg. 8), “An effective homeless response system, counterintuitively perhaps, seeks to divert individuals from having to enter into or engage with the system. It recognizes that homelessness is not homogeneous, rather it is on a continuum. Many of those who seek our help have the capacity to self-resolve, with the help of mainstream resources, or ‘light touch’ one-time assistance.”
A recent excellent piece on the Austin Street Center website elaborates on this, and is worth quoting at length:
It’s easy to think that anyone who seeks services at a homeless shelter is actually homeless and in need of a safe place to stay for the night. However, according to Austin Street’s Executive Director, Daniel Roby, that’s not always the case, ‘Sometimes people come to us in shock, having just been kicked out of their apartment. They often haven’t had the time to think through what other options might be available to them. They are just thinking, ‘I need shelter tonight.’”
According to Director of Programs, Dustin Perkins, “Diversion allows us to have a comprehensive understanding of a person’s true needs. When you’re overwhelmed, when something traumatic has happened, sometimes it’s hard to see when you do really have options. We can help with that.”

Dustin Perkins
Diversion is better for the individual or family in crisis, and it is better for the system as a whole. After all, diverting an individual or family, who can self-resolve, eases the pressure on the limited resources of the system, allowing us to serve those who cannot self-resolve and cannot be diverted. This is why both Austin Street Center and Family Gateway have made significant investments in diversion.

By the end of this month, we will tackle the remaining two goals we have not covered yet in this Online Learning Clinic: End Chronic, Veteran and Elderly Homelessness and Drive Decision-making with HMIS Data. Stay tuned!